The Midnight Lie: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We had been taught not to want more than we had. I realized that wanting is a kind of power even if you don’t get what you want. Wanting illuminates everything you need, and how the world has failed you.”

“Wanting something doesn’t always mean it is owed to you.”

The Midnight Lie by Marie RutkoskiNirrim’s life in Herath is a prolonged exercise in survival. She is used to having little. She is used to keeping secrets. She has Raven who is almost like a mother. She has friends. She has the knowledge that she helps people even if it is dangerous.

It is the way it has always been. It has always been enough. Until the day Nirrim makes a terrible mistake. Arrested and jailed, Nirrim could be charged any tithe the authorities choose–her hair, her blood, something much harder to part with.

In prison Nirrim encounters Sid, a mysterious thief with a brash manner and numerous secrets. Speaking with Sid across the dark prison, Nirrim begins to wonder if things really do have to stay the way they are or if, perhaps, they can be changed.

As Nirrim and Sid search for answers about the secrets of the High Kith and Herath itself, Nirrim will have to decide if doing more than surviving is worth the risk–and the cost in The Midnight Lie (2020) by Marie Rutkoski.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Midnight Lie is the first book in a duology. It is set in the same world as Rutkoski’s Winner’s Curse trilogy.

As the title suggests, this book is full of lies both that Nirrim tells to other characters (and even readers) as well as the lies she tells herself to reconcile the privation and struggles she has endured to survive. After years of wanting nothing, because wanting is dangerous, Sid blows Nirrim’s small world apart and forces Nirrim to confront her wants and desires for the first time.

Lyrical, dreamlike prose lends a fairytale sensibility to this otherwise grim tale as both Nirrim and Sid face increasingly risky stakes in their search for answers. As an outsider with wealth and an air of mystery, Sid operates with a certain level of freedom and safety–things Nirrim has never even dreamed of–which lead to thoughtful discussions of privilege and power dynamics between the two characters. Sid’s gender identity and presentation therein also add another layer to the story.

The chemistry between Nirrim and Sid is palpable–especially in flirty dialog that adds needed levity to this story. The final act will leave readers with more questions than answers as secrets are revealed and decisions are made for better or worse.

The Midnight Lie is a meditative exploration of the power of memory and desire as well as presentation. Fans of this tense, sexy story will be eager to see what comes next in the conclusion to this series.

Possible Pairings: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Nocturna: A Review

cover art for Nocturna by Maya MotayneAfter his brother Dez’s murder, Prince Alfehr is poised to become king–something he fears almost as acutely as finding concrete proof that his brother is truly dead. Alfie left Castallan months ago to grieve and, he hopes, to find a way to bring his brother back from the void–even if it means using his bruxo magic to ill ends.

Finn is a faceshifter who can change her appearance at will. It’s a magical ability that serves her well as a thief. When their paths cross Alfie and Finn accidentally unleash a dangerous ancient power that could destroy Castellan and the rest of the world. Together they will have to confront their greatest failures and their greatest fears to contain this dark magic before it’s too late in Nocturna (2019) by Maya Motayne.

Nocturna is Motayne’s debut novel and the start of her A Forgery of Magic trilogy.

Alternating chapters follow Alfie and Finn giving nuance to their motivations and bad decisions. Alfie and Finn’s relationship, which evolves over the course of the novel from a reluctant alliance to obvious respect and affection, helps fill the void left by world building that remains thin even with the added dimension of Castallan trying to assert itself in the wake of generations of Englass colonial rule.

Nocturna is an epic fantasy set in a Latinx inspired world with a unique magic system where moving shadows can reveal a person’s feelings and spells will be immediately recognizable to Spanish speakers. A promising debut with unique magic and two strong protagonists among a varied ensemble cast.

Possible Pairings: The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

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

Pretending to Be Erica: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle PainchaudErica Silverman was kidnapped when she was five years old and she hasn’t been seen since. Two other girls came to Las Vegas to pretend to be Erica and try to steal her life. They were both caught. But they didn’t have Violet’s father Sal backing them.

