Thoughts on Netflix’s Shadow and Bone Adaptation (Spoilers)

Normally I do not have a Netflix subscription, but a friend surprised me with a gift card so I could watch Shadow & Bone, so here are some thoughts I had while watching the first season. This comes with the disclaimer that I barely remember reading Shadow & Bone and Siege & Storm, and I never read Ruin & Rising at all. I did read both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.

1. Overall, I Loved the Series

One benefit of barely remembering the books is that I didn’t have a lot of expectations going in to watching the adaptation, either for casting or plot, and I loved most of the choices that were made. I loved pretty much all of the casting choices, particularly for the Darkling and Alina. I was also pretty invested in the story and eager to see what happened next (because I sort of knew but also didn’t know, both because of my memory lapses and because the plot was obviously changed, since the Crows were integrated into Alina’s story).

2. I Agree the Racism Wasn’t Handled Well

I’ve seen a lot of viewers who are not happy the writers decided to make Alina part-Shu and then make it a plot point that she doesn’t quite belong in Ravka and experiences racism because of it. My biggest issue is that I don’t think it was well-integrated. It felt a bit as if the writers were going along, writing their story, and then would suddenly remember Alina’s supposed to face racism and then have a random character shout a racial slur at her and then disappear. A few times Alina tried expand on the point by explaining that she’s used to being Othered because of her race, so being apart because she’s a Grisha with legendary powers isn’t an entirely new feeling for her, but overall it just felt awkwardly done.

3. I’m on the Fence about how the Crows Were Integrated

I loved seeing Kaz and company on screen, and he, Inej, and Jesper were definitely badass. Jesper in particular comes across as having real flair and skill with his guns, which impressed me because he wasn’t my favorite character in Six of Crows or anything, but he’s fabulous in this series. However, I have some reservations about the show writers giving the Crows a task that they, very obviously, are not going to accomplish. As soon as it comes up that their task is to kidnap Alina and bring her back to Ketterdam, viewers know they’re not going to succeed. First, that ruins any sense of suspense. Second, it ruins the idea that Kaz and his friends can accomplish the impossible. Because clearly they do NOT. I’m not sure how they’re going to get out of the mess that failing has put them into in season one, and I don’t know what heists they’ll be up to next, but I do hope they’ll be given more room to actually pull it off this time.

4. Mal Is Way More Awesome Than in the Books

Again, I barely remember the books and I never read Ruin & Rising, but I do remember feeling “meh” about Mal as a love interest while reading. In the show, however, I’m a huge fan. His loyalty to Alina, his deep friendship with her, his protectiveness, and his support are all clear. He also gives her her space to do what she needs to do. If she’s not going to take the hints that he’s in love with her, someone else needs to snatch him up because he’s just incredibly nice!

Briana

One Year at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

One Year at Ellsmere

Information

Goodreads: One Year at Ellsmere
Series: None
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2020 (first published 2008)

Summary

When Juniper receives a scholarship to the prestigious Ellsmere Academy, she finds herself immediately the enemy of popular girl Emily. Emily is determined to have Juniper kicked out of school altogether. But a mystical beast allegedly roams the forest outside, and it may be more than both Juniper and Emily imagined.

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Review

I picked up One Year at Ellsmere because I enjoyed Faith Erin Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy, both story and artwork. However, though Hicks’ expressive, cartoony style is still in evidence in this work, but One Year at Ellsmere is admittedly lacking in the story. The concept of a scholarship student running afoul of the school’s queen bee is nothing new, and adding in a bubbly roommate and whispers of a horror in the forest do little to make the story feel fresh–especially when the spooky forest ends up being at first nothing but a footnote and later on an awkward add-on. I wanted to love One Year at Ellsmere, but nothing about the book makes me inclined to recommend it over a number of more effective graphic novels.

Simply writing a lengthy review about One Year at Ellsmere feels difficult because the story feels too short and too standard to inspire any meaningful commentary. Readers probably do not have to pick up the book at all the have a sense of its trajectory: scholarship student arrives feeling out of place, makes one good friend, makes enemies of the popular girl, has secret run-ins with her tormentors, is falsely accused by authority figures, then finally sees justice served. The title suggests this all takes place over the course of the year, but it all happens so fast and so predictably, that this storyline rather seems like it ought to be just one subplot in a lengthier book–one probably having to do with the magic that is barely discussed.

