The Sullivan Sisters: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn OrmsbeeSisters Eileen, Claire, and Murphy used to be close. A visionary, a planner, and a performer respectively the sisters could accomplish amazing things–like making their house feel like a home even with their father dead and their mother increasingly absent.

But that was years ago. Now the girls can barely stand to be around each other.

At eighteen Eileen has been carrying a potentially dangerous secret for years. She is working a dead end job. She’s managed to hide her drinking from her mother so far. Her sisters aren’t as easy to fool.

Seventeen-year-old Claire is an Exceller and she is ready to use everything at her disposal to Excel, succeed, get the hell out of her small Oregon town, and find her first girlfriend. With advice from her favorite self-help Youtuber, Claire has done everything right. But she still didn’t get into Yale–the only college she applied to.

Fourteen-year-old Murphy has always felt like a fifth wheel in her family. She never met her father so she can’t miss him. Her mom is never around. Eileen and Claire never have time for her. Luckily, Murphy has her magic tricks to keep her company. She used to also have Siegfried the family turtle. But then she forgot to feed him one too many times.

Days before Christmas Eileen receives a letter that could change everything. The sisters have inherited a house from an uncle they’ve never heard of. A house that could have answers for Eileen, money for Claire to get out of town, and a chance for Murphy to feel like she’s part of a family again in The Sullivan Sisters (2020) by Kathryn Ormsbee

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The Sullivan Sisters alternates between third person chapters from each sister. Unfortunately, the clinical tone of the narration also makes the sister’s blend together. A heavy reliance on quirks to define their personalities doesn’t help matters.

Your feelings about this book will depend heavily on your expectations going in. If you are looking for a heartfelt story of sisters reconnecting, this is the book for you. If, like me, you came expecting an atmospheric house mystery you will likely be disappointed.

Ormsbee tackles a lot in the book and the mystery aspect, such as it is, barely makes the list. What The Sullivan Sisters does well is present three flawed characters (four if you count their mother) who have gotten so used to drifting along that they need a major jolt (like a surprise inheritance) to get back on track.

Throughout the book Eileen is forced to confront her alcoholism (she is in AA by the end of the story). Claire has to admit that her self-help idol may not be as helpful as she thought but also it may not be as terrible as Claire thought to be queer in a small town–even without a plan. Murphy is a hard one. She is funny and often the most approachable of the sisters. But she also killed Siegfried the turtle through her own neglect–something that was hard to swallow even with an abundance of remorse on her part.

The Sullivan Sisters is a story about connection and secrets. Recommended for readers who enjoy reading about complicated sibling relationships, family secrets, and flawed characters.

Possible Pairings: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

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

The Invention of Sophie Carter: A Review

“None of us are the same, and we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. Our comparisons are invariably false when we compare their strengths to our weaknesses.”

The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha HastingsEngland, 1851: Orphaned and grudgingly cared for by their reluctant guardian, identical twins Sophie and Mariah Carter don’t think they need anyone else when they have each other.

What the sisters need, desperately, is a chance at lives filled with more than the drudgery they’ve known for the last ten years. Sophie dreams of using her clockmaking skills to become a renowned inventor while, with the right instruction, Mariah’s artistic talents could make her a leading painter.

Sophie’s plan to get them both to London for the summer to see the Queen’s Great Exhibition (for Sophie) and London’s finest art (for Mariah) almost works. The problem? Their aunt will only accommodate one sister. To avoid separation the girls travel to London together agreeing to take turns being “Sophie.”

At first, the plan is simple enough since no one can tell the twins apart. But as Sophie forges an unlikely friendship with businessman Ethan and Mariah warms to their aunt’s prickly ward Charles both girls will have to contend with their own feelings and ambitions as well as the two young men who each think they’re falling in love with the real Sophie in The Invention of Sophie Carter (2020) by Samantha Hastings.

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The Invention of Sophie Carter is Hastings’ second novel. Chapters alternate between close third person following each sister during their adventures around London and in their aunt’s house.

Breezy narration, a pitch perfect historical setting, and just the right amount of romance make this story a delight. Themes of sisterhood and individuality elevate this romance adding dimension to both sisters as their horizons expand with the opportunities they are able to seize in London. Ethan and Charles are also excellent foils to both sisters.

The Invention of Sophie Carter is a delightful read and just what I needed right now. Readers are sure to be as smitten with the Carter sisters as their suitors are by the end of this utterly charming novel. Highly recommended.