Sal knows that Erica is gone and he has something none of the previous con artists did: Erica’s DNA. He also has been training Violet to con the Silvermans since she was five years old. Violet shares Erica’s blood type and has undergone plastic surgery to make sure her face matches the age projections of Erica. She isn’t going to make the same mistake the other Ericas made. Violet isn’t there to stay; she doesn’t need to become Erica forever.

All Violet has to do is keep up the charade long enough to steal the coveted Silverman Painting. It should be easy. Except the longer she spends as Erica, the more Violet wants the stability and comforts of Erica’s life for herself. Violet knows why she is living with the Silvermans, she knows exactly how to sell the lie, she knows the endgame. The only thing Violet doesn’t know is what to do when she wants to believe the con herself in Pretending to Be Erica (2015) by Michelle Painchaud.

Pretending to Be Erica is Painchaud’s debut novel. Violet narrates her time impersonating Erica in the first person while flashbacks to her childhood as Violet are related in third person.

While the writing is sleek and sharp, this novel really shines with its protagonist. Violet has no idea what a real family or a true friend looks like before she arrives at the Silverman home. Affection and basic comforts are alien concepts to her and even the friends she begins to make when Erica returns to high school feel strange and dangerous. Against the backdrop of her con, Violet begins to understand that she’s allowed to want more than a precarious life built on lies and tricks.

Pretending to Be Erica has all the earmarks of a traditional thriller or heist mystery. Tension is high as the stakes increase and Violet’s carefully drawn lines between her real life as Violet and her fake life as Erica begin to blur. Suspense and the numerous moving parts of the con come together for a high action conclusion.

Pretending to Be Erica is the perfect choice for readers who like their heroines to be as intense and unexpected as their mysteries. A fast-paced yet introspective story about a con, a heist, and a girl doing the best she can to save herself when it start to feel like she could lose everything.

Possible Pairings: Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre, The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, Thieving Weasels by Billy Taylor, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

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Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud was one of my favorite reads of 2016. Raised by a conman who is the only father she's ever known, Violet has been preparing to become Erica for almost as long as she can remember. Now the time has come. Plastic surgery has smoothed out the differences in their appearance, years of practice and preparation do the rest. Becoming a dead girl is surprising easy once Violet is returned to Erica's family. All Violet has to do now is keep the lie going long enough to steal the Silverman Painting that every Vegas criminal has dreamt of scoring themselves. Violet thought she was ready to become Erica. But it turns out pretending to be someone else is much harder when you want the lie to be the truth. Pretending to Be Erica is an engrossing thriller and a sleek heist story. But it's also a story that's all about a girl learning to be kind to herself and forgive herself. You can also see the beautiful card here that @thatsostelle made for me this year (including an appropriate pep talk to cut myself more flask!). I've framed the card and the book is on my shelves already, but I love seeing them together here. Definitely add this backlist title to your to read list if you're a mystery fan. #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #bookaddict

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Crooked Kingdom: A Review

*Crooked Kingdom is the conclusion to Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Six of Crows*

“But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we have crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.”

—-

“Crows remember human faces. They remember the people who feed them, who are kind to them. And the people who wrong them too.”

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh BardugoIn a city where trade is sacred, Kaz Brekker knows the ins and outs of negotiation better than most. But even Kaz’s knack for staying ten steps ahead of his enemies and rivals can’t help him when he is double-crossed in the wake of what should have been the greatest heist of his nefarious career.

Now Kaz and his crew are scrambling to evade their enemies and regroup before moving against some of the most powerful figures in Ketterdam. Kaz may have lost a member of his crew. He may be branded as a traitor. But Kaz is also one of the only people who understands the true dangers of the drug jurda parem. And Kaz, along with his crew, is the only one who can hope to make things right.

Kaz and his crew are alone in a dangerous game that could change the face of Ketterdam and the rest of the world forever. As the odds turn against him, Kaz will have to use every trick he’s learned to change the game and get justice once and for all in Crooked Kingdom (2016) by Leigh Bardugo.

Crooked Kingdom is the conclusion to Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Six of Crows.

As a sequel, Crooked Crows had a lot of promise and high expectations to meet. Like Six of Crows it is written with alternating close third person viewpoints for each member of the crew (Kaz, Inej, Nina, Metthias, Jesper, Wylan) as well as some other key figures. The multiple plot threads and overlapping narratives play against each other and build tension as the novel moves to a conclusion appropriately filled with surprises.

At her launch event for Crooked Kingdom, Bardugo mentioned that this series was inspired by her love of heist movies. Unfortunately, the plot devices in heist films rely heavily on visual cues or sleight of hand, neither of which translates well into a novel. Bardugo makes her inclusion of clues and hints to make the payoff for various cons and twists in this book seem effortless.

Bardugo’s prose is intelligent, deliberate, and thoughtful. Any author can give a character a redemption arc but the truly impressive thing here is that Kaz is exactly what he says he is from the beginning. He is a monster. He is a villain. He is ruthless. And yet by the end of this series he also has depth and nuance and is so much more than even he can fathom. The level of development and growth for the entire cast of characters was fascinating and incredibly satisfying.

This novel is an amazing reference for the mechanics of how a novel comes together and how a series should culminate. Every single thing that is hinted at either in Six of Crows or in the beginning of this book eventually comes together and is resolved. Surprises perfectly balance expected outcomes and characters shock as much as they impress. Crooked Kingdom is an excellent story with a tightly wound plot and characters who are flawed and grasping even as they learn and grow. A perfect conclusion to an exceptional duology.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

Six of Crows: A Review

“A good magician wasn’t much different from a proper thief.”

Six of Crows by Leigh BardugoNothing is sacred except trade to the island nation of Kerch where the city of Ketterdam is a hub of international trade. In a city where anything can be bought or sold, Kaz Brekker has most of the city eating out of the palm of his hand.

When Kaz is offered the chance to take on an impossible heist, he knows the rewards are worth the risk–especially when they will bring him one crucial step closer to revenge.

But even Kaz will need help on this job.

He draws together an unlikely crew: a convict eager for revenge of his own, a sharpshooter who loves the cards more than they love him, a runaway with a secret, a spy known as the Wraith, a Heartrender using her magic to stay alive in Ketterdam’s slums and, of course, a thief with a talent for impossible escapes.

Six people, but a thousand ways that Kaz’s insane plan could go wrong in Six of Crows (2015) by Leigh Bardugo.

Six of Crows is the first book in a two book series which will continue in Empire of Crows. It is also a companion to Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. This book is shortly after the events of the Grisha trilogy and in the same world although there are new characters. You can absolutely read this novel without reading the Grisha books first. (I did!)

Six of Crows is an impressive undertaking filled with complex heists, jail breaks, bait and switch twists, and high-octane action from page one. The novel is written in third person with alternating close points of view. Most of the chapters follow Kaz or members of his diverse crew.

By alternating viewpoints so often Bardugo is able to deliver a well-rounded and nuanced story with multiple plot threads. The book’s structure also allows for slow reveals of character motivations and backgrounds.

While there are moments of violence in Six of Crows, they are quick and easy to gloss over for squeamish readers. Fans of the Grisha trilogy will, of course, already be familiar with the well-realized and detailed world of the Grisha. That said, Bardugo does a good job of explaining details for readers coming to Six of Crows without the background of her earlier trilogy.

Unsurprisingly, Six of Crows does end with quite a few twists and much left unresolved which is guaranteed to leave readers eager for book two.

Twists, turns, and surprises guarantee that this novel is sure to have high appeal. A solid heist story with minimal fantasy elements make Six of Crows an ideal introduction to fantasy for readers hoping to try the genre.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

The Girl at Midnight: A Review

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa GreyThe Avicen have lived beneath New York City for years. Bird-like creatures with feathers for hair, the Avicen can use scarves and sunglasses to blend in when they have to. The rest of the time magical wards make sure they remain hidden from prying human eyes. Except for Echo–the human pickpocket who considers the Avicen, at least some of them, her family.