I think the addition of a monster in the forest outside the school is meant to add interest to what is otherwise a standard tale. However, putting monsters in a story only works if, well, they monsters are a meaningful part. At first, I was not sure if magic was even meant to be real in the world of One Year at Ellsmere because all readers get is a secondhand account of the disappearance of man decades ago–a disappearance said to be the result of the creatures in the trees. Then the topic never comes up again, until the end of the book, where the characters all conveniently run into the forest.

But all this leads to questions. Is the forest commonly known to be magic? Is it forbidden to students? Does anyone ever try to go in there? Why or why not? Usually when there is an enchanted wood in a story, the people living right next door to it know about it, and treat it cautiously. The students at Ellsmere seem to never think about the woods at all, however. This would suggest in part that maybe magic is not a common element in this world. But then… the ending of the story should come as more of a shock. The creature is real! Magic is out there! But, eh. The characters just seem to note it as just another thing that happened to them that day. This is all very confusing, and arguably shoddy worldbuilding.

One Year at Ellsmere does at least have Faith Erin Hicks’ wonderful artwork, but that is not enough to make the book feel like it is worth reading. Not when so many graphic novels are being published and there is a wealth of amazing content to choose from. There is an interesting premise here, but it needs an extended storyline and more detailed worldbuilding for the book to be really great.

3 Stars

Recommended for You by Laura Silverman

Recommended for You

Information

Goodreads: Recommended for You
Series: None
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2020

Official Summary

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets You’ve Got Mail in this charming and hilarious rom-com following two teen booksellers whose rivalry is taken to the next level as they compete for the top bookseller bonus.

Shoshanna Greenberg loves working at Once Upon, her favorite local bookstore. And with her moms fighting at home and her beloved car teetering on the brink of death, the store has become a welcome escape.

When her boss announces a holiday bonus to the person who sells the most books, Shoshanna sees an opportunity to at least fix her car, if none of her other problems. The only person standing in her way? New hire Jake Kaplan.

Jake is an affront to everything Shoshanna stands for. He doesn’t even read! But somehow his sales start to rival hers. Jake may be cute (really cute), and he may be an eligible Jewish single (hard to find south of Atlanta), but he’s also the enemy, and Shoshanna is ready to take him down.

But as the competition intensifies, Jake and Shoshanna grow closer and realize they might be more on the same page than either expects…

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Review

Recommended for You is a cute rom-com perfectly calculated to appeal to book lovers. While the standard rom-com plotline can often feel stale–girl meets boy, does not like boy, then discovers boy is not as bad as she thought–it seems clear that this book is trying to freshen things up by dropping as many bookish allusions as possible. Readers presumably are going to pick up the book because they like books about books. This strategy works somewhat. Ultimately, however, Recommended for You really does feel like just another rom-com, with no real reason for readers to choose it over another similar title.

Many readers, unsurprisingly, do enjoy reading books about books or, in this case, books about bookstores. Recommended for You takes that knowledge and does its darnedest to keep such readers happy. References to popular YA titles such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games are made. Jokes about customers who browse indie bookstores only to buy the book off Amazon–while still in the store–are made. References to the nightmare that is working in customer service are made. In other words, the book checks off all the boxes to make book lovers and bookstore workers think, “So relatable!” None of it feels very organic, but people who get the joke might not mind.

Aside from the bookish allusions, the main thing that really stands out this book is Shoshanna’s character. She is, quite frankly, the type of protagonist many readers might not like, not because she is immature or rude or unthinking (all of which are true), but because she can be actively mean. She is the type of person who uses the bookstore intercom to shame a person for not reading. And who makes snide comments about her coworkers’ attire, then gets upset why they do not get the “joke.” There are things about Shoshanna that I can overlook because she is a teen, and, yes, teens do silly and rude things without thinking. But mocking people on the intercom is not something the average person does without realizing how awful that is.

The fact that Shoshanna and Jake are both really nasty, however, makes it difficult to buy into their romance. Shoshanna eventually learns to stop meddling in other people’s business and trying to “fix” their lives, but that is a separate lesson from her mean attitude, which the book never addresses. Jake, meanwhile, apologizes for being completely nasty to Shoshanna when they first met, but just glosses over it by implying he really needs the money and he just could not be expected to be polite to his new coworkers as a result. At some point, they fall in love despite their attitudes, but the book does not clearly indicate how or why this happens. The book is a rom-com, so why not, I guess.

