American Royals: A Review

American Royals by Katharine McGeeEveryone knows the story of the American Revolution and the birth of the American monarchy. How could anyone forget Colonel Lewis Nicola’s plea after the Battle of Yorktown asking George Washington to become the country’s first king?

Two and a half centuries later, the country is still ruled by Washingtons and Princess Beatrice is poised to become America’s first queen regnant. Beatrice has spent her entire life preparing for this role. But no matter how much she knows about diplomacy and protocol, she is unprepared when her parents start urging her to start looking at potential suitors to become the first king consort and rule beside her.

Twins Samantha and Jefferson are used to being overlooked as younger siblings to the beloved heir. While Jefferson enjoys all the adoration and privilege of being the only boy, Samantha has spent years leaning in to her reputation as a thoughtless party girl. At least until one boy might finally see the version of herself that Samantha has spent so long hiding. Too bad he’s totally off-limits.

Nina has been Princess Samantha’s best friend for six years. But that doesn’t make it any easier to get over Jeff or forget what happened on their graduation night last year. In fact, it makes it all harder when Samantha draws Nina back into the royal family’s orbit.

Everyone wants to get close to the royal family. But Beatrice, Samantha, and Jeff will all have to figure out the difference between those seeking political favor and those trying to win their hearts in American Royals (2019) by Katharine McGee.

Find it on Bookshop.

McGee’s latest splashy contemporary is filled with romance and intrigue which plays out against the luxurious backdrop of a re-imagined America and its uninterrupted monarchy. Chapters alternate between closed third person perspectives following Beatrice, Samantha, Nina, and Jeff’s ex-girlfriend Daphne.

The deceptively simple premise–what if America had a royal family?–opens the door for interesting world building. Unfortunately, most of that alternate history is ignored to instead focus on the romantic entanglements of the royal children leaving readers to wonder how this country’s history–especially its bloodier moments like the Civil War or Manifest Destiny–may have changed with a ruling monarchy at the helm.

Detailed settings and well-drawn characters leave ample space for secret plots and star-crossed love to play out with reveals that will be satisfying if predictable to habitual romance readers. While Nina is Latinx and has two moms, most of the cast is white and conversations about succession with the royal family remain largely heteronormative.

American Royals is a frothy, often elegant diversion if you are willing to go along with the conceit of an American royal family. Recommended for readers looking for a story filled with forbidden romance, salacious gossip, and lots of drama.

Possible Pairings: The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright, The Selection by Kiera Cass, 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins, Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

Truly Madly Royally: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Zora Emerson knows exactly who she is and she knows that she has everything she needs to make big changes in her part of the world. But even with all of her confidence, no one is more shocked than Zora by her immediate connection with Owen–the actual prince of an island off the coast of England.

Attending a prestigious summer program should give Zora all the skills she needs to grow her after school helper program to reach even more of her neighbors. But it’s hard to focus on her courses when thinking about Owen is taking up so much of her attention.

When Owen invites Zora to be his date at his older brother’s wedding, it’s a dream come true. But it also sets Zora up for more scrutiny (and criticism) from strangers than she ever imagined. Soon Zora has to decide if dating Owen is worth the media attention–and if she can still stay true to herself while dating an actual prince in Truly Madly Royally (2019) by Debbie Rigaud.

Find it on Bookshop.

Truly Madly Royally is a standalone contemporary perfect for anyone who can’t get enough royal romances.

Zora is a no-nonsense heroine. She is a practical, passionate Black girl and she is more than ready to speak her mind when the situation calls for it. She has immense pride in her hometown in New Jersey and a lot of affection for her family–even when it looks like her brother and her best friend might be making some questionable dating decisions.

Owen has a lot more whimsy and is the perfect counterpoint for Zora as the story focuses on their courtship and builds up to the big royal wedding (which is a clear and beautiful homage to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s nuptials in 2018). Themes of civic engagement and initiating change when and where you see a need in your community are solid undercurrents throughout this frothy romance.

Truly Madly Royally is a funny, effervescent story sure to leave a smile on your face. Recommended for readers who like their romances filled with witty banter, strong friendships, and plenty of empowerment for the heroine.

Possible Pairings: Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, American Royals by Katharine McGee, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm, Pride by Ibi Zoboi

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Empress of a Thousand Skies: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda BellezaRhiannon Ta’an is the last surviving heir to the Kalusian dynasty. On the eve of her coronation as a puppet monarch, Rhee is ready to get revenge against the man who killed her family and reclaim everything he has tried to steal from her.

But then everything goes wrong.

