Frostblood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ruby’s life is destroyed when her Fireblood powers are discovered. Betrayed by her village, Ruby is helpless when her mother is killed in front of her.

Arrested by the king’s Frostblood soldiers Ruby is sent to prison. Between the abuses of the guards and fear of her Fireblood powers, Ruby knows she won’t survive long in prison. When she is offered the chance to escape, Ruby has no choice but to except. The promise of revenge against the king is an added bonus and enough to make Ruby reluctantly agree to her rescuers terms.

After her escape Ruby will have to recover her health and learn to control her powers all under the scornful eye of Arcus–an infuriating rebel who Ruby is slow to trust despite her immediate attraction to him.

Before Ruby can do more than begin to learn to control her powers, everything changes again. Separated from the rebels and thrust into a dangerous new world, Ruby will have to rely on the fire that rages inside if she hopes to survive in Frostblood (2017) by Elly Blake.

Frostblood is Blake’s debut novel and the first book in her Frostblood Saga. Blake begins this series with an promising if sometimes familiar conceit and underwhelming world building.

Ruby is a gifted but undisciplined Fireblood (basically fire magician) in a kingdom ruled by Frostbloods (ice magicians, if you will). Ruby is inexperienced when it comes to wielding and controlling her power after hiding it for years to avoid arrest or execution. Like many heroines, Ruby seems to be ninety percent bravado and ten percent skill–a flaw she acknowledges while recklessly trying to exercise control she does not yet possess. In addition to being impetuous, Ruby demonstrates a stunning lack of perception and awareness as predictable plot twists and revelations repeatedly leave her shocked.

Nevertheless, Frostblood begins with Ruby practicing in secret–a necessary way to start the plot but one with unclear motivations as Ruby is discouraged by her mother who fears detection. After that the plot moves quickly with Ruby’s escape from prison and her subsequent recovery and training. There is also ample banter between Ruby and Arcus–a bright spot throughout the novel. Uneven pacing including and an especially abrupt break between the first and second halves of the book make Frostblood feel disjointed with a story that develops in starts and stops.

Frostblood joins the recent trend of fast-paced, high action fantasies featuring a powerful girl in the lead. Readers seeking a book in that vein will enjoy this one and be eager to see what comes next for Ruby and Arcus. Readers who prefer slower pacing and stronger world building may see the potential while seeking a weightier read.

Possible Pairings: Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Valiant by Lesley Livingston, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Fate of Flames by Sarah Raughley, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

I started Frostblood today on my morning commute. It seems appropriate with the way the weather is vacillating between warm and cold this month. 🔮 Ruby's life is destroyed when she is outed as a Fireblood and arrested by Frostblood soldiers working for the king. When Ruby is offered the chance to escape and the promise of revenge against the king, she jumps at the chance. But before Ruby can do more than try to learn to control her powers, everything changes again. Will the fire that rages inside Ruby be enough to help her survive? 🔮 I wasn't sure about this one when I started but Ruby is a fun heroine and I'm curious to see what happens next. Frostblood is sure to appeal to fans of Snow Like Ashes or Red Queen. 🔮 Have you read this one yet? Are you planning to? What are you up to this Tuesday? 🔮 #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #instabook #instareads #igreads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #book

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Symphony for the City of the Dead: A Non-Fiction Review

“We can trust no one. In a regime where words are watched, lies are rewarded, and silence is survival, there is no truth.”

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. AndersonIn September 1941, Hitler’s forces moved against the Soviet Union in a bid to take the country’s capital in Moscow and the historic city of Leningrad (now and previously St. Petersburg).

So began one of the longest sieges in Western history. More than a million people died over the course of the years-long siege. Amazingly, despite crippling his own military from the top down and breeding a culture of such fear that officials preferred to make ill-advised decisions rather than risk contradicting him, Stalin and the Soviet citizenry held out. Faced with starvation, blitzkrieg attacks, and the continued severity and dangers of life in Soviet Russia, the residents of Leningrad held on.

In the midst of this bleak landscape, music became an unlikely ray of hope. Varying wildly between a darling of the communist party and one of its biggest perceived heretics, Dmitri Shostakovich was a composer known around the world. With threats everywhere from both the Nazi’s and his own government, Shostakovich would write a symphony to rouse the Soviet public during their time of need.