Echo is used to fending for herself and she has the fierce, brusque persona to prove it. When she isn’t busy being reckless and stealing things around the world for the thrill of it, she is also extremely loyal.

When word surfaces of a way to end the centuries-long war between the Avicen and their dragon-like enemies the Drakharin, Echo jumps at the chance to help.

Legend suggests that the Firebird is the only thing with the power to end the war. The only problem is no one knows what the Firebird is or where to find it. But if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to enjoy a challenge in The Girl at Midnight (2015) by Melissa Grey.

The Girl at Midnight is Grey’s debut novel and the start to a trilogy.

The Girl at Midnight starts strong with a fantastically intricate world complete with magic, mythical creatures and a conflict that has lasted centuries. Both the Avicen and Drakharin make sense within the story and have complex cultures to match. In fact, the only thing that doesn’t make sense is trying to picture them while reading as imagining feathers as hair continues to be a sticking point.

Unfortunately the characters who populate The Girl at Midnight pale in comparison to the world within the novel. Most of the characters are defined by one carefully chosen trait and little else. Echo is slightly more developed although she too often comes across as a collection of eccentricities and behaviors (between her preoccupation with food, collecting words, hoarding books and throwing out pop culture references with zero context) that never quite rang true. The logistics of Echo’s living unnoticed in a library also begins to fall apart under any kind of scrutiny.

The Girl at Midnight is a decent urban fantasy in places but it also one that will immediately feel familiar to anyone well-read in the genre. Grey’s admirable world building only serves to underscore the predictable, lackluster plot and weak characters. Recommended for readers looking to discover new places (both real and imagined) rather than find their next engrossing read.

Possible Pairings: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Perfect Scoundrels: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Perfect Scoundrels by Ally CarterTwo years ago–before Katarina Bishop put together her own heist society and robbed the most secure museum in the world–Kat tried to steal a Monet. Except it was a fake. And instead of a painting she wound up stealing a boy who happily threw himself into Kat’s world.

Stolen or not, W. W. Hale the Fifth isn’t a part of Kat’s world. Not really.

When Hale unexpectedly inherits his grandmother’s billion dollar company, Kat realizes it was, perhaps, inevitable that Hale would eventually return to his own world of wealth and privilege–the one place Kat can’t follow.

Things get worse when Kat learns Hale might be a mark in an elaborate con instead of an unlikely heir.

Saving Hale and his company could be impossible. But Kat’s been told a lot of things are impossible in her short life. And her family is behind her all the way. The only problem is saving Hale Industries may not be the same thing as saving her Hale. And if Kat has to choose, she isn’t sure there is a right answer in Perfect Scoundrels (2013) by Ally Carter.

Find it on Bookshop.

Perfect Scoundrels is the third book in Carter’s Heist Society series. It is preceded by Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals. (There is also an e-novella featuring characters from this series and Carter’s Gallagher Girls series called Double Crossed which is available online.) Set mere months after Kat’s most infamous heist, Perfect Scoundrels takes a small step back from all of the scheming and planning to provide a welcome look at the characters who readers know and love from this series.

Fear not, there are still quite a few heists, cons, and surprises to be found in this installment. The job might be personal but Kat still has plenty of tricks up her sleeve that will surprise her crew as well as readers in a reveal that makes pulling off the perfect job seem effortless as Perfect Scoundrels ticks away to an ending that readers might not see coming. Kat’s singular family also features prominently in the second half of the story when the pace really picks up after a more character-driven start.

Carter’s enviably sleek writing and careful focus on characters and their relationships (particularly Kat and Hale’s evolving one) make Perfect Scoundrels a page-turner with as many laughs as surprises. And it has Bagshaws, of course. Because as Kat’s cousin Gabrielle will tell you, everything is better with Bagshaws.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger, The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau by E. Lockhart, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason and Lee Gruenfeld, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series), The Italian Job (movie)