On the whole, Recommended for You is a pretty forgettable read. It hits all the normal notes for a rom-com, but relies too heavily on the premise of being set in a bookstore to try to distinguish itself meaningfully in other ways. I finished the book because it is short, but I never felt invested in it.

3 Stars

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Raven Boys book cover

Information

Goodreads: The Raven Boys
Series: The Raven Cycle #1
Source: Gift
Published: 2012

Official Summary

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

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Review

Before picking up The Raven Boys (which someone gifted me), the only thing I’d read by Maggie Stiefvater was Shiver around its release, and I was not impressed. I’ve been studiously avoiding Stiefvater’s other books all these years under the assumption they were also, well, flat and not very good, so I am happy to report that The Raven Boys blew away all my negative expectations and left me with a story that was engaging and took me by surprise at several turns. It also kept me up at night because I’d had no idea that it dealt with ghosts and the occult, and people seemed constantly in danger of dying or being possessed or otherwise meeting a creepy end.

I sat on drafting this review for several days after I finished the book because, even though I enjoyed it, it’s hard to pinpoint my exact thoughts on the story. Ultimately, I think that’s a plus. A friend saw me reading the book, skimmed the back cover, and determined it sounded like a “typical” YA book — which is when it struck me that it’s really not. There aren’t a lot of tropes I associate with YA, or the kind of structure or narrative voice I often associate with YA books. The story is just kind of doing its own thing, which I appreciate.

When I’ve seen other people review this series, I always got the impression people were just talking about hot boys, but I think the standout characteristic is actually the sense of mystery about the whole story. It starts with a mystery, why Blue can see a spirit on the corpse road when she never has before, and then just keeps entangling more and more mysteries around that. Not all of them are solved at the end of the book, which honestly seemed a bit abrupt, but I know that’s to make readers buy the sequel.

The boys themselves, then, I can take or leave. Maybe it gets better in the following books, but I actually thought their relationships with each other could have been better defined in this book. They all seem like vaguely interesting people, but I often wasn’t that invested in them as characters (I was more interested in the plot), and I think that might be different if I felt more strongly about their friendship. Things between them often seem hinted at but…I really feel “meh” about them as a whole.

My greatest issue is that I think The Raven Boys is objectively good, original and well-written. I didn’t really connect with it on any level though, so I’m really on the fence about whether I’ll read the rest of the series.

Briana
4 stars

Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee

Luck of the Titanic

Information

Goodreads: Luck of the Titanic
Series: None
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2021

Official Summary

From the critically acclaimed author of The Downstairs Girl comes the richly imagined story of Valora and Jamie Luck, twin British – Chinese acrobats traveling aboard the Titanic on its ill fated maiden voyage.

Southampton, 1912: Seventeen-year-old British-Chinese Valora Luck has quit her job and smuggled herself aboard the Titanic with two goals in mind: to reunite with her twin brother Jamie–her only family now that both their parents are dead–and to convince a part-owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus to take the twins on as acrobats. Quick-thinking Val talks her way into opulent firstclass accommodations and finds Jamie with a group of fellow Chinese laborers in third class. But in the rigidly stratified world of the luxury liner, Val’s ruse can only last so long, and after two long years apart, it’s unclear if Jamie even wants the life Val proposes. Then, one moonless night in the North Atlantic, the unthinkable happens–the supposedly unsinkable ship is dealt a fatal blow–and Val and her companions suddenly find themselves in a race to survive.

Stacey Lee, master of historical fiction, brings a fresh perspective to an infamous tragedy, loosely inspired by the recently uncovered account of six Titanic survivors of Chinese descent.

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Review

Inspired by the lost stories of eight Chinese passengers on the Titanic, Luck of the Titanic brings a new perspective to a well-known tale. The book centers around teenaged Valora Luck, a girl in search of a new life in the United States after her employer dies. Her plan is simple: pretend her employer is still alive, board the Titanic as a servant, find her twin brother Jamie (who is working at sea), convince him to try out for the circus with her, and then go to America. Unfortunately, however, Valora has never heard of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which 30 years earlier had barred the immigration of Chinese workers to the U.S. and prevented Chinese individuals from obtaining citizenship. Still, undeterred, Valora hatches a daring plan to impersonate her employer and also try out for a part-owner of the Ringling Brothers. The premise is fun and will appeal to readers who enjoy historical fiction focused on the relationships between the classes.