You can also check out my interview with Samantha about the book here on the blog!

Possible Pairings: Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Antsey, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee

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

Magic for Liars: A Review

Magic For Liars by Sarah GaileyIvy has never been magic. She has gotten used to the bitter ordinariness–especially whenever she is compared to her identical twin sister Tabitha, a magic prodigy.

Ivy never wanted to be magic, really. But she still wonders if it wouldn’t have made some things easier. Tabitha is able to get rid or freckles that plague both of them, her eyes always sparkle a bit more, and everything seems to come much more easily for her. People never stick to Ivy and she wonders sometimes if she had been magic if that might have been different.

Ivy knows exactly who she is: the half-feral detective with the perpetual hangover, covered in ink and smudges, devoid of magic. She knows that isn’t an Ivy anyone would want.

When she is hired to investigate a grisly murder at the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages where Tabitha teaches Theoretical Magic, Ivy thinks it could be her chance to make good as an investigator. It might be her chance to be a different Ivy and, if she does things right, it could change everything.

But being around so much magic and so many what-ifs is intoxicating. As questions arise and the suspect list grows, Ivy will have to keep her head clear if she wants to get to the truth in Magic for Liars (2019) by Sarah Gailey.

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Magic for Liars is a standalone fantasy noir mashup complete with a flawed detective as the protagonist.

Ivy has spent most of her life lonely and starved for attention. Being in her head is hard, but it’s supposed to be as her inner turmoil plays out against the larger backdrop of the murder investigation.

Magic for Liars is a mystery wrapped around a sometimes painful examination of the stories we tell ourselves in an effort to make the world see us the way we wish it would. A tightly paced, largely flawless mystery that delivers on every front. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, Storm Front by Jim Butcher, The Secret Place by Tana French, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire, The Rook by Daniel O’Malley,, Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Light Between Worlds: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. WeymouthSix years ago Evelyn and Phillipa Hapwell and their brother Jamie went outside to the family bomb shelter. Years of drills trained them well to get to the shelter and not wait for anyone, not even their parents.

Instead of walking into a shelter, the siblings find themselves transported to the Woodlands, a forest kingdom preparing for a war of its own. Philippa and Jamie always knew any stay in the Woodlands would be temporary–how could it be anything else?

But even now, all these years later, Ev is still sneaking into the woods and trying to find her way back. Cervus, their guide in the Woodlands, always told Ev that Woodlander’s heart always finds its way home. But can that still be true after so long?

Philippa is happy to be home, happy to leave everything that happened in the Woodlands behind, and try to move on. When Ev disappears, Philippa has to confront everything that happened in the Woodlands–including her own betrayals along the way–if she wants to find out what happened to her sister in The Light Between Worlds (2018) by Laura E. Weymouth.

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The Light Between Worlds is a standalone portal fantasy and Weymouth’s debut novel. The first half of the story, set in 1949, is told in Ev’s first person narration. The second half, in 1950, is narrated by Philippa. (The audiobook uses different voice actresses for each narrator and is an excellent production.)

As you might have guessed, this was a heavy read filled with melancholy for what all of the siblings have lost and, especially for Ev, genuine despair. In other words, it was not a good choice to read when the Covid-19 related quarantine started in March. Be warned, the novel does depict Evie’s self-harm as a coping mechanism after she returns to London.

Readers familiar with portal fantasies will find the story they expect here while readers new to the sub-genre might feel more tension around the question of what happened to Ev. Both Evie and Philippa’s parts include flashbacks both to their time in the Woodlands and the weeks immediately after their return. While the Woodlands chapters are evocative and provide a story within the story, they never do much to explain the appeal of the Woodlands even to Evie who feels more at home there than in London.

The Light Between Worlds is filled with beautiful, visceral, evocative writing and offers a thoughtful exploration of both post traumatic stress and trauma. An acquired tasted but one that marks Weymouth as an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Tigers, Not Daughters: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha MabryEveryone in Southtown knows the four Torres sisters. And everyone remembers the night they were caught trying to run away — especially the boys across the street, who flock to Hector’s house at night to watch Ana, the eldest at almost 18, undress in her bedroom window.

While she does, they dream of all the ways they could save her from their “old neighborhood, with its old San Antonio families and its traditions so strong and deep we could practically feel them tugging at our heels when we walked across our yards.”

