Elisabeth's September 2023 pick
If you liked Gilmore Girls and Practical Magic, you need KJ Dell'Antonia's PLAYING THE WITCH CARD, because the book had me reading it with my hand to my mouth, tense with the NEED to know what would happen next.
I confess I never watched Gilmore Girls as a teenager (our TV got 3 channels when the weather was good) and when I tried to watch it as an adult I found myself connecting more to Lorelei than Rory, as a mother trying to live her messy life and manage her relationship with her obliviously selfish difficult parents.
And that, my friends, is what we have here. We have a mother with a 13 year old daughter (a difficult age), and a hometown return that is not as welcoming as she had hoped, and a difficult selfish co-parent who wants her back (and he definitely does not deserve her) regardless of what SHE wants, and... and magic. Actual magic, not just the literary kind. She left it behind, but when it's in your blood it finds ways of seeping into your life. The cards demand to be read, and things demand to go bump in the night, and the past demands to unearth itself, and it was DELIGHTFUL.
This is not a romance novel, despite the punny title, although there are a few sparks that fly with her high school sweetheart. This is a novel about mothers and daughters, and grief, and change and our fear of it.
There were no dragons, but the magic didn't need them.
Elisabeth's July 2023 pick (1 of 2)
George: A Magpie Memoir is about a bird, but it is not about a bird. It is about a woman seeking the stability that a permanent home and pets bring, healing the transientness of her childhood. Finally allowed to put down roots, she plunges deep into the soil, and loves deeply. The devotion she pours into caring for the tiny injured magpie chick, the devotion she craves from a wild animal unable to give it against its nature, is a symptom of her uncertainty of how much love she is "allowed" to gather..
There is not much of a plot or narrative arc to George, as it is drawn and recounted from author Frieda Hughes's diaries and real life life rarely follows a neat narrative arc like the kind our literature teachers drew on the chalkboard. And yet, I didn't mind. Each day I would read a week's worth of diary entries, reading about George growing and changing, reading about Frieda's delight in his growth and personality, reading about her garden earth under her hands as she clawed her own foundations into her life along with flower beds, and I would close the book feeling satisfied. It is not a tense or dramatic story, but I cared. I cared about George, and I cared about Frieda, and hoped she would find the restfulness that had been denied her for so many decades. Spoiler alert: she does, despite all of the factors working against her.
Gentle and restive, this book made me smile.
There were no dragons.
Elisabeth's July 2023 pick (2 of 2)
A Most Agreeable Murder answers the age-old question of: What would Jane Austin's novels be like if her heroines had a true crime fascination? And boring suitors dropped dead at a ball? And if there is a 72% chance that one's youngest sister is a werewolf?
Absolutely delightful and hilarious, I adored this book.
Watch out for the squelch holes (not a euphemism).
There were no dragons.
Elisabeth's June 2023 pick (1 of 2)
You might have heard about this book as a scorching romance, but I (the Gibson's Queen of Steam) disagree. That's not to say there isn't a toe-curling slow-burn romance with delicious TENSION woven throughout the book, but it's maybe 5% of the book. This book is about a war-college for dragon-riders, where training is deadly, and your fellow students and soldiers are deadlier. There aren't enough dragons for everybody, so don't put it past your classmates to try to improve their chances... permanently. The rest is political intrigue and maneuvering, and fighting to survive, and grumpy middle-aged dragons who want you to get off their lawn. It's about betrayal, and trust, and knife-fighting. It's about weakness, and how the weak find their strengths. It's about strength, and how the strong will do terrible things to preserve their dominance. It's about lifting people up versus pushing opponents down. It's about doing the right thing, and overcoming biases and prejudices. It's about lies and regret. It reads like extremely well written and edited fanfiction, the kind that grabs you by the throat and then suddenly it's 2am and you're 12 links deep in AO3.
Fantasy avoidants, fear not! Yes, it has dragons and a bit of magic, but it doesn't read like other high fantasy you might have read. The world building is simple and straightforward; it feels very much like our world, just a step to the left (they haven't mentioned electricity, but neither is there a complicated new social system, nor has the author come up with an elaborately syllable'd new word for "fork"). The high stakes are established right in the first chapter, and you spend the whole book worrying about which named character is going to bite the dust next.
Disability rep (the main character has Ehlers-Danlos, although they don't call it that; and deaf characters). Steam Level 5 for exquisite tension and on-the-page scenes (which are brief and few).
There are many dragons, some of which are absolute jerks.
Elisabeth's June 2023 pick (2 of 2)
Allow yourself to be swept into a fantasy novel about an almost-benevolent immortal maybe-demon who wakes up unexpectedly in a mysterious prison (which he promptly breaks out of) and sets out across the ocean (traveling via grumpy whale who is willing to bargain) to head off what is surely a political coup attempt to make another gosh darned human empire, just a generation after he spent a lot of effort to defeat the last one, empires are bad news, why are mortals LIKE THIS, they keep making empires, stop it, it's EXHAUSTING.
Along for the ride is his friend of several decades, an unaging sharp-tongued witch imprisoned with him, a street urchin who they have absentmindedly adopted along the way (what were they gonna do, LEAVE HER?! Let's teach her curses in multiple languages, and how to hold a sword), and an undercover spymaster who isn't where he was supposed to be.
Funny and tense, told in Then and Now chapters (from the main character's youth before the empire swept across the continent until Now as he tries to stop another one), the plot threads braid nicely into a singular story that wraps up by the end of the book. There is room for more story to be told in this world, but there is a firm beginning, middle, and end to this particular story.