Aloysha is a Wraetan refugee. He is also one of the stars of a popular reality DroneVision show about his ship’s exploits as soldiers of the fleet. But that deosn’t make people any less suspicious of Aly thanks to anti-Wraetan prejudices. Still, if he can stay on the straight and narrow and keep the show popular, it might be enough.

Except everything goes wrong.

Rhee and Aly are pushed onto the same unavoidable path when Aly is framed for an attack that supposedly leaves Rhee dead. Now Rhee is on the run, with even less hope of reclaiming her throne than she had before while Aly is forced to flee while he tries to clear his name in Empress of a Thousand Skies (2017) by Rhoda Belleza.

Empress of a Thousand Skies is Belleza’s debut novel and the first book in a duology which concludes in Blood of a Thousand Stars. The story alternates between Rhee and Aly’s perspectives.

Belleza’s story is populated with unique characters in a carefully detailed world. Epigraphs accompany each section of the story to help further expand the world and situate Rhee’s bid for the throne within this larger context. Aly’s position as a glorified reality TV star is also a fun twist on the idea of space pirates.

Unfortunately the structure of the novel detracts from what should be a plot filled with action and urgency by splitting the story in half between Rhee and Aly who, although their paths are connected, do not actually meet for most of the novel.

Empress of a Thousand Skies is an exciting read filled with action and intrigue. Recommended for readers in search of another space opera to devour.

Possible Pairings: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Warcross by Marie Lu, Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan, Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston

Estranged: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Estranged by Ethan M. AldridgeWhen he was born, two fairies left their baby to be raised by humans while taking a human child down below–not to raise as their own but to show off at court.

Now, Edmund struggles to hide his changeling status in the World Above especially from his parents and his older sister Alexis. But that’s not easy with fae magic that he hasn’t learned to control. The Childe lives in the World Below where he will never quite belong; his only friend is a wax golem called Whick.

When a sorceress named Hawthorne stages a coup to claim the throne down below, Childe knows that there is only one person who can help: the rightful heir who has been living in the human world.

Childe longs to turn his back on the fae world but he can’t. Edmund wishes he could be a normal human but that’s impossible. These unlikely allies will have to work together to try and reclaim the throne before Hawthorne’s bid for power threatens both of their worlds in Estranged (2018) by Ethan M. Aldridge.

Estranged is Aldridge’s debut graphic novel.

This full-color graphic novel is visually stunning with finely detailed illustrations and a singular vision of the fairy world. While some of the art is static with little movement in the panels, the story itself is dynamic enough to balance that out as the action shifts between the fairy and human worlds. (The gutters between panels are cleverly changed to black when the scenes are down below while traditional white gutters are used in the human world.)

While Childe and Edmund’s story will continue in The Changeling King, this installment has a lot of closure as both boys find their place in the world and learn how to make peace with it.

Estranged is filled with action and adventure as Childe and Edmund reluctantly team up to stop Hawthorne. A powerful story about family–both found and otherwise–and the complicated ties that bind people to each other. Recommended for readers looking for a story with swashbuckling and heart in equal measure.

Possible Pairings: The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerrlizzi,  Cucumber Quest by Gigi D. G., Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, Pandora’s Legacy by Kara Leopard, illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews, The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson

Nocturna: A Review

cover art for Nocturna by Maya MotayneAfter his brother Dez’s murder, Prince Alfehr is poised to become king–something he fears almost as acutely as finding concrete proof that his brother is truly dead. Alfie left Castallan months ago to grieve and, he hopes, to find a way to bring his brother back from the void–even if it means using his bruxo magic to ill ends.

Finn is a faceshifter who can change her appearance at will. It’s a magical ability that serves her well as a thief. When their paths cross Alfie and Finn accidentally unleash a dangerous ancient power that could destroy Castellan and the rest of the world. Together they will have to confront their greatest failures and their greatest fears to contain this dark magic before it’s too late in Nocturna (2019) by Maya Motayne.

Nocturna is Motayne’s debut novel and the start of her A Forgery of Magic trilogy.

Alternating chapters follow Alfie and Finn giving nuance to their motivations and bad decisions. Alfie and Finn’s relationship, which evolves over the course of the novel from a reluctant alliance to obvious respect and affection, helps fill the void left by world building that remains thin even with the added dimension of Castallan trying to assert itself in the wake of generations of Englass colonial rule.

Nocturna is an epic fantasy set in a Latinx inspired world with a unique magic system where moving shadows can reveal a person’s feelings and spells will be immediately recognizable to Spanish speakers. A promising debut with unique magic and two strong protagonists among a varied ensemble cast.