The symphony would speak when the people feared to, it would mark all that was lost during the Communist Revolution and the Siege of Leningrad. It would give voice to sorrow and loss as well as hope and redemption. Shostakovich’s symphony would offer common ground between the unlikely allies of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. This is the story of that symphony, the country that inspired it, the compose who wrote it, and the war that shaped all of them in Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad (2015) by M.T. Anderson.

Anderson offers a thoroughly researched look at a slice of WWII history that might not be familiar to many Americans. Symphony for the City of the Dead begins with the bizarre transport of Shostakovich’s symphony (via microfilm) from the Soviet Union to the United States. After that prologue the book is framed around Shostakovich’s own life from his early childhood to his death. The book touches upon the communist revolution and explores the composer’s complicated relationships with his country and the Communist Party.

Symphony for the City of the Dead includes an extensive bibliography and footnotes in the backmatter detailing Anderson’s sources throughout the novel. Strangely, for such an iconic figure, little is known as fact about Shostakovich’s life. Anderson is careful to couch his own thoughts in research and supporting documentation while also noting when the narrative veers into supposition. The book also offers a thorough and detailed accounts of the movements that led to the Siege of Leningrad ranging from Stalin’s wild incompetence and paranoia to Hitler’s Wermacht strategy.

Because of the content and the level of research involved, Symphony for the City of the Dead is a dense book. The material gains a more narrative quality after the first hundred pages but it takes a while to really dig into the material.

Anderson offers a strange mix of the bloody nightmare that was Communist Russia during the Siege of Leningrad and the optimistic hope of post-war Russia. Symphony for the City of the Dead is a fascinating example of the power of story–especially the power of art and music–as well as thoughtful look at how the truth can be shaped in the telling. A must-read for WWII history buffs and music buffs in particular. Highly recommended.

The Mystery of Hollow Places: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca PodosThe only details seventeen-year-old Imogene Scott has about her mother are ones gleaned from the bedtime story her father told every night.

Before he became a best-selling novelist, Joshua Zhi Scott was a forensic pathologist who met Imogene’s mother when she came to identify a body. He would then tell Imogene that her mother was always lonely. He’d even say that she was troubled waters. They would never talk about why her mother left, especially not since her father remarried and Lindy is now part of their family.

When Imogene’s father disappears in the middle of the night, Imogene thinks he might want her to follow the clues he left behind; he might want Imogene to find him and maybe find her mother as well.

With unlikely help from her best friend and all of the skills learned from reading her father’s mysteries, Imogene hopes to find her father and unravel the secrets surrounding her own past. But, as Imogene knows too well, things aren’t always perfect at the end of a mystery in The Mystery of Hollow Places (2016) by Rebecca Podos.

The Mystery of Hollow Places is Podos’ first novel.

Podos delivers an eerie mystery in this surprising tale. The Mystery of Hollow Places is also a solid homage to mysteries and Gothic novels alike as interpreted by a heroine whose favorite novel is Rebecca.

Imogene’s first-person narration is pragmatic and often insightful as she makes sense of her mother’s absence and her father’s struggle with bipolar disorder. Unlike many teen detective stories, this book also remains decidedly in the realm of possibility as Imogene works with what she has and within the limitations inherent to a teenager trying to investigate some very adult problems.

Although the plot focuses on the mystery of finding her father, Imogene’s story is just as much about acceptance and the strength found in friendships and choosing who to call family. Elements of magic realism and a stark Massachusetts backdrop add atmosphere to this sometimes choppy mystery with a diverse cast of characters.

The Mystery of Hollow Places is a strong debut and an unexpected mystery. Recommended for fans of traditional mysteries, suspenseful stories filled with twists, as well as readers looking for an atmospheric novel to keep them company on a cold winter night (or to evoke one anyway!).

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol and David Ostow, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

Ice: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ice by Sarah Beth DurstAs a girl, Cassie believed the story her grandmother told her. She believed that her mother was the daughter of the North Wind and a failed bargain with the Polar Bear King whisked her to the ends of the earth. For years, Cassie thought that one day she might be able to rescue her mother from the troll castle.

