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, Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston

The Kingdom: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Kingdom by Jess RothenbergThe Kingdom™ is more than a theme park. Filled with rides, augmented reality shows, and much more, The Kingdom™ is a completely immersive experience where visitors dreams come true.

Ana is one of seven fantasists. Like the formerly extinct species that roam The Kingdom™’s parks, Ana is genetically engineered–partly biological and part machine. She and the other fantasists reign over the park as imagined princesses greeting visitors, performing, and helping park visitors’ dreams come true.

Fantasists can understand and identify emotions. But they aren’t supposed to experience them. Except Ana is fairly certain she feels something when she befriends Owen Chen, one of the park’s employees.

Ana isn’t the only thing malfunctioning in the park. Engineered animals keep dying, her sisters are scared. Then there are the nightmares. When Ana is accused of murdering Owen, she knows she is innocent. But it’s all too easy for the public to believe the worst.

After spending her whole life catering to the whims of others, Ana will have to learn to speak for herself if she wants to survive in The Kingdom (2019) by Jess Rothenberg.

The Kingdom is a sleek blend of mystery and sci-fi elements in a dystopian world where resources are limited and escapism is worth any price. Ana’s story unfolds in a non-linear narrative including Ana’s first person narration, trial transcripts, and interviews.

While the non-linear narrative lends an element of suspense to this story, it never builds tension instead making for slow pacing and the sense that Ana is deliberately withholding information.

Questions of sentience, humanity, and mercy are interrogated throughout the narrative as Ana and her sisters are dehumanized and subjugated as part of their lives as Fantasists. Gory scenes with animal deaths further emphasize the theme park’s grim inner workings.

The Kingdom is a stark story set in an eerily plausible world. Recommended for readers who like their speculative fiction, and their heroines, to have a little grit.

Possible Pairings: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton, The Similars by Rebecca Hanover, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

Devils Unto Dust: A Review

“Life doesn’t care how hard you’re trying, doesn’t care how much you’ve already lost, it will still break in and crush you and leave you bruised and bloody. And still expect you to keep going, because what else can you do?”

Devils Unto Dust by Emma BerquistTen years ago, the sickness started spreading across West Texas. It had a name back then. Now, it doesn’t need one; it’s everywhere. No one survives the infection. It’s only a matter of time before the infected become shakes, mindless creatures intent on attacking the living and nothing else.

Daisy “Willie” Wilcox is used to scraping by in Glory. Ever since their mother died, it’s been Willie making sure food gets on the table and taking care of her younger brother, Micah, and the twins. It’s never been easy, and Willie knows it’s unlikely to get easier, but she keeps going.

When her good-for-nothing drunk father disappears with four hundred dollars, it’s Willie who is expected to repay the debt. Seeing no other options, she hires the Garrett brothers to help her cross the desert and track her father down. They’re young for hunters, inexperienced, but that also means they still have something to prove. It means they don’t worry too hard about proof that she can pay her entire way.

The desert is an unforgiving place. With no towns, no shelter, and shakes everywhere even the smallest misstep can leave you dead–or worse. Chasing her father’s trail Willie learns how far she is willing to go for her family and who she can trust. But she’ll need even more than that to survive in Devils Unto Dust (2018) by Emma Berquist.

Devils Unto Dust is Berquist’s debut novel. (Be sure to also check out the audiobook as read by Devon Sorvari who brings Willie’s narration to life.)

Willie is razor sharp and, when she has to be, incredibly calculating. Determined to save herself and her family at any cost, she pushes herself well past her limits with consequences that will change her life–and her world–forever.

Berquist contrasts a bleak landscape and Willie’s stark narration with a suspenseful plot and high action. Willie’s life is very small in Glory–a reality that she resents even as she resigns herself to it. Like the desert unfolding at the start of her journey, Willie’s world also starts to expand as she realizes there might be more to life than just surviving in a world ravaged by the zombie-like shakes.

Devils Unto Dust blends a dystopian world and a western sensibility to great effect. The novel’s gritty setting and violent shake attacks are countered by a surprising sweetness as Willie allows herself to begin to trust both in a future for herself and in new allies. Devils Unto Dust is a searing story about choices, survival, and learning who you are. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, Generation Dead by Dan Waters

Impostors: A Review

“Freedom has a way of destroying things.”

cover art for Impostors by Scott WesterfeldFrey and Rafi are inseparable. They are sisters. They are a secret.

Raised by her father in the shadows, hidden from everyone, Frey is Rafi’s double–a decoy who stands in whenever her twin sister has to appear in public where she is vulnerable to threats. While Rafi is raised to be charming and poised, Frey is raised to be an assassin, a weapon.

