Queen of Ruin: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Women like Serina and Nomi have never had power in Viridia. At least, that’s what both girls had always been taught as their country’s history and their own legacy in it.

The sisters know better now.

After accidentally helping to stage an assassination and a coup, Nomi’s life is in shambles. Viridia’s Superior is dead, the rightful Heir Malachi might be dying, and Asa–Nomi’s betrayer–has taken the throne for himself and is determined to keep it at any cost.

After accidentally inciting a rebellion on Mount Ruin, Serina has become the unlikely leader of the women prisoners trapped there. No longer cowed by the prison guards who forced them to fight each other to survive, the former prisoners dare to imagine different lives for themselves. But how can any of them hope for change when their country is still fundamentally broken?

In their efforts to try and rescue each other Serina and Nomi soon discover that they may be the only ones who can ever hope to bring change to Viridia in Queen of Ruin (2019) by Tracy Banghart.

Queen of Ruin is the sequel to Banghart’s debut novel Grace and Fury and concludes the duology series.

Like its predecessor, Queen of Ruin often suffers from flat characterization and uneven pacing. Most of the novel builds toward a dramatic confrontation that is ultimately brief and surprisingly anticlimactic.

Serina and Nomi form the backbone of this story with character arcs that, particularly in this installment, demonstrate how dramatically both sisters have transformed from the start of the series. Moments of romance and suspense temper what would otherwise have become an exercise in prolonged feminist rage. Discussions of agency and power dynamics fit in well with the plot as both sisters are forced to consider how best to once again give women equal space in a country that has worked so hard to erase them.

Queen of Ruin is a high action, plot driven story and the conclusion this series deserves. Recommended for angry feminists everywhere.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, For A Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Everless by Sara Holland, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg, Ash Princess by Laura K. Sebastian

There Will Come a Darkness: A Review

“An impossible beginning and an inevitable end.”

The Seven Prophets guided humanity for generations building the fated cities and ending wars. Their visions–gifts from the Grace of Mind each possessed–predicted the ruin of dynasties and united countries. Until one hundred years ago when they disappeared leaving behind one final prophecy, a secret vision predicting an Age of Darkness and the arrival of the Last Prophet–the only person who might be able to stop it.

Hassan, Prince of Herat, was forced to flee his country when a strange zealot known as the Hierophant staged a coup in his bid to eliminate all of the Graced and pave the way for a new age. Hassan left everything and everyone he loved behind. Now he’s willing to do almost anything to get it all back.

Ephyra should be able to heal with her Grace of Blood but she has no training and no matter how hard she tries, it’s not enough. She has become a vigilante known as the Pale Hand to try and keep her sister alive, but the lines between right and wrong are getting thinner every day.

Anton has never met a game he couldn’t win. But even his luck isn’t enough to outrun the nightmares that plague him whenever he tries to use his Grace. With his past chasing at his heels, Anton will have to confront the truth of his nightmares if he wants to escape.

Jude is a leader in charge of an elite guard meant to find and protect the Last Prophet at all costs. But how can he stay true to his duty when his heart keeps pulling him away from his chosen path?

Beru knows she is dying even if her sister can’t admit it. After fighting the inevitable for so long, she’s starting to wonder if giving up is really the worst thing that can happen to her.

One prophecy, one common enemy, and five souls who all have the potential to save the world–or destroy it in There Will Come a Darkness (2019) by Katy Rose Pool.

There Will Come a Darkness is Pool’s debut novel and the start of her Age of Darkness trilogy. The novel alternates close third person point of view between the five main characters.

Pool creates a lush world where magic is seen as a gods-given gift and, instead of haves and have nots, the social order is divided between the Graced and those without magic. The action of the story plays out against this sprawling world framed by a complex magic system and polytheistic society where Prophecy has shaped civilization for generations. Lush and vividly described settings help bring this story to life.

Every character in There Will Come a Darkness is driven by fear or desperation–all five are running away, or in some cases running towards, something. The choices they make while pursuing these goals underscore the question of predestination versus free will that permeates the story as it builds quickly, and sometimes unevenly, to a conclusion filled with sudden twists and betrayals.

There Will Come a Darkness is a fantasy filled with suspense and action as each character is forced to ask themselves how far they will go to protect everything they love. Recommended for readers looking for a fast-paced fantasy with a large ensemble cast and anyone who has ever asked themselves what they’d do at the end of the world.

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi,  Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Black Wings Beating by Alex London, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

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

In An Absent Dream: A Review

“You can be happy here or you wouldn’t be here. But ‘happy’ doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to you.”

cover art for In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuireKatherine Lundy has always known the value of rules and, perhaps even more importantly, loopholes. Lundy would much rather spend her time reading and studying than prepare for a future as a proper housewife. But as a girl in the 1960s it’s hard for anyone to imagine that future as a real possibility for her–even her own family.

When Lundy finds a magic door, it leads to a world filled with logic, riddles, and a brutal kind of sense. The rules are simple: ask for nothing; remember that names have power; always give fair value; take what is offered and be grateful; and most importantly of all: remember the curfew.