There are dragons of a sort, as the descriptions of the demons in their natural bodies in the UnderEarth seem to indicate.
Elisabeth's May 2023 pick (1 of 2)
This book was a laugh-a-minute riot that gripped me from the first page to the last. Adler's turn of phrase and emotional depth had me riveted as I read about a roadtrip between reluctant strangers, carrying 3 tablespoons of the cremated remains of a 98-year-old-woman (or as Hollis says "a dimebag of human cremains,") to reunite lovers separated during World War II. The absurdity of the situations our characters found them in had me rolling with laughter (25 paint by number Jesuses, OH NO THERE'S ONLY ONE BED, a broccoli festival in a small town, a taxidermied bear with a sombrero) even as I truly believed that these things might happen. Actual adult communication happens, rather than dramatic and unrealistic misunderstandings, and there is solid emotional growth. A+, this rom-com hits all the right notes.
There were no dragons, but there was a deer through the windshield.
Elisabeth's May 2023 pick (2 of 2)
The most delightful Bridgerton-esque romance, following an eldest daughter of a debt-ridden country estate, determined to marry rich to support her three sisters now that their parents are dead and gone, and her attempts to ensnare a gentleman of means. Love is not a consideration. Marrying rich is, of course, what every other eligible woman is doing during The Season, but you're not allowed to just SAY that out loud. Her primary mark's eldest brother has her measure immediately and finds himself finagled into working with her to have her catch a different husband who is NOT his dopey and gullible younger brother. They can’t stand each other, and you know what that means… (No spice, but a delightful amount of verbal sparring and chemistry, and the characters have wonderful character growth n'stuff.)
No dragons, alas, although the author, delighted by my review, promised to try to put a dragon in a bonnet into the sequel.
Elisabeth's March 2023 pick
A resourceful trophy wife being replaced by a younger model, a printing sales manager being pushed out of her job by a misogynistic new boss, a single mother scraping by with a dream and kindness in her heart, a cruel almost-ex-husband, a mistaken gymbag and a pair of custom Louboutin high heels, and enough female rage of the late-40's-I'm-so-tired-of-men-walking-over-us variety to fuel the delightfully absurd resulting lady-gang hosting a dollar-store-budget-Ocean's-Eleven (Ocean’s 7-11?) heist in a hotel to GET THE DAMN SHOES BACK. Deeply engaging and a testament to the healing power of women’s friendships.
There were no dragons, but there was a horrible ex husband who deserves to be eaten by one.
Elisabeth's January 2023 pick (1 of 2)
Return to Thistle Grove in the third rom-com about the charming small town with four secret magical families.
A terrible blind date between painfully sensible magical lawyer Nineve (Nina) Blackmoore and the spontaneous non-magical bartender Morty Gutierrez ends with an accidental soulbond (the magical equivalent of waking up married in Vegas) and Morty developing powers as Nina’s own magics spiral powerfully out of control.
• A sleeping goddess in a lake
• A legal dispute between families
• Family obligations and pressure
• Opposites attracting despite bad first impressions
• Spicy side effects from the soulbond (Steam Level 5)
There were no dragons, but there were ice wraiths.
Elisabeth's January 2023 pick (2 of 2)
My dearest darlingest Ms Fawcett,
I confess a grievance with you and your newest manuscript. I fear I must claim a grievous assault upon my heart. That is, I would claim such a wound if your story had not stolen my heart fully, fascinated and charmed it from its nest here in my chest, having slipped past the protective cradle of my ribs and encouraged it to gambol and romp in delight amongst the paragraphs of Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Faeries.
You see, I have been bewitched by your tale. From the first pages of grumpy and awkward Emily's research notes, to the charming and devilishly handsome rival who does not notice he is her rival, to the peculiar and frightening fae that she seeks, to her patient wolfhound, Shadow, to the closed-ranks villagers she inadvertently offends, to the King Trapped In A Tree, I have been devouring page after page in a sumptuous feast in a fevered need to know more, to pour myself into the words of the woman who has never quite fit in with her fellow mortals and finds herself understanding better the peculiar ironbound rules of the Fae, even as their twisty impossibility defies mortal logic, because their capricious rules are CONSISTENT in the oddest way. I have burned to know if Emily's inability to read social cues made her less susceptible to Fae suggestion, if that social flaw which hinders her success in mortal academia funding circles is indeed that which makes her such an accomplished researcher.
And I, ever the cat lover, even wish to let Shadow know that he is the goodest boy.
All this is to say: what the frick frack paddy whack, I love this book so much and the last 100 pages had me stay up far too late to read about Emily and Wendell making ill-advised decisions.
(Gentle readers, there were no dragons, but the childishly cruel fae are frightening enough.)
Elisabeth's December 2022 pick (2 of 2)
I was going to post about Tessa Bailey's IT HAPPENED ONE SUMMER by telling the story about how my friend [REDACTED] chose it for a book club reading and discussion and underestimated my "Tessa Bailey writes spicy books" warning, and ended up discussing MULTIPLE GRAPHIC SEGGSY SCENES with elderly members of her community.
But instead I'm going to talk about how I loved Piper, the spoiled heiress who gets banished to a rural fishing town for a reality check and falls in love with the town and one specific curmudgeonly man.
