RaveNPRThis is an adult fantasy novel — all the characters are over 30 — but it reads like the fantasy novels I devoured when I was a teen, in the days of yore before YA was a thing. It reminds me of the series of fairytale retellings edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow in the 1980s and 90s (which set the standard for this fantasy sub-genre), only rather than cleaving closely to one specific fairytale as a template, Nettle & Bone treats its source material like a buffet ... The beauty of it all is that even while paying homage to the tropes I know and love from growing up on a steady diet of Brothers Grimm, English balladry, and French literary fairytales, Nettle & Bone carefully subverts them as well ... As much as I loved Nettle & Bone, I did have a little trouble getting immersed in the opening chapter ... rounds up all the secondary (and let\'s face it, more interesting) characters of fantasy lore and gives them the chance to save the day on their own terms. I have no doubt I will return to it often when I\'m in the mood for a fractured fariytale.
RaveNPRLoveable characters are sure to enchant in Freya Marske\'s Edwardian romance of manners and magic ... This is truly a scrumptious treat of a book, like a fancy tea all laid out with silver spoons and floral-painted cups and one of those tiered stands for the little cakes and crustless sandwiches ... Give me a slow burn romance and a retreat to a country house and I\'m a happy reader. That said, it can be hard to make the genre feel fresh, and that is where A Marvellous Light pleasantly surprised me ... the sex scenes are spicy and don\'t fade to black ... The magic is also quite charmingly depicted ... And lest it seem like there aren\'t any women about, there are some really delightful supporting characters ... I had a lot of fun reading this and would happily return to Marske\'s magic-infused England for more adventures with Robin, Edwin and their friends and relations. It\'s a charming, cozy read that\'s sure to delight.
RaveNPR\"A little bit of Bluebeard, a dash of Reynardine, and a good helping of madwoman in the attic, The Death of Jane Lawrence is everything that I wanted ... As the horrors begin to stack up...it\'s a real pleasure to watch practical, pragmatic Jane say, okay, this is not what I signed up for but I\'m going to fix it ... That\'s the thing about a Gothic novel: It has to walk the line between horror and romance and not flinch away from either. The Death of Jane Lawrence is up to this task, even as it descends into a sort of frenzied madness as Jane\'s grasp on reality weakens and the haunting of Lindridge Hall threatens to consume her whole. By the time the book reached that point of no return, I was so invested that I would have followed Jane into the very depths of hell.
V. E. Schwab
RaveNPRIt\'s a bit cheeky to call The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue Faust for romantic bisexual goths, but it\'s not wrong ... Addie and Henry are both bi in a way that feels refreshingly casual for fiction, and other queer characters surround them. Each relationship is unique and beautifully painted ... But I think the most unique and interesting thing about Addie LaRue is its relationship to art. In a very clever touch, the different sections of the book are broken up with works of art and the sort of descriptive text that would accompany them if they were being sold at an auction ... I loved that as Addie LaRue unfurls its final pages, we discover that we\'ve been a part of her story all along without even knowing it.
PositiveNPRThere is a lot going on here. Romeo and Juliet in 1920\'s Shanghai is an elevator pitch; add in a mystery, a monster hunt, and the complexities of Western imperialism and you have almost more than the elevator can hold. It makes These Violent Delights difficult to classify. It isn\'t exactly a tragedy, for while many deeply sad things befall its characters, we never linger long upon them. It isn\'t a romance, despite the angsty tension between Juliette and Roma, because they barely get a chance to stop and feel it. It\'s one part detective story (with Juliette cast as the weary detective and Roma as the femme fatale) and one part heist as the main characters run around the city with their minions in tow, investigating and snooping and generally causing more mayhem than they prevent. More than anything, These Violent Delights is a rich portrait of a seldom-depicted time and place ... The plot is also a bit tangled up, and at times, the reader is a few steps ahead of whatever discovery the characters are making, creating a bit of a lagging feeling in the pacing. But the characters themselves are interesting, offering queer representation and a lot of moral complexity as they all grapple with the violence that is expected of them. Overall, they are a charming bunch to pass the time with ... I did find myself questioning whether These Violent Delights really feels like a young adult book. The true teenage feels are mostly located in the backstory as we gradually learn of Juliette and Roma\'s early romance and subsequent falling out. In the present of the story, they both feel more like world-weary adults, wielding their power and accepting the fact that who they really are doesn\'t matter because their power comes with bleak responsibility. But I think it likely that, in our current, turbulent times, that mood will speak to teen and adult readers alike.
RaveNPRFiber art magic brings Bolivian-inspired fantasy to life in Isabel Ibañez\'s debut novel ... Woven in Moonlight — appropriately — weaves a beautiful spell that takes culturally specific details and spins them into an engaging fantasy world. There is nothing generic about the land of Inkasisa ... My favourite touch may be the glossary of food terms at the end of the book, where each dish is lovingly described ... Nuance is something that Woven in Moonlight seems to care about very deeply. What beings as a clear-cut tale of a girl seeking revenge and restoration for a generation of wrongs soon blossoms into something much more quicksilver and subtle.
RaveNPR... an engaging blend of tech thriller, mystery, and teen drama that kept me up reading way later into the night than was strictly wise. But I almost didn\'t read it. The title, Catfishing on CatNet, was nearly a deal-breaker for me. It sounded goofy and awkwardly trendy in a try-hard sort of way...Now I\'m here to tell you that if the title has the same effect on you as it did on me, you should get over it and try it anyway ... the teen drama aspect is heartfelt and relatable, the mystery has enjoyable and sometimes shocking twists and turns, and the trajectory of the thriller plot is quite frankly bonkers. Just when you think it\'s about to slow down or pull back, instead it goes there and then keeps on going. It doesn\'t always make the most sense, but when you\'re talking about impromptu armies of hijacked robots, who even cares? It\'s bold and absurd and a whole lot of fun ... Steph\'s life is the stuff of made-for-TV drama, but despite that, she feels deeply relatable and accessible as a character ... heralds a coming of age for both its human and AI protagonists, and the parallels and differences are illuminating ... taps lightly on the concept of personhood and the ethics of artificial intelligence, but it doesn\'t trouble itself profoundly. There\'s never any question of whether or not we\'re on board with CheshireCat being a person. They just are ... [a] wild, rollicking ride, and it leaves it mark.
PositiveNPR... takes the familiar trappings of Arthurian legend and spins them into an earthy fantasy ... As an enthusiast of Kiersten White\'s recent female-centric horror classic reimaginings, I was very curious to see what she would do with a more fantasy-centric mythos, especially one so dear to my heart ... It\'s therefore pretty remarkable that The Guinevere Deception pleasantly surprised me with many of its choices without ever stepping too clumsily on the toes of its source material. We\'ve gotten Guinevere\'s point of view before, but the idea that she is an impostor, sent in the real Guinevere\'s place, feels like a fresh approach ... Certain characters are gender-swapped, traditional storylines are shifted for LGBT reveals, and the concept of consent is explored intriguingly if not deeply ... One of my favorite aspects of the world that White has created is the practical feeling of her magic ... In general, the places where The Guinevere Deception falls back on heavily explored tropes and themes are where my attention drifted ... In some ways, I almost wish that this story had left its Arthurian inspirations behind and committed to being its own unique fantasy, free from all the traditional baggage and spoilers. That said, for someone less familiar with the hundreds of other adaptations that have come before it, The Guinevere Deception will offer an enjoyable and even thoughtful entry into a mythos that has obsessed us for generations.
RaveNPRRuta Sepetys last tore our hearts out with Salt to the Sea, her exploration of the human condition as seen through the eyes of refugees fleeing World War II. In her new book, The Fountains of Silence, she is intent on once again slaying us with history that is full of both beauty and terror ... The Fountains of Silence has everything I could possibly ask for in a work of historical fiction: Vivid and deeply researched details about a place and time I know little about, slowly unspooling mystery, intricately drawn characters who feel of their time but deeply relatable, forbidden romance, and the intense pathos of learning about a dark and terrible stretch of history that offers an alarming reflection of the times we\'re living in. Every time I picked it up to continue reading, I was immediately immersed, plunging back into its tumult of love, fear, anger, and hope ... I\'m not a fan of books that moralize and tell me how to feel, and somehow The Fountains of Silence manages to be a story that is deeply concerned with morality and justice without ever feeling preach ... Sepetys never says, look at this, then go and watch the news. She doesn\'t have to. The Fountains of Silence may be about things that went unsaid for decades, but it speaks its truth loud and clear.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave
PositiveNPRI find that any book about witch trials creates first and foremost a feeling of impotent helplessness. What logic and reason can be applied when the law embraces malicious nonsense? And given that there\'s more than enough in the present to feel impotent and helpless about, what is the appeal of exploring women\'s senseless suffering 400 years in the past? ... For me, the appeal is in watching them find strength in each other. They labor, they teach each other, and they face the cruel sea and the even more capricious brutality of men. In every wind-blown crag and damp crevice of this book, women find ways to survive and live or die on their own terms ... In the end, I don\'t know that it was the book I wanted it to be, but it was unapologetically itself. The Mercies smolders more intensely than a pyre, whirling history\'s ashes defiantly into the wind.