Lundy is used to following rules and she revels in finding her way through these new ones. But even as she imagines a home for herself in the Goblin Market, her old life keeps calling her back. As the time for choosing draws near, Lundy will learn that finding a loophole doesn’t always mean you should use it in In an Absent Dream (2019) by Seanan McGuire.

In an Absent Dream is the fourth installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas which begins with Every Heart a Doorway and continues in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Beneath the Sugar Sky.

This novella acts as a prequel following Lundy before she makes her way to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Knowing the way things end for Lundy in other books make this a bitter volume, but it also can be an interesting entry point into the series.

McGuire once again uses an omniscient narrator to excellent effect to create prose that is filled with ominous foreshadow and warnings you can’t help but wish our heroine would heed.

In an Absent Dream is another fine addition to a series that only gets better with time. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy portal fantasies, adventure, and horror in equal measure.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, The Perilous Gard by Mary Elizabeth Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Sadie: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Sadie by Courtney SummersThe only thing that has ever really mattered to Sadie is her little sister, Mattie. Sadie pins all of her hopes and dreams onto Mattie. She gives her the care and affection their mother can’t usually manage. Mattie is better and more and she deserves everything Sadie never thinks to want for herself.

But then Mattie is murdered.

The trail is cold and the police don’t care. After all, she’s just another dead girl.

But Sadie knows who did it. And she knows she is the only one who can make them pay–even if it means losing herself in the process.

Weeks later West McCray hears about Sadie while he’s recording a radio segment on small, forgotten towns in America. The police might not care, most of the town might not care, but West finds that he does. What starts as a podcast soon becomes a much larger project as West delves into Sadie’s past and tries to follow her trail before it’s too late in Sadie (2018) by Courtney Summers.

Summers’ latest standalone alternates between Sadie’s first person narration and West’s podcast segments as he follows her trail.

Sadie is a brutal story about the disasters left in the aftermath of loss and poverty. Despite the violence surrounding Mattie’s murder and Sadie’s own revenge quest, the prose never sensationalizes it. Through West, Summers makes a deliberate choice to never make Mattie into a plot point and never to appeal to the lowest common denominator by glamorizing violence.

Sadie is a calculating and singular narrator. Her shrewd narration contrasts sharply with dialog as she navigates the world with a severe stutter (a speech impediment that could have been fixed when Sadie was a child if her mother had bothered to pursue treatment). That contrast in particular highlights the way that Sadie explores poverty and privilege–particularly as West begins to unpack his own privilege in being able to initially dismiss Sadie’s disappearance as too common and not interesting enough for a podcast.

Nothing here is neat or simple–including Sadie herself. While the ending leaves readers with a lot of questions it also places the decision of how her story will unfold, back in her own hands–a freedom that was impossible to imagine at the beginning of the novel. Sadie is an incisive story about agency and feminism as well as an utterly engrossing thriller. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson, The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

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

Finale: A Review

*Finale is the final book in Stephanie Garber’s Caraval trilogy. This review contains spoilers for books one and two. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Caraval and Legendary.*

cover art for Finale by Stephanie GarberScarlett and Donatella Dragna are no strangers to magic.

Spirited away by a roguish sailor and her sister’s schemes, Scarlett doesn’t just play in Caraval. She wins. During the game she sees time traded as easily as coins and the dead brought back to life; she finds true love and discovers the power of a wish made in earnest. Perhaps even more importantly, in winning Caraval, Scarlett learns how to be strong after years of thinking she could settle for being safe.

Tella has always been brazen, maybe even reckless. She easily barters away kisses, her sister’s stability, and is even willing to risk her own freedom if it means getting what she wants. Weeks later when Tella plays her own game of Caraval even her daring plan to unmask Caraval Master Legend may not be enough to win when the Immortal Fates return to the Meridian Empire.

Long rumored to be myths, the Fates are closer to gods with the magic and the cruelty to prove it. The stakes have never been higher as the Fates try to reclaim the empire they once ruled and two sisters race to stop them. Scarlett will have to do the impossible and Tella will have to risk everything and this time it’s definitely not just a game in Finale (2019) by Stephanie Garber.

Finale is the final book in Stephanie Garber’s Caraval trilogy. This review contains spoilers for books one and two. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Caraval (which relates Scarlett’s story and in many ways functions as a standalone) and Legendary (Tella’s story and a direct sequel to Finale which begins two months later).

This installment alternates close third person chapters following Tella and Scarlett with the return of several other favorite characters along the way.

Both sisters know that anything is possible with a bit of magic and a lot of determination but even with help from Legend and Julian, it’s unclear how immortal beings can be stopped–especially when the Fates’ only weakness is something completely antithetical to their existence.

In a series that consistently amps up the tension and the stakes, Finale is a high action, nail-biting conclusion as both sisters are forced to make to make perilous choices that will change their lives–and the Meridian Empire itself–forever. Garber’s lush prose, vibrant descriptions, and, of course, swoon worthy romance serve as elegant counterpoints to the dangers that Scarlett and Tella face throughout.

Finale is a satisfying conclusion and an apt farewell to the richly imagined world of Caraval and, of course, to Scarlett and Tella–our heroines who together learn the power of magic, love, and a game well-played.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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

Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt

Merrilee Rose Campbell isn’t sure what to expect when she transfers to Reginald R. Hero High as a sophomore along with her best friend Eliza and her younger sister Rory. It will be her first time being in classes with boys since elementary school. Already convinced no real boy can live up to the swoony ones in all of the novels she loves, Merilee’s expectations for her new school are low.

But instead of the annoying mouth breathers she expects, it seems like every boy at Hero High has stepped out of one of Merrilee’s novels. Wherever she turns, she sees a swoon-worthy boy fit to be the romantic lead in his own story complete with all of the brooding mystery that Merrilee ever hoped for.

At first it seems like Merrilee might have found her own romance with Stratford Monroe inspired by the ultimate romantic duo: Romeo and Juliet. But it turns out that story isn’t anything like she thought.

Then there’s the fact that she keeps getting thrown together with Fielding Williams—the stuffy but handsome son of the headmaster–who seems to have a knack for always catching Merrilee at her most awkward and has no qualms about telling her he doesn’t think she’s Hero High material.

First impressions can be deceiving but Merrillee and Fielding might need more than one more chance if Merrilee is going to get over her pride and Fielding is going to let go of his prejudices in Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy (2018) by Tiffany Schmidt.

Bookish Boyfriends: A Date with Darcy is the first book in Schmidt’s latest ongoing series.

With humor and romance in equal measure, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date with Darcy is the rare book that can read up or down with strong appeal for teens of all ages.

It takes a while for the book to get to its Pride and Prejudice retelling subplot while Merrilee figures out how to deal with overly amorous Stratford when his attentions shift from flattering to overbearing. Although it slows down the beginning of the novel, this plot thread is an important conversation starter about consent and boundaries which Schmidt handles well.

This installment also introduces readers to characters they can expect to encounter in future installments including Merri’s surly and artistic younger sister Rory who returns later this year in The Boy Next Story.

Bookish Boyfriends is a fun new series filled with humor, books, and romance in equal measure perfect for readers who are bookish, romantics, or fans of the classics.

Possibles Pairings: A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Last Best Story by Maggie Lehrman, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, From Twinkle, With Love by Sandya Menon, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Tiffany about Bookish Boyfriends.

Grace and Fury: A Review

cover art for Grace and Fury by Tracy BanghartIn Viridia, all women wear masks.

Hiding the fear and frustration is the only way to stay safe in a world where women have no rights.

Serina has focused all of her energy into training to become a Grace. If she is chosen by the Superior or his Heir, Malachi, Serina will live in luxury as an embodiment of the ideal woman. Being a Grace will ensure that her family will never want for anything. Her younger sister, Nomi, can even stay at her side as a Handmaiden.

Nomi doesn’t want to leave behind everything she’s ever known, especially not her twin brother Renzo. She knows that rebellion is dangerous. But she still can’t bring herself to be more complacent–not even now. Not even for her sister. Instead, she is furious. Nomi knows that Serina has willingly made this choice. She just isn’t sure that she’s prepared to follow her.

One brash conversation and one reckless act ruins all of Serina and Nomi’s careful plans. While Nomi is trapped in a life she never wanted, Serina is falsely imprisoned on an island where she will have fight to the death to survive. Separated and ill-prepared for the challenges they’ll have to face alone, both Serina and Nomi will have to push themselves further than they ever imagined to try and find each other in Grace and Fury (2018) by Tracy Banghart.

Serina and Nomi are interesting counterpoints. Their characters arcs mirror each other but how each heroine handles her new challenges is telling. While Serina begins the novel willfully ignorant of the inequalities within Viridia she soon (surprisingly quickly to be clear) finds herself at the center of a potential revolution.

Nomi, meanwhile, has always been painfully aware of the freedoms she and other women in Viridia lacks. Yet she routinely puts the small freedoms she has earned at risk and willfully ignores numerous (heavily broadcasted) red flags as her own plans for revolution and escape begin to crumple around her.

The main problem with Grace and Fury is that none of the relationships feel authentic. Changing dynamics and growing chemistry don’t erase the woefully unequal power dynamics both Serina and Nomi have with several of the male characters. Similarly, it’s hard to pretend the Heir better than he initially seems when his selfish and thoughtless actions set the entire plot in motion.

Grace and Fury will be a familiar story to fantasy readers. Predictable plot points and derivative characters dilute some of the story’s impact however Banghart artfully flips several tropes as the cast expands and readers learn more about Viridia.

The narrative is tightly controlled and uses the dual narration to full advantage. Grace and Fury alternates between chapters following Serina and Nomi in close third person with a tightly controlled narrative arc. Banghart uses this dual narrative structure to full advantage highlighting the ways in which the sisters’ stories both mirror each other and diverge. The restrained, unadorned prose works well to increase the tension and highlight the stark world both girls find themselves in as the story progresses.

A cliffhanger ending with questions about who will live to see book two will leave fans eager for the next installment.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, For A Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Everless by Sara Holland, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg, Ash Princess by Laura K. Sebastian