Lore: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It’s not always the truth that survives, but the stories we wish to believe. The legends lie. They smooth over imperfections to tell a good tale, or to instruct us how we should behave, or to assign glory to victors and shame those who falter.”

Lore by Alexandra BrackenEvery seven years Zeus punishes nine Greek gods by forcing them into the Agon. Warrior families have hunted the gods in every Agon for generations hoping to absorb their powers and receive blessings in the intervening years.

Lore always knew she was destined for greatness and glory in the Agon, meant to restore her family house’s honor. That was before Lore’s own disastrous mistake brought about the death of her entire family.

Now, seven years later, Lore thinks she’s finally made it out and started a new life. But the return of her childhood friend Castor and the goddess Athena appearing at Lore’s door prove she never escaped the brutality of the Agon. Not really.

After years of hiding and trying to forget, Lore will have to come out of the shadows and embrace her complicated past if she wants to live long enough to have a future in Lore (2020) by Alexandra Bracken.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lore is a standalone fantasy novel. Although the world building is heavily intertwined with Greeky mythology, the story itself includes enough information to make it approachable to those unfamiliar with the inspiration material. The book also includes a character list broken down by the family houses and lines. Lore and Castor are white although several members of the Agon families (including dark skinned Van and Iro) are from other racial backgrounds.

Lore is a fierce and often reluctant narrator. Most of her past is colored by trauma and regret over events that slowly unfold in flashbacks for readers as the novel builds to its explosive final act. Despite her desire to isolate herself and avoid further losses, Lore is surrounded by a strong group of friends and allies who add drama and levity to this potentially grim story. Lore’s best friend Miles Yoon–an outsider to the world of the Agon–is an especially fun addition to the cast and a steadfast friend to Lore.

Set over the course the week-long Agon this fast-paced story plays out against the backdrop of New York City as Lore and her allies search for a way to end the Agon forever. Lore’s efforts to find a place for herself as a young woman, both away from the Agon and within it, in a world all too quick to dismiss her is both timely and empowering.

Lore seamlessly blends elements from Greek mythology with a modern fantasy setting for a perfectly paced story of survival and fighting for what we deserve.

Possible Pairings: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake, Starling by Lesley Livingston, The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan, Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

The Grace Year: A Review

“Trust no one. Not even yourself.”

Tierney James lives in a grim world where nothing is more dangerous than a woman left unchecked–especially a young woman about to come into her power.

That’s why girls are sent away for their grace year–their sixteenth year–to live in isolation in the wilderness. No one speaks of the grace year. But everyone knows the purpose: to exorcise a girl’s magic before she returns to civilization either to marry or become a laborer.

Tierney has spent her life searching for scraps of information about what happens out in the woods. All she knows is that not all of the girls come back whole, not all of them come back at all, and this year she’ll be one of them in The Grace Year (2019) by Kim Liggett.

Part dystopia, part thriller, The Grace Year follows Tierney on her grace year as she journeys with the other grace year girls into the wilderness. Haunted by dreams of a girl she cannot identify and promises of change, Tierney chafes under the constraints placed on her in a society intent on subjugating women before they become dangerous.

Tierney’s first person narration is filled with vitriol and righteous frustration as she realizes that the biggest challenge won’t be surviving the wilderness, it will be surviving the other girls. Horror and suspense blend well with Tierney’s journey as she comes closer to the truth surrounding the grace year.

The Grace Year is the angry feminist survival story of your dreams. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon, The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg, Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

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

The Last Place on Earth: A Review

The Last Place on Earth by Carol SnowDaisy Cruz is used to her best friend Henry skipping school for unnecessary sick days. What she isn’t used to is Henry not answering her texts and his entire family disappearing without notice.

At first Daisy thinks maybe is has something to do with their last awkward encounter. But the longer Henry is missing, the more Daisy worries–especially when she finds a note on Henry’s desk that says “Save Me.” Was it a sudden relocation because of witness protection? An alien abduction? Something even less plausible? Could it have something to do with all of her classmates that are getting sick?

Following Henry’s trail leads Daisy into California’s wilderness and straight to Henry’s (and his family’s) biggest secret in The Last Place on Earth (2016) by Carol Snow.

The Last Place on Earth is a strange little book where the mystery surrounding a missing friend quickly morphs into a story about a plague, survival, doomsday preppers, and a really awkward first kiss.

Heavy-handed exposition and erratic pacing unfortunately dilute the overall impact of an otherwise suspenseful and surprising story.

Daisy is an enterprising and sincere narrator as her search for Henry moves in unexpected directions.Her humor and the “will they or won’t they” romance she has with Henry keeps the plot moving and adds heart to this unusual story.

The Last Place on Earth is has short chapters and numerous plot twists that make it ideal for reluctant readers and middle grade readers looking to transition into YA titles. An excellent choice for fans of survival stories and post-apocalyptic tales as well as readers who prefer their romances sweet and comfortably PG.

Possible Pairings: Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway, No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss, Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle, The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Starters by Lissa Price, Catch & Release by Blythe Woolston

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

A Long, Long Sleep: A Review

alonglongsleepRosalinda Fitzroy is used to sleeping in suspended animation. She never spends too long in stass. Not long enough to cause any real problem.

When Rose wakes up this time, everything is different.This time she isn’t woken by her parents. Instead a strange boy seems to be kissing her.

She is still sixteen-years-old, or at least her body is, but she has been asleep for sixty-two years. Everyone she knew is gone. Everything from Rose’s old life is a distant memory, forever erased by the Dark Times that came while she remained in her forgotten stasis tube. With no friends left and no one to depend on, Rose looks to the boy who woke her for support as she tries to move forward.

When a deadly threat targets Rose, she realizes that her past isn’t as distant as she thought. If she wants any hope of a future, Rose will have to confront her past in A Long, Long Sleep (2011) by Anna Sheehan.

A Long, Long Sleep is Sheehan’s first novel. It also has a companion sequel called No Life But This.

Sheehan delivers an interesting spin on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale in this science fiction retelling. Instead of focusing on the prince or waking the princess, this novel examines what comes next. Including some things that are not easy to read.

Rose’s body is ravaged by her time in stasis. Her recovery is slow and often frustrating or even painful. It is a long, realistic process and one that is not even finished by the end of the novel.

The story of Rose’s present and her past unfold simultaneously with interspersed memories and flashbacks to her life before being in stasis for sixty-two years.The world building for this futuristic society is not always solid. Sheehan includes jarring, and often useless, bits of slang along with huge chunks of information (while still having gaps in other areas). However, because of the narrative’s tight focus on Rose these problems do make sense in the larger context of the novel.

Early in the story it becomes clear that Rose isn’t remembering everything and is not, therefore, passing everything on to readers. This unreliability and suspense lends an eerie quality to the narrative as readers, and Rose herself, wonder what really happened to keep her in stasis for so long.

Although Rose spends much of the narrative understandably adrift, she is a strong heroine. This novel comes to a powerful conclusion as Rose confronts her past and finally is able to make her own choices about her future. A Long, Long Sleep is a unique and sharp retelling as well as a harrowing tale of survival.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, Sleepless by Cyn Balog, All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Cut Me Free by J. R. Johansson, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis, The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas, Lotus and  Thorn by Sarah Wilson Etienne, The Program by Suzanne Young, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

These Broken Stars: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan SpoonerTarver Merendsen would be quite happy to be anywhere but on board the Icarus. Being on the luxury spaceliner is certainly easy with finely appointed public areas and beautiful people everywhere. But it is also claustrophobic with cameras and gossips everywhere eager for a sighting of the famously young and heroic Major Merendsen. If Tarver had known his actions on Avon would lead to this kind of attention he might have made very different decisions while dealing with the rebels on the terraformed planet.

As the daughter of the richest man in the universe, Lilac LaRoux knows all about terraforming new planets and the unrest that sometimes come with colonization. She knows more about space travel and technology than is seemly for a girl of her station. She also knows that it would be very, very unwise to have anything to do with an upstart military man like Tarver. So Lilac does what she always does and pushes him away.

Unfortunately that doesn’t matter much when the Icarus is pulled out of hyperspace and crashes.

Suddenly Lilac and Tarver are thrown together on a seemingly abandoned planet.

With no one but each other, this unlikely pair builds a grudging respect and even friendship. As their relationship turns into something more than either could have imagined, Lilac and Tarver’s dreams of a life together are derailed by the strange mysteries on the planet and the impending threat of rescue in These Broken Stars (2013) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.

These Broken Stars is the first book in Kaufman and Spooner’s Starbound trilogy (which functions as a set of companion books each featuring different narrators). The second book is This Shattered World.

This book is written in alternating first person narrations as Tarver and Lilac tell their story.

The dual narration structure is used to excellent effect here to highlight Tarver and Lilac’s changing opinions of each other as well as to examine key plot points from multiple views. Although Tarver and Lilac’s voices are not always as distinct as they should be, the narrative is done so well that it is a minor problem at best.