I loved how Piper was unapologetically high maintenance and sparkly, even among the smell of fish and sea salt. I loved how that didn't stop her from hard work. I loved how Bailey wrote a character that works hard and TRIES, and then bemoans her chipped manicure. Because it IS possible to be both hard working and Fancy, although media will try very hard to convince you that you must be one or the other. Piper loves with her whole heart, and she throws her enthusiasm at things with the intensity of a nuclear missile.
Also, Brandon is The Grumpy One to her Sunshine One, and that's always wonderful to see A Grumpy One soften under her rays but also bring it full force to protect her softness.
Steam Level Five for multiple graphic spicy scenes (Bailey, you have a delicious filthy mind for us).
There were no dragons.
Elisabeth's December 2022 pick (1 of 2)
This book might literally be the first time I’ve read a romance where the male protagonist is fat.
Saucy and heartfelt and steamy, Ship Wrecked has six years of mutual chemistry and pining between costars, and then a big satisfying payoff as soon as their TV show wraps. The plus sized protagonists are well-fleshed out and the story doesn’t revolve around their waist-size (there is a subplot involving body size, as they both work in show business), focusing on their relationship instead of being A Message Book.
·douchebag producers who hire you and then try to change you
·crippling insecurity and shyness presenting as aloofness
·fear of abandonment
·an emotionally unintelligent father who doesn’t understand his son
·the cold Irish ocean
Drama does not include:
·A lack of adult communication
There were no dragons.
Elisabeth's November 2022 pick
My friends are tired of hearing me gush in delight at this contemporary Much Ado About Nothing retelling, where sharp-tongued Bea Wilmot (an artist with autism, who hides erotic images in her best-selling greeting card designs) and judgemental Jamie Benedict Westenberg (a pediatrician with anxiety who adopts elderly cats) get sneakily set up by their well-meaning friends and decide to enact REVENGE by fake dating and then breaking their friends hearts by breaking up dramatically. Naturally, this does not go entirely to plan, because they're genuinely well suited for each other, once they actually get talking.
Friends, this romance has ADULT COMMUNICATION and ACTUAL CONVERSATIONS. This is swoon-worthy enough for many of us (they say what they mean! There are no dramatic misunderstandings! No childish behavior!!) but Bea and Jamie's chemistry lifts off the page, and gave me New Relationship Butterflies. I haven't read that sympathetic delight into my body in ages, it made me so happy. Several steamy scenes (Steam Level 5) help this along.
If you're an audiobook listener, the Libro.fm voice actors were *chef's kiss* perfection. Highly recommend.
One of the best romances I've read in ages.
There were no dragons. There was a hyper-realistic crab costume.
Elisabeth's October 2022 pick
Oh gosh, I loved Partners in Crime. I thought I would be reading about smoochy romantical things, but instead we had two emotionally stunted ex-lovers who end up on the run from vicious crimelords, trying to find a stolen necklace to save their skins (and their oblivious families' skins), and ALSO having some smooches and romantical feelings. The tension was evenly paced and consistently high as they spend a frantic evening trying to stay one step ahead of the thugs dogging their steps, which take them through: a parking garage kidnapping, a sketchy safehouse slash storage unit, a high stakes private poker game, multiple hotel rooms of varying degrees of cleanliness, a massive strip club (including gratuitous sexy costume changes), a black tie party at a billionaire's mansion, more hotel rooms, etc etc etc. I didn't expect a whodunnit mystery, with the last few chapters pulling a "WHAT" sqwuak from me (Alisha Rai you know what you did).
A few level 4 steamy scenes, and some solid emotional growth. Apparently several near-death experiences can really force a person to confront their emotional hangups.
There were no dragons.
Elisabeth's September 2022 pick (1 of 3)
You know how sometimes a trilogy ending lets you down in the home stretch?
THAT IS NOT A PROBLEM HERE, I THOUGHT THE GOLDEN ENCLAVES WAS GOING TO KILL ME, I HAD TO TAKE SHALLOW BREATHS FOR THE LAST HALF HOUR AND I HAD TO PUT THE BOOK DOWN WITH 75 PAGES TO GO BECAUSE I COULD NOT HANDLE THE NARRATIVE TENSION.
This is to say that JIMINY CRICKET this book is good and the first two books are good too and this book is even better and wow I'm not going to use punctuation and I am a STRONG proponent of the oxford comma so this should tell you something about how this book is unraveling me and that it is very good.
And if you know what happened at the end of Book 2 and wondered "okay how can the story carry on with the same intensity with such an abrupt location change, and with all the stakes being changed with it?" well I'm here to tell you that Naomi Novik has done it. And done it well.
My review is that I am gnashing my teeth in anxiety and delighted stress. That MEANS something in the book world.
(It is hard to review trilogy ending books without spoiling the first two, so I will tell the newcomers that A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate are about a darkly-prophecied student in a prison-like magical boarding school, where you are considered to have graduated if you can survive and make it out through the monster infested graduation hall after four years of education and defending against constant attempts on your life. This book is NOT a children's book, although a mature teen can read it.)
There were no dragons, but there were many tentacled and befanged things.
Elisabeth's September 2022 pick (2 of 3)
This is going to be one of my favorite books to recommend this holiday season.
For the kid who likes to explore the natural world around them, or who loves animals. Good for rural living, suburbs, or apartment living.
Elisabeth's September 2022 pick (3 of 3)
Hey friends! Do you want some incredible advice on how to manage your productivity and your time, to tackle your overflowing to do list? Do you want an existential crisis? Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (written by a former productivity expert, and eagerly consumed by someone who has a daily printed to-do list, me) can give you both! It also leaves you with a sense of freedom and relief. A+, do recommend.
I'll give you the abbreviated version: there is literally no way to ever fully complete your to-do list and do everything that you want in your life, because every labor saving device or efficiency that you adopt saves you time but then your standards or work expand to fill it. You will never catch up. You must accept this. You will have to choose between things at some point, you cannot do it all.
But it is each choice, each time you decide to give something up in order to do something else, that gives the thing you chose value. It is knowing that Choice A came at the cost of Choice B that gives choice A meaning.
Choosing marriage/monogamy over playing the field or banging every other single person out there, or choosing children over SLEEP and freedom, or choosing career A over career B, or choosing the taco over the pizza, choosing hobby Q over hobby X, choosing to spend time with family over work, each of these choices uses your most precious resource, TIME (of which the average human lifespan only has four thousand weeks worth, hence the title), and it is the simple fact that we cannot do everything that gives our choices meaning.
And in knowing that we cannot do everything, suddenly choosing NOT to try to kill ourselves to do everything seems like a valid choice.
Who cares if the tile grout isn't scrubbed white, if you would rather spend a precious hour playing with your cat/dog/kid/partner. Who cares if you didn't make a fancy cover slide for that Presentation if you'd rather craft a better contract for That Deal.
You have choices, and you only have a little bit of time.
Go fishing. Go jogging. Go take a walk. Leave the Pinterest-worthy house decorations out. (Unless you like that, and CHOOSE it as your hobby.)
Choose the things that make your brief time on this world happy.
There were no dragons. Except capitalism.
Elisabeth's August 2022 pick, 1 of 2
My friends have suggested this book to me many times, saying "This is a very Elisabeth type of book, you'll love it!"
And Reader, I do. I do love it. I love the formality and old-fashioned sentence structure contrasting with the absurdity of a tea-time discussion of knitting patterns and catalogues for the best explosives. I love a lady adjusting her parasol to avoid the sun (thwarting a highwayman is all well and good, but you mustn't get FRECKLES), while also engaging the blades hidden in the handle. I love how it is improper for a man to fly a pirate-lady's house (he must stay home to mind the children), and how one must expect to trade assassination attempts with your peers and rivals, but never be so rude as to do so very close to teatime.
I love how the houses fly with the magical pirate incantation, which the first pirate lady brought home and shared with her book group, who turned quite bloodthirsty and fought the British Crown until the Crown decided to give up and pretend it wasn't a problem. I love how the steering rooms have doilies, and the round attic windows dilate open to allow for cannons to fire through. I love Queen Victoria painting a watercolor of the burning battlefield in front of her. I love that the cook is haunted and has weekly chats with her deceased great grandmama, who provided her recipe for roast chicken. I love the advice that one must always have a book for emergencies, like when an opponent is taking time to reload their revolver. Reader, I love it.
There were no dragons.
Elisabeth's August 2022 pick, 2 of 2
Hazelwood's best one yet, and you can fight me if you disagree. (You will win, but I am still taking out my earrings and limbering up to give it my best.)
You may say "But Elisabeth, is it another book centered around a woman in STEM who is fighting against the toxic SausageFest of the Boys Club of scientific research, where a woman has to work three times as hard to get half the respect of a man? Is the male romantic lead yet another extremely tall and absurdly buff man who doesn't convey his feelings well, and has secretly been in love with the female lead for years? Does the female lead have attachment/abandonment/dead-family issues again?" and the answer is yes, to all of the above, and you know what? I'm here for it. While Ms Hazelwood obviously has a type and formula, it works every time, and the characters and setup and presentation of their backgrounds are markedly different every time. The framing story had me VERY invested, the tension rises beautifully, and the spicy scenes are Level 5 Steam Level hot. A+.
There were no dragons.
Elisabeth's June 2022 pick
If you had
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it
Or just let it slip?
When the magical Illuminati come calling, informing you that you have been deemed one of the most amazing magicians of your generation, and offering you a chance to join the literal Library of Alexandria and access to all of the information thought lost to mankind, do you say yes? Of course you say yes. It is the LIBRARY of ALEXANDRIA. The Society offers the chance to six people once a decade; 5 will get in, 1 will not.
There are no trials or tests. No teachers to impress. Just each other to win over, so your peers choose to keep you with them. Push your boundaries and skills over the next year, learning from the outermost level of books, and impress each other with what you can do, with how you can work together.
two physicists (in that they break the laws of physics) orbiting each other in a pre-existing rivalry and hatred like a binary star.
one illusion-breaker, who sees truth no matter what you try to obscure
one disgruntled naturalist, whose passage stirs plants in her wake, leaving their leaves and vines stretching towards her in a desperate bid to please her, rustling "mother mother mother" and telling her gossip
one telepath conwoman from whom you can keep no secrets, and who knows just how to please you or push your buttons to get what she wants
and one empath so powerful and persuasive that he could start a nuclear war within seven minutes were he so inclined. Fortunately, he is extremely unambitious and cares for nothing more than his own amusement. (He frightens me, in his casual and UNempathetic cruelty.)
Olivie Blake's writing took my breath away, especially once I realized, abruptly, halfway through the book, that she had written six different perspectives, with six different lines of academic research and theories, in six different voices. The layers and layers of story that she laid so that it all unraveled at the end, such that I gasped, TWICE within five pages of each other, as the breadcrumbs she had laid down revealed themselves to actually be a cheesecake.
There were no dragons. Or mom's spaghetti.
Elisabeth's May 2022 pick, 1 of 3
When you think about it, romance novels aren't very kind to the supporting characters. Only the leading pair gets the happy ending. And Nora should know: she's the ice-blond city career woman who has been left for the hometown heroine by four separate leading men. She doesn't cry, she doesn't want kids, she wears stilettos to the farmer's market, she is unapologetic about being nearly 6' tall, her job (literary agent) is her life, and her colleagues call her The Shark behind her back.
None of them could match her level, anyway.
Except Charlie goddamn Lastra, the golden book editor who she immediately cannot stand.
We all know what this means.
I won't insult you by pretending we don't know if they'll get together. You can read the book promo blurb to get an idea of the setting. I will tell you why you should read it.
Read Book Lovers for the delicious snarky witty banter and barely veiled sexual tension that you loved in Beach Reads, as they work through the competitive feelings and realize how perfectly matched they are. Their relationship is like arm-wrestling; perfectly balanced in vicious wit and passion and need, with a hint of verbal violence that only intellectual equals can quite manage.
No dramatic misunderstandings here, the ones that could be dealt with by an adult conversation, just unfortunate life circumstances and obligations keeping them apart, once they figure out their feelings.
The heroine does not want children (a rarity in romance novels) and none of the characters spend time trying to change her mind (even rarer). This is not to say that she is cold and unfeeling. She dotes on her two nieces, and her loving relationship with her younger sister borders on co-dependent.
I give the steam level a 4.5, as there were multiple spicy scenes but very little explicit description. The tension was FIRE, though. Absolute FIRE.
There were no dragons. Nor was there a pregnancy or "baby to complete the family" in the epilogue.
Elisabeth's May 2022 pick, 2 of 3
Mirror mirror on the wall
who is the best dressed of them all?
Today we will be sewing a witch's robe out of Lana Harper's rom-com, FROM BAD TO CURSED.
Lay your fabric down on your cutting surface. We are using centuries-old family grudges between the town spirit guides/death dabblers and the town nature druids. If you don't have grudges and animosity, double napped velvet or brocade is fine.
Just make sure it is a woven fabric to provide some rigidity and confinement.
Lay your pattern pieces of family tradition and family business on the fabric, cutting with the grain.
Do not cut across the grain.
Stitch the side and shoulder seams with a longing for a different path, and fear of disappointing your family. Turn the hem with dreams of running your own fashion line.
Top stitch with a deadly curse leveled during a festival, and the leading families assigning investigators who cannot stand each other. Set the pockets with curses flying and ghosts giving confusing answers. Investigate your closets for family secrets and dirty ancestors.
Embroider your buttonholes and lapels with oak branches and apples and talking trees, and steam the seams with your sexy hot nemesis from your opposing family who might not be the judgmental asshole he was 5 years ago.
Steam it at least twice more. Get it good and hot.
You'll want the betrayal to be crisp.
There were no dragons.
Elisabeth's May 2022 pick, 3 of 3
When I tell you that I gasped in delight when I reached the first Dramatic Plot Reveal halfway through Her Majesty's Royal Coven...
Come for the Spice Girl paralells, stay for the ideological differences in how to handle an apocalypse.
I came into HMRC thinking it would be set in the 1940s (because the description mentioned The Queen, and a war, and that usually means World War II) but it is set Now (2022ish), and The War was a civil war between witches (now finished, but the repercussions are still echoing through the war-torn hearts of witches and warlocks, while the Mundanes are oblivious). I delighted at first in the administration of a witch government bureau (the committees! The paperwork!) and in the mid-30s group of women who have drifted from the tight-knit group of tweens that they once were. I absorbed the Now-A-Country-Vet-empath gently fostering the tremendously powerful and terrified and skittery and fragile teenage warlock that SHOULDN'T EXIST (warlocks aren't as powerful as witches), and clucked at the High Priestess who is so determined to Control Things that she might steer everyone off a prophecied metaphorical bridge. But then! there was The Exciting Reveal and now we have the philosophy of gender in the application of the mystic arts and the feminine spirit, and we are seeing how someone scared can be so rigid that they might just break everything and bring about that which they are most afraid of.
The perfect ending made me gasp and shriek with rage, and I cannot wait for book 2 of the trilogy.
There were no dragons, but there was a demon.
Elisabeth's April 2022 pick
Book Boyfriend is a ridiculously sweet and (delightfully) messy romance about a disastrous muppet of a man who is desperately in love with his best friend, and writes a romance novel to prove that he doesn't have the emotional range of a teaspoon, but neglects to take into account that he has the emotional intelligence of a stand mixer and thus panics when he realizes that they will suddenly KNOW that he is desperately in love with them, and thus hides the fact that his romance novel is getting published and they will know that the lovely story is based off of a fictional version of the two of them.
I mean, it sounded sweet when he started writing it, putting his thoughts and feelings and yearning on the page, but oh my goodness can you imagine reading romantic fanfiction and realizing that that's you on the page?
He does not have an exit plan.
He is a hot mess and a complete wreck of a person and I absolutely adored him.
Steam Level 1 (smooches at the end). Bonus: non-binary love interest, no dramatic love triangles, supportive friends. Trigger warning for a supporting character's off-page drug use and overdose (no deaths).
Elisabeth's January 2022 pick
A budding despot is waylaid by spreading Malice on the way to her own wedding, a good at heart prince (her husband-to-be-from-a-rival-kingom) tries to save a world that doesn't want to acknowledge the danger it's in, and an immortal holy warrior with poor social skills is grumpy at being woken to clean up their mess. What happened four hundred years ago to change how the world views The Nightrender, and why can't she remember?
Three viewpoints fill this novel, and not once did I have that dull feeling of wanting to switch away from this character or that character. You'll love some characters, and love to hate the others. The character I despised was fascinating to watch, and I understood their choices, like Cersei in Game of Thrones.
NIGHTRENDER had me off balance the entire time, certain I had figured out who the villains were, until another chapter shifted the context (and again, and again, and again), and I was never certain WHO was in the right and WHO was wrong, as we pulled further and further out into the world and the story, and I was so willing and eager to change my mind so many times.
Sold as Young Adult, NIGHTRENDER definitely straddles into New Adult territory (but marketing decisions must be made, so here we are). The characters' ages aren't formally given (and I asked the author and the answer is that it is open for interpretation), but they definitely read with the maturity and responsibilities of 20-24. No simpering teens here, just glitteringly sharp minds (which might cut you, don't turn your back) and the weight of parental expectations and kingdom responsibilities.
There were no dragons, but there were demons, and a knife-winged angel avenger.
Elisabeth's October 2021 pick
Get in, loser, we're going hexing.
In this recipe we'll discuss how to simmer a sapphic romantic comedy involving witches and REVENGE into a delightful fall treat.
Fill a large paperback cauldron with a once-in-a-generation competition between four families and set it to boil. Wrap an arrogant playboy in selfish decisions and let him roast in the coals of wronging three women. You'll use his mortification as a delicious garnish.
Unpot three powerful modern witches in their prime and add to the brew. If you don't have organic generations of magical families quietly ruling your tourist trap town from the shadows, storebought is fine.
The first witch with a grudge should be steeped in old humiliation and resentment that has simmered for nine years, with a big handful of avoidance and inferiority complex.
Add a second witch, the older girl you crushed on in high school (but who also scared you a little), and season the pot with unexpected sexual tension. Bring these two witches to a frothy boil, but do not allow them to spill over.
The third wronged witch will provide the bright and steady woodsy overtones of loyal friendship and emotional stability to your revenge brew.
Stir with a lightning rod for jealousy and family infighting.
Hoist petards (multiple).
Eye of newt rounds out your dish, or substitute with enchanted singing sunflowers for a vegan option.
There were no dragons. (Except the animatronic stage prop that was briefly animated by a spell.)
Elisabeth's July 2021 pick
Modern Olympus Persephone/Hades, but make it an emotionally healthy Fifty Shades.
You know those gratuitous explicit fanfiction sagas we read (or wrote!) during our formative years? Neon Gods is what we all imagined we were producing, except even better.
I give Neon Gods a SIX out of Five on the Steam Scale; this is Vesuvius levels of heat. Could you find something dirtier or smuttier? Yes. But the sex and relationship are handled WELL here, and doesn't get toxic in the way that teenage writers imagine domination should play out (to elaborate: healthy consent and checking in with your partner and hoping for their growth and happiness is good and sexy. Being a jealous controlling asshole is not sexy and is bad.).
Oh, also, there's a plot. In modern Olympus (run by a human council of Thirteen with roles related to the original Olympian gods), Persephone, daughter of the recently elected "Demeter" city official, runs in a cocktail gown and heels from the skyscraper venue of her surprise engagement party (a surprise in that she did not expect Zeus to propose to her, seeing as she's one third his age and they weren't dating) rather than be maneuvered into becoming his fourth Hera and eventually his fourth tragically dead wife. She runs and runs and runs from Zeus's enforcers, she runs her feet bloody, and runs right over the River Styx and into the lower city, out of Zeus's territory and into the arms of the tall, dark, and handsome new Hades, whose family line was supposed to be dead. She offers Broody McBrooderston the chance to stick it to Zeus by having sex on every available surface and "ruining" her, in exchange for protection through the end of winter, when she ages into her trust fund and can flee to safety. He'd protect her anyway, but she is extremely tired of the sunshiney virginal facade her politicking mother insists she wear.
Hephaestus could use the heat level in his forge.
I want Hermes to be my new bff, she's so cool.
Elisabeth's May 2021 pick
A modern romantic comedy about a gay Crown Prince of England and an American junior event planner, whose love story incite a global media storm which neither are fully prepared for.
I laughed myself to tears and snorts with this book. I laughed so long and hard that I had to put the book down, and my husband came to check on me.
I laughed because Paul Rudnick has a talent for the casually absurd, and he sets up awkwardness and hilarity in a way that I can absolutely believe would happen. I laughed because the situations, although exaggerated for fiction, were also extremely possible, especially if you have a loud and loving family, especially if you are the sort of person who surfs the tidal wave of absurdity in daily life with the expectation that the tidal wave might one day deposit you on a tropical beach and hand you a coconut rum and then the frenetic pace of your thoughts and life will have been worth it.
I laughed because I could see myself being this person in another life, making the same gaffes. I laughed because the reality of life derailing a grand gesture is exactly the sort of cold bucket of water I have always wanted to see in an unrealistic movie. I laughed because a snarky and loyal British Royal butler (who has served in three wars but is rightfully afraid of your Great Aunt Muriel) is exactly the sort of character I love to read about.
Elisabeth's April 2021 pick, 1 of 2
This was a wondrously soft and sweet romance. Do not go in expecting the heat and steam and fights of The Hating Game; this is a different type of romance. This is a vintage cashmere cardigan soft romance. This is a the romance of a woman who has spent her whole life doubting herself, and cannot see the people around her accurately because she cannot see herself accurately. This is a romance of misunderstandings and faulty first impressions (to be fair, he did completely stick his foot in his mouth at their meet-cute, like, wow.), and where she sees a spoiled trouble-making Bad Boy the reader will see a sweet (like, really sweet, if a bit flighty) guy who was smitten with her from pretty much the first moment he saw her. The so-perceived Bad Boy opens doors for little old ladies and rescues turtles and delights in rerun television and wishes for the approval of his father and older sister. And maybe if each of them can believe that the other finds them to be worthwhile people, they can sort their shit out.
A 3.5 on the steam scale, because it didn't quite fade to black, but I wouldn't call it explicit.
Elisabeth's April 2021 pick, 2 of 2
Skunk & Badger book is the charmingest charming book that ever did charm.
Yes that is a potato in the picture. A rocket potato. You'll have to read the book to find out why. Same with the chicken.
This book had my 6 year old in stitches, and eager for each new chapter. I also laughed out loud several times, and then sneakily read ahead of my 6 year old because I didn't want to wait to find out what happened.
Badger is a shut-in. He wouldn't describe himself as that; he is a Rock Scientist, doing Important Rock Work, and likes his life just so, and with no interruptions. He is living in his Aunt Lula's brownstone (she's a pine marten, off traveling the world and living her best life, we should all aspire to be like Aunt Lula), and he is very surprised to find a skunk at the door one day saying Aunt Lula invited him to stay.
Skunk is loud. Skunk is pushy. Skunk is friendly and curious. Skunk is DISRUPTIVE to his IMPORTANT ROCK WORK and this is very upsetting to Badger, who did not read Aunt Lula's last three letters asking if he minded a new roommate. Oops. He wants Skunk OUT.
Skunk also makes delicious food (more delicious than the bowls of cold cereal Badger usually eats) and asks thoughtful questions and makes thoughtful gestures and befriends the local chicken population (there are a lot) and is brave in defending his friends and doing the right thing.
This book is sweet and kind and happy and is about getting out of your comfort zone when your comfort zone has become a prison without you noticing. An adult can read this in an hour or three, and you will be glad you did. Amy Timberlake, like Jon Klassen (who did the charming illustrations) has a similar penchant for realistic absurdity in her sentence structure that sparks joy.
Elisabeth's April 2021 pick, 3 of 3
Do yourself a favor and have your local Indian restaurant on speed-dial before you read this book. You will be very hungry as you read; the food descriptions are divine.
I LOVED this book.
A genderbent modern version of Pride & Prejudice, with an obliviously rude "Darcy" (Trisha, brain surgeon and third child of literal Indian royalty, who is very good at solving medical problems but not great with social skills) and a prickly "Elizabeth Bennet" (D.J., a talented chef who gave up his hard-won job at a Michelin starred Parisian restaurant to care for his artist-sister as she refuses the life-saving surgery that will remove the tumor from her brain but also lose her her sight). Clever reimaginings for the traditional supporting cast of P&P, including an overbearing "Mrs Bennet" (in this case the father, who is pouring the entire family's energies into his son's campaign for Governor of California), and "George Wickham" (Julia Wickham, Trisha's college roommate and a talented scam artist).
A 1 out of 5 on the Steam Scale (rather chaste, with smooches at the end), so you can suggest this book to that book club that you share with your mother.
Elisabeth's March 2021 pick
Bridgerton meets The Magicians in this Regency-esque fantasy from the World Fantasy Award-winning author of Witchmark. (Not the steamy bits of Bridgerton, but the desperation of a woman's Season when she is trying to maneuver into the best marriage match, balancing the needs of her family against her own wants and needs.)
Knowledge-loving Beatrice does not wish to marry, as married women with the sorcerer's aura are collared to cut them off from magic and protect their pregnancies from spirits invading their fetuses.
But Beatrice's entire family is wagering everything on her attracting a wealthy husband this bargaining season, after the family's fortunes are devastated by a series of bad investments.
To be cut off from magic!
From that which makes the air sing and gives the world texture and joy! How can she choose? Between duty to her family's security, and that which makes life worth living? And what if love throws its hat into the ring to make things EXTRA complicated?
Bonus: the minor spirit of luck, Nadi, that she has summoned and bargained riding along for her corporeal experiences, is joyful and childlike and adores the taste of cake and the sight of the stars. We should all aspire to enjoying the world like Nadi does.
Elisabeth's January 2021 pick, 2 of 2The Ex Talk was cute! (With 2-3 VERY SPICY scenes, whistle whistle.) Would you listen to a dating advice show hosted by two exes, analyzing where their relationship went wrong? Sounds fun, right? Only problem is that they never actually dated in the first place! Also, they cannot STAND each other. Their passionate disdain of each other is what convinces people that they really did date at one point. Well, where there's smoke, there's fire... Only now they can't really date or their show will lose its effect, and their credibility depends on nobody discovering that they never really dated in the first place.
Add in subplots of feeling an obligation to make late parents proud, and feeling stuck on a life plan that might not be working for you any more. Read this if you're staying in a job longer than you should be, but can't imagine doing anything else.There were no dragons. Definitely a cute light read, with a strong enemies to lovers trope.