Possible Pairings: The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal*

When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt: A (Non-Fiction) Review

cover art for When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt by Kara CooneyAncient history confirms one thing again and again: It was a man’s world. Throughout the world ancient civilizations created patriarchal societies often with ruthless transitions between dynasties.

There was one exception: Egypt. Throughout the country’s long reign from Dynasty 1 through to the Ptolemaic years that ended Egypt’s independence until the twentieth century, Egypt was unique in its acceptance of female rulers.

There were not many but occurring as often as they did over thousands of years, suggests the practice was longstanding and accepted throughout Egypt. Separated by years, and sometimes even millennia, these queens came to the throne under difference circumstances, with different strategies. The thing that binds them all together, even now, is that their rules all inevitably ended to restore patriarchal balance. When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt (2018) by Kara Cooney examines the reigns of six queens to explore Egypt’s complex attitudes toward female rule and what lessons might be gleaned for modern society.

This book is divided into six chapters that work chronologically through ancient Egypt’s history beginning in Dynasty 1 with Merneith–one of the first Egyptian women to rule as a regent for a relative too young to rule in his own stead. Next Cooney introduces readers to Nefrusobek who ruled as the last of her dynasty when Egypt’s penchant for using incest to consolidate power resulted in a sterile male heir.

Cooney’s previous book, The Woman Who Would Become King, is a more in-depth study of Hatshepsut–the first Egyptian queen to surpass her role as regent and declare herself king in her own right–so it’s no surprise that this chapter is one of the most thoroughly researched and well-informed.

Nefertiti, the queen who watched her husband Akhenaten usher in the monotheistic Amarna period (and bring Egypt out of it after his death) is an interesting figure. Cooney explores how Nefertiti’s position ruling beside Akhenaten allowed her to grasp for more authority. However, its should also be noted that to support her theory of Egypt supporting queens routinely throughout its long history, Cooney supports a very specific school of thought with very little historical evidence suggesting that Nefertiti eventually reinvented herself as Smenkhkare, a little-known ruler who followed.

After Smekhnare (or Nefertiti’s) reign Tawosret again saw the end of her dynasty as Egypt became globalized for the first time–a change that would have lasting consequences even a thousand years later when Cleopatra became the last Egyptian to rule Egypt.

Cooney situates each queen well in Egypt’s history and in relation to each other. Even when Cooney delves into what might be conspiracy theories (and theories with little support from new DNA evidence) she also points out the flaws or leaps in logic with a frankness that I appreciate.

Throughout When Women Ruled the World Cooney balances her own conjectures and often working with almost nothing in terms of a historical record to create a nuanced and sometimes even restrained picture. The book is at its weakest when she is trying to use these queens to create a compelling argument for why women should not be sidelined as potential leaders but that is also the thing that ties the entire book together. Includes a map, timeline, and extensive footnotes. Recommended for nonfiction readers and ancient Egypt enthusiasts.

Royals (aka Prince Charming): A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Royals by Rachel HawkinsDaisy doesn’t want to be a princess, or even in the limelight really, but it turns out that’s hard when her older sister is practically engaged to the Crown Prince of Scotland.

After one too many near-misses with the paparazzi Daisy is whisked off to Scotland with her sister to lay low. It’s not at all how Daisy wants to spend her summer but she doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Especially when Ellie announces her engagement.

In Scotland Daisy is supposed learn how to be regal while keeping a low profile. She even has help from the royal fixer and Miles, a close friend of the royal family. But it turns out keeping a low profile is hard when the prince’s younger brother, Sebastian, is an actual human dumpster fire–he and his friends (including Miles) are literally called the Royal Wreckers–and seems hellbent on dragging Daisy into as much trouble as he possibly can.

Daisy knows she doesn’t quite fit the royal rule book with her mermaid red hair, geeky interests, and no nonsense attitude. But no one ever said she couldn’t rewrite the rules herself in Royals (2018) by Rachel Hawkins.

Royals can be read as a standalone contemporary but it is also the start of a series–each following a different heroine. (Note: This book was retitled as Prince Charming for the paperback edition.)

Daisy is a delightful narrator. She is smart, witty, and she calls things as she sees them in this fast-paced story. Daisy struggles to mold herself in the image of her poised and elegant sister who seems to have been born to be a princess with hilarious results. But even royals have obligations and Daisy soon realizes that she isn’t the only one feeling pressure after her sister and the prince announce their engagement.

Daisy’s story is pure, escapist fun complete with an unexpected love interest, friend shenanigans, and many zany mishaps as Daisy learns the hard way that expectations can be misleading–especially when it comes to love.

Royals is an effervescent and cheery contemporary. I cannot wait to see what happens in book two.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, American Royals by Katharine McGee, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm