Malice: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Malice by Pintip DunnAlice Sherman is more interested in taking delicious looking pictures of her not-always-edible cooking for her foodie Instagram account and dreaming of a future as a photographer for National Geographic than she is in math and science.

She knows the only reason that she is at her super competitive, STEM-focused school is because her older brother Archie is a certified genius and science prodigy. She doesn’t mind. Someone has to keep an eye on Archie to make sure he remembers things like eating instead of equations sometimes–especially in the years since their mom left and their dad has become more and more distant.

Her mundane life is upended when a sudden, sharp pain hits during lunch. A voice in her head tell Alice that she can make the pain stop. All Alice has to do is tell Bandit Sakda that she loves him. Embarrassing, but easy enough.

Except the Voice isn’t done with Alice. There’s something else she has to do. Something that might prevent the creation of a virus that will kill two thirds of the population. Something that might make Alice a killer. Something that is going to be that much harder for Alice to do if she ever lets herself fall for Bandit in Malice (2020) by Pintip Dunn.

Dunn’s latest standalone adventure follows Alice as she tries to figure out who the Voice is and how far she is willing to go to prevent the dire future the Voice warns her about.

While some of the twists and turns will be predictable for readers familiar with time travel shenanigans, Alice’s journey remains unique and puts a strong focus on the ways in which free will and compassion can change everything. Alice’s best friend Lalana Bunyasarn and Alice’s reluctant love interest Bandit add some needed levity (and chemistry) to a potentially bleak story.

Malice is a delectable blend of time travel and suspense. Recommended for readers who like their romance with a little sci-fi or vice versa.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Infinity of You & Me by J. Q. Coyle, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

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

The Girl King: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Girl King by Mimi YuLu has always known she will become her father’s successor, the first female ruler in the Empire of the First Flame’s long history. She has trained for this role for her entire life. But just as she is poised to take her rightful place, her father names Set, a male cousin, as heir instead disgracing Lu and trapping her in a betrothal she never wanted.

Furious and determined to claim her rightful place as heir, Lu’s search for allies leads her to Nokhai–the only survivor of a clan of shapeshifters who may need Lu’s help to understand his shifter abilities.

Min is timid and quiet. She always thought she’d live a quiet life in her sister Lu’s shadow. But when Lu leaves to find allies for her cause, Min discovers a dangerous power of her own–one that could make Set the proper heir or give Min her own chance to claim the throne in The Girl King (2019) by Mimi Yu.

The Girl King is Yu’s debut novel and the start of a series.

Yu creates a nuanced but dense world. Unfortunately the court intrigue and unique magic system only serve to highlight weak characterization for both Lu and Min who often come across as one note and unlikable despite their ambitions. Problematic racial dynamics within the world adds an uncomfortable layer to this story already populated by calculating and unexciting characters.

The Girl King is an interesting but not always ideally executed fantasy. Recommended for readers seeking a fantasy story with complex sister dynamics.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Descendant of the Crane by Joan He, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows, Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

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

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.

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

Pandora’s Legacy: A Graphic Novel Review

The Panagakos family are descendants of Pandora. For generations the family has worked to protect Pandora’s box and guard against the dangerous monsters it contains.

Except no one ever told younger siblings Charlie, Janet, or Trevor about that. When the three of them find (and break) a mysterious jar in the wood near their grandparents’ house, they have no idea what they’ve unleashed.

Lacking their older siblings’ training, not to mention their weapons, Charlie, Janet, and Trevor will have to band together and think fast if they want save their family and stop the freed monsters from destroying everything in their path in Pandora’s Legacy (2018) by Kara Leopard, illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews.

Pandora’s Legacy is a high action graphic novel. Although the story focuses on twins Janet and Trevor, their older sister Charlie also plays a large role as the three of them become unwitting heroes and the last defense against the monsters found within Pandora’s box.

The high action of Leopard’s fast-paced plot contrasts well with the Matthews’ finely detailed illustrations that seamlessly blend evocative backdrops and horrifying monsters.

Pandora’s Legacy is an adventurous ode to siblings and underdogs everywhere. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge, Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi, Cucumber Quest by Gigi D. G., Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

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

Butterfly Yellow: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

After six years and two months of careful preparation and unspeakable hardships, Hằng finally arrives in Texas in the summer of 1981.

Hằng knows that her baby brother Linh is waiting for her at 405 Mesquite Street in Amarillo, Texas. She knows that once she finds him she can stop planning, stop preparing. Except when Hằng does find 405 Mesquite Street, Linh isn’t the little boy and adoring brother she lost all those years ago. Worse, he may not be the one who needs to be saved anymore.

LeeRoy has one plan for the summer after he graduates high school: he is going to reinvent himself as a cowboy. More importantly, he is going to become a rodeo star. His university professor parents are less than thrilled but they don’t understand that LeeRoy has it all figured out. The first, most vital step is meeting Glenn Ford. Once they get to know each other LeeRoy is sure Ford will be only too eager to share tips with his newest protege.

There’s only one problem. Actually, if he’s being honest, there are a few since LeeRoy doesn’t know much about being a cowboy at all. But he can learn all that. The biggest problem is that he’s just too darned nice. That’s the only explanation for how he gets roped into driving a surly Vietnamese girl all the way to Amarillo to find her brother. LeeRoy tries to argue. After all, he’s a man with things to do. But any argument gets shot down as soon as it hits the air.

Hằng and LeeRoy start as strangers. By the end of the summer these most unlikely friends will both realize that there’s more to life than plans, than goals. And that sometimes the things–the people–you would never imagine can suddenly become as necessary as breathing in Butterfly Yellow (2019) by Thanhha Lai.

Butterfly Yellow is Lai’s debut YA novel. You may already be familiar with her award winning middle grade novels Inside Out & Back Again and Listen, Slowly. The novel alternates between chapters written in close third person following Hằng and LeeRoy’s perspectives.

Although they couldn’t be more different, Hằng and LeeRoy’s stories offer a certain symmetry in Butterfly Yellow. While Hằng has spent six years working towards a reunion with her brother and clings to the past at the cost of all other plans or dreams, LeeRoy imagines a new future where he can become someone else.

Lai uses language–both English and Vietnamese–to great effect throughout the novel creating an utterly unique reading experience complete with sentence trees. While Hằng can understand English when spoken slowly, she quickly realizes she still needs a Vietnamese lens to reframe her new surroundings and begins using phonetic Vietnamese sounds to form her English phrases–words LeeRoy is quick to follow thanks to his ear for language.

LeeRoy, meanwhile, has spent years immersing himself in Texas slang so that even before he could try to walk the walk of a real cowboy he was able to talk to the talk. Although LeeRoy’s meandering speech is filled with colloquialisms Hằng can’t decipher, the sheer volume of words allows her to understand him when other English speakers prove incomprehensible.

The push and pull between Hằng and LeeRoy drives the story as Hằng tries to get closer to her brother and works toward confronting the traumas she’s tried to forget from her journey from Vietnam to Texas and LeeRoy is forced to admit he may not be cowboy material after all.

Both characters struggle with what comes next when they realize that the targets they have been chasing–the benchmarks that would signify success–have changed or may no longer exist at all. Hằng and LeeRoy become unlikely supports for each other as they confront these changes and trade as many moments of comfort as they do barbs in their prickly relationship.

Butterfly Yellow is a gorgeous, evocative story about the people you hold onto at all costs, the choices you make to be your best self even when you aren’t sure who that is, and the resilience you need to build a life when it feels so much easier to choose bitterness or failure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Lovely War by Julie Berry, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, A Step From Heaven by An Na, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Holes by Louis Sachar, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

Never-Contented Things: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Never-Contented Things by Sarah PorterKsenia is cold where foster brother Josh is warm; sharp where he is soft. She is almost eighteen and their foster parents are simultaneously planning for Ksenia’s transition to a group home while preparing to adopt sixteen-year-old Josh. Ksenia is a bit of an oddity in their painfully conventional town with her androgynous looks and thrift store style without any of Josh’s charisma to smooth things over.

While Ksenia is resigned to their separation, Josh is desperate to hang on to Ksenia at any cost–even if it means making an impossible bargain with otherworldy creatures they encounter at a party. Entrapped in another world with Josh, Ksenia is determined to protect him despite his betrayal. Josh sees it as a refuge where no one can question his romantic love and infatuation for his foster sister while Ksenia knows it is a prison with no possible escape.

Josh and especially Ksenia are people no one would look for except for their best friend, Lexi, a girl whose life couldn’t be more different and who, if she can find them, might have the key to breaking the spell in Never-Contented Things (2019) by Sarah Porter.

Porter blends horror and urban fantasy in her latest standalone novel of faerie.

Evocative, phantasmagorical prose carries across multiple viewpoints as Ksenia works to save herself and the people she loves in this book filled with messy characters doing the best they can.

Never-Contented Things features gorgeous sentence level writing and vibrant horror which elevate this character driven story about resilience, identity, and learning to save yourself. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

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

Black Wings Beating: A Review

cover art for Black Wings Beating by Alex LondonNothing in Uztar is more sacred than birds of prey. No one is more respected than the falconers who capture and train them.

Brysen wants nothing so much as he wants to be a great falconer. He dreams of proving to his abusive father, and himself, that he can contribute to the family legacy as falconers.

Kylee, Brysen’s twin sister, wants nothing to do with the family trade or the ancient gifts that should make her one of the most gifted falconers ever. She dreams of leaving their home in the Six Villages forever even as war threatens to make that impossible.

When the boy Brysen loves makes a terrible mistake, Brysen is determined to save him–and maybe find the glory that keeps eluding him–by trapping a Ghost Eagle. Understanding the dangers better than her brother, Kylee follows him hoping to help and perhaps make up for her own past. Whoever controls the Ghost Eagle can control the fate of Uztari. But first Brysen and Kylee will have to decide if they control their own fates in Black Wings Beating (2018) by Alex London.

Black Wings Beating is the first book in London’s Skybound trilogy. The book alternates close third person chapters between Brysen and Kylee.

London presents a fully-realized world complete with its own mythology and a little understood magic system tied to the art of falconry. Brysen and Kylee are complex, often flawed characters. They act rashly, they make mistakes, but they always look out for each other (even when they’d prefer not to!).

Black Wings Beating is high fantasy at its best. Recommended for readers with an interest in killer birds, killer writing, and killer twists.

Possible Pairings: Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier, Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor, Updraft by Fran Wilde

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