Cassie knows better now. Yes, her mother is gone. But Cassie has her father and their work at the Arctic research station where they live. Focused on her research of the local polar bear population and her ambitions to become a scientist, Cassie doesn’t have time for anything else–especially not fairy tales.

Everything Cassie has learned about the world and her own life is irrevocably changed when a polar bear speaks to her. He tells her that the stories about her mother really is alive and trapped at the end of the world. He tells Cassie that he will rescue her mother if Cassie agrees to marry him.

When Cassie accepts the polar bear’s bargain she will embark on her own journey through unbelievable wonders and countless dangers that will bring her east of the sun and west of the moon as she chases her truest desires for her future in Ice (2009) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Ice is a retelling of the Norwegian fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” (Which itself is reminiscent of the myth of Cupid and Pysche.)

Durst blends pieces from the original fairy tale and blends them with elements from Inuit culture. Ice also expands the source material to add context for the presence of a Polar Bear King with an original mythology where the polar bear (called Bear) is a shape-shifting being called a munaqsri who harvests dying souls and distributes souls to newborns. Durst masterfully brings these varied elements together to create a story that is faithful to the source material while also being utterly unique.

Cassie is a headstrong and decidedly modern heroine. Even when she is thrust into an unfamiliar world where magic is real, Cassie learns to adapt and manipulate situations to her advantage. While her initial decision to marry Bear is a calculated one meant to bring her mother home, Cassie’s feelings evolve as she begins to imagine a previously impossible future for herself beside her new husband.

Ice thoughtfully explores issues of choice as Cassie is forced repeatedly to place a value on her own free will. When she is separated from Bear she faces numerous obstacles while constantly running up against the question of how much she is willing to sacrifice in her efforts to find and rescue him. In addition Ice includes a nuanced treatment of what it means to be part of a family as well as what it means to grow up–two things that are central to Cassie’s character development.

Ice is a clever and evocative fantasy retelling. Sure to appeal to fans of the original fairy tale as well as fantasy fans in general.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Fire by Kristin Cashore, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, East by Edith Pattou, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce,  The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman

Poetically Speaking with Me (Miss Print) about Undercover (A CLW Review)

poeticallyspeaking1For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to review Undercover by Beth Kephart. Click the icon above to see the rest of this month-long series!

“What I knew wasn’t mine. That’s the thing about being undercover: You know what you know, and you cannot act on it.”

Undercover by Beth KephartElisa Cantor is used to blending into the background. At home she is always in the shadow of her glamorous mother and sister, watching and wandering like her father. At school she is self-conscious and keen to stay invisible.

After all, it’s so much easier to observe things when no one is looking at you. In the woods Elisa is able to observe nature, like her father, as an undercover operative. At school, she can use everything she sees and finds to secretly write love notes for the boys in her school like a modern day Cyrano De Bergerac.

Elisa thinks she is fine with all of that; with being undercover. But when Theo Moses starts asking for notes to win over Lila–a pretty, popular girl who is always ready to remind Elisa that she is neither–Elisa isn’t sure she wants to stay in the shadows anymore.

As she hones her voice writing poems for herself–not pretending to be anyone else–and learns more about Theo, Elisa begins to wonder if there could be more to her life. With her father away on an extended trip and her family crumbling under the weight of his absence, Elisa really needs for there to be something more. When Elisa discovers a hidden pond and a talent for ice skating, she realizes it might be time for her to stop hiding in Undercover (2007) by Beth Kephart.

Undercover is a marvelous novel, partly a retelling of the play Cyrano De Bergerac and partly something entirely unique.

Elisa is a narrator who sees the world not just as it is but also through her own lens, always with a sense of whimsy and wonder. Readers are easily drawn into Elisa’s appreciation for poetry when she discovers new writers and forms and begins to write poems of her own (included throughout the narrative and also in bonus material at the end of the paperback edition).

Kephart uses poetry and prose to tell a layered story about love in all of its forms whether for family, friends, nature or even for words. Elisa’s journey as she learns to love and respect herself is also beautifully told. Undercover is a slim book that has a lot to say about honesty, family and learning who you want to be. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough,  I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

The Vanishing Season: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“This is my work. This is the one thing I have to do.