Although Luck of the Titanic is, of course, another Titanic book, the most interesting parts of the story arguably occur before the ship hits the iceberg. Valora may not be very good about coming up with solid plans, but she is determined and daring. It is entertaining to watch her impersonate her former employer, hiding behind a veil and pretending to be a grieving widow. She, of course, make allies in order to keep up the charade, and ends up wearing clothes to advertise an up-and-coming designer also on board–a plot point that helps to highlight the glamour of being a first-class passenger on board a luxury ship. Readers will revel in the details of all the elegance the lucky few were able to enjoy.

However, because Valora also must visit her brother and his friends in third class, Valora gives readers a unique window into the relationship between the classes on board. When she appears in first class behind her veil as an assumed white woman, Valora is treated with respect and gets to experience fine dining and other luxuries. When she disguises herself as a Chinese man, however, she experiences both classism and racism. Things as simple as requesting that the waiter bring bread to the table become a struggle. Her struggles highlight the challenges that the third class passengers faced to be treated with dignity, even on board a ship they had paid to be on. Readers no doubt will think of plenty of parallels in the modern-day world, where some still struggle to be treated equally.

Valora’s wild plans both to keep up her disguises and to try to convince her reluctant brother to join the circus with her are what really keep the plot engaging (even if Valora herself can come across at time as a bit self-centered). Once the ship actually hits the iceberg and the story becomes one of survival, the book begins to struggle a bit. Titanic stories have been done many times, and it can be difficult to make the story feel new, even with all its tragedy. Frankly, I kind of stopped caring about the plot once the characters just started running in circles around the ship. Even the ending failed to move me, though I recognize that it is probably supposed to part of some great character revelation for Valora.

Ultimately, however, Luck of the Titanic is an engaging novel sure to delight readers looking for a historical fiction that focuses on the little-known tales of the past. The interesting premise, combined with Valora’s amusing disguises and subterfuges, will keep readers turning pages, even if they know how it all must end.

4 stars

Namesake by Adrienne Young

Namesake by Adrienne Young

Information

Goodreads: Namesake
Series: Fable #2
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2021

Official Summary

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

With the Marigold ship free of her father, Fable and the rest of the crew were set to start over. That freedom is short-lived when Fable becomes a pawn in a notorious thug’s scheme. In order to get to her intended destination, she must help him to secure a partnership with Holland, a powerful gem trader who is more than she seems.

As Fable descends deeper into a world of betrayal and deception, she learns that the secrets her mother took to her grave are now putting the people Fable cares about in danger. If Fable is going to save them, then she must risk everything—including the boy she loves and the home she has finally found.

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Review

Namesake by Adrienne Young brings readers back to a richly detailed world, one defined by its relationship to the high seas and those who rule them. Fable has only recently escaped the island where her father left her without a backward glance, in an attempt to find him, and her place in the world. But her father has many plots and many enemies, and once again Fable finds herself ensnared in intrigues she can only begin understand. Readers who love fast-paced adventure stories full of twist and turns, as well as morally grey characters, will love Namesake.

Stories with intrigue always engross me, so I was thrilled to discover that Namesake delivers the same action and mystery as its predecessor. This book begins with Fable a captive on the ship of her father’s enemy, a man who promises her release as soon as she helps him. Readers, however, will likely guess that promises from such a man are not to be trusted, and that he is playing a higher game–one Fable will need to uncover if she wants to survive. The plot twists in Namesake actually kept me on my toes, and I enjoyed that both Fable and I were constantly being surprised, needing to reassess the situation in light of new information. In the end, even Fable’s final move surprised me–and that is not something I can often say of the average YA novel.

If the book has a real flaw, it is probably the romance, which never delivers the chemistry or even the drama I feel it ought. Fable spends a lot of time thinking about how romance is bad for her–love is a dangerous weakness and her lover is a man she is not sure she can trust. In the end, however, she always throws herself back into his arms, and any arguments they have are quickly papered over by a make-out session. All the buildup in Fable’s mind seems to warrant that the two would at least have a brief falling out. It is confusing that the book spends so much time leading up to something that never happens.

Altogether, however, Namesake is a strong YA novel, one that offers adventure, mystery, romance, and a great deal of intrigue. Readers who love books set on the high seas or even books about pirates will want to check out Adrienne Young’s gripping duology.