Sent in her sister’s place as collateral for one of her father’s deals, Frey tries her best to inhabit a vapid world that is completely alien to her. Frey has never had to pretend for this long and she knows that Col, the son of her captor, is starting to catch on.

As her assignment drags on and the stakes climb higher, Frey realizes that her place in her family and in the larger world is changing. After living for so long in the shadows, Frey will have to step into the public eye if she wants to save her sister and herself in Impostors (2018) by Scott Westerfeld.

Impostors is the first book in Westerfeld’s new series which is set in the world of his Uglies trilogy.

This series starts twenty-five years after Tally Youngblood changed the world forever but it’s been years since anyone has actually seen her. In the aftermath new leaders have stepped into the power vacuum creating their own mega cities and, in the case of Frey and Rafi’s father, their own dictatorships where advanced tech is used to police the population.

With no other frame of reference, Frey and Rafi can barely articulate the restrictions and horrors of their upbringing–something that becomes clearer to Frey only when she is left untethered with no way to return home to her sister.

Impostors is a high octane adventured filled with cool tech, calculating villains, and a ruthless protagonist prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the only person she’s ever cared about. Frey and Col’s reluctant alliance and evolving relationship remains compelling despite an initial lack of chemistry.

Although Impostors is stronger and faster, it falls short of being better than the original series instead often feeling like a story retold. Recommended for readers who like their science fiction filled with high speed chases and rich world building. Ideal for diehard fans of the series as well as those looking to enter the Ugliesverse for the first time.

Possible Pairings: Mirage by Somaiya Daud, The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

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

Mirage: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“On a small moon orbiting a large planet, in a small farmhouse in a small village, there was a box, and in this box was a feather.”

cover art for Mirage by Somaiya DaudThe feather is an heirloom, a reminder of when Amani’s grandfather saw a tesleet–a bird sent by the old god Dihya to point his followers toward a sacred calling.

There are no tesleet birds left on the moon called Cadiz or on Amani’s home planet, Andala. The old ways are only memories.

It’s still possible, sometimes, to find small moments of joy even amidst the fear and the bloodshed of the Vathek regime. One such moment comes when Amani receives her daan during a celebration of all the Andalan women turning eighteen. But after her daan is applied, things go horribly wrong.

Amani is whisked away from her friends, her family, and her planet. Taken to the royal palace in secret Amani soon discovers she shares a dangerous connection with the half-Vathek princess and heir to empire Maram: they have the same face. When her family is threatened, Amani has no choice but to agree to act as the princess’s body double–a decoy to appear in public when the princess is most likely to be harmed.

It’s impossible to ignore the luxury and beauty of the palace, or the charm of Maram’s fiance. But beneath that shine there is still violence and danger. Amani will have to navigate both sides of life in the palace if she ever wants to see her family again in Mirage (2018) by Somaiya Daud.

Mirage is Daud’s debut novel and the start of a trilogy.

Daud introduces readers to a rich and brutal world inspired by her own Moroccan heritage. Amani’s affection for her home is infectious and immediately obvious with evocative, deliberate descriptions that bring Cadiz to life. The abrupt contrast and tonal shift as Amani is forced into her new life in the palace is jarring and brutal in comparison.

Amani’s first person narration is empowering and heartening as she refuses to be broken down or diminished even as she is held captive. With no one to trust and only herself to rely on, Amani is determined to rescue herself and her family–all while trying to save her people.

Mirage is the nail-biting start to a trilogy that promises even more twists and surprises to come. Recommended for readers looking for a truly unique sci-fi adventure with a fiery heroine who just might change her world.

Possible Pairings: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Impostors by Scott Westerfeld

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

Wildcard: A Review

*Wildcard is the conclusion of Marie Lu’s Warcross trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with Warcross.*

cover art for Wildcard by Marie LuEmika Chen was a bounty hunter and a hacker. Now, she’s a fugitive.

Emika’s tried to hack the Warcross Championship and stop Hideo’s NeuroLink algorithm from going online. She failed.

Now Hideo is using the algorithm to prevent crimes and force criminals to turn themselves in. But with Hideo controlling almost everyone in the world, how long before he becomes corrupt himself?

Still determined to stop him, Emika enlists the help of her former teammates, the Phoenix Riders, to find a way to shut the algorithm down before its too late. But Hideo isn’t the only threat anymore.

With a bounty on her head, Emika becomes entangled with mysterious hacker Zero and the Blackcoats–a ruthless crew of vigilantes. The Blackcoats want to stop Hideo too. But they don’t care about any extra bloodshed along the way.

