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, 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

Spill Zone: The Broken Vow: A (Blog Tour) Graphic Novel Review


cover art for Spill Zone: The Broken Vow by Scott Westerfeld and Alex PuvillandThree years ago something happened in Poughkeepsie, New York that left the town changed. Inside the Spill Zone nothing is quite right anymore. Dead bodies stand motionless, caught where they fell; strange creatures wander the zone; no one who goes into the zone comes out the same.

Addison thought she was done with the zone when she took one last job to retrieve something from inside. Except she got close enough to touch the spill and now she’s changed–just like Jae, a mysterious boy from North Korea’s own spill zone.

Addison’s little sister, Lexa, was changed the night of the spill herself. And now her doll, Vespertine tells them that something worse is trying to get out in Spill Zone: The Broken Vow (2018) by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Alex Puvilland with color by Hilary Sycamore.

Spill Zone: The Broken Vow is the conclusion to Westerfeld’s latest graphic novel duology which began with Spill Zone. You can find a copy at your local library, buy a copy, or you can read the entire comic online with neat blog posts from Scott and Alex talking about their process at thespillzone.com.

This concluding volume is even creepier than the first with higher stakes, scarier creatures, and a lot more suspense. While Addison tries to make sense of what happened the last time she went into the spill she also has to figure out how to protect her sister and her town from whatever is trying to get out.

The Broken Vow expands the world of the comics as readers learn more about Don Jae and North Korea’s own spill. The eerie illustrations and psychedelic colors from the first volume return in this installment and continue to evoke a world gone subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) wrong. The use of different speak bubbles for each character also adds another dimension to the story.

Spill Zone: The Broken Vow is fast-paced action and nail-biting suspense. A satisfying conclusion to a truly original duology.

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

Be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour stops for even more Spill Zone posts:

7/8 Novel Novice http://www.novelnovice.com/
7/8 Undeniably Book Nerdy http://booksandmakeup.blogspot.com/
7/9 Bookcrushin http://bookcrush.in/
7/9 Hit or Miss Books https://hitormissbooks.wordpress.com/
7/9 Bookling Critics https://booklingcritics.wordpress.com
7/10 Seeing Double in Neverland http://seeingdoubleinneverland.blogspot.com
7/10 WhoRuBlog http://www.whorublog.com
7/11 Here’s to Happy Endings http://www.herestohappyendings.com/
7/11 The Book Rat www.thebookrat.com
7/12 Miss Print https://missprint.wordpress.com/
7/12 Bookstore Finds Www.instagram.com/bookstorefinds
7/13 Teen Lit Rocks teenlitrocks.com
7/13 Adventures of a Book Junkie https://www.toofondofbooks.com/
7/14 Novel Reality http://novelreality.blogspot.com
7/14 Flavia the Bibliophile http://flaviathebibliophile.com/
7/15 Haku & Books https://www.hakuandbooks.com/
7/15 Emily Reads Everything www.emilyreadseverything.com
7/16 YA Book Nerd http://yabooknerd.blogspot.com/
7/17 Take Me Away to a Great Read https://takemeawaytoagreatread.com/
7/18 Bumbles and Fairy-Tales http://bumblesandfairytales.blogspot.com
7/18 Pink Polka Dot Books http://www.pinkpolkadotbooks.com/
7/19 Folded Pages Distillery www.foldedpagesdistillery.com
7/20 Book Nut Booklovingnut.com
7/21 The Life of a Booknerd Addict http://www.booknerdaddict.com/

Down Among the Sticks and Bones: A Review

“Every choice feeds every choice that comes after, whether we want those choices or no.”

cover art for Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuireIdentical twins Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way back home and were immediately sent off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children before they could bring disorder to their parents’ tidy life.

This is the story of what happened before they came back.

Jacqueline and Jillian were a matched set–identical. Perfect for their parents to split up and mold after themselves. Jacqueline wore pretty dresses and was polite and quite–her mother’s perfect daughter. Jillian was smart and loud, a tomboy through and through–not quite the son her father wanted but close.

They were five when they learned that grown ups can’t be trusted and sisters can’t always be close. They were twelve when they walked down an impossible staircase and found a world filled with death and horror where, for the first time, they can choose who they might want to be in Down Among the Sticks and Bones (2017) by Seanan McGuire.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second book in McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas which begins with Every Heart a Doorway. This novella is a prequel to the series starter.

It is an interesting exercise in patience to read the followup to an exciting novella only to realize it is a prequel and will offer no hints of what comes after for the characters you’ve already met and started to care about. Despite desperately wanting to see what happens next at the school, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is an excellent addition to the series.

McGuire continues to develop this series with strong world building and thoughtful character development. Because of the prequel nature this story can be read out of order although that will dilute some of the impact of the character development across the series.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones plays with preconceived notions about heroes and villains in a world where, in the absence of a true hero, the lesser villain may unwittingly take on the position. The story is also a scathing commentary on absent and controlling parents. The usually powerful bond between sisters seen in fantasy novels is subverted here as Jack and Jill realize they are only able to come into their own when they are apart.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is another excellent addition to this strange little series of novellas. Perfect for readers of both fantasy and horror. Fans of the series can only hope future installments will offer as much insight into other characters’ stories.

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