4 stars

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Rule of Wolves

Information

Goodreads: Rule of Wolves
Series: Nikolai Duology #2
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2021

Official Summary

The wolves are circling and a young king will face his greatest challenge in the explosive finale of the instant #1 New York Times-bestselling King of Scars Duology.

The Demon King. As Fjerda’s massive army prepares to invade, Nikolai Lantsov will summon every bit of his ingenuity and charm—and even the monster within—to win this fight. But a dark threat looms that cannot be defeated by a young king’s gift for the impossible.

The Stormwitch. Zoya Nazyalensky has lost too much to war. She saw her mentor die and her worst enemy resurrected, and she refuses to bury another friend. Now duty demands she embrace her powers to become the weapon her country needs. No matter the cost.

The Queen of Mourning. Deep undercover, Nina Zenik risks discovery and death as she wages war on Fjerda from inside its capital. But her desire for revenge may cost her country its chance at freedom and Nina the chance to heal her grieving heart.

King. General. Spy. Together they must find a way to forge a future in the darkness. Or watch a nation fall.

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Review

The ending of King of Scars left me disappointed, fearful that the sequel would retread old ground instead of moving forward with the story about a nation rebuilding. Few series seem to treat the aftermath of a war, preferring instead to close with the “happily ever after” of an enemy defeated. King of Scars feels novel in that it depicts a country unsure of the future after the collapse of the old regime. Though readers may be rooting for Nikolai to be king, the people of Ravka do not know him, nor are they sure they want the kind of future he represents. This uncertainty, this fragility is what makes the book so interesting. I was glad to discover that Rule of Wolves continues to explore the fraught relationships between people and nations, rather than trying to recreate the storyline of the Shadow and Bone trilogy.

Leigh Bardugo’s masterful storytelling is at its height here, as she weaves together the stories of several characters, each with their own hard choices to make. Nikolai is trying to keep a country together, even as he is torn apart by the monster instead. Zoya is trying to atone for following the Darkling by serving her country as its general. Nina is trying to lay her old lover to rest even as she glimpses the possibility of a future with another. Their stories intertwine along with several others, showing how the fate of a nation can rest in the hands of not only its leaders, but also the people who get swept up in events along the way. But, since this is Ravka, things only seem to get worse as the story progresses. The cliffhangers at the end of each chapter will lead readers breathless to know more, desperate to learn that everything turns out all right, after all.

Part of what I enjoy so much about Bardugo’s work is that is often offers the unexpected, upending tropes and refusing to fall into the patterns genre fiction so often embraces. Rule of Wolves is no different. While I predicted a few plot twists, others completely surprised me. This feels right, because leading a nation often means there are no easy answers. While the outcomes were largely satisfying, they did not feel trite. And they leave the door open for more exciting adventures to come.

My one main criticism of the work is one other fans may likely not share. I thought the cameos were overdone. While it is nice to see old favorites return, seeing them all in one book felt more than fan service than great storytelling, especially when some of these characters do not have a real reason to be mingling with each other. I understand, however, that many readers probably enjoyed these moments. And, really, they are too small a part of the book to really hinder my enjoyment.

Rule of Wolves is another stunning installment from Bardugo to the Grishaverse. Fans of Bardugo’s work will not want to miss out on this exciting adventure–especially as it seems to be setting up a future novel, maybe even the ones readers have been waiting for since Six of Crows.

4 stars

Once Upon a Con Series by Ashley Poston Giveaway (US Only)

The Prize

Quirk Books has graciously provided us with a set of the Once Upon a Con series by Ashley Poston to give away!

The prize includes:

  • Geekerella (paperback)
  • The Princess and the Fangirl (paperback)
  • Bookish and the Beast (paperback)
  • “Once at Midnight” (short story)
  • “Once Upon a Princess” (short story)
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More about the Books

Geekerella

Summary:

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic science-fiction series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck and her dad’s old costume, Elle’s determined to win – unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons – before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he has ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake – until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part-romance, part-love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

From My Review:

This book will resonate with readers who have ever felt out-of-place or who ever just dreamed of something this unlikely happening to them. “Cinderella” is all about the right circumstances converging to make someone’s life brighter than it had been before, and Poston taps into that to write a compelling take that walks the line between normal high school life and fantasy. Definitely a recommended read from me.

The Princess and the Fangirl

Princess and the Fangirl

Summary:

The Prince and the Pauper gets a modern makeover in this adorable, witty, and heartwarming young adult novel set in the Geekerella universe by national bestselling author Ashley Poston.

Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off from her favorite franchise, Starfield. The problem is, Jessica Stone—the actress who plays Princess Amara—wants nothing more than to leave the intense scrutiny of the fandom behind. If this year’s ExcelsiCon isn’t her last, she’ll consider her career derailed.

When a case of mistaken identity throws look-a-likes Imogen and Jess together, they quickly become enemies. But when the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, and all signs point to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. That’s easier said than done when the girls step into each other’s shoes and discover new romantic possibilities, as well as the other side of intense fandom. As these “princesses” race to find the script-leaker, they must rescue themselves from their own expectations, and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.

From My Review:

The Princess and the Fangirl, a geeky take on “The Prince and the Pauper,” is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed the companion novel Geekerella.  This book has all the fun and all the pop culture references of the first book, but with a bit more of a serious take fandom, responsibility, and finding your passions.

Bookish and the Beast

Summary:

In the third book in Ashley Poston’s Once Upon a Con series, Beauty and the Beast is retold in the beloved Starfield universe.

Rosie Thorne is feeling stuck—on her college application essays, in her small town, and on that mysterious General Sond cosplayer she met at ExcelsiCon. Most of all, she’s stuck in her grief over her mother’s death. Her only solace was her late mother’s library of rare Starfield novels, but even that disappeared when they sold it to pay off hospital bills.

On the other hand, Vance Reigns has been Hollywood royalty for as long as he can remember—with all the privilege and scrutiny that entails. When a tabloid scandal catches up to him, he’s forced to hide out somewhere the paparazzi would never expect to find him: Small Town USA. At least there’s a library in the house. Too bad he doesn’t read.

When Rosie and Vance’s paths collide and a rare book is accidentally destroyed, Rosie finds herself working to repay the debt. And while most Starfield superfans would jump at the chance to work in close proximity to the Vance Reigns, Rosie has discovered something about Vance: he’s a jerk, and she can’t stand him. The feeling is mutual.

But as Vance and Rosie begrudgingly get to know each other, their careful masks come off—and they may just find that there’s more risk in shutting each other out than in opening their hearts.

From My Review:

Part of the fun of this series is how it revels in nerd/fan/con culture, and that’s certainly present in Bookish and the Beast, though the action not does occur at a con as it does in the first two books. References to Poston’s invented Starfield fandom abound, of course, but there are also nods to everything from Star Wars to Harry Potter to Avatar: The Last Airbender, as well as a general love of science fiction and fantasy. Readers who also love these fandoms will feel right at home in this book.

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GIVEAWAY RULES

  • The giveaway is open to US residents only. (Sorry, shipping costs, etc.)
  • You should be 18 years or older to enter or have your parents’ permission.
  • We will email the winner once the giveaway closes.  The winner will have 48 hours to respond before we pick a new winner.
  • You do not need to be a follower of our blog, though you can get extra entries for this.
  • Anyone found cheating will be disqualified from this and any future giveaways.
  • We are not responsible for lost or damaged prizes.
  • We will not do anything with your address besides ship the prize to you.

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Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Information

Goodreads: Etiquette and Espionage
Series: Finishing School #1
Source: Purchased
Published: 2013

Official Summary

It’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners–and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young ladies learn to finish…everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage–in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education.

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Review

I have fond memories of constantly seeing Etiquette and Espionage and the other Finishing School books in the library around the time they came out (2013, for this one), always intending to check them out and read them because the Gail Carriger seemed so popular. . .and never actually doing it. So it is with great interest that, eight years later, I have finally read this book — and realized it’s nothing like I expected it to be. I was expecting something like Kathleen Baldwin’s A School for Unusual Girls, since both novels have the premise that a boarding school for girls is covertly an institution that trains them in espionage, but the similarities basically end there. While Baldwin’s series is immersive, serious, and romantic, Carriger’s is a steampunk tongue-in-cheek take that skews a bit younger.

I have to write as a disclaimer that Carriger and I don’t seem to share the same sense of of humor. While she’s obviously making little winking jokes throughout the entire book that I’m clearly supposed to find amusing, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I also wasn’t expecting the characters in a book about a finishing school (which DOES train its students for polite society, in addition to the darker arts) to talk as they’re Bertie Wooster, straight out of a Wodehouse novel, particularly because I believe the time period is a bit earlier than the Jeeves novels. I’m sure some readers will be tickled by the whole aesthetic, but it wasn’t really what I was expecting and I just didn’t find it that funny.

That aside, the book is fun. I really liked that protagonist Sophronia is 14, and she acts like it — a good reminder that YA was more like this eight years ago, focused on characters younger than 18 who acted more like teens than like grown adults. Sophoronia is silly, rebellious, friendly, and skilled all at once, and though I think I’d share her older sisters’ opinion that she’s a bit annoying if I met her in real life, she’s entertaining to read about, and I do have to admire her heart.

I’m still not 100% sure what the finishing school is for. Whose “side” are they on? What do they do? Are they good? Evil? It seems weird to me this isn’t fully covered in book 1 because I don’t want to have to read the rest of the series to find out. I guess readers are just supposed to expect the story as it is, but I was worried the whole time that, in seeking to do something right, Sophronia might actually be causing harm. And maybe she did, but I still don’t know at the end of the book!

Etiquette and Espionage isn’t my favorite book ever, but I think it’s just a matter of my personal taste. If someone likes this sense of humor, or if someone is looking for a lower YA book, this could be a great choice.

Briana
4 stars

The Theft of Sunlight by Intisar Khanani

Theft of Sunlight

Information

Goodreads: The Theft of Sunlight
Series: Dauntless Path #2
Source: Purchased
Published: March 23, 2021

Official Summary

I did not choose this fate. But I will not walk away from it.

Children have been disappearing from across Menaiya for longer than Amraeya ni Ansarim can remember. When her friend’s sister is snatched, Rae knows she can’t look away any longer – even if that means seeking answers from the royal court, where her country upbringing and clubfoot will only invite ridicule.

Yet the court holds its share of surprises. There she discovers an ally in the foreign princess, who recruits her as an attendant. Armed with the princess’s support, Rae seeks answers in the dark city streets, finding unexpected help in a rough-around-the-edges street thief with secrets of his own. But treachery runs deep, and the more Rae uncovers, the more she endangers the kingdom itself.

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Review

Note: Although this is being marketed as a companion book, I would highly recommend reading Thorn first. I have read Thorn, but didn’t remember some of the details, and I found parts of the book confusing because of that. I cannot imagine picking up The Theft of Sunlight while being completely unfamiliar with the characters and events of Thorn.

Intisar Khanani’s Thorn was one of my favorite books of 2020, so it was with great enthusiasm that I picked up The Theft of Sunlight to read more of Khanani’s work. Not only does the book deliver an engaging story with a sweet developing romance and a protagonist that had me admiring both her kindness and her sass, but it also tackles one of the threads I thought was bizarrely left hanging in Thorn: the fact that dozens of children are being snatched from the street each month.

I wrote in my review of Thorn that I guessed I could see how the characters had a lot to do in terms of reforming the country and maybe mass kidnappings was just on the list of things they hadn’t gotten around to yet, but I am actually really relieved to see that plot point taking center stage and getting the attention it deserves here because….MASS KIDNAPPINGS! It was truly weird it was almost a side point in Thorn. I love that readers are given a new protagonist to deal with the issue, as well, Rae, who is determined to get to the bottom of the issue to help the children she knows who have been snatched and the ones she doesn’t, no matter how dangerous her inquiries become. The princess cares, of course, but she doesn’t care the way Rae can because, for her, the problem is personal.

Readers also get to see more of the local thief lords mentioned in book 1, and who doesn’t love reading about thief lords and all their machinations and murders and schemes? Khanani does this really well; her thieves truly seem both skilled and dangerous. I believe they know what they’re doing and they know what they want, and they will be ruthless to get it. But we also see some of the softer sides of the Red Hawk gang, which is fabulous and makes me think I might have have missed something in not having ever having had a budding romance with a high-ranking thief. (Ok, never mind, actually. That would clearly be a terrible idea in real life, but it works great in fiction!)

The Theft of Sunlight is basically everything I like in YA, or just in a really enjoyable story. Strong, nuanced characters. A plot that hooks me and then keeps bringing surprises. Questions about life and morality and one’s own identity. I spent a long time thinking about this book once I finished it, which for me is always the mark of a good read.

Briana