A Kind of Spark: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicollAddie has always known that she’s different. But she’s also always had her older sister Keedie to help her figure out how to navigate a world that doesn’t always know what to do with her.

Addie and Keedie are autistic. Their family, including Keedie’s twin Nina, have learned how to help make things easier for both girls offering them space to process feelings and deal with sensory overload. But the rest of Juniper is far less accomodating–something Addie is learning firsthand as her best friend drops her to be more popular and her new teacher constantly bullies and belittles Addie.

Addie suspects Keedie isn’t doing very well at college herself where she is struggling to “mask” as neurotypical. But no one wants to talk to Addie about that.

When Addie learns about the witches who were hanged in Juniper during a witch trial, she immediately recognizes kindred spirits. The more she learns, the more clear it is that these witches were women who were a lot like Addie and her sister–women who didn’t quite fit the mold for what the town considered “normal”, women who had no one to speak for them.

Addie’s campaign for a memorial to the Juniper witches draws ire from her teacher and local officials. But it also brings a new solidarity with her family, new friends, and a chance for meaningful change in A Kind of Spark (2021) by Elle McNicoll.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Kind of Spark is narrated by Addie (whose voice is brought to life, complete with Scottish accent, in the audiobook by narrator Katy Townsend) and set in a small Scottish town. All characters are presumed white. This title received an honor for the Schneider Family Book Award which is awarded yearly by ALA to “honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”

Addie’s first person narration is great and, as written by neurodivergent author McNicoll, authentic as she navigates everyday problems like making new friends alongside bigger challenges like campaigning for a memorial for the witches.

While it adds a lot of tension to the story, and leads to a dramatic conclusion with both Keedie and Nina rallying around Addie, the bullying Addie faces from her teacher feels over the top. The abuse is so extreme it had me questioning if I was actually reading historical fiction (even with Nina being a beauty vlogger) because it felt like the kind of treatment a character would face decades ago. I’ll add that I have no familiarity with Scotland or small town life so that might be part of the problem. But it also also felt very strange to have Addie tell her parents about how mean her teacher is (the book opens with Addie’s classwork being torn up because the handwriting is too messy) and they laugh it off and remark that Addie’s grandfather “got the strap” in school and he turned out fine. First of all, it’s hard to believe parents presented as being attentive and caring for Addie (and Keedie) would shrug that off–especially when the threat of forced institutionalization looms over both autistic girls after Keedie’s best friend was forced into a care facility. Second of all, my grandfather also had similar abuses in school–but I am at least twenty years older than Addie which again points to a dated portrayal. My best guess is that the author translated some of her own experiences as a neurodivergent young person to this modern book without fully factoring in changes to social norms/behaviors. And, again, maybe this is more of an issue in small towns that my urban self realizes.

A Kind of Spark expertly weaves Addie’s personal journey with her research and advocacy for the witches creating a multi-faceted and compelling story. The inter-family dynamics with Keedie trying to attend college without requesting accomodations and Nina choosing to pursue content creation instead of college add another layer to this story that, ultimately, reminds readers to celebrate what makes them different.

Possible Pairings: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner

A Forgery of Roses: A (WIRoB) Review

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

A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. OlsonPainters are disappearing throughout Lalverton with many devout citizens say this is just treatment for those who choose to paint–a creative outlet seen as holy and solely as the domain of the Great Artist. Conservatives including the governor fear the growing popularity in portraiture; the presence of Prodigy magic in Lalverton makes the taboo artform seem like even more of a threat.

With her mother–another Prodigy and talented artist–among the missing, Myra Whitlock knows she has to hide her own magical gift if she wants to keep herself and her younger sister, Lucy, safe. Scriptures are very clear that Prodigies are “a defilement of the power of our god, the Great Artist.” With magic that “gives a painter the ability to alter human and animal bodies with their paintings,” Prodigies have long been seen as “even more of an abomination than normal portrait work.” Their powerful ability also means that Prodigies “have been persecuted by the pious and captured by the greedy since the dawn of time.”

Lacking in proper training and control, Myra’s magic is even more dangerous. She can manipulate a person’s sevren threads to alter their appearance and heal injuries, but she can’t dictate when or how her magic will work instead having to paint through it while her magic buzzes “like a swarm of bees inside [her] head.” With finances dwindling in the wake of her parents’ disappearances, Myra desperately needs work to earn enough for rent, food, and for the nurse Lucy needs to help manage the symptoms of her chronic illness.