PositiveNPRThis is a book that would most definitely benefit from a direct re-read of its predecessor before diving in. Heilig tackles difficult issues very deftly in this series, including the horrors of colonialism and the struggles faced by someone with bipolar disorder. The depiction of Jetta\'s malheur feels deeply visceral and compassionate ... As with all middle books, A Kingdom for a Stage exists in a state of liminality. It\'s no longer the eager beginning, full of new ideas and promise, nor are there any satisfying wrap-ups to be had at its conclusion. We leave Jetta and her cause in a more uncertain state than ever, providing the perfect set-up for an intense and rousing conclusion to a series with a stunning premise and really subtle handling of difficult topics. I eagerly anticipate the final installment.
PositiveNPRJo\'s life is bitter in many ways, and The Downstairs Girl doesn\'t shy away from the discrimination and unfairness that she faces at every turn because of her race and gender. It also manages to be intersectional, as the story is populated with diverse characters of color and it takes the time to acknowledge the many permutations of injustice that all of them face. Even as we admire the tenacity of suffragists working to gain the vote for women, we are asked to balance their struggle with their treatment of the black women they dismiss for wanting the same rights ...If I must find something here to complain about, I suppose it would be that at times, Jo\'s voice and the general tone of the narrative feel very modern, and it lacks the slightly more formal and languid language that one sees in books that were written during the era The Downstairs Girl portrays. But honestly, every era had its radicals, and I see no reason why we can\'t simply consider Jo to be a saucebox ahead of her time — and Lee certainly makes the most of period slang, to delightful effect. I honestly didn\'t know it was possible for a work of historical fiction to seriously take on the racism and sexism of the 19th century South while still being such a joyful read. I almost want to dare readers to not be delighted by its newspaper office shenanigans, clandestine assignations in cemeteries, and bicycle-riding adventures, but there\'s honestly no point. The Downstairs Girl, for all its serious and timely content, is a jolly good time.
RaveNPR... reminds me of the kind of books I loved as a teenager, before young adult existed as a genre ... leans into the once-upon-a-time feeling instead of trying to subvert it, and the novel revels in the folkloric essence of Chinese and European fairy tales ... Fairy tales can be skeletons for writers to craft their stories upon, and Spin the Dawn does this to great effect ... The love shared between Maia and Edan is as hopeless as it is romantic, and the wistful longing that ensues is pretty much perfect. I sometimes have issues with the trope of a centuries-old magical boy falling in love with a teenage girl, but these characters are so charming that I really didn\'t mind it here ... So often, fantasy seems to feel the need to focus on the most extreme characters a society has to offer, following the stories of assassins, royals, fighters and thieves. It\'s less common for a book to focus instead on the lives of craftspeople who build the castles, cook the feasts and sew the epic gowns that are the hallmarks of the genre. Spin the Dawn is proof that casting a wider net not only gives us a fresh story that feels unlike everything else on the shelves beside it but also allows for richer and more nuanced storytelling. It\'s all the little details that go into crafting the objects people use that bring a society to life, and Maia\'s perspective as a working tailor makes her world vibrant and full of sensory details that are sure to delight even the most jaded of fantasy readers.
RaveNPRRory Power\'s debut novel Wilder Girls combines grotesque physical metamorphosis with the intense bonds of love between teenage girls to create a unique variety of feelings-heightened body horror. If you took the creeping biological corruption that one expects from Jeff VanderMeer and the angry, intense teen girl relationships centered by Nova Ren Suma and mashed them together, they would mutate into this—something fresh and horrible and beautiful ... This is a fast read, meant to be gripped tightly in tense fingers so that for the span of a few hours, the Raxter School for Girls is all that exists, and we too are subject to the quarantine. An intense reading experience also further conveys the book\'s heightened, permeating sense of lush nature turned uncanny, of beautiful fruits riddled with worms and rot, and of love so desperate and strong it teeters on the edge of destruction. As the girls of Raxter are consumed and altered by the Tox, readers will be consumed and altered by Wilder Girls ... Wilder Girls is as sharp as a blade used to cut out corruption, and I think it wants to cut us deep.
PositiveNPRA fantastical silk road city comes to life in Nafiza Azad\'s richly detailed debut novel ... The plot of The Candle and the Flame revolves around a few key questions...All of these issues are present from pretty much the start of the book, and it feels like we circle around them again and again...I don\'t mean to imply that the book is dull, as there\'s always a lot going on, but it does sometimes feel a bit lacking in forward momentum ... I\'d say it\'s well worth riding out the eddies, because, as with many debut fantasy novels, it\'s clear how much thought and care went into the creation of Noor and its mythology ... the writing itself has a flow and nuance that\'s quite different from a standard young adult fantasy voice. In a year with a glut of books coming out with fire and flames in their titles, this attention to detail and dedication to language set The Candle and the Flame apart.