If it wasn’t for their infatuation and accidental intervention in the sisters’ escape attempt, everything might have been different. Ana would never have fallen from her window; she “wouldn’t have died two months later and her sisters wouldn’t have been forced to suffer at the hands of her angry ghost.”

A year later, after “a brief but catastrophic mourning period,” the girls’ widowed father is barely keeping it together. Jessica is trying to focus on her boring job at the pharmacy, her boyfriend, and not much else. Iridian hasn’t left the house in weeks — all the better to read Ana’s old supernatural romances and write the best scenes of her own. And Rosa, the youngest, always “more attentive than most people,” tries to follow the signs — the connections — when a hyena goes missing from the zoo on the anniversary of Ana’s death in Tigers, Not Daughters (2020) by Samantha Mabry.

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Set primarily over the course of 10 days, this book follows the surviving sisters in close third-person as they move through the grief over Ana’s death and the increasingly obvious signals that she isn’t entirely gone.

Flashbacks narrated collectively by Hector’s friends relate all of the ways in which the boys bear witness to the disasters that befall the Torres sisters and, more importantly, highlight “the many times we could have said or done something and, instead, we said and did nothing.”

These multiple viewpoints allow the story to shift between the girls’ linear narrations and the boys’ flashbacks that chronicle all the ways the sisters have been objectified — and failed — by the men in their lives.

This shift is especially obvious as Jessica repeatedly tries to move out of her overbearing and abusive boyfriend’s shadow, “tired of boys pulling on her, attempting to invade the life she’d tried so hard to keep protected.”

Though each sister has her own journey to complete while making peace with Ana’s sudden death, all three learn the importance of saving themselves — and each other — instead of remaining, as Iridian thinks, at the mercy of men “trying to leave their bruises all over her and her sisters.”

Throughout Tigers, Not Daughters, author Samantha Mabry blends elements of magical realism, moments of connection and grief, and genuinely eerie scares to create a story exploring the “magic in small things,” as well as a timely ode to sisterhood and feminism.

Possible Pairings: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee, When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter, Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth, The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters, Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can’t expect people to give you the things you love, unless you know how to ask.”

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve ValentineBy 1927 there were twelve girls who danced all night and never gave names. By then, the men had already given up asking and called them all princess.

Jo, the oldest, is the closest thing the younger ones have to a mother. She taught them all to dance cobbling together lessons from the steps she saw at the movies. Jo makes sure the girls all make it out every night and she makes sure they make it back before their father knows they’re gone. That’s why she’s always been “The General.”

It’s not a good life or an easy one. But it seems like something they can all survive while they wait for something better. That is until their father decides to marry them off. Jo always feared they would have to escape their father’s townhouse but she didn’t realize they’d do so separated, with no resources, and no way to find each other again.

Jo is used to setting things aside to take care of her sisters. What she still has to figure out is how to make a life for herself as she tries to find them again in The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (2014) by Genevieve Valentine.

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This standalone novel blends an evocative 1920s setting with an inventive retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The third person narration shifts between sisters with a primary focus on Jo and Lou, the second oldest, in electric prose that is replete with incisive observations and witty parenthetical asides.

Quick pacing, snappy writing, and hints of romance immediately draw readers into Jo and her sisters’ journey filled with both second chances and new beginnings.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a story about agency, choice, and the difference between surviving and really living wrapped up in a jazzy retelling readers won’t soon forget. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin; The Guest Book by Sarah Blake; The Diviners by Libba Bray; Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton; Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George; Button Man by Andrew Gross; The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman; The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews; Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi; China Dolls by Lisa See; Bachelor Girl by Kim Van Alkemade; The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams; Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

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.

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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*

The Good Luck Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole DavisEvery welcome house in Arketta has their own group of Good Luck Girls ready and waiting to make sure each and every brag has the best time.

The welcome houses are all different and so are the girls but the girls start the same: sold to  a welcome house as a child by parents desperate enough to imagine it’s a blessing. The girls are branded with markings that grow as they do, blooming into flowers when it’s time to move downstairs and become a Good Luck Girl. That’s when they’re trapped.

Aster knows the truth about being a good luck girl. She knows the despair and the horror and she knows it’s only a matter of time before the same thing happens to her little sister, Clementine.

Except on her first night downstairs Clementine accidentally kills a man setting herself, Aster, and three of the other girls on a path toward escape, justice, and maybe freedom in The Good Luck Girls (2019) by Charlotte Nicole Davis.