When Myra’s magic is discovered by the worst person possible, she forges an uneasy bargain with the governor’s wife. If Myra can use her Prodigy gift to resurrect the governor’s dead son, she could earn enough for a proper home, tuition to attend the conservatory, and even a real doctor to treat Lucy. If Myra fails, the governor’s wife will expose Myra as a Prodigy and her life could well be forfeit.

Spirited to Rose Manor in the dead of night, Myra has four days to complete her work before the body decays beyond help. Among the “ancient wealth and finery,” Myra sets to her grim work. But it soon becomes clear the governor’s son did not suffer an accidental fall as Myra has been told. Something more sinister is at work–something that could be even more dangerous to Myra than her exposure as a Prodigy. With reluctant help from August–the governor’s older, less favored son–Myra begins investigating the suspect death and trying to understand why her magic isn’t working. With time running out, Myra will uncover unsavory truths about the stately mansion and its residents in A Forgery of Roses (2022) by Jessica S. Olson.

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Olson blends mystery and suspense with a gothic sensibility in this standalone fantasy where all characters are assumed white. Myra narrates with an artist’s eye focused on color as seen when she describes making ladyrose gel–a medium from the author’s imagination that allows oil paints to dry fast enough for artists to complete full paintings in a matter of hours–from burnt flower petals: “As soon as it hits the water, the rose blood fans out, a spiderweb of shimmering scarlet veins crawling through the pot until the whole thing clouds like it’s full of sparkling garnet dust.” Myra’s keen eye for detail also works well within the narrative to increase tension and broadcast danger with one character described as having eyes that “glimmer like pond-slick moons” and “pearl earrings glow milky white like bones on either side of her face, twitching with every word she utters.”

To resurrect the governor’s son, Myra also has to understand the circumstances of his death and his emotional state at the time of death. As Myra explains, sevren are the “connective fibers that bind the soul to the physical form, they’re born from each person or animal’s emotional perception of their bodies. The more emotionally significant a physical feature is to that person or animal, the tighter and denser the bonds become.” Because of this, Myra takes a clinical eye to the body she is trying to restore with grisly precision as she notes “the crushed and mangled ear, the blood congealing on the hair, the fragments of skull and brain tissue” and the “scraped skin and the way the blood has pooled on the bottom of the body” while trying to paint the body as it is before layering in her changes.

Feeling a sense of urgency as time begins to run out and her paintings continue to fail, Myra works (and flirts) with August to investigate his brother’s death. While searching for clues together, August opens up about his daily struggle with severe anxiety which is well-represented in the text. As August explains, “This anxiety will always be a part of me. It’s not going anywhere, and I’m going to have to live with it for the rest of my life. But I am not broken because of it.”

Myra’s desperation to complete her work before she is exposed as a Prodigy only increases when Lucy’s illness takes a turn for the worse. Although unnamed in the text, symptoms include food sensitivity and intestinal distress which Lucy manages with scientific precision in notebooks where “food logs, graphs, and lists of symptoms are mapped out carefully on each page.” Readers will also recognize Spoon theory, described in the text as juice in a glass where “Every action of daily life—getting out of bed, bathing, dressing, doing research—siphoned juice away. Once the glass was empty, no matter how much she had left she needed to do or how much she’d hoped to get done, her body needed to rest. To refill the glass.”

A Forgery of Roses combines art, fantasy, and a truly surprising mystery with authentic and respectful representation for both anxiety and chronic illness which are seen as points of strength rather than flaws in this story where as Myra notes about Lucy “As far as I’m concerned, I may be the one with magic, but she’s the truly powerful one. Because she’s fought where I have never had to.” Myra and August’s romance and a final act filled with the surprise twists that are a hallmark of gothic literature at its best further enhance this story where a picture is worth much more than a thousand words.

Emma Carbone is a librarian and reviewer. She has been blogging about books since 2007.

Possible Pairings: The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh, The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Gallant by V. E. Schwab, The Splendor by Breeana Shields, Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor, All that Glitters by Gita Trelease

The Forest of Stolen Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June HurJoseon (Korea), 1426: The year of the crown princess selection when young women like Hwani should be dreaming of entering the palace as a princess. Hwani has never been interested in marriage or the selection process.

