The Candle and the Flame: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“She will be all right. Not right now but later, when it hurts a bit less, she will be all right.”

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza AzadNoor is a city of many peoples and many cultures; a refuge for all who might need one. But it wasn’t always that way. This new city has only been able to flourish in the wake of a tragic attack by the Shaytateen–djinn who crave chaos–where they slaughtered everyone in the city save for three humans.

Fatima was one of those survivors and even now, eight years later, she is still haunted by the attack, what was lost, and what she had to do protect her sister and their adopted grandmother.

The city now exists in a tenuous peace ruled by a new maharajah who shares control of the city with Zulfikar, emir of the Ifrit–djinn who seek to create order and reason to counter the chaotic Shayateen–who protect the city.

When the Ifrit Name Giver is killed, Fatima finds herself transformed. No longer human, not quite djinn, she is now Fatima Ghazala–a young woman drawn into the city’s politics as outside threats and internal unrest threaten everything Noor represents and everything it could become in The Candle and the Flame (2019) by Nafiza Azad.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Candle and the Flame is Azad’s debut novel. This standalone fantasy is also a finalist for YALSA’s Morris Award for Excellence in Debut Fiction.

Vibrant descriptions immediately draw readers into Noor with multiple closer third person perspectives moving the story forward as Azad explores Fatima Ghazala’s transformation as well as the challenges facing both the city and its rulers.

Thoughtful explorations of trauma and consent set this novel apart as Fatima Ghazala works to come to terms with her past and what it means for who she has become. This struggle plays out in small things as Fatima Ghazala asserts her right to be referred to by her newly chosen name and on a grander scale as she carves out a place for herself both in Noor and among the Ifrit.

A gorgeous book with a swoon-worthy romance where the romantic leads meet as partners and allies before anything else; The Candle and the Flame is an evocative fantasy with lush writing and rich world building that explores themes of colonization and feminism. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhatena, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, The City of Brass by S. K. Chakraborty, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

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

The Deceivers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Careful is a luxury you have when your baseline isn’t chaos.”

The Deceivers by Kristen SimmonsBrynn Hilder is willing to do whatever it takes to get out of her hardscrabble neighborhood in Chicago. Unfortunately, a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to paying for college.

When her mom’s sleazy boyfriend finds out about Brynn’s low level cons and the money she’s already saved up, he steals all of it and gives Brynn an ultimatum: start running cons for him or start selling his drugs.

Enter Vale Hall, an elite boarding school that seems to be the answer to all of Brynn’s problems. The school promises a free ride to any college of her choice . . . for a price. Instead of earning good grades and building up her extracurriculars, Brynn and the other Vale students are expected to use their conning abilities to help the school with special projects.

Brynn knows she’s up to the task. But as she learns more about her first mark and the lines she’ll have to cross to entrap him, Brynn has to decide how far she’s willing to go to get what she wants in The Deceivers (2019) by Kristen Simmons.

The Deceivers is the start of Simmons’ Vale Hall trilogy–a con filled story partially inspired by the story of Odin and his Valkyrie.

Brynn is a practical, calculating narrator. She has spent years hardening her heart and telling herself she can do whatever it takes to chase a better life without fully understanding the risks or the costs. After being the poorest person in the room for so long, her time at Vale Hall forces Brynn to confront the fact that she isn’t the only one facing hard choices and limited opportunities.

Used to depending on herself and no one else, Brynn slowly and reluctantly builds up a support system at Vale Hall as she gets to know the other students, especially her potential love interest Henry and his group of friends–part of a supporting cast of characters who are as varied as they are authentic.

The Deceivers is the perfect blend of action and suspense as Brynn delves deeper into Vale Hall’s underworld and the stakes continue to climb for her and the another students. Smart cons, snappy dialog, and pitch perfect pacing set this novel apart. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, Killing November by Adriana Mather, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carry Ryan, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

The Guinevere Deception: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Stories are not nails to be driven home. They are tapestries to be woven.”

