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 Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, 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

Legendary: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Legendary is the second book in Garber’s Caraval trilogy which begins with Caraval. Start there to avoid spoilers.*

cover art for Legendary by Stephanie GarberTella never doubted that her sister Scarlett would win Caraval and use her wish to bring Tella back to life. Dying was worth any risk if it meant that Tella would be one step closer to mending her broken family and finally, for once, protecting her older sister. Playing Legend’s game was the only chance either of them would have to truly win their freedom–something that is worth far more than any debt Tella may have incurred to get Legend’s attention.

But every debt has to be paid eventually and Tella’s are coming due. Tella has always been quick on her feet, easily dodging any risk and danger. But even Tella isn’t sure that she’ll be able to acquire this last payment: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

 If Tella fails to discover Legend’s identity she could lose everything that matters–including her life. Winning the game will help Tella discover Legend’s identity. But the prize will come at a cost that could destroy Legend and Caraval forever. Tella knows better than to get swept away by the wonders within the game. But as time runs out, Tella starts to wonder if this time the game (and the dangers) might be more than illusion.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval, the grandest show by land or by sea. Inside you may come face to face with Fate or steal bits of destiny. As fantastical as Caraval might feel, the next five nights are very real. Elantine has invited us here to save the Empire from her greatest fear. For centuries the Fates were locked away, but now they wish to come out and play. If they regain their magic the world will never be the same, but you can help stop them by winning the game. Are you ready to play? in Legendary (2018) by Stephanie Garber.

Legendary is the second book in Garber’s Caraval trilogy which begins with Caraval. It picks up right after the events of Caraval with a decent recap of key events. Fans of the first book will appreciate many of the familiar characters in this installment.

This novel follows Tella in close third person as she tries to win Caraval while keeping her own secrets–particularly from her sister Scarlett who is sadly sidelined for much of the story as a result. Garber dramatically expands the world of the Meridian Empire and Caraval as well as offering more backstory on Tella and Scarlett’s past.

While Scarlett was a clever heroine who had to learn how to take risks and conquer her fears, Tella is already very shrewd and fearless. She wears her youth and femininity as weapons and is quick to acknowledge almost all of her weaknesses except, perhaps, for her fierce loyalty. Tella’s biggest struggle throughout Legendary isn’t learning to believe in herself. Rather she has to trust herself as she begins to realize that this version of Caraval bears little resemblance to the game Scarlett won.

Much like Caraval itself, Legendary plays with readers expectations as this story moves in surprising and unexpected directions. In many ways Tella’s story arc is as defined as Scarlett’s while leaving many key questions waiting to be answered in book three. Legendary is a must read for fans of the first book and proves that this series has staying power. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, 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, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, 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*

Always and Forever, Lara Jean: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Always and Forever, Lara Jean is the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and  P. S. I Still Love You. As such there are major spoilers for both preceding books in this review.*

“There’s so much to be excited about, if you let yourself be.”

It feels like everything is changing for Lara Jean the spring of her senior year in high school. She and Peter K. are still together but she is waiting for those much-anticipated college acceptance letters. Margot seems farther away than ever in Scotland especially as their father announces his plans to remarry. Kitty, the youngest Song girl, is ecstatic about the wedding and seems to be growing up all too quickly.

Lara Jean knows exactly how she wants the rest of her senior year and college to go. But even with all of her careful planning it seems like Lara Jean will still have to face some unexpected decisions and opportunities in Always and Forever, Lara Jean (2017) by Jenny Han.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean is the unexpected third book in Han’s Lara Jean trilogy which began with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and  P. S. I Still Love You. Han wrote this book in secret as a surprise for her readers who are fans of this series and these characters.

This final installment starts near Easter as Lara Jean is anxiously waiting to hear back from colleges and trying to plan what will come next for her own future as well as her future with Peter. Surprise college decisions and other changes prove that even the best laid plans can be changed and, more importantly, your future is your own to shape.

Lara Jean remains a sweet and thoughtful narrator here facing some universal dilemmas particularly when she realizes her dreams about college are not going to resemble her reality. Lara Jean has always had an excellent support system with her family, friends, and Peter but it’s especially nice to see Lara Jean making her own decisions here even if sometimes they are scary choices. Throughout this quiet novel Lara Jean demonstrates her signature blend of resilience and optimism.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean is the perfect conclusion for this series and these characters. A memorable and satisfying send off for fans of this much loved series.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Don’t forget to check out all of my buttons inspired by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before & P. S. I Still Love You

Spill Zone: A (Blog Tour) Graphic Novel Review

No entry. No photos. No survivors.

No one has been allowed in the Poughkeepsie Spill Zone since the night of the Spill. Addison Merrick was out of town and came back to a town she didn’t recognize, missing parents, and a sister who hasn’t spoken since.

With nowhere else to go she’s kept herself and her sister near the border of the Spill in their family home. From there it’s easy for Addison to periodically sneak into the Spill and snap photos of the weird aftermath to sell to art collectors.

No one knows what happened the night of the Spill but when Addison receives an offer to venture farther into the Zone than she ever has, she might be closer to finding out–whether she wants to or not in Spill Zone (2017) by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Alex Puvilland with color by Hilary Sycamore.

Spill Zone is Westerfeld’s latest graphic novel and the start to a new series. 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.

Spill Zone starts with Addison getting ready to venture into the Spill Zone to take another batch of photos. By this point Addison has the process down from sneaking through the border to how to get out of the Spill in one piece and protect herself and her sister while selling the highly illegal photos to art collectors like the owner of the Vandersloot Gallery (which you can find online). It’s risky but, thanks to Addison’s meticulous rules, it’s manageable.

Inside the Spill is dangerous and eerie. No one knows what happened. Time doesn’t seem to work the same way. Dangerous creatures are everywhere. Even colors are different. When Addison receives an offer she can’t refuse she’s forced to travel even further into the Spill Zone and confront dangerous truths about that night and the aftermath. The combination of Westerfeld’s story and Puvilland’s art keeps the tension taut throughout this volume as it builds to the dangerous climax and, of course, leaves readers with more questions.

Spill Zone is a fascinating and fast-paced story perfectly situated to appeal to both fans of speculative fiction and comics. Spill Zone is a deceptively fast read that packs a punch–guaranteed to reward multiple reads and close examination of each panel. Highly recommended.

As part of the Spill Zone Blog Tour I also have an exclusive photo from inside the Spill Zone!

This photo was taken by artist Alex Puvilland during his research for this book in Poughkeepsie. Spill Zone has had a lot of fun publicity that started well before its publication including the Spill Zone site where you can read the entire comic (and cool blog posts about Scott and Alex’s writing process) and also a web presence for the Vandersloot Gallery which displays some of Ms. Vandersloot’s impressive collection of Addison’s photos from inside the Spill.

Be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour for more exclusive photos. You can find the full schedule here: http://fiercereadsya.tumblr.com/post/160085874816/no-entry-no-photographs-no-survivors-three-years

Journey Across the Hidden Islands: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Twins Li-Jin and Seika are the princesses of the Hundred Islands of Himitsu. Li-Jin has been training at the Temple of the Sun to become an imperial guard and be able to protect her sister Seika who remains at the imperial palace studying under their father, the Emperor.

Li-Jin is thrilled when she completes her training and is able to go home so that she and Seika can spend their twelfth birthday together. But when Li-Jin and Alejan, her winged lion companion, arrive there isn’t much time for a reunion.

Instead the girls soon find themselves embarking on the Emperor’s Journey to travel across the islands of Himitsu to pay respect to the kingdom’s dragon guardian and renew their dragon’s bargain to protect the Hundred Islands.

Nothing on the journey goes right as Li-Jin and Seika encounter earthquakes, foreigners, and monstrous creatures during their travels. Despite their inexperience and doubts, both girls know that Himitsu is relying on them. As they get closer to finding the dragon they will have to rely on each other and trust their instincts to keep their people safe in Journey Across the Hidden Islands (2017) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Durst’s latest middle grade novel is a standalone fantasy set in a richly imagined world filled with magical creatures and unexpected dangers.

Li-Jin and Seika are strong heroines who know their potential even if they sometimes fear too much responsibility has been set on their shoulders. The sisters have a rock solid bond and both bring numerous strengths to their adventure in Journey Across the Hidden Islands.

The Hundred Islands of Himitsu are vividly described both from the ground and above thanks to Li-Jin’s travels on the back of Alejan when he is flying. This story is imbued with Japanese-inspired culture along with inventive world building including magical creatures, ancient tales, and dramatic buildings.

Li-Jin and Seika’s relationship as sisters forms the center of this story as the girls work together to protect, and potentially forever change, their kingdom. Journey Across the Hidden Islands is a fast-paced adventure with not one but two engaging and clever heroines. Recommended for fans of girl power fantasies, inventive worlds, and journey stories.

Possible Pairings: The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, The Keeper Of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

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

You can also check out my interview with Sarah about this book.