Instead, she is crossing the sea to travel to Jeju, a penal island of political convicts. Her childhood home.

Months ago, Hwani’s father made the same journey. He didn’t return.

Detective Min went to the island investigating the disappearance of thirteen girls–disappearances that might be tied to the forest incident–an event so traumatic that Hwani has blocked out all but the barest details.

Coming back to the island will bring Hwani face to face with her estranged younger sister, Maewol, for the first time in years. In their search for the truth, both sisters will have to confront buried memories from their past and the island’s dark secrets in their search for the truth in The Forest of Stolen Girls (2021) by June Hur.

Find it on Bookshop.

Hwani’s efforts to find her missing father and solve his last case contrast well with the smaller story of her own difficulties in deciding how to balance societal conventions with her own dreams and goals. Hwani’s tentative reconnection with her sister–who has been left alone on the island for years to train with the local shaman–adds further depth and tenderness to this thoughtful story.

An author’s note at the end demonstrates Hur’s thoughtful research for this novel while contextualizing the story here into the larger context of Korean history.

The Forest of Stolen Girls is a tense and atmospheric mystery that is both well-plotted and nuanced. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Mirage by Somaiya Daud, Splinters of Scarlet by Emily Bain Murphy, Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic, The Beast is An Animal by Peternelle Van Arsdale, The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

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

The Ones We’re Meant to Find: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Ones We're Meant to Find by Joan HeIn a world that has been ravaged by climate change, eco-cities guarantee clean air, water, and shelter. They also require all residents to live sustainably. By living less.

Kasey Mizuhara has always thrived in the eco-city. She doesn’t mind the close quarters or spending a third of her life in stasis. She prefers it. Everything is so much easier when she can focus on science instead of people.

Kasey isn’t sure she can ever forgive her older sister Celia for hating the eco-city enough to leave it three months ago never to return.

Kasey knows that her sister is gone. Dead. Logically, leaving the safety of the eco-city only ends one way. She’s known that for a while. But Kasey is still desperate to retrace Celia’s steps to try and understand.

Cee has been alone on an abandoned island for three years. She has enough food to survive and a long-vacant house for shelter but not much else. She has no memory of how she got there or who she was before.

She knows she has a sister. Kay. She knows that Kay is waiting for Cee to find her.

Cee will do whatever it takes to get back to her sister. Even if it means cracking open all of the secrets from her past–including the ones Cee has been too afraid to confront.

In a world founded on logic and numbers, there isn’t a lot of room for love. Or choice. But Kasey and Cee will choose how to find each other. And how far they’ll go to get there in The Ones We’re Meant to Find (2021) by Joan He.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a quiet, character driven story. Chapters alternate between Cee and Kasey’s narrations (Cee’s in first person, Kasey’s in third person). Both sisters grieve for what they have lost and, in their own ways, cope with that finality against the backdrop of imminent global catastrophe.

The less you know going into this story, the better. He expertly doles out all of the information readers need to unravel the story–and the secrets–alongside Kasey and Cee as the novel builds to its staggering and affecting conclusion.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find is an eerily plausible sci-fi thriller where sisterly love is leveraged against the greater good. Come for the intense emotions and taut pacing, stay for the intricate world building and ethical quandaries. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, More Than This by Patrick Ness, War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, Extras by Scott Westerfeld, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

The Splendor: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Splendor by Breeana ShieldsEveryone says The Splendor can give you things you don’t even know you want. The glamorous hotel is the stuff of dreams; offering decadent meals, lavish rooms, and everything a person could want.

People come back from the hotel changed. But Juliette doesn’t understand what that means until her sister, Clare, spends a week at The Splendor. Clare is different when she comes back. Distant and cruel where she had previously been attentive and kind. Juliette isn’t sure who she is without her sister’s love, with her sister little better than a stranger.

Desperate to understand what went wrong inside the hotel’s gilded walls, Juliette steals their savings to go to The Splendor herself. It’s easy to fall for everything The Splendor offers its guests even as Juliette searches for answers. Drawn to the young illusionist at the center of the hotel’s magic, Juliette begins to realize there’s more to the hotel and its staff than meets the eye.

Henri helps make The Splendor what it is, offering every guest a Signature Experience tailored to their every want. But all Juliette wants is for Clare to be who she was before she ever went to the hotel. As Henri learns more about Juliette he realizes that giving her what she wants will be even harder when he’s the one responsible for everything that’s gone wrong in The Splendor (2021) by Breeana Shields.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Splendor is a standalone fantasy novel. The story alternates close third person point of view between Juliette and Henri. The main characters are assumed white.

Shields throws readers right into the story with little introduction to the world or the magic that makes the hotel possible. While this creates immediate drama and action, it offers little in the way of clarification for the related magic system.

The cautious beginnings of romance between Juliette and Henri plays out sweetly alongside questions what is really needed to earn true loyalty or honesty–things Juliette and Henri will need in large supply before their story is over. Both protagonists are uncertain if they can trust the other with their hearts (or their secrets) adding tension to their chemistry and near immediate attraction.

The Splendor is a fast-paced and romantic adventure sure to sweep readers away.

Possible Pairings: Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson, Belle Époque by Elizabeth Ross, Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor, Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young

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

It All Comes Back to You: A Review

It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz RishiKiran Noorani has life after high school all mapped out. She’ll stay close to home in Philadelphia for college so she can be near her dad. Being a premed freshman at UPenn will be challenging, of course, but Kiran she and her sister Amira will be able to make up for lost time when they move into an apartment together near campus. It won’t be perfect because Kiran’s mother will still be dead. But it will be close.

Except Amira has been dating someone for months without telling Kiran. Someone she might want to move all the way to California with even though she barely knows him. Kiran wants the best for her sister and she’s already certain this mystery man is not it.

Deen Malik couldn’t be happier when he hears that his older brother, Faisal, has a great girlfriend. It’s no less than Faisal deserves–especially after everything he’s given up for Deen.

Deen is less enthusiastic when he realizes that Amira’s sister is Deen’s secret ex. No one knew when Deen and Kiran dated three years ago. Which is fine. It’s long over between them. But Deen is determined to make sure Faisal’s own romance doesn’t meet the same fate.

While Kiran does everything she can to sabotage this relationship, Deen is just as determined to keep the romance on course. With the two of them so busy obsessing over their siblings’ relationship, will they miss their own chance at closure and maybe something more in It All Comes Back to You (2021) by Farah Naz Rishi.

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It All Comes Back to You alternates between Kiran and Deen’s first person narrations in the weeks leading up to Amira and Faisal’s wedding. Chats from the MMORPG that Kiran and Deen both play and text messages help flesh out the backstory that broke up their secret relationship three years ago. Kiran and Deen (and their relatives) are Pakistani American and Muslim.

Rishi packs a lot into this story that centers around the whirlwind wedding preparations. Kiran is still grieving her mother’s death the year before while trying to reconcile her premed plans with her love for dance Deen, meanwhile, is struggling to care about his freshman coursework and determined to self-destruct before anyone can expect better of him.

Although the two couldn’t be farther apart in real life, anonymous chats in their MMORPG game Cambria are a touchstone for both protagonists as they pursue their singular goals. Kiran and Deen both mean well and want the best for their siblings. They also both make some really terrible decisions to accomplish what they think is best. Kiran, in particular, is hard to cheer on while she works so hard to sabotage the wedding, expose secrets that aren’t hers to tell, and otherwise make sure Amira stays on the path that Kiran wants her to follow.

It All Comes Back to You is a fast-paced contemporary romance that is as focused on family as it is on second chances. Recommended for readers looking for a new hate-to-love romance and two main characters who have a lot of room to grow throughout the story.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Don’t Hate the Player by Alexis Nedd, Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey

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

Instructions for Dancing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola YoonEvie Thomas is done with love.

After watching her parents’ marriage fall apart, she knows firsthand that love is a scam. Real life doesn’t have happy endings. The romance novels she used to adore are all lies.

While her mother tries to move on and her younger sister falls headfirst into every relationship she can, Evie is still angry at her father. And she’s furious that she wasted so much time believing in something that never lasts.

Giving up on love seems like the easiest course of action until Evie’s plan to donate her romance novel collection to a little free library goes horribly wrong. After accepting a mysterious book from a stranger, Evie can suddenly see people fall in love when they kiss. Her new visions trace each relationship from its tender beginning to the inevitable conclusion. It’s more than anyone can take but especially someone who is done with love.