MixedNPR... a massive tome, full of twists and turns and a thousand agonies that propel its characters to their inevitable fates ... The worldbuilding is fun, with lots of clever names for things, many of them in French, the language of Laterre\'s founding family. I do wish we understood a little more of the science of the world — how the slow revolutions of the suns works, what was on the planet before, are there any native plants and animals — but perhaps more of that will come in the sequels ... sometimes when modern YA genre novels take on these themes, they skim across the surface, mouthing the language of revolution without showing the teeth that today\'s teens have had to bare for themselves. I wish that Sky Without Stars had a bit more bite ... despite its physical heft is a fairly brisk read. It zips along from one plot twist to the next, drawing inspiration from Les Mis without being married to its characters, story, or true depth. La Revolution Lite is on tap here, and it\'s frothy, perhaps quenching the thirst for social justice without actually doing any hydrating. Those seeking substance may be left unsatisfied, but readers looking for inventive entertainment will find themselves well quaffed.
Tehlor Kay Mejia
RaveNPRWe Set the Dark on Fire is a book so timely it hurts ... Mejia manages to walk a very tight line in evoking some of the injustices that are currently happening in America without being heavy-handed. The world she has created is its own place—it is not some dystopic near-future. But at the same time, it gives America\'s current \'build a wall\' rhetoric a very deliberate smackdown ... There\'s something very powerful about centering Dani and Carmen\'s queer, Latina love story and making it defiantly sensual and romantic in the midst of all of this world\'s sexism and prejudice ... It\'s a gripping book, easy to race through despite the difficult and timely issues at its core ... While there are some slight debut novel imperfections in the flow of the plot and climactic build, We Set the Dark on Fire burns bright, and I hope it will light the way for a new generation of rebels and lovers.
MixedNPRThere can be no doubt that Chokshi has grown as a writer with each book, and The Gilded Wolves takes us to a new level of intrigue. The diverse characters each have an iconic presence and the necessary tragic backstory. Their intertwining friendships are artfully crafted, giving us a multitude of reasons to root for them as they sprint their way through the plot. The world is lush and complex, blending magic and technology with the golden glimmer of late nineteenth century Paris. And the heist itself is breakneck, tumbling from one incident to the next with mindboggling complexity ... Individually, I love all three of these sides that make up the book\'s narrative triangle — character, world, and plot. But when they all come together, the whole becomes almost bloated. There are so many characters with unique motivations, so many magical artifacts and conventions, and so many twists that it becomes difficult to feel truly grounded in the story ... The element of this book that most excited me is one that was never fully realized — but hinted at strongly enough that I have hope it may be the focus of whatever adventures may follow in sequels.
PositiveNPRThe thing that Emily Skrutskie really nails in Hullmetal Girls is all the nitty gritty of bodies being invaded by machines. So much care and thought has gone into every spliced muscle and metal port that it\'s easy to visualize the cyborg monsters these teens have become ... The way Skrutskie has built the world of the Fleet is also compelling, with each ship containing one piece of the puzzle required to sustain a world\'s worth of people as they journey through the stars for hundreds of years in search of a new home planet ... In some ways, the characters struggle to live up to the promise of the world ... I often found myself flipping back to make note of which character\'s name was at the beginning of the chapter, as it wasn\'t always possible to tell their narrative voices apart ... Hullmetal Girls feels like an evolution of the sci fi and dystopian works that have come before it ... Its strength is its commitment to the body horror concept, and the freshness of seeing familiar militaristic space opera shenanigans through the eyes of teenaged girls.
MixedTorThe strength of The Bear and the Nightingale lies in its evocation of life in the Russian wilderness, with its seasons, hardships, and beauties. We are given a vivid glimpse of a time gone by, and I found myself immersed in the dramas of the village and hearth. While I have no great expertise in Russian folklore, its use here feels true in spirit while adapting to the specific world of the narrative. This strong cultural backbone combines with fairytale prose and a stalwart heroine to make for an enjoyable read that would appeal to fans of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. It is therefore unfortunate to discover that the last quarter of the book does not quite deliver on this promise ... The climax of the book escalates into a full-on physical battle which feels unprecedented by everything that has come before, and plot decisions and character developments veer down the path of least resistance rather than delving deeper into something more nuanced ... Despite the flaws of its ending, I would happily recommend The Bear and the Nightingale to fans of folkloric fantasy, as well as to anyone who likes their historical fiction with a healthy dose of magic.