The bond between the characters builds organically to create a romance with an extremely solid foundation based on mutual respect as well as affection. Unfortunately despite these stellar protagonists and a strong plot, the latter part of the novel does drag in places. Ultimately, however, the story does build to a stunning conclusion that will leave readers eager to see more of the world Kaufman and Spooner have created.

These Broken Stars is an atmospheric sci-fi story with hints of mystery and romance. Tarver and Lilac are both self-aware characters with as much agency as spunk. Lilac, a tech-smart girl, is a particularly satisfying character to watch as she comes into her own after the crash of the Icarus. An excellent and action-packed novel for science fiction fans.

Possible Pairings: Avalon by Mindee Arnett, The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston, Alienated by Melissa Landers, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

*A copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Rose Under Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth WeinRose Justice is a poet and a pilot. Even though she has hours and hours more flight time compared to many male pilots, Rose finds herself working as an ATA pilot transporting planes that other (men) fighter pilots will eventually use.

Rose is an American with high ideals who wants to help. The war is terrifying, much worse than she ever could have imagined back home in Pennsylvania, but doesn’t that make it even more important that Rose help however she can?

Her course changes abruptly when a routine transport goes horrible wrong and Rose is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück–a notorious women’s concentration camp.

In the camp Rose finds unimaginable horrors and obstacles but also small moments of hope through the kinship and bravery of her fellow prisoners. Even as friendships are forged amidst small moments of resistance, Rose and her friends are unsure who among them will make it out of Ravensbrück alive in Rose Under Fire (2013) by Elizabeth Wein.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rose Under Fire is a companion to Wein’s novel Code Name Verity and set about one and a half years later. Rose Under Fire is completely self-contained but readers of both will recognize familiar characters.

Like its companion, Rose Under Fire is an epistolary novel told primarily from Rose’s journal. Snippets of famous poems (notably from Edna St. Vincent Millay) are included as well as poems Rose writes throughout her time in England and Ravensbrück.

Although this novel doesn’t have the same level of suspense as Code Name Verity it remains extremely well-plotted and poignant. And that is really all that can be said about the plot without revealing too much.

Wein once again delivers a powerhouse novel about World War II in this case shining a light onto the atrocities of the Ravensbrück concentration camp while highlighting the strength and persistence of the women who were imprisoned there.

As you might have guessed, Rose Under Fire is an incredibly hard read. The novel looks unflinchingly at the heinous “experiments” Nazi doctors committed against the Polish political prisoners known as “rabbits” from their time in Ravensbrück to the war trials in Nuremburg. While the story is important and powerful, it is not to be taken lightly and readers should be mindful of that before they pick it up.

Readers who are up to the task of a difficult read with darker subject matter will find a powerful story in Rose Under Fire with an incredibly strong and inspiring heroine at the center of its story.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie,  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Traitor by Amanda McCrina, Tamar by Mal Peet, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Endangered: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer (2012)

Endangered by Eliot SchreferIf you follow the book award season, you’ve probably already heard about this National Book Award Finalist from 2012.

Either way Endangered is an Important book about the political unrest in the Congo and the horrible state of affairs for Bonobo monkeys in the area. Sophie spends every summer with her mother in the Congo and expects this year to be much of the same. Until she becomes the reluctant (and unlikely) foster mother to a baby Bonobo she names Otto. Then war breaks out and Sophie is isolated and trapped with the Bonobos at her mother’s conservation preserve.

Schrefer went to the Congo to research this book and it shows in the details and nuances of the setting and Sophie’s relationship with Otto and the other Bonobos. The story is gripping and exciting. Because of the emphasis on action and survival, this is a great book for any reader. Endangered would also be a particularly strong choice for reluctant readers and/or readers who are hesitant to read books with a female narrator.

Reading Endangered it is immediately obvious why this book was a National Book Award finalist. As the story progresses it is also apparent why this book did not ultimately win. While Sophie and Otto are great characters in a page-turning story, Sophie’s voice was not always convincing. Sophie is fourteen during the events of the story. While her narration is insightful and contemplative, it also often sounds like a much older character. The epilogue is also frustrating. Without getting into spoilers it felt very incongruous to have an epilogue years later and have one of the supposed key things about Sophie’s life be that she is engaged and has dated several boys. There were so many other things to say, other details to share. After a totally empowering, dramatic read the epilogue brought Endangered to a close on a slightly sour note.

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*