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The Good Luck Girls is Davis’ debut novel. The story blends elements of fantasy with a western inspired setting.

High action, a large cast, and dense world building slow down this otherwise fast-paced story. Aster, the driving force behind the girls’ escape, is the most developed character in the novel and goes a long way to make up for an otherwise one dimensional ensemble cast.

Hints of romance complement the girls’ search for agency and true friendship as they struggle to escape lives they never would have chosen for themselves. While Aster and the other girls reach the end of one journey, readers can look forward to more adventures in an upcoming sequel.

The Good Luck Girls is a fast-paced, plot driven story ideal for readers who enjoy books with boisterous casts, reluctant alliances, and girls on the run.

Possible Pairings: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett, Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon, Gunslinger Girl by Lindsay Ely, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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

One Dark Throne: A Review

One Dark Throne by Kendare BlakeTriplets Katherine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe are in the thick of their Ascension Year, the time when all three have to fight until only one is left alive to claim the title of queen and rule Fennbirn Island.

After the disastrous events of the Quickening, Katherine is stronger than ever–far from the sickly, weak Poisoner everyone expected at the start of the year. But what really happened on top of the Breccia Domain? And will it be enough to help her get both the crown and revenge?

Arsinoe never expected to survive the Ascension Year, not as a Naturalist with no powers to speak of and no familiar. That was before Arsinoe steeped herself in low magic and understood the secret of her true power. But will one secret be enough to change her fate?

Mirabella is arguably still the strongest sister. The temple supports her, her Elemental powers give her control over all elements. She could beat her sisters and claim the crown. But she’s no longer sure that is the future she wants.

Once again it all comes down to three sisters and, most importantly, one crown in One Dark Throne (2017) by Kendare Blake.

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One Dark Throne is the second book in Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series which begins with Three Dark Crowns. The book follows sisters Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe in close third person narration with additional chapters focusing on those closest to them.

Blake continues to expand the world of Fennbirn Island as the fight for the crown escalates. The expected in-fighting, betrayals, and suspense make One Dark Throne a page turner despite its length.

The fast pace is an interesting contrast to a closer focus on the sisters’ motivations as they all struggle to make it through the Ascension Year. While Arsinoe and Mirabella are drawn together, reluctant to fight their sisters, Katherine is set further apart after her return from the Breccia Domain. This incident also highlights the pointed difference between the triplets’ upbringing where Arsinoe and Mirabella had the advantage and support of actual friends and family growing up while Katharine had poison.

One Dark Throne is an intense, action-packed installment. Higher stakes, bigger consequences, and more twists make this book a must read for fans of the series.

Possible Pairings: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Rule by Ellen Goodlett, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Gravemaidens: A Review

Gravemaidens by Kelly CoonKammani dreams of becoming an accomplished healer–the position her father held before he failed to heal the lugal’s son and his family was cast down from the privileged class as punishment.

While her father drowns the shame of his disgrace and grief over his wife’s recent death with drink, Kammani manages the day to day work of treating patients. Her hopes of securing a better life for herself and her sister Nanaea are shattered when Nanaea is chosen for the dubious honor of becoming one of three sacred maidens who will accompany the ailing lugal into death.

While her sister only sees the opportunity to live briefly in luxury, Kammani knows becoming a sacred maiden is a death sentence. Determined to save her sister at any cost, Kammani embarks on a dangerous mission to sneak into the palace and try to heal the lugal before it’s too late in Gravemaidens (2019) by Kelly Coon.

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Gravemaidens is Coon’s debut novel. It is the first book in a fantasy duology set in a non-western world with piecemeal nods to ancient Sumer, Rome, and possibly Egypt with human sacrifice and a powerful god known as the Boatman.

Clunky prose and world building that falls short in terms of explanations about the ritual of the sacred maidens or other cultural norms drag down this otherwise interesting premise. Anachronistic phrases and over-the-top similes further detract from the novel’s potential. Kammani’s first person narration is filled with strangely sexualized descriptions of other female characters, including her own younger sister, with numerous mentions of full and shiny hair, straight teeth, and “womanly curves.” Throughout the novel this sexualization is equated with the preternatural beauty that distinguishes each sacred maiden.

Secondary characters who stay true to stereotype for most of the novel gain more depth near the end suggesting fans may find more to appreciate in book two.

Gravemaidens is a problematic but intriguing story. Make of that what you will.

Popular Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

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