With nowhere to hide and no one to trust, Emika will have to decide for herself how far she’s willing to go to stop the Neurolink–especially if stopping the algorithm means sacrificing Hideo in Wildcard (2018) by Marie Lu.

Wildcard is the conclusion to Lu’s high tech sci-fi duology that started in Warcross.

Wildcard picks up right where Warcross left off. With days left before the Warcross Closing ceremony and the launch of the algorithm to all Neurolink users, Emika and her friends are at a loss for how to stop what seems inevitable. Emika’s efforts to stop the algorithm are further complicated by her continued attraction to Hideo and her hope that he might be still be saved from himself.

Despite the ostensibly higher stakes, it’s hard to feel invested in Wildcard‘s plot. Even the imminence of the algorithm’s worldwide launch and Emika having to literally fight for her life at every turn failed to add any sense of urgency to the story. The shift in focus as Emika’s challenges become more internal (Should she work with Zero? Can she save Hideo?) combined with much more time spent in the Neurolink’s virtual world make the story feel that much more abstract.

Warcross had a plot that could have easily been resolved with a few honest conversations. This flaw is amplified in Wildcard and much harder to ignore. Most of the plot revolves around a fundamental, and baffling, lack of communication between characters right until a deus ex machina ending brings everything to a quick (if sometimes messy) resolution.

This duology introduces readers to a fantastic world filled with surprisingly plausible technology and a truly memorable group of characters. Despite shortcomings in the plot, Wildcard offers fans a satisfying and appropriate conclusion for a favorite cast of characters.

Possible Pairings: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, For the Win by Cory Doctorow, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, Partials by Dan Wells

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

The Darkest Legacy: A Review

“In darkness, you only needed to see just as far as your headlights extended. As long as you kept going, it was enough.”


“We’ve inherited the darkest legacy, but they don’t know that we’ve learned how to thrive in shadows and create our own light.”

Five years ago Suzume “Zu” Kimura and her friends helped end President Gray’s corrupt administration and the camp system that imprisoned the child survivors of IANN while claiming to rehabilitate them and “cure” their psychic abilities. Back then it had been easy to believe that change was possible.

But now Zu is seventeen and after watching Chubs and Vida try to work within a governmental system that fears them, she isn’t sure if true change–or true freedom–is possible. As a spokesperson, Zu tries to convince the public that the government is helping even as new legislation continues to restrict Psi rights.

When she is framed for committing a terrorist attack, Zu has to clear her name before her supposed guilt becomes an excuse to punish other Psi. Zu forms an uneasy alliance with Roman and Priyanka–two Psi who say they want to help her but might just as easily betray her. As they grow closer Zu realizes that Roman and Priyanka’s secrets are key to understanding the darkness that’s been allowed to fester while the interim government works to restore order.

With no one left to trust, Zu has to depend on herself and her voice as she tries to save the friends who once rescued her and effect real change in The Darkest Legacy (2018) by Alexandra Bracken.

The Darkest Legacy is a tense, frenetic return to the world of Bracken’s Darkest Minds trilogy (soon to be a motion picture staring Amandla Stenberg). Zu’s story is self-contained and largely independent from Ruby’s arc in the original trilogy. Familiarity with the previous books will give readers a larger appreciation for this standalone installment. The novel starts with Zu’s found family fractured over whether they should work within or outside of the government–a moral issue Zu struggles with both in the present story and in flashback chapters.

Zu’s Japanese-American heritage is thoughtfully portrayed and informs her lingering anger and post-traumatic stress from being in a Psi camp. The rest of the cast is equally inclusive including non-American characters who bring a different perspective to the Psi situation in the United States.

Zu has grown a lot since her time in the camp and with the Black Betty gang. She is desperate to convince her friends, and herself, that she is fine–that she’s not the girl who stopped talking for a year anymore. But it’s only when she acknowledges past traumas and hurts–both her own and those of other Psi–that she begins to understand her own strength as a survivor.

As Zu learns more about the government’s misdeeds and her own role in advocating for them, she realizes she has to question everything she believes about the government and herself as she tries to find her own way–and her own moral code–to make a place for Psi in a society that doesn’t always want to acknowledge or accept them.

The Darkest Legacy is an empowering story of independence, resilience, and one girl’s decision to act even in the face of impossible odds and indifference. A must-read for fans of the series and a nail-biting introduction for readers discovering it for the first time.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, White Cat by Holly Black, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

*A more condensed version of this review was published in School Library Journal*