“I am looking for the things that are buried.”

The Vanishing SeasonMaggie Larsen doesn’t know what to expect when she and her parents move from Chicago to Door County. But then, it’s not like there is another choice with her mother having been laid off and money being tight.

Although Maggie is sorry to leave Chicago behind, it is surprisingly easy to find a new place for herself in the small town of Gill Creek. As the days turn into weeks their ramshackle house on Water Street starts to look like a home. As the weeks turn into months, Maggie realizes she has found friends here in carefree, beautiful Pauline and Liam who is as kind as he is introspective.

While Maggie lives her new life, girls in Gill Creek are disappearing. No one knows who the killer is. No one knows who might be next. No one knows if it will stop.

All the while, a ghost is tethered to the house on Water Street. She can see the danger circling. She can even see some of the pieces of the story–a scorched key, a love letter, a bracelet with a cherry charm. But even the ghost isn’t sure why she is still here watching the season unfold to its final, disastrous conclusion in The Vanishing Season (2014) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

The Vanishing Season is a quiet, aching read that builds slowly to a conclusion that is both shocking and inevitable. Anderson expertly weaves together Maggie’s story with the first-person narration of the ghost to create a haunting puzzle of a story. Even readers who think they have predicted every plot point may well be surprised by the way everything fits together by the end.

This story has romance and suspense. There is a foolish girl who breaks things sometimes by accident and sometimes because she can. Vignettes of small town life are interspersed with thoughtful commentary on privilege and ownership.

Anderson’s pacing is spot-on as the story builds to the denouement which is handled both eloquently and cleverly. The Vanishing Season is a beautifully written and subtle story about friendship and love and even heartbreak as well as a meditation on what living a life, and living it well, really means. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Frost by Marianna Baer, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

My True Love Gave to Me: A (Festive!) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie PerkinsOnly in a short story anthology can organization, elves, the holiday season, and some other things besides come together to create a delightfully seasonal assortment of stories. My True Love Gave to Me (2014), edited by Stephanie Perkins, brings together YA authors at the top of their game in this festive collection of romantic stories set during the best time of year.

If you enjoy Christmas, especially the decorating and the food look no further than Stephanie Perkins’ “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” for a story that combines the wonders of home organization with a first encounter that might lead to something more. “Welcome to Christmas, CA” by Kiersten White is a sentimental story about finding home with some delectable food thrown in to taste.

Not a fan of Christmas? That’s okay too. “Midnights” by Rainbow Rowell is a heartfelt New Years’ story while “Krampuslauf” by Holly Black and “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor are fantasies set in December without being Christmas specific. Although Kelly Link centers her story around annual Christmas parties, “The Lady and the Fox” is more a Tam Lin style story than a specifically holiday story.

Don’t celebrate Christmas? Gayle Forman’s “What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?” and David Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” both offer a look at the season from a Jewish perspective.

Humor is also prevalent in many of these stories, none more so than “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” by Myra McEntire.

Themes of family are just as prevalent in this collection as romance which can be seen in “Angels in the Snow” by Matt de la Pena and Ally Carter’s “Star of Bethlehem” both of which offer very different (but true) takes on what it means to find or just think about the importance of family over the holiday season.

The story I have thought about most since finishing this story is by Jenny Han. “Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me” offers a tantalizing look at what life might be like on the North Pole for Santa’s daughter in a story that I can only hope will one day become a full-length novel.

Considering the range of authors and writing styles in this anthology, My True Love Gave to Me is a stunningly solid collection with a high quality of writing that spans every genre and story presented. This is a delightfully festive (and often secular) assortment of stories with something that will appeal to everyone. Perkins has done an admirable job of editing and organizing this anthology where whole exceeds the sum of its parts and is sure to leave every reader with a smile on their face.

(Careful readers may also want to examine the cover to find their favorite couple on the ice rink. The ARC I read also promises interior illustrations which I can’t wait to see.)

Possible Pairings: Ex-Mas by Kate Brian, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle; Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford