Serena’s Review: “Foul Lady Fortune”

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Book: “Foul Lady Fortune” by Chloe Gong

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, September 2022

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: It’s 1931 in Shanghai, and the stage is set for a new decade of intrigue.

Four years ago, Rosalind Lang was brought back from the brink of death, but the strange experiment that saved her also stopped her from sleeping and aging—and allows her to heal from any wound. In short, Rosalind cannot die. Now, desperate for redemption from her traitorous past, she uses her abilities as an assassin for her country.

Code name: Fortune.

But when the Japanese Imperial Army begins its invasion march, Rosalind’s mission pivots. A series of murders is causing unrest in Shanghai, and the Japanese are under suspicion. Rosalind’s new orders are to infiltrate foreign society and identify the culprits behind the terror plot before more of her people are killed.

To reduce suspicion, however, she must pose as the wife of another Nationalist spy, Orion Hong, and though Rosalind finds Orion’s cavalier attitude and playboy demeanor infuriating, she is willing to work with him for the greater good. But Orion has an agenda of his own, and Rosalind has secrets that she wants to keep buried. As they both attempt to unravel the conspiracy, the two spies soon find that there are deeper and more horrifying layers to this mystery than they ever imagined.


As I mentioned in my give away post for this book, not only did I not know that it was a follow-up to a previously completed duology, but I also didn’t know it had any connections to “Romeo and Juliet.” My better-informed blogging partner quickly caught me up, adding that I would likely be fine jumping into this new duology without going back to the first (though she also did generally recommend it.) So, starting out, all I knew was that our previous main characters shockingly died a tragic death at the end of the first series, and that this duology would start up a few years later following the character who showed up in that series in the role of Rosaline. Not much, I know, but enough to pique my interest for sure!

Four years ago, Shanghai was turned on its head by the powerful decision of two young people upending a system that had felt intractable. For Rosalind, there was an even more personal change at work. After an experiment to save her life, Rosalind awoke with the inability to sleep or age and the ability to heal from all wounds. With these curses and blessings in hand, Rosalind has set her life to work for her country, attempting to make up for past wrongs. To do this, she has become the infamous assassin code named “Fortune.” But when the political climate begins to shift into ever more dangerous territory, Rosalind finds herself reassigned to work as a spy alongside another, Orion Hong, whose playboy lifestyle she appreciates less and less. Especially when she discovers they will be undercover as husband and wife.

So, I’ll confirm that this book is definitely approachable for readers who are not familiar with the original duology. That said, there are definitely aspects of the story that would have been enhanced having had that history. While the author didn’t overly rely on previously established interest in characters to sell them to readers this go around, I could definitely point out the characters who would have popped up in the first series and were clearly meant to pique extra interest here. Beyond that, I found some of the political parties and various gang affiliations to be a bit confusing, and I’m sure had I read the first books this would have been more clear. But, that said, I was able to piece together enough to get the general idea and feel invested in the book and characters.

I want to applaud the author for writing an assassin who, you know, actually kills people? Seems kind of shocking that this is some testament to particular skill, but it has been long established on this blog how irritated I’ve been by books that are heavily promoted as being about morally grey assassins and then turn out to be about purely moral, only-justified/self-defense-killing, Mary Sues. Here, we have Rosalind taking out a character in the very first few chapters. And while she does have personal reasons, it’s also clearly a job that she has been sent on and she doesn’t weep or wail about the dirty aspects of it.

However, I was much more invested in the spying portion of this book. Which is good, since that is by far the more central theme of the story. There were a lot of moving pieces to the mystery at the heart of the spy operation. Lots of double-crossing and you’re never quite sure who works for who and where anyone’s true loyalties lie. The author did a good job of creating a tense and suspicious atmosphere, ratcheting up the suspense as the book went on.

I will say, I wasn’t overly invested in the romance or the male lead in general. Even if it was to hide more of his character than he wanted to share, I’ve read a few too many swaggering playboys to be overly enamored with him. I also felt like the book was a bit too long, and could have used some tightening up, overall. But, for the most part, I very much enjoyed this book. Fans of the first duology I’m sure will love it. And don’t forget, we’re hosting a giveaway for an ARC copy of this book. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on September 21. Enter now!

Rating 8: An excellent YA spy novel with a lot of twists along the way, including a major one at the end!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Foul Lady Fortune” isn’t on any Goodreads lists currently, but it should be on Poison!

Kate’s Review: “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan”

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Books: “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan” (The Six Seasons Vol. 1 & 2) by William Dumas, Leonard Paul (Ill.), and Rhian Brynjolson

Publishing Info: HighWater Press, August 2020 (Vol.1) & September 2022 (Vol.2)

Where Did I Get These Books: I received eARCs from the publisher.

Where You Can Get These Books: WorldCat (1) (2) | Portage and Main Press (1) (2) | Indiebound (2)

Book Descriptions:

“Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw”: In 1993, the remains of a young woman were discovered at Nagami Bay, South Indian Lake, Manitoba. Out of that important archeological discovery came this unique story about a week in the life of Pisim, a young Cree woman, who lived in the Mid 1600s. In the story, created by renowned storyteller William Dumas, Pisim begins to recognize her miskanow – her life’s journey – and to develop her gifts for fulfilling that path. The story is brought to life by the rich imagery of Leonard Paul, and is accompanied by sidebars on Cree language and culture, archaeology and history, maps, songs, and more.

“Amō’s Sapotawan”: Rocky Cree people understand that all children are born with four gifts or talents. When a child is old enough, they decide which gift, or mīthikowisiwin, they will seek to master. With her sapotawan ceremony fast approaching, Amō must choose her mīthikowisiwin. Her sister, Pīsim, became a midwife; others gather medicines or harvest fish. But none of those feel quite right.

Amō has always loved making things. Her uncle can show her how to make nipisiwata, willow baskets. Her grandmother can teach her how to make kwakwāywata, birchbark containers and plates. Her auntie has offered to begin Amō’s apprenticeship in making askihkwak, pottery.

What will Amō’s mīthikowisiwin be? Which skill should she choose? And how will she know what is right for her?

Reviews: Thank you so, so much to Lohit Jagwani from HighWater Press for sending me eARCs of these books!

We are on our second week of my month long HighWater Press Blog Series, and we shift from traditional graphic novel to look at the first two books of a Middle Grade historical fiction series called “The Six Seasons” by storyteller and asiniskaw īthiniw Knowledge Keeper William Dumas. These books are part of a greater project known as the Six Seasons of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak, which hopes to work towards preserving Indigenous languages and knowledge bases of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak, or Rocky Cree. Honestly it sounds like a fantastic project (read more HERE), and part of it is this series, with the first two books being “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw”, and the second being “Amō’s Sapotawan”. Both books follow teenage girls who are going on journeys of self discovery, while also teaching kids about life and culture of the Rocky Cree before significant European contact.

I’ll start with the first in the series, “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw”, which follows a teenage Rocky Cree girl who is learning the ways of becoming a midwife. As her family group an community is preparing to journey to a communal gathering, Pīsim is trying to determine if she has the skills and drive to be a midwife. As the community travels to the Spring Gathering, stories are shared, bonds are strengthened, and Pīsim finds herself having to use her skills and knowledge in an unexpected situation. I really loved watching this young woman connect with those around her and hear the various stories that everyone tells, and how she rises to the task of delivering a baby on her own when she and her uncle and pregnant aunt are separated from the rest of the group during a storm on the water. But what stands out the most in this book (and similarly in “Amō’s Sapotawan”) are the rich and intricate details about all types of aspects of Rocky Cree life and culture. We get translations of various vocabulary, maps of the water that Pīsim and her family are traveling upon for the Spring Gathering, and various facts about life for the Rocky Cree during this time period. I was very, very enthralled by the great information and how detailed it was, and my former historical society employee heart was all aflutter. There is such good information in this book, and it’s incredibly accessible to the audience it is catered towards. I really enjoyed seeing the story of Pīsim come into her own.

“Amō’s Sapotawan” is another story about a young girl, though this time it is in summer and this time we follow Pīsim’s sister Amo. In this story, Amō is a teenager who is trying to decide on her mīthikowisiwin, her craft that she wishes to hone, as her ceremony to celebrate that gift, or her sapotawan, is about to happen. Coinciding this is the berry picking that the community does in the summer, as well as an ever present threat of wild fires that tend to kick up during this time of year and that can drive a community to have to flee on a moment’s notice. As Amō contemplates what she wants to choose, she experiences fairly typical moments in what the culture and life was like for the Rocky Cree, though there are, admittedly, some significant beats that may help drive her to choose her ultimate gift. I liked this story a lot as well, and like Pīsim’s story before there were a lot of great notes and facts interspersed within the story.

In terms of the artwork, the stories are accompanied by two different artists and two different styles. Leonard Paul provided the art for Pīsim’s story, while Rhian Brynjolson did for Amō’s. I think that of the two I preferred that of Paul, as that kind of style just speaks to me more, but they are both aesthetics that match the tales at hand pretty well, and I think that they would both connect with a middle grade audience as they read these books.

The importance of knowing the life and culture for the Rocky Cree pre-significant European contact can’t be stressed enough given the genocide Indigenous and First Nations peoples were (and still are) subjected to, and I think that these books by William Dumas are such rich resources and tools to help preserve this knowledge, and very necessary. I greatly enjoyed both “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan” as great information resources and coming of age tales.

Rating 8: Incredibly rich in detail, historical notes, and culture, “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan” are both great introductions to Rocky Cree history and culture as well as gentle, heartwarming stories about finding oneself.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and Amō’s Sapotawan” are not on many Goodreads lists, but I think they would fit in on “Indigenous Children’s Literature”.

Giveaway: “Foul Lady Fortune”

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Book: “Foul Lady Fortune” by Chloe Gong

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, September 2022

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: It’s 1931 in Shanghai, and the stage is set for a new decade of intrigue.

Four years ago, Rosalind Lang was brought back from the brink of death, but the strange experiment that saved her also stopped her from sleeping and aging—and allows her to heal from any wound. In short, Rosalind cannot die. Now, desperate for redemption from her traitorous past, she uses her abilities as an assassin for her country.

Code name: Fortune.

But when the Japanese Imperial Army begins its invasion march, Rosalind’s mission pivots. A series of murders is causing unrest in Shanghai, and the Japanese are under suspicion. Rosalind’s new orders are to infiltrate foreign society and identify the culprits behind the terror plot before more of her people are killed.

To reduce suspicion, however, she must pose as the wife of another Nationalist spy, Orion Hong, and though Rosalind finds Orion’s cavalier attitude and playboy demeanor infuriating, she is willing to work with him for the greater good. But Orion has an agenda of his own, and Rosalind has secrets that she wants to keep buried. As they both attempt to unravel the conspiracy, the two spies soon find that there are deeper and more horrifying layers to this mystery than they ever imagined.

Giveaway Details:

I added this book to my TBR pile some time this spring. To prove just how little I knew about it, not only did I not know that it was a follow-up story to a previously completed duology, but I also didn’t know it had any times to a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet.” The only way I discovered any of this was that while plotting out which booths to check out in the initial rush for books at the ALA convention in June, I mentioned being on the look out for this book and she knew way more about the author and series than me. In fact, she’s read the previous duology. But she assured me that I should be able to pick up the story with this one fine on its own, so I kept it on my list of books to look out for. And, lucky me, Kate came through for the win and found an ARC for me!

So, all of this to say, I know very little about this book other than that it follows the “Rosaline” character from the previous duology where, alas but not shockingly, our romantic duo perished in some tragic manner. And there’s something about her being an assassin? Truly, I know very little. Per the usual, I’ll be posting my review this coming Friday. But for those who are in the know (or just curious newbies like me!), here’s your chance to get your hands on an ARC copy of this book! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on September 21.

Enter to win!

Kate’s Review: “I’m The Girl”

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Book: “I’m The Girl” by Courtney Summers

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher at ALAAC22.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: The new groundbreaking queer thriller from New York Times bestselling and Edgar-award Winning author Courtney Summers.

When sixteen-year-old Georgia Avis discovers the dead body of thirteen-year-old Ashley James, she teams up with Ashley’s older sister, Nora, to find and bring the killer to justice before he strikes again. But their investigation throws Georgia into a world of unimaginable privilege and wealth, without conscience or consequence, and as Ashley’s killer closes in, Georgia will discover when money, power and beauty rule, it might not be a matter of who is guilty—but who is guiltiest.

A spiritual successor to the 2018 breakout hit, Sadie, I’m the Girl is a masterfully written, bold, and unflinching account of how one young woman feels in her body as she struggles to navigate a deadly and predatory power structure while asking readers one question: if this is the way the world is, do you accept it?

Review: Thank you to Wednesday Books for giving me an ARC of this novel!

Ever since I read “Sadie” by Courtney Summers, I knew that she was going to become one of my must read authors. “Sadie” kicked me in the gut, but I loved every minute of it because of it’s rawness. I was lucky enough to snag her newest book “I’m The Girl” at the Annual ALA Conference (well, Serena snagged it for me on our first night strategic ‘split up and find all the ARCs’ mission), but I knew that I would probably drag my feet on reading it for a bit. Just because I knew that she wasn’t going to pull punches in her newest thriller. She never does, you see. But I also knew that this one, with its haunting cover and somewhat vague description, was going to be something else. And when I did finally sit down and read it, it had my attention, even if it was another kick in the gut.

I will first and foremost say that this book, like most of Courtney Summers’s books, is a rough one. We do not shy away from pretty bleak but realistic issues, like grooming, sexualization of children, trauma, and rape, and it makes for a book that is filled to the brim with content warnings that should be heeded by those who have sensitivities. I am a fairly steely reader for the most part, but even this one had me deeply uncomfortable at a number of moments. But I think that it’s also important to be frank and candid about these things, especially if they are handled in a way that isn’t exploitative or titillating, and I think that Summers achieves that. If we are going to explore beauty as power and how, in turn, powerful people wish to exploit and own beautiful things and people, it’s important to look at what all that means, and I think that we do that here. Even when it’s dark and very disconcerting to do said exploration.

The mystery is the main artery of this story, as our protagonist Georgia stumbles upon the dead body of thirteen year old Ashley James, who was the missing daughter of the local deputy sheriff, after she herself was hit by the car of the potential perpetrator. George is recruited by Ashley’s sister Nora to help solve what happened, but there is a lot more to this story than a teenage murder mystery, and the complexity is deftly handled. George is also hoping to start working at the small town’s elite resort and social club Aspera, where celebrities, politicians, and other big wigs come from far and wide to experience the luxury provided by Matthew and Cleo Hayes and their done up employees, the women known as ‘Aspera Girls’. George’s mother was an Aspera girl until a scandal left her without a job, and while George has always been beautiful her mother, now deceased, always told her she wouldn’t belong. George is a very complicated character, whose foray in amateur detective-hood is overshadowed by her quest to fit into the opulence of Aspera, no matter the cost and no matter the sacrifice. Summers takes her time in unveiling bits and pieces of the plot, be it the mystery of what happened to Ashley, or the reasons that George is so desperate to join Aspera, and what she has tried to do to make herself stand out from the crowd in an effort to wield her beauty as the only power she feels she has. I did like the mystery overall, and I liked seeing George delve into the secrets of Aspera in connection to Ashley as she worked there, given that small town secrets are always okay in my book as a theme, and mysterious organizations are as well. I kind of figured out what was going on in regards to Ashley, but ultimately that isn’t the point of this book. This is more an exploration of the ways that girls are told they can be powerful, but how those in power can also take that power away in insidious ways. Especially if there is wealth and disenfranchisement involved between the players. And it all set me on edge, even as I tore through it over the course of a couple nights.

“I’m The Girl” is another triumph by Courtney Summers that looks into the void and doesn’t sugar coat what it sees. People will need to steel themselves for this one, but I think it’s powerful reading all the same.

Rating 9: Dark, powerful, and gritty to the bone, “I’m The Girl” is another unnerving YA thriller from Courtney Summers.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I’m The Girl” is included on the Goodreads lists “If You Love Veronica Mars… YA Books”, and “#MeToo”.

Book Club Review: “The Ten Thousand Doors of January”

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Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “The Ten Thousand Doors of January” by Alix E. Harrow

Publishing Info: Redhook, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Bingo Prompt: A book with a misleading title

Book Description: In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Kate’s Thoughts

We’re back to a familiar statement from me during a Book Club post and discussion: I am not really a fantasy reader outside of a few specific exceptions, be it titles (“The Lord of the Rings”; “The Neverending Story”) or sub-genres (dark fantasy). So going into my review of “The Ten Thousand Doors of January”, you need to take all of this with a grain of salt. Maybe a teaspoon or two. I am almost never going to be able to vet a fantasy title super well because as a genre it’s not my bag, baby (a phrase that was tossed around in book club during the discussion).

What I will say about this book that I did like was the way that Harrow incorporated social issues of the time period into the book. We see the struggles of life in Edwardian-era England for not only women, but also women of color within a certain social stature. While January is somewhat shielded from some of this because of her placement with Locke, she is still kept in a gilded cage, and eventually put in an asylum under guise of hysteria when in actuality she is more inconvenient for Locke and his contemporaries when she becomes a perceived threat. And then once she is more outside of Locke’s ‘protection’ (you can’t REALLY call it that), her race is suddenly something she also has to contend with in a more direct and overt fashion. I also liked the way that Harrow addresses aspects of Imperialism and Colonialism through the character of Jane, a woman born in Africa who was being subjected to a missionary school, and eventually finds a door that helps her find freedom. And really, her door, where she encounters a world with a matriarchal cheetah society, was SUPER interesting! But we didn’t really get to see much of that. We didn’t get to see as many doors as I anticipated.

So yeah, I liked the social aspects of this book, as it’s great to see fantasy address these themes. But it’s still fantasy, which just isn’t my genre. So this is very much a ‘your mileage may vary’ situation.

Serena’s Thoughts

Don’t worry fantasy lovers! As the resident fantasy reader, I am happy to step up to vet titles in this genre. And, all told, I found a lot to like in this book. This is definitely one of those fantasy novels that leans heavily on subgenres like historical and literary fiction. While there is definite magic involved in the story and it is surely a portal fantasy, the pacing and overall feel of the book falls more in line with literary fantasy and historical fiction than anything else. As Kate mentioned, the book focuses a lot on the realities of life in this time period for both women and people of color. Even though there are fantastical doorways into different worlds, there is no magic wand to wave away the very real challenges facing many during this time.

The pacing of this book is also on the slower side, spending much more time developing the overall feel of the story and the realities that January is facing. But to balance this slower pace, the story is broken up into two primary stories: one that of January herself, and the second following another young woman born a few decades before January who also found doorways and used them to redirect the pathway laid before her. I really enjoyed the way these two stories came together. I was also surprised by a few twists and turns that were given a long the way. For all the dire circumstances and reality that makes up so much of January’s life, the story includes a hefty dose of hope right when things could begin to feel a bit too bleak.

Overall, I really liked this book. It’s definitely on the slower side and errs towards the lyrical over the action-packed. Like some book club members pointed out, for a book about a thousand doorways between worlds, the story spends most of its time in our old familiar world. But I think that worked for the balance that was being struck between fantasy story and a larger reflection on this period of history and its people.

Kate’s Review 6: It’s fantasy. I liked some of the social themes presented and the small tastes of some of the worlds. But it’s just not my genre.

Serena’s Review 8: A lyrical fantasy novel that makes up for its slower pacing with its lovely character work.

Book Club Questions

  1. What were your thoughts on January as a protagonist of this book? Did you connect with her as a main character?
  2. Did you find it to be a nice change of pace when the book would transition to the Adelaide story arc?
  3. Which side characters did you find the most compelling in this story? Were there any side worlds through the doors you liked reading about?
  4. What were your thoughts on how this book tackled and addressed various social aspects like imperialism, racism, and sexism?
  5. Were there any moments that stood out in particular in this novel?
  6. Who would you recommend this book to?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Ten Thousand Doors of January” is on these Goodreads lists: Portal Fantasy Books and Best Books with a Month in the Title.

Next Book Club Book: “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi

Serena’s Review: “The Last of the Talons”

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Book: “The Last of the Talons” by Sophie Kim

Publishing Info: Entangled: Teen, September 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from ALA convention!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: After the destruction of her entire Talon gang, eighteen-year-old Shin Lina—the Reaper of Sunpo—is forced to become a living, breathing weapon for the kingdom’s most-feared crime lord. All that keeps her from turning on her ruthless master is the life of her beloved little sister hanging in the balance. But the order to steal a priceless tapestry from a Dokkaebi temple incites not only the wrath of a legendary immortal, but the beginning of an unwinnable game…

Suddenly Lina finds herself in the dreamlike realm of the Dokkaebi, her fate in the hands of its cruel and captivating emperor. But she can win her life—if she kills him first.

Now a terrible game of life and death has begun, and even Lina’s swift, precise blade is no match for the magnetic Haneul Rui. Lina will have to use every weapon in her arsenal if she wants to outplay this cunning king and save her sister…all before the final grain of sand leaks out of the hourglass.

Because one way or another, she’ll take Rui’s heart.

Even if it means giving up her own.

Review: So, I mostly grabbed this book at ALA with very little thought other than “oooh, is that a dragon on the cover??” Cuz you all know I’m always down for another dragon book! If I had read the book description more fully I might have been a bit more wary. Let’s just say, me and YA assassins have a bit of a checkered history. Beyond numerous other problems I regular find with this plotline, I’m beginning to question whether the two concepts, “assassin” and “young adult fiction,” aren’t just oxymorons that can never work well together by the very natures of their differences. “Assassin” would lead you to believe that your leading character is pretty morally compromised and things will get bloody. “Young adult fiction,” on the other hand, has at least a passing commitment to keep stories approachable for younger audiences. So….what’s to be done? Let’s see what this book has to say.

Shin Lina had once lived a blessed life, or what she considered one at least. Perhaps most people wouldn’t think making up ones family of gang members and gaining a reputation as the city’s most deadly assassin would count as “blessed,” but to Lina, it was enough. But now that has all been ripped away, and she has been forced to work for the very enemy who massacred this family, all to protect the life of her younger sister. When a job goes bad, however, Lina finds herself at odds with a powerful magical being. But more could be at stake than just her life. Perhaps even her heart.

Well, this book is not the one to disprove the theory I had in my intro paragraph. In fact, it exemplified many of the other factors that I think add to the uncomfortable pairing of assassin characters leading up YA stories. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the positive. If I zoom way, way out, there are the bones of an interesting story here. Unfortunately, any closer look renders these larger strokes pretty unsatisfactory. But the world-building itself had potential, with a fairly intricate political and magical system. And there were some genuinely funny moments with the dialogue, though, admittedly, these were few and far between for me.

However, again, when you dive even shallowly (let alone a deep dive) into how any of this works it begins to get murky. For one thing, because this is YA, Lina is, of course, a teenager herself. And yet, through a series of flashbacks, we see that she only joined the gang and learned her skills to be an assassin when she was an older kid. And then this story starts out several years after the death of everyone in said gang. Soooo, in a period of like 4 years she somehow became the most skilled assassin ever, even more so than the adults who trained her. It’s these time-related things that just really irk me about YA characters who derive their “specialness” through some skillset that is esteemable purely because of the sheer quantity of time and effort needed to excel at it. Not only does it stretch past my ability to suspend disbelief, but it also waters down what makes the skill impressive to begin with, if a regular farm girl can become the absolute best in two years.

Beyond that, we have yet another assassin who doesn’t really kill anyone? I mean, honestly, what’s the point of having a character like that if all we get is a lot of “telling” that they’re some amazing assassin, but no actual evidence of it (both in the actual skills of killing someone or the mental/emotional state of a character who makes a living dealing out death regularly)?

This book adds to the challenge of this particular qualm by the very nature of the main conflict of the story. For absolutely no apparent reason, Rui sets Lina the task of…killing him? In order to spare her life? I’m not going to even get into the weirdness of that situation to begin with and what it says about Rui that this is what he wanted. But it also creates a plotline that sets up our big bad assassin Lina to fail. Obviously, she can’t succeed at killing Rui or it would defeat the entire point of the story. That then leaves us with a character who has been toted as the best assassin ever having to fail again and again to kill someone through the entire book.

I’ll stop venting about this now. But I think the lackluster writing style and very bland leading characters left me with really nothing else to focus on than my annoyances in these areas. I do think there are YA readers who will like this, especially given the popularity of other YA assassin books. But this wasn’t for me. And if you’re looking for anything new in this particular subgenre, I don’t think this is it.

Rating 6: More of the same, with an assassin whose much more talk than action.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last of the Talons” can be found on these Goodreads lists: SF/F Assassins! and 2022 Book Releases by Asian Authors.

Kate’s Review: “A Blanket of Butterflies”

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Book: “A Blanket of Butterflies” by Richard Van Camp, Scott B. Henderson (Ill.), & Donovan Yaciuk (Ill.)

Publishing Info: HighWater Press, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC and a print copy from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | HighWater Press | IndieBound

Book Description: No one knows how a suit of samurai armour ended up in the Fort Smith museum. When a mysterious stranger turns up to claim it, Sonny, a young Tłı̨chǫ Dene boy, is eager to help.

Shinobu has travelled to Fort Smith, NWT, to reclaim his grandfather’s samurai sword and armour. But when he discovers that the sword was lost in a poker game, he must confront the man known as Benny the Bank. Along the way, Shinobu must rely on unlikely heroes—Sonny, his grandmother, and a visitor from the spirit world. Together, they face Benny and his men, including the giant they call Flinch.

Will Shinobu be able to regain the lost sword and, with it, his family’s honour? Can Sonny and his grandmother help Shinobu while keeping the peace in their community?

Review: Thank you so, so much to Lohit Jagwani from HighWater Press for sending me an eARC and print copy of this graphic novel!

So today I am starting an ongoing series that is going to happen through the rest of September. I was approached by HighWater Press, and imprint of Portage & Main Press that focuses on Indigenous stories and voices by Indigenous authors, and it was decided that I would read and review a number of their graphic novels and middle grade books. So for the next few Thursdays there will be a decided theme, and honestly I am so excited to talk about and amplify these stories. So thanks again to Lohit Jagwani and to HighWater Press for this amazing opportunity! We are starting this series with “A Blanket of Butterflies” by Richard Van Camp, an author that I am familiar with due to not only the graphic novel collection “This Place”, but due to the picture books “Little You” and “We Sang You Home”, both huge hits with my toddler. I was very excited to check this graphic novel out, as I like Van Camp’s stories, and I was VERY intrigued by the premise of a Japanese man traveling to Canada to try and get his family Samurai armor back.

The plot to “A Blanket of Butterflies” is pretty simple and straightforward. A Japanese man named Shinobu has tracked down a family heirloom of Samurai armor and sword to a small community in the Northwest Territory in Canada, but when he arrives to reclaim it the sword has been lost in a poker game to a local heavy and his underlings. After he confronts Benny the Bank, he is beaten to a pulp, and is taken in by a boy named Sonny and his grandmother. I think that in a traditional Western tale, there are certain expectations as to how this would go, and I myself had my own thoughts on how this was all going to come together. But what I really loved about this book is that Van Camp takes these expectations and turns them on their head, instead focusing on Shinobu’s healing at the hands of Sonny’s ehtsi, and the things that he learns from her and how it shapes the rest of the story. I really liked how Van Camp did a lot of showing versus telling, whether it be regarding Shinobu’s tattoo’s to imply his dark past, or to use metaphorical visions in reference to the NWT’s involvement in the Manhattan Project. And, again, I enjoyed the more introspective way that the final conflict is approached, and how the examination of connections across families and cultures and the power of both can show similarities that may make us think twice about succumbing to more violent outcomes.

The most interesting part of this story, howeer, was the extensive bits of notes left at the end, talking about the experiences of Indigenous peoples in the modern and 20th century NWT, but also that of Japanese Canadians during WWII. I know a lot about the American Incarceration of Japanese Americans, but had no knowledge of the similar conditions of Japanese Canadians during this time. I really, really loved having the context there to explain how a Samurai armor and sword would be in a random possession of a Canadian person, and how the traumas of both Indigenous Canadians and Japanese Canadians intertwine a bit in this story because of colonialism, systemic disparities, and the Canadian government’s racist policies.

And finally, I really liked the artwork in this story. It has a realism to it, but it also has vibrant use of colors and tones, which makes it pop on the page.

Source: HighWater Press

I really liked this graphic novel. Richard Van Camp has a wide appeal across ages, and “A Blanket of Butterflies” moved me and explored other ways to solve conflicts for those who have been beaten down by conflict their whole lives. It was very enjoyable.

Rating 8: An informative but also moving story about connection, conflict, and shared thematic histories, “A Blanket of Butterflies” is a lovely graphic novel from Richard Van Camp.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Blanket of Butterflies” is included on the Goodreads lists “Canadian Indigenous Books”, and “Graphic Novels & Comics By The Aboriginal, Indigenous, and Native Peoples of the World”.

Serena’s Review: “Belladonna”

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Book: “Belladonna” by Adalyn Grace

Publishing Info: Little Brown for Young Readers, August 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from ALA convention!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.
However, Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful—and more irresistible—than she ever dared imagine.

Review: Here’s another case of me almost missing out on another great title because I didn’t like the cover. In this instance, there’s something striking of the worst 90s romance novels and the worst YA knock-offs in this cover. On top of being put off by the cover art, I also haven’t gotten around to the author’s first duology; sadly the first book has been languishing on my TBR list for a few years now. But, I will say, after reading this book, that book has made a rapid climb to near the top! Let’s dive in.

Death has followed Signa for most of her life, with one guardian after another keeling over from various causes. But while near, Death cannot touch her. Instead, deadly poisons are swiftly recovered from, wounds heal quickly, and Signa moves on with her somewhat miserable life. But when her most recent guardian dies, some new, wealthy relatives come out of the woodwork. Now living a life she could only have dreamed of before, Signa lives in constant fear that Death will come for this family as well. And when one of the daughters falls ill, Signa is determined to do everything in her power to save her. Even if that means teaming up with Death himself.

This was another one of those books where I knew within the first few pages that I was really going to enjoy it. The writing immediately clicked with me, combining a fairytale-like fantasy story with a humorous and relatable leading lady. As the story continued, I was having such a blast reading it that I began to almost want to slow down my reading experience just to draw it out. That’s how you really know it’s good! In a lot of way, the general style of storytelling very much reminded me of Margaret Rogerson’s work. They both writes stories that have a fairytale feel but that aren’t derived directly from a fairytale itself. Both authors also have excellent leading ladies who are as funny as they are adventurous. And, of course, there are lovely romances at the heart of these stories that check all of my personal preference boxes.

Speaking of the romance, here is another example of a love triangle that really worked for me. I can’t go into any of the details of said love triangle, as that would spoil parts of the book. But I can say that both relationships felt believable and relatable. Signa’s feelings developed in a way that was natural and, as things came to a head, there was no prolonged drama on the “who will she choose” front, one of my biggest annoyances with this type of romance plotline. I also liked all three characters involved in the romance, too. As I’ve mentioned above, Signa is an all around great leading lady. But I really enjoyed Death and Sylas as well. Death, in particular, was an interesting character as he was speaking to a new experience in a millennia of sameness. Through his eyes, we also delved into the different ways that people think of and experience death and the afterlife.

I also really liked the mystery and fantasy elements in the story. What could have started out as a very simple “power,” the ability to live through deadly events, instead branched out into new and interesting avenues. These plot lines not only opened up new doors into what Signa’s abilities signify about herself, but also forcer her to grapple with truly understanding herself and adjusting the life she has imagined of herself. For its part, the mystery also took up a significant portion of the story. While I found a few of these elements to be a bit predictable, there were others that legitimately took me by surprise. For one thing, the story definitely didn’t shy away from some of the creepy imagery that would come with an ability like Signa’s to see and interact with ghosts. There are some very “Sixth Sense” vibes, but in all of the best ways.

This book was such a great surprise! Even more than picking up books by tried and true favorite authors, it’s simply the best to open a book with zero expectations and find yourself on an amazing ride. This book is definitely of the kind of “beach read” fantasy that is light-hearted, fun, and sure to appeal to fantasy readers who are simply looking to kick back their heels and be swept along.

Rating 9: Sweetly romantic, adventurous, and even creepy at times, this book has it all!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Belladonna” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Fairytale Fantasy Books.

Kate’s Review: “The Weight of Blood”

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Book: “The Weight of Blood” by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: When Springville residents—at least the ones still alive—are questioned about what happened on prom night, they all have the same explanation . . . Maddy did it.

An outcast at her small-town Georgia high school, Madison Washington has always been a teasing target for bullies. And she’s dealt with it because she has more pressing problems to manage. Until the morning a surprise rainstorm reveals her most closely kept secret: Maddy is biracial. She has been passing for white her entire life at the behest of her fanatical white father, Thomas Washington.

After a viral bullying video pulls back the curtain on Springville High’s racist roots, student leaders come up with a plan to change their image: host the school’s first integrated prom as a show of unity. The popular white class president convinces her Black superstar quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to be his date, leaving Maddy wondering if it’s possible to have a normal life.

But some of her classmates aren’t done with her just yet. And what they don’t know is that Maddy still has another secret . . . one that will cost them all their lives.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I’ve reviewed Stephen King’s “Carrie” on the blog before, and in my review I mentioned how much I love that book. Like, I LOVE it and have loved it since I was in middle school. I have also come to love the books of Tiffany D. Jackson, one of my favorite YA authors writing today, as her stories are always rife with well done tension as well as great examinations of social issues about race in the U.S. So when it was announced that Jackson was going to write a book that was a reimagining of “Carrie”, I just about lost my mind with glee. Suffice to say, I had been looking forward to “The Weight of Blood” ever since the publishing notice fell across my Twitter feed. When I finally sat down to read it, I told myself to go slow and savor it… and immediately burned through it in two days time. She’s done it again, folks, and this time she took one of my favorite horror novels along for the ride.

I really, really enjoyed this book, so buckle up for a long review.

First and foremost, this is a “Carrie” re-telling/re-imagining, and Jackson really does a good job of making it her own while still drawing clear connecting lines to the original plot, themes, and characters. But I really love how she takes it a few steps further and bolder and makes it not only a story about bullying, but racial bullying and systemic racism that fosters and creates environments where racial bullying thrives. Maddy is our protagonist, who is a biracial teenage girl that has been able to pass as white in her small southern town, mostly due to her fanatical father and his insistence that she do so. Once she is outed as Black due to a rain storm having a reaction with her hair, her white classmates, already using her as a target because of her social awkwardness, amp up the bullying in ways that become far more vicious. It’s biting commentary and it works really, really well, as plot points from the source material are tweaked to take on more complex meanings. The Prom that Maddy ends up going to (to disastrous results of course) is the first desegregated Prom the high school has ever had. Her tyrannical parent this time is her white father, and his zealotry is as much Christian Evangelism as it is worshiping at the altar of whiteness in America. Our Sue Snell analog, Wendy, is a white girl with a Black quarterback boyfriend named Kenny, and her motives for getting Kenny to take Maddy to Prom are more a white savior complex at work than a nice girl feeling bad about being an accessory to bullying. And so forth. It all feels like “Carrie” but it goes further and feels like a different kind of gut punch as racism is at the forefront, and it works incredibly well.

The story is told through a third person narrative between a few different characters, as well as podcast transcripts, official police reports, and articles and book excerpts, and they all come together in ways to slowly show not only what disaster happened the night of Prom, but also to show the racist history of Springville, and how the town has been fostering racial animosity and inequity up through the events of the book. I really liked learning about the town and the people in it in this way, as it really does drive home the greater point that the the ugly truths about race and racism have rotted the town through, and by the time we get to the story at hand, it all comes to a head on Prom night. Again, a direct line to the story that the book is paying homage to with the transcripts and interviews, but expanding upon it to make the story at hand all the richer.

And finally, and this is probably one of the less important points of this re-telling (mild spoiler alerts here too), but I loved, LOVED that Jackson fully leans into the romance between Maddy and popular quarterback turned prom date Kenny. I have always been a huge proponent of the Tommy Ross and Carrie White romance, as the book and both movies make it clear, at least to me, that had the Prom not ended up with Carrie burning it all down and Tommy being killed by a falling bucket, they absolutely would have ended up together PROBABLY FOREVER, OKAY? So when it became clear that Maddie and Kenny were absolutely falling in love with each other, I was hooting and hollering, and then, of course, preparing for the worst given how the source material ends for them both. Though, all that said, Jackson definitely makes this tale her own in spite of the great homage, and that is all I am going to say about THAT, so….

Did I put my kindle down for a moment during my read just to rewatch the ‘Someone Like Me’ scene in this movie and then cry a little bit to myself? You’re DAMN RIGHT I DID! (source)

“The Weight of Blood” is a great remix of one of my favorite books, and Jackson knows how to draw the comparisons out while making her own points and plot. I really enjoyed this one as a fan of her work, and a fan of “Carrie”. Just stupendous.

Rating 10: A fantastic re-imagining of “Carrie” that takes on social issues of racism and bigotry that are, unfortunately, still all too relevant, “The Weight of Blood” is another page turner from Tiffany D. Jackson!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Weight of Blood” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it would fit in on “Popsugar 2022 #33: A Social Horror Book”.

Highlights: September 2022

Summer has basically come to an end, and that means that Fall is here. For Kate this is great news, as it means the spooky season is nearly upon us. Serena isn’t as optimistic about the change in season, as that can only mean that Winter is coming. But before the cold really sets in, we have plans for the Fall, and that means that we also have some new books we’re looking forward to!

Serena’s Picks

Book: “Foul Lady Fortune” by Chloe Gong

Publication Date: September 27, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Kate nabbed a copy of this one for me at ALA this year, so it’s a given that it would end up on my highlights list for this month! I haven’t read the previous duology, a reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet,” but it sounded like this would be approachable even to newbies. The story follows Rosalyn, a character originally introduced in the first duology, a young woman who has devoted her life to trying to make amends for previous betrayals by working for her country as an assassin. But her life takes a shift when she finds herself assigned not to an assassination job but to go undercover as a spy alongside one of the most infuriating young men she’s ever met. I love both assassination and spy stories, so I’m very excited to check out this book.

Book: “Notorious Sorcerer” by Davinia Evans

Publication Date: September 13, 2022

Why I’m Interested: This is one of those cases where I’d pick up this book based purely on the title alone. It also has two of my favorite fantasy things: alchemy and magical libraries. It’s the story of a young street rat turned low-level alchemist who accidentally performs a magical feat far beyond his supposed capability. Now with more attention than he knows what to do with, Siyon doesn’t know who or what to trust. And things are about to get much, much worse when a threat arises that calls into the question of his entire world. I received an ARC for this in the mail, and definitely excited to see what it has to offer!

Book: “The Golden Enclaves” by Naomi Novik

Publication Date: September 27, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Obviously! I mean…obviously! And here’s where I reveal the extreme spoiledness that I’ve now become accustomed to: I have to wait for the book to actually release before getting to read it, as I haven’t found any eARCs available anywhere! I mean, I get it. This is the third book in a popular series; not like you need much word of mouth to drive sales on this one. Or…is it because it ends tragically and all of the reviewers will be too busy crying under their covers to post reviews early anyways? I’m so excited. I’m so nervous.

Kate’s Picks

Book: “The Weight of Blood” by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publication Date: September 6, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Tiffany D. Jackson is a must read author for me, and given that “Carrie” is one of my favorite Stephen King novels, the combination here is too rife with possibility to pass up. Maddy is an outcast at her school who has always passed for white, but when an unexpected rainstorm outs her as biracial, a racially charged bullying attack goes viral. Hoping to avoid being seen as racist, the school community decides to finally integrate the Prom, and Maddy is asked by a popular Black football player to attend at the behest of his white girlfriend… And you can probably guess where things go. Jackson reimagining “Carrie” with social themes of racism, colorism, and identity is inspired, and given how well she’s done with horror in the past, hopes are high for this one!

Book: “I’m The Girl” by Courtney Summers

Publication Date: September 13, 2022

Why I’m Interested: “Sadie” was a gut punch of a read, and I love how Courtney Summers has a no holds barred approach to her YA fiction in that she takes on dark topics and doesn’t sugarcoat, trusting her readers to be able to process and handle the themes she presents. “I’m The Girl” is her newest thriller, and I’m sure I will be steeling myself for it. Georgia is a teenage girl who has always known she is beautiful, and that if you wield your beauty it can be powerful. She wants to work at the local luxury resort, knowing it is good money, and that she could achieve what her mother, a former ‘Aspera Girl’, never did. But when she is hit by a car, and then finds the body of a thirteen year old girl thrown from the vehicle, she is entangled in a web of privilege, opulence, power, and danger. This was a much anticipated ALA grab for me, so it had to make the list.

Book: “Ghost Eaters” by Clay McLeod Chapman

Publication Date: September 20, 2022

Why I’m Interested: Another ALA grab, though this one was autographed by the author himself (and he was a delight! He complimented my Motley Crüe tee shirt, in spite of the fact it was a clear indicator of last day fatigue, clothing effort wise)! I’ve been hearing deeply scary things about “Ghost Eaters”, so that makes me VERY excited for this book. After refusing to pick up her on again, off again boyfriend Silas from rehab, Erin thinks that setting this boundary will be far more healthy for them both. But after Silas ends up dead of an overdose shortly thereafter, the guilt is almost too much. Then, Erin hears whispers of a drug that allows you to see the dead, and that Silas had started messing with it, she wants answers to alleviate her guilt, and tries the drug herself in hopes of closure. Instead, terrifying visions of angry spirits start to plague her. Just in time for the Halloween season, and I’m definitely going to showcase it during this year’s Horrorpalooza!

What new books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

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