The Wren Hunt: A Review

cover art for The Wren Hunt by Mary WatsonRaised by her grandfather, Wren Silke has grown up in Kilshamble, Ireland. She knows every inch of the town and the woods. And she knows that every year on Stephen’s Day she will be chased through the woods as part of the annual Wren Hunt.

The Wren Hunt is meant to be figurative–not an actual hunt. But the Judges–a group with magical connections to nature–take the hunt all too seriously chasing Wren until they draw blood. As Augurs–people who can use patterns and connections to see the future–Wren and her community are in the minority in Kilshamble. With Judges controlling most of the nemeta–objects from which both groups draw power–it’s only a matter of time before the Augurs are wiped out entirely.

Eager to help and imagining a future where she won’t be hunted, Wren volunteers to help the Augurs reclaim their advantage (and hopefully some nemeta) by going undercover at Harkness House. But nothing is as it seems among the Judges or the Augurs and soon Wren will have to decide who she can truly trust as she tries to end this bloody feud in The Wren Hunt (2018) by Mary Watson.

The Wren Hunt is Watson’s first foray into YA fantasy.

Wren’s first-person narration is tense and often claustrophobic as Wren tries to stop the latest hunt and only manages to escalate it instead. Her frenzied, stream-of-consciousness style narration is fast-paced and immediate.

Atmospheric descriptions and the eerie opening go far to pull readers into the story and bring Kilshamble to life. Unfortunately the magic system is never explored (or explained) at length making it difficult for readers to keep up with Wren as she is drawn into internal politics and soon caught between both groups in her role as a spy.

The Wren Hunt is a strange and sometimes messy story with an intricate plot set in a complex world. Watson artfully explores themes of agency and loyalty though fails to deliver a truly satisfying fantasy. Recommended for readers who like their books to be part story to absorb and part puzzle to assemble.

Possible Pairings: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox, Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier, Mister Monday by Garth Nix

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

Two Can Keep a Secret: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Welcome to life in a small town. You’re only as good as the best thing your family’s done. Or the worst.”

cover art for Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManusWelcome to Echo Ridge, population 4,935. Echo Ridge looks like small town America at its finest. But looks can be deceiving.

Ellery knows about all about the secrets hidden in Echo Ridge because her family is at the heart of them. Her aunt went missing from the town when she was Ellery’s age–sixteen. Five years ago their family was in the news again when a homecoming queen was murdered, her body found at the local Murderland amusement park.

Malcolm wishes he could forget Echo Ridge’s darker side and the role his brother played in the murder five years ago as prime suspect. Declan was never arrested but a small town’s memory is long and he was never cleared either. Even when Malcolm’s mother remarries it isn’t enough to change what the town thinks of his family. Not really.

When Ellery and her twin brother Ezra are sent to live with their grandmother while their mother is in rehab it hardly feels like a fresh start. Instead, Echo Ridge seems to be choked by past tragedies it can’t forget. When another girl–another homecoming queen–goes missing both Ellery and Malcolm will have to explore Echo Ridge’s darkest secrets to uncover the truth and the killer in Two Can Keep a Secret (2019) by Karen M. McManus.

McManus’s latest standalone mystery is a tense exploration of a town with a dark past. The novel alternates between Ellery and Malcolm’s first person narration. This novel capitalizes on the strengths of McManus’s debut novel One of Us is Lying (multiple narrators, tense pacing, conversational and readable prose) without the problematic resolution.

Two Can Keep a Secret is a refreshingly realistic mystery where, although Ellery identifies as a true crime buff and would-be amateur sleuth, she still gets things wrong and still needs help from actual investigators to crack the case.

The contrast between Ellery with her connection to one of the town’s victims and Malcolm with his connection to one of the town’s suspects is striking. Their chemistry and nearly immediate rapport is countered by these preconceived identities that should place them on opposite sides. Instead their friendship is made of stronger stuff with rock solid loyalty and hints of romance that add much-needed levity to an otherwise dark story.

The story’s secondary cast including Ellery’s twin bother Ezra and Declan’s best friend Mia are also welcome additions who flesh out the cast in this short but evocative story.

Two Can Keep a Secret is a taut mystery filled with unexpected turns and surprises that will keep readers guessing right until the last line. Recommended for amateur detectives, mystery lovers, and true crime enthusiasts alike.

Possible Pairings: Little White Lies by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, This is Our Story by Ashley Elston, The Body in the Woods by April Henry, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, People Like Us by Dana Mele, The Amateurs by Sarah Shepard

The Wicked Deep: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Wicked Deep by Shea EarnshawTwo hundred years ago in the town of Sparrow three sisters were drowned as witches. Every year since then the Swan sisters have returned to Sparrow, claiming the bodies of unwitting local girls and using them to wreak their vengeance on the town by drowning boys foolish enough to fall under their sway.

Every Swan Season is the same, ending only when each sister has claimed a new victim.

Penny can see what others can’t including long buried secrets about the sisters and the Swan Season. But she knows that secret can only go so far against a curse. She is used to watching the Swan Season unfold with wary detachment, certain that this one will be  like all the others ending with death, suspicion, and grief.

Except this year there is a new outsider in town—a boy named Bo who refuses to believe the Swan sisters can pose any real danger to anyone, especially him. A boy that Penny is determined to protect. As the Swan Season unfolds Penny and Bo will work together to unravel the truth of the curse and the sisters. But as the Swan Season nears its end Penny realizes that the only way to save Bo might be by sacrificing herself in The Wicked Deep (2018) by Shea Earnshaw.

The Wicked Deep is Earnshaw’s debut novel.

The Wicked Deep is a tense bit of fantasy woven through with suspense as the novel builds toward the disastrous conclusion of the Swan Season. Penny’s first person narration is frank and often cynical with lyrical prose as she slowly searches for a way to break the curse and save Bo.

This story is filled with twists and surprises about both Penny and Bo. Unfortunately the story also flags in the second act as Penny and Bo repeatedly discuss what ending the curse might entail and how far they are willing to go if it means freeing the island from the sisters’ menace forever.

The Wicked Deep is an atmospheric story filled with witches, secrets, and a scorching romance with far-reaching consequences. Recommended for readers looking for a spooky book to read curled up by a fire and fans of Practical Magic especially.

Possible Pairings: The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault, Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

The Traitor’s Game: A Review

cover art for The Traitor's Game by Jennifer A. NielsenNo one knows where Kestra Dallisor has spent the last three years. It’s better that way. The longer she can hide, the longer she can avoid becoming a pawn in her father’s political machinations to strengthen his ties to the cruel Lord Endrick. But the time for hiding has ended and Kestra has been called home.

When Kestra is kidnapped en route she faces an impossible bargain: find the Olden Blade to spare the lives of her captive servants and herself.

Simon, one of her kidnappers, doesn’t know what to make of Kestra. She is not at all like the girl he expects, certainly nothing not the girl he remembers from his childhood. But she’s also the only hope he and his people have of finding the Olden Blade and reclaiming their freedom.

There are no winners in the traitor’s game. But that won’t stop Kestra or Simon playing for all they’re worth in The Traitor’s Game (2018) by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

The Traitor’s Game is the first book in Nielsen’s new YA series. The book alternates between Kestra and Simon’s first person narrations.

Nielsen delivers high action, political machinations and the intrigue readers of her middle grade novels have come to expect. Despite some unique flourishes in the world building, this is a fairly familiar story as a lost heir tries to reclaim that which was taken by the conquerors.

Kestra and Simon are interesting foils but lack the chemistry needed for their tension and changing dynamic to sustain an entire book. Their voices in alternating chapters are often indistinguishable. The prose often feels sanitized as violence and danger is pushed off the page for readers to imagine instead of being vividly described–this choice means that the novel can work well for younger readers but also creates a stark contrast between the descriptions of the world and the actual reading experience.

The Traitor’s Game is a familiar addition to the fantasy genres. Sparse world building and under developed characters feel like missed opportunities in what could have been a far richer story. Recommended for fans of the author and readers seeking a strictly plot driven fantasy.

Possible Pairings: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, Everless by Sarah Holland, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Unearthed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Enearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan SpoonerEarth’s natural resources are running out already creating harmful divisions between the wealthy and the destitute. A coded message from a long-extinct alien race seems to promise help. The Undying promise advanced technology and riches waiting to be found on their home planet Gaia–things that could help reverse Earth’s environmental damage and change lives. That is if anyone can get through the cunning and dangerous traps left behind by the Undying.

Jules Addison is a scholar and a linguist. He grew up watching his father decode the first message of the Undying and he has watched his father deal with the consequences of speaking out against the governments plan to explore Gaia heedless of the risks and hazards of venturing forward too quickly. Mia Radcliffe is a scavenger. Smuggled onto Gaia by mercenaries, Mia hopes to loot enough Undying tech to be able to buy her sister’s freedom. And her own way back to Earth.

Jules and Mia are on opposite sides in the exploration of Gaia. With limited resources and time running out to get back to Earth they will have to forge an uneasy alliance to solve Gaia’s riddles if they hope to survive. Onward if you dare in Unearthed (2017) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.

Unearthed is the thriller start to Kaufman and Spooner’s new duology. The novel is alternates chapters between Mia and Jules’ first person narration.

This book has been marketed as Lara Croft and Indiana Jones in space which is completely accurate. Unearthed is filled with nail-biting cliffhangers and shocking twists and Jules and Mia struggle to work together and survive the many obstacles they face on Gaia.

Despite the high stakes and the action, the pace often drags as Jules and Mia privately stew over their growing attraction and the (often fraught) aspects of their alliance. Repetitive traps and chase scenes further slow down what should be a breakneck story.

Unearthed is perfect for readers looking for solid science fiction and fans of adventure stories. A must read for fans of the authors’ Starcrossed trilogy.

Possible Pairings: The Last Girl on Earth by Alexandra Blogier, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Warcross by Marie Lu, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, Partials by Dan Wells, The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2017*

The Storyspinner: A Review

The Storyspinner by Becky WallaceThe Keepers have been searching for the long-missing princess for years. They have used their magic and more traditional skills but the princess, long rumored dead, has proven elusive leaving room for rival dukes to compete and connive as they struggle to claim her throne for themselves.

Johanna–a Performer left without a troupe after her father’s grisly demise–thinks such matters are far above her station in life. Until murdered girls begin turning up across the kingdom bearing a striking resemblance to Johanna.

Desperate to support her family and a victim of circumstance Johanna is soon forced to work with Lord Rafael DeSilva. Unfortunately for her, Rafi is boorish and insufferable. Not to mention he shares an equally low opinion of Johanna.

When her path aligns with the hunt for the princess, Johanna finds herself at the center of a dangerous web of secrets that could cost Johanna her life in The Storyspinner (2015) by Becky Wallace.

The Storyspinner is Wallace’s debut novel and part of a duology that concludes in The Skylighter.

This novel is written in close third person and alternates between seven points of view including Johanna and Rafi. This multitude of main characters allows Wallace to balance two narrative threads that eventually converge and maintain some surprise although transitions between chapters and characters are often abrupt. Making so many characters into “main” characters leaves little room to develop any of them. Instead of a multi-faceted ensemble cast, The Storyspinner feels like it is populated by one note characters including from the sage wielder of magic, the resentful sister trying to prove herself, and more.

Wallace situates her fantasy in a fictional world that borrows heavily from Portuguese culture with language, food, and more. While this adds flair to the story, it seems out of place with an explanation for where these elements come from.

The Storyspinner starts strong with an intriguing premise that fails to get very far before it is mired in an overly large cast of characters. Recommended for readers looking for a plot driven story that is light on the world building and heavy on the action.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

Crooked Kingdom: A Review

*Crooked Kingdom is the conclusion to Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Six of Crows*

“But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we have crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.”

—-

“Crows remember human faces. They remember the people who feed them, who are kind to them. And the people who wrong them too.”

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh BardugoIn a city where trade is sacred, Kaz Brekker knows the ins and outs of negotiation better than most. But even Kaz’s knack for staying ten steps ahead of his enemies and rivals can’t help him when he is double-crossed in the wake of what should have been the greatest heist of his nefarious career.

Now Kaz and his crew are scrambling to evade their enemies and regroup before moving against some of the most powerful figures in Ketterdam. Kaz may have lost a member of his crew. He may be branded as a traitor. But Kaz is also one of the only people who understands the true dangers of the drug jurda parem. And Kaz, along with his crew, is the only one who can hope to make things right.

Kaz and his crew are alone in a dangerous game that could change the face of Ketterdam and the rest of the world forever. As the odds turn against him, Kaz will have to use every trick he’s learned to change the game and get justice once and for all in Crooked Kingdom (2016) by Leigh Bardugo.

Crooked Kingdom is the conclusion to Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Six of Crows.

As a sequel, Crooked Crows had a lot of promise and high expectations to meet. Like Six of Crows it is written with alternating close third person viewpoints for each member of the crew (Kaz, Inej, Nina, Metthias, Jesper, Wylan) as well as some other key figures. The multiple plot threads and overlapping narratives play against each other and build tension as the novel moves to a conclusion appropriately filled with surprises.

At her launch event for Crooked Kingdom, Bardugo mentioned that this series was inspired by her love of heist movies. Unfortunately, the plot devices in heist films rely heavily on visual cues or sleight of hand, neither of which translates well into a novel. Bardugo makes her inclusion of clues and hints to make the payoff for various cons and twists in this book seem effortless.

Bardugo’s prose is intelligent, deliberate, and thoughtful. Any author can give a character a redemption arc but the truly impressive thing here is that Kaz is exactly what he says he is from the beginning. He is a monster. He is a villain. He is ruthless. And yet by the end of this series he also has depth and nuance and is so much more than even he can fathom. The level of development and growth for the entire cast of characters was fascinating and incredibly satisfying.

This novel is an amazing reference for the mechanics of how a novel comes together and how a series should culminate. Every single thing that is hinted at either in Six of Crows or in the beginning of this book eventually comes together and is resolved. Surprises perfectly balance expected outcomes and characters shock as much as they impress. Crooked Kingdom is an excellent story with a tightly wound plot and characters who are flawed and grasping even as they learn and grow. A perfect conclusion to an exceptional duology.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

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Last night's launch for Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo was a total blast. It was great to hang out with old blogging friends and meet new ones. The event started with a Q&A with Leigh and Jesse the Reader talking about Six of Crows characters and Leigh's next project. Some choice tidbits: Matthias would order a super fussy frappucino from Starbucks but he'd be embarrassed and pay someone to do it, Nina is Wonder Woman, Jesper is a feminist and would love The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis. Leigh also pointed out that scared writers make bad writing and that half the struggle is just putting in the time to finish a draft and revise. I left the panel part of the event feeling inspired and excited for Crooked Kingdom and it's epic red pages of course. After the panel it was time to wait for the signing where Leigh was gracious and charming and fun to talk to one on one. I also left with some sweet swag including a "No mourners, yes waffles" cookie, a crow cookie, a Wylan playing card, and a fancy matte Crooked Kingdom button. I'm only eighteen pages in but I'm already loving it. #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #latergram #crookedkingdom #fiercereads #leighbardugo

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