Evie’s hunt for a way to stop whatever is happening leads her to La Brea Dance Studio and the owners’ charming, very cute nephew X. Where Evie is cautious, X is impulsive. If Evie is reserved, X is open–he always says yes. In other words, they are complete opposites and, through a series of events Evie barely understands, they are also suddenly partners in an amateur dance competition.

All Evie wants to do is stop her weird visions. If that means hanging out with X, fine. Falling for him is definitely not part of the plan, no matter how cute X might be. But the more time Evie spends with X, the more obvious it is that falling for him is as inevitable as standing close during the tango.

After witnessing so many heartbreaks firsthand, Evie knows that love always ends. As she gets closer to X, she’ll have to decide if having love at all is enough to risk the inevitable heartbreak in Instructions for Dancing (2021) by Nicola Yoon.

Find it on Bookshop.

In many ways Instructions for Dancing feels like a natural next step (pun intended) to follow up Yoon’s blockbuster sophomore novel The Sun is Also a Star. Through Evie’s visions this story spins out from main character Evie’s first person narration to show a world that is much larger, and more beautiful, that cynical Evie is at first willing to acknowledge. Elements of fabulism (think magic realism but not by latinx authors) add unexpected magic and whimsy to this subtle story. Evie and X are Black and backed up by an inclusive cast with strong friendships and memorable adults notably including X’s grandparents.

Evie’s reluctant immersion in the world of competitive dance adds a lot of humor to a story that tackles weighty topics like love and loss with nuance and care. Evie’s friend group also plays an important role in the novel as all of them prepare for the end of high school and what that will mean for each of them and their friend web.

Instructions for Dancing is the definition of bittersweet with an ending that is sure to garner a few tears from even the coldest of hearts. With a story that carefully balances hope and pragmatism, Instructions for Dancing is affirming and, ultimately, an ode to love in all of its forms.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

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

Sunkissed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sunkissed by Kasie WestAvery’s expectations for her summer vacation are low. Her college professor parents always make summer vacations an event but now, the summer before her senior year, Avery’s parents are more determined than ever to have a summer full of family bonding. Unfortunately that means a summer at a hokey family camp. Without WiFi.

While Avery mourns her now inaccessible playlists, she relishes the chance to completely unplug and avoid her best friend–the one who betrayed her right before they left. Watching her younger, extroverted sister struggle without access to all of her social media accounts is an added bonus.

The summer starts to look up when Avery meets Brooks–the aloof frontman for the camp’s band. Who tells Avery that all of the camp’s guests are hopeless snobs before he realizes she is, in fact, one of those guests.

Despite a disastrous first meeting, circumstances keep bringing Avery and Brooks together while giving Avery a chance to step out of her comfort zone. After years of curating the perfect playlist for every occasion, this summer could be Avery’s chance to write her own song–and sing it center stage in Sunkissed (2021) by Kasie West.

Find it on Bookshop.

If the plot of West’s latest standalone contemporary sounds a lot like the film Dirty Dancing, that’s because it is. Sunkissed offers an aged down, somewhat sanitized version of the film where the main characters connect while preparing for a battle of the bands contest instead of a dancing showcase. The family camp here feels a bit less plausible and is, notably, not a destination for Jewish families as was the case in the film.

Avery’s first person narration is breezy and immediately draws readers into her story. She is also an extremely introverted and conflict averse character, making it painfully clear to readers early on that her problems could largely be resolved with some honest conversations–all of which Avery avoids for most of the book.

West brings her ususal skill to writing swoony banter and characters with chemistry even if, at times, the story seems to be shoehorned into the Dirty Dancing style plot. Where this story really shines is in watching Avery and Brooks connect as they ultimately push each other to strive for their goals–things neither was willing to fight for until their fateful meeting.

Sunkissed is a summery romance filled with characters who love music and are learning to dream big.

Possible Pairings: Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park, Love Songs and Lies by Jessica Pennington, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker, Dirty Dancing

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

A Dark and Starless Forest: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah HollowellDerry has been living in a secluded house in the woods with her siblings and their protector, Frank, for years. They don’t have luxuries like cosmetics or snack foods or even new books and DVDs. They’re not spoiled at all. But they’re taken care of. They’re safe.

Which Frank has told them is much more important in a world that fears their magic. It’s the same reason he calls them alchemists instead of that more dangerous word: witches.

White, fat, sixteen-year-old Derry and her siblings dislike Frank and fear him even as Frank reminds them that he took them in when no one–not even their parents–wanted them. Derry and her siblings–eldest Jane (who is Black); Winnie (who is fat and white); Brooke (fat, Deaf, Mexican-American); white twins Elle and Irene (Irene is trans); nonbinary, Mexican-American Violet; and the youngest identical Black twins Olivia and London–have fierce bonds between them. Which makes it so much worse when first Jane and then Winnie disappear.

Frank says the girls must have died in the dense forest surrounding their home. But as Derry explores the forest she wonders if the disappearances might be tied to Frank himself.

As she learns more about Frank and her own magical affinity for growing both real and imagined plants Derry will have to decide how far she is willing to go to keep her loved ones safe in A Dark and Starless Forest (2021) by Sarah Hollowell.

Find it on Bookshop.

Despite each sibling having distinct magical abilities, this element of the story is largely set dressing for the novel’s plot which is a blend of horror and suspense sprinkled with hints about a dark moment in Derry’s past that makes her reluctant to re-enter the forest in her search for Jane (and later Winnie). The novel is also notable for its focus on the bond between Derry and her siblings with a total absence of romance subplots.

Derry’s first-person narration amplifies the siblings’ isolation with a palpable fear of Frank and his punishments, including the dreaded time out room whose horrors are honed to each sibling’s worst nightmares (blaring lights and erratic, staticky noise for Derry). The restricted narrative works to amp up the tension but leaves many questions about how the siblings’ magic works and, more importantly, the implications of said magic in the outside world.

Hollowell is at pains to create an inclusive cast with some elements (Violet being nonbinary, Irene’s trans identity, everyone’s use of ASL–designated by single quotes around signed dialog–to communicate with Brooke) integrated into the narrative better than others. Derry’s quest to find her missing siblings and save all of them from Frank drives the story but leaves little room for character development of the other siblings who are often absent from the action and remain little more than names and attributes.

Derry’s moral ambiguity is unresolved by the end of the novel as she embraces darker choices to save her siblings heedless of the consequences. Questions about world building and what will come next for all of the siblings are also up in the air. A Dark and Starless Forest is a dark, inclusive blend of horror and extremely light fantasy. Ideal for readers looking for a slightly supernatural tale of suspense.

Possible Pairings: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, Half Bad by Sally Green, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters

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

Come Tumbling Down: A Review

“The Moors turned us both into monsters. But it did a better job with me.”

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuireIdentical twins Jack and Jill found dangers and horrors when they stepped through their magical door into the Moors. They also found themselves for the first time. But in a world where everyone is a villain of some sort, hard choices have to be made–choices that have consequences for both sisters.

Jack left Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children carrying her sister’s body. Jack had to kill Jill before she could murder anyone else in her mad quest to get back to the Moors and her dark master. But death isn’t always permanent in the Moors. Even when it should be.

When Jack herself is carried back to the school in a storm of lightning and chaos, she’ll need to turn to old friends and some new enemies for help to clean up Jill’s latest mess.

In a world where science comes close to magic and monsters can sometimes be heroes, balance must be maintained. And there’s always a cost in Come Tumbling Down (2020) by Seanan McGuire.

Find it on Bookshop.

Come Tumbling Down is the fifth installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series. While most of the novellas in this series function as standalones, Come Tumbling Down is a direct continuation of the plot that begins in Every Heart a Doorway and continues in Down Among the Sticks and Bones and Beneath the Sugar Sky so be sure to read those first.

McGuire introduces readers to a wide variety of alternate worlds in this series. The Moors is, arguably, the worst–a high logic world with clear nods to Dracula and Frankenstein where monsters lurk in every shadow and even the heroes sometimes have to be villains. That might make the world sound like a thin pastiche but McGuire applies her considerable talents to build a world that is nuanced and filled with moral ambiguity.

The interplay between hero and villain–and what it means to be a monster–plays out in Come Tumbling Down as readers begin to understand the choices that led Jack and Jill down their divergent paths. Familiar characters from Eleanor West’s school also play significant roles as they all do their best to try and help Jack and the Moors.

Come Tumbling Down is a grim page turner where actions have consequences and love can heal as easily as it can sour. This installment showcases all of the things McGuire does best in this series as she digs into the world of the Moors with a sharp focus on main character Jack and antagonist Jill. A must-read for fans of the series.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, 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, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Scwhab, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth