Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A Deadly Education: A Novel

A Deadly Education: A Novel
by Naomi Novik
Del Rey, 2020. 320 pages. Science Fiction

Trapped in the Scholomance, a deadly version of Hogwarts without adult supervision, El is seriously considering turning into a soul-sucking sorceress solely to keep Orion Lake from saving her life. Again. But despite the temptation of ending Orion’s knight-in-shining armor routine permanently, El struggles against the assumptions of her fellow students and even the school itself to retain her humanity and resist her destiny as a world-destroying villainess. Naomi Novik brings El to life as the snarling, unlikely heroine who is simply doing her best not to kill everyone around her.

I love Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, which has a strong leading character that doesn’t seem to fit in, as well. But what I especially love about A Deadly Education is that the Scholomance acts as both setting and character--a magical school that is both protector, teacher, and enemy. Seamless and spectacular, each page turn blends into the next until you find yourself at the last sentence and absolutely not ready for the book to end. Readers who are looking for a unique fantasy world to dive into that is filled with both humor and horror will find A Deadly Education impossible to put down.


To Kill a Kingdom


To Kill a Kingdom 
by Alexandra Christo 
Feiwel and Friends, 2018. 342 pages. YA Fiction, Fantasy 

Princess Lira, next in line for the siren throne, has been taught brutality by her mother for as long as she can remember and has the literal hearts of seventeen princes in her collection as a testament to her savagery. As punishment for breaking a fundamental rule her mother the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the thing sirens loathe most – a human, and tasks her with bringing back the heart of the prince that hunts their kind as the price to end her banishment. 
Prince and heir, Elian is more at home on his ship at sea than he ever has been in his own kingdom. His true calling is hunting the sirens that prey on humans, especially the one that preys exclusively on princes. When he rescues a drowning woman in the middle of the ocean with no other ships in sight, and she promises to help him find the key to ridding the sea of sirens, he realizes he can actually win this war. But can he trust her? 

 This is a dark story, both main characters categorize themselves as murderers, that is a loose retelling of The Little Mermaid. Much like Cinder by Marissa Meyer, it has elements of the fairy tale while still having its own unique storyline. The book is full of snark and banter, making it an easy and enjoyable read despite the dark premise. I especially enjoyed the character growth as Lira is puzzled by the loyalty of Elian’s crew, without the cruelty she was taught to associate with strong leadership. I would definitely recommend for those who enjoy fractured fairy tale retellings, or even just a good stand-alone ocean fantasy.


Home Body

Home Body 
by Rupi Kaur 
Andrews McMeel, 2020. 188 pages. Poetry 

i dive into the well of my body
and end up in another world
everything i need
already exists in me
there’s no need
to look anywhere else
– home

New York Times bestselling poet is back with another book of illustrated poetry. In this collection, Kaur explores the past and present, and the healing that comes with accepting and loving one’s self. Kaur’s unique style is raw and honest, cutting right to the heart of issues such as self-acceptance, family, trauma, change, and healing. 

Fans of Kaur’s previous works will enjoy this work, with its familiar themes, same illustration style, and similar aesthetic. Her books would look great on a shelf together. Though this work isn’t quite the heart-wrenching masterpiece that is Milk and Honey, or the cheery and poignant collection that is The Sun and Her Flowers, this is nonetheless a solid collection from a beloved modern poet.


Saturday, November 14, 2020

I'll Be the One

I’ll Be the One
by Lyla Lee
Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2020. Young Adult

Skye Shinn wants to be a K-pop star, singing and dancing her way into fame. She has the moves. She has the high notes. She has the sassy personality. The only thing she doesn’t have is the size 00 of a K-Pop star. Her entire life, her mother has told her the fat girls shouldn’t dance, or wear bright clothes, or be on television. But Skye wants to prove her and all the other haters wrong, so she auditions for an American K-pop competition called “You’re My Shining Star.” Everyone is surprised at her talent, but one judge is explicit that fat girls can’t make it in K-pop. But Skye only needs the votes of the two other judges and she is in! Skye soon becomes immersed in the auditions and meets amazing new friends and bumps into Mr. Henry Cho, himself. But, huge surprise, the glitzy Korean American star can actually dance and ends up becoming Skye’s dance partner. As the pressure of the competition builds, so do the sparks between Skye and Henry. But will Skye lose herself in the K-Pop culture and forget all the things she is fighting to prove?

This book was a hoot and a half. It’s charming. This feel good novel will have you rooting for Skye and her friends. There was one point I actually gasped out loud in. I flew through this book. The characters are relatable and everyone loves an underdog story. The book is also an #Ownvoices story, with culturally diverse characters and LGTBQIA diverse characters. But mostly it is RomCom that will melt your heart into a gooey pool of love. This book is for fans of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ and fans of reality shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol.”


Monday, November 9, 2020

To Best the Boys

To Best the Boys
By Mary Weber
Thomas Nelson, 2019, 321 pages, Young Adult Fantasy/Adventure Fiction

Every year, the residents of Pinsbury Port are invited to a celebration at the mysterious Holm manor. While the townspeople enjoy food and entertainment, the town’s college-age boys compete in the Labyrinth—a magical maze set to test their abilities in multiple subjects. The winner of that maze receives a scholarship to the esteemed all-male Stemwick University.

Sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur dreams of becoming a scientist and helping her physician father find a cure for a horrible plague that’s making its way through the town’s poorer residents. Together with her cousin Seleni, the two girls disguise themselves as boys and enter the Labyrinth. Rhen and Seleni must work together in order to escape detection and hopefully earn their right to go to college. Except not everyone can survive the maze, and not everyone plays fair.

A lot of adventure and a dash of romance and magic makes To Best the Boys a novel that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Although the town’s residents don’t possess magic, the sea is full of sirens, ghouls come out at night, and Holm’s Labyrinth seems to defy the laws of physics. This adds to the dark and urgent tone of the book, and drives the stakes for surviving in the Labyrinth even higher.

Rhen and her cousin Seleni each have different reasons for entering the maze, but their driving motivation is their desire to be taken seriously instead of being written off for their gender. I also appreciated that although Rhen is smart and inquisitive, it’s hinted that she struggles with dyslexia. 

Although To Best the Boys contains more suspense and the stakes are higher, this book reminded me of Tess of the Road. Both books are set in a vague past, and are about women who chafe at the confines that are put on them for their gender. Both worlds are slightly magical, although the main characters aren’t, and they must rely on their wits to survive.


Monday, November 2, 2020

Stalking Jack the Ripper

Stalking Jack the Ripper
By Kerri Maniscalco 
Brown and Company, 2016. 326 pages. Young Adult.

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord's daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life. 

Against her stern father's wishes and society's expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle's laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

I really enjoyed this book! I listened to the audio version and the narrator did such a great job that I found myself laughing out loud to the charm and applauding the characters when they did something daring. It was so interesting to follow this infamous crime scene through this story and bring it life. It is considered a young adult but the way it reads it can easily be entertaining for adults. Not a lot of teenage drama but enough of real-life drama to keep it interesting. You won't want to stop listening or reading. 


The Glass Ocean

The Glass Ocean
By Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White
William Morrow, 2018. 408 pages. Historical Fiction

Desperate for inspiration for her next book, a struggling author opens a chest of her great-grandfather's memorabilia from the RMS Lusitania. What she discovers could change history, and she begins her quest to answers in England. Her research ties her to two women aboard the Lusitania in 1915: a Southern belle who senses something amiss in her marriage and happens upon an old flame aboard the vessel, and a thief and forger who has come aboard to pull off one last heist. The three women find themselves entangled in a web of scandal and betrayal, and they each work to unravel mysteries that will ultimately change the course of their lives.

This intricately plotted story has a bit of everything -- romance, mystery, intrigue, action -- without feeling overcrowded or haphazard. Collaborations among three authors are admittedly somewhat unusual, but Team W manages to pull off another beautiful and riveting story after their joint effort on The Forgotten Room. Each author pens the chapters from one character's point of view, which makes for a strong sense of voice, and the audio format mirrors this structure: three performers for the three main characters. Readers craving more by the same trio of authors may also enjoy their newest release, All the Ways We Said Goodbye.