“Sometimes we have to hide from what others see in order to be what we know we are.”

Guinevere comes to Camelot as a stranger–a princess who will marry the young king who has banished magic and his mentor, the wizard Merlin, from his kingdom as he tries to bring order to the chaos threatening to destroy everything he has worked so hard to build.

Except Guinevere died before she ever came to Camelot. No one knows the real identity of the girl who was sent to replace Guinevere–her name is a secret, her past a mystery. All that matters is that Merlin sent her to Camelot to protect Arthur.

Threats abound in Camelot as Guinevere investigates scheming nobles, mysterious new arrivals drawn by the kingdom’s promise, and magic fighting to get past her own rudimentary protections.

Magic is chaos–a natural force always waiting to reclaim what Arthur and Camelot stole away–a fact Guinevere knows better than most. With danger circling and secrets everywhere, Guinevere will have to rely on her own cunning as she decides who to trust and what to fight for in The Guinevere Deception (2019) by Kiersten White.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Guinevere Deception is the first book in White’s Camelot Rising trilogy.

White brings inventive world building and a feminist lens to her Arthurian retelling that centers a decidedly unique Guinevere. This historical fantasy breathes new life into the familiar source material with layers of intrigue and suspense as Guinevere tries to uncover both the hidden threats to Camelot and the secrets of her own past with Merlin.

The push and pull between the order of newly built Camelot and the chaos of primordial magic that previously ruled drive the plot forward as Guinevere comes closer to understanding Arthur’s greatest threat. This tension is mirrored by Guinevere’s struggle to be the protector she needs to be while also molding herself into the queen Arthur needs to rule beside him.

The Guinevere Deception is a fast-paced adventure filled with intrigue, magic, and the barest hints of romance and enduring friendship as Guinevere begins to make a place for herself in a kingdom she never could have imagined when Merlin plucked her out of the forest. A must reads for fans of Arthurian legend and readers looking for a fantasy with feminism and heroism in equal measure–with just a touch of existential dread to keep things interesting. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Sweet Black Waves by Kristina Perez, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West

The Okay Witch: A Graphic Novel Review

Moth Hush has never felt like she fits in among the other kids in Founder’s Bluff. On her thirteenth birthday she finds out that might not be entirely her fault.

It turns out Moth comes from a long line of witches.

Moth thinks that having magic powers will make things easier, or at least make her cooler. But even with support from her new friend Charlie and her old friend Mr. Lazlo (now a cat and sort of Moth’s familiar), making sense of her new powers isn’t easy.

Moth will have to confront old secrets and her hometown’s legacy before she can truly embrace her powers or her family’s past in The Okay Witch (2019) by Emma Steinkellner.

The Okay Witch is Steinkellner’s graphic novel debut.

Steinkellner blends witchcraft and magic with a classic story of friendship, family and all of the complications therein. Full color illustrations with expressive characters and detailed backdrops bring Moth’s world and Founder’s Bluff to life. A careful use of color also accentuates the different light in scenes as the story shifts between day and night and, later, between Moth’s present and flashbacks about her family.

The Okay Witch is a funny, sweet graphic novel perfect for the autumn season. Highly recommended for anyone who’s ever felt like a misfit and witchy types everywhere. Guaranteed to be a new favorite.

Possible Pairings: Little Witches by Leigh Dragoon; Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale, Nathan Hale, Dean Hale; The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson; The Power of Poppy Pendle by Natasha Lowe; The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag; Audrey’s Magic Nine  by Michelle Wright, illustrated by Courtney Huddleston and Tracy Bailey; Kiki’s Delivery Service

Be sure to also check out my interview with Emma!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

The Last True Poets of the Sea: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Violet’s life is filled with lost things. Her entire family history is wrapped up in the lost shipwreck of the Lyric. When the ship sank, Violet’s great-great-great-grandmother Fidelia was the only survivor. She swam to shore, fell in love, and founded the town of Lyric, Maine–the place Violet and her twin brother Sam have returned to every summer.

This year, the trip to Lyric comes early and Violet is making it alone in the wake of Sam’s suicide attempt. She’s supposedly going because Sam needs time to recover. But Violet knows she’s really being sent away because she wasn’t there when Sam needed her. At least, that’s how it feels when she remembers the partying she was doing while her brother was trying to take his own life.

Alone and angry, Violet starts to wonder if finding the Lyric might be the key to finding a way to move forward. With help from Liv Stone, an amateur local historian, Violet tries to uncover generations old secrets about Lyric and her family’s place there, fall in love, and most importantly to forgive herself for surviving and her brother for struggling in The Last True Poets of the Sea (2019) by Julia Drake.

The Last True Poets of the Sea is Drake’s debut novel and a retelling of Twelfth Night. Drake’s editor described this book at BookExpo’s YA Editors’ Buzz panel as a story about swimming up when it feels easier to swim down which I think is the perfect descriptor as so much of Violet’s story is about survival–both her ancestor Fidelia’s and her own as she realizes how much she’s missed while partying.

This novel is filled with evocative settings and delectable, deliberate prose. Violet’s guilt over not being able to help Sam and her return to Lyric are tempered with a smart queer romance as Violet and Liv grow closer. Orion, Violet’s new coworker and Liv’s longtime friend, is a perfect counterpoint and anchor in this satisfying love triangle.

The Last True Poets of the Sea is a thoughtful and immediately engrossing story about grief, family, and forgiveness. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han; A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi; This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills; I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson; Birthday by Meredith Russo; Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy ColbertBirdie has always been a good daughter. She works hard in school, she’s responsible. She listens to her parents even when it’s hard like when she had to give up soccer to focus on her classes and college prep.

But it’s hard to balance being a good daughter with dating Booker–the new boy in her life. Birdie’s parents would never approve of Booker with his bad reputation and his juvenile record. Rather than upset her parents Birdie does what seems like the best thing for everyone: she decides to keep Booker a secret for as long as possible.

Then there’s her estranged aunt Carlene who is back in Chicago, and Birdie’s life, after years of struggling with substance abuse. Birdie barely remembers her aunt but she’s eager to reconnect now–especially when Carlene seems willing to listen to Birdie in a way her mother hasn’t for years. As Birdie grows closer to Carlene and to Booker, the secrets mount. When Birdie finds out that she isn’t the only one who’s been keeping secrets  everything she thought she knew about her family will be thrown into question in The Revolution of Birdie Randolph (2019) by Brandy Colbert.

Colbert’s latest standalone is an introspective novel about family, secrets, and what it means to be true to yourself. Birdie is an open and honest narrator struggling with how to balance what she wants with what her parents expect of her. Her story unfolds across a vibrantly described Chicago that is immediately evocative.

Typical stressors of school and college prep are amplified as Birdie finds herself keeping more and more secrets as she tries to spend time with Booker. Their sweet and new romance is tempered by the knowledge that they’ll soon have to figure out how far their relationship can go–if it can go anywhere at all, in fact–while contending with disapproving parents on both sides. Birdie faces a similar push and pull with her aunt who soon becomes a confidant despite the strain it causes with her parents.

In a lot of ways, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is a story about decisions. The course of Birdie’s life up to this point has been shaped by decisions her parents, and even her aunt, have made. As Birdie begins to understand the ramifications of those choices, she has to decide for herself how to move forward. But luckily for her, and readers, she has a lot of support along the way.

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is a smart, nuanced story about learning to be true to yourself–even when the truth about your past might not be what you expect. Come for the swoony romance, stay for the authentic intersectional identities, complex relationships, and memorable characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith; Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen, How to Save a Life by Sarah Zarr

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

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