Elisabeth's January 2021 pick, 1 of 2
This book was sparkling and hopeful, with a swelling in my chest that tastes suspiciously like hopefulness and family.
A cardboard-dull social worker (Linus) with a cardboard-dull life is sent to examine the suitability of a secret orphanage full of magical children, their peculiarness exceptional even for his agency (which specializes in the regulation of children with magical abilities).
There was an adolescent wyvern named Theodore (his hoard of buttons is under the couch, pretend you don't notice), a teenage werewolf (well, were-pomeranian), a violent shovel-wielding gnome with an exceptional flower garden, a forest sprite, a six year old AntiChrist, and an eight year old gelatinous... tentacled... thing named Chauncey, whose dearest wish is to become a hotel bellhop.
And a lovely caretaker with a quiet and proud smile who has earned their fierce love and devotion.
This book will make your heart sing.
Elisabeth's October 2020 pick
Read this book series for a Happily Ever After, where the cast calls out ridiculous romance tropes ("what's your least favorite romance trope?" "Why, that would be when two adults avoid having a grown-up conversation to clear up a misunderstanding.") and hijinks ensue as a group of men turn to romance novels to figure out their relationships to women.
Elisabeth's September 2020 pick
"I still don't like hyped books," I protest. "I'm Not Like Other Girls."
"mmmhmmm," says the book, and hands me a cup of tea, "yes you are. Other Girls are just women who aren't ashamed to like popular things."
Another highly-hyped book that left me gasping and yelling at the last page, and then I had to go lie down and stare at the wall.
Where The Gilded Wolves was a magical 1889 Oceans Eleven, The Silvered Serpents is a puzzle-room mystery, where our grief-striken crew of thieves and outcasts from once great noble houses travel to Siberia to find a mythical magical artifact (which is not as mythical as once thought) that could restore their standing. Staying one step ahead of their benefactors and the predatory noble circles that once spurned them, and slipping through a literal ice palace to unravel the layers of traps and puzzles awaiting them, the tension rachets up higher and higher, as the crew grappels with grief (some very poorly) at the loss of their brother in arms, and some of them in anticipation of their own deaths (Laila expects her body to literally unravel upon her next birthday, when her magical debt comes due). The noose is closing faster than they can keep up, and they won't all make it out of this alive. Roshani Chokshi continues all that I loved about The Gilded Wolves: Magnificently crafted characters (Actual diversity, no icky-feeling token characters! Neurodivergent characters! Strangely sympathetic assholes who make mistakes instead of everything coming up roses!) in a well plotted and paced story, with a thread of romance that ADDS to the story instead of taking it over.
Elisabeth's September 2020 pickI laughed so hard listening to the audiobook of THE EXTRAORDINARIES that my husband came to check on me. It ruined my mascara with the laughing.Laugh as Nick writes romantic fanfiction about the superheroes in his city. Laugh as Nick fanboys over his superhero crush when he gets rescued from a mugging. Shake your head as Nick misses ALL THE BLARING NEON SIGNS that his best friend, Seth, is desperately in love with him and maaaaaybe is a superhero, and maaaaaaaybe his ex boyfriend is too, and as those two verbally spar over his oblivious head at the high school lunch table. Fall in love with Nick's dad, who is a gruff widowed cop, who loves his son SO MUCH and expresses apologies in buying forbidden sugary breakfast cereals.There were no dragons. There were teenage superheros in spangly homemade costumes, a blurring of the lines between how good press can make or break a hero or villain's reputation, and some smooching.
Elisabeth's August 2020 pick
This book is a delight. A lonely young girl is raised in isolation, tutored and groomed within an inch of her life to succeed at courtly trials, and is discretely planted, at 11 years old, into the Imperial Court of her mother's enemy, bound by the magic in her bloodline to her vengeful mother's wish to wreak havoc on the emperor and the emperor's son, as an unwitting and unwilling assassin. She fights the geas placed upon her as she falls in love with a found-family and home that she never had in the house she grew up in, but magic will not be denied until her mother's wish is fulfilled. As she grows into a young woman, she must fight herself to protect her family from her blood.
This fantasy is presented in an African tradition and mythos, and the audiobook narrator is well versed in the oral tradition of storytelling as songs, bringing the songs and stories inserted within the novel to life.
Elisabeth's July 2020 pick
I.... Had grand plans for a photo for Marie Kondo'd JOY AT WORK, but I think even a delightful Japanese cleaning fairy can't turn me into someone that I'm not. I took a before photo in March, and my new desk (in July) is still cluttered, even if less cluttered than the disaster that it was before.
And you know what? I like it. I am more efficient and less stressed at my job due to things I learned in Joy at Work. I can find the things I'm looking for. I can see when I am about to run out of specific supplies. I cleared my desk of most of my clutter by removing EVERYTHING from the desk and only putting back things that help me perform my job/home admin. I evaluated my storage and purchased different organizational tools that set me up for success, and I got rid of the pens that don't work nicely (LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR SHITTY PENS, SPLURGE AND BUY THE PENS WITH THE SATISFYING INK FLOW), and I planned out how to store items that I need to remember to handle. In my case, I am extremely visual, so I NEED to-do items to be visible or I completely forget they exist, so I bought a small vertical file display for bills and documents to live in instead of disappearing into the shuffle of papers laying on my desk.
Only one chapter is on physical clutter. She also addresses digital document clutter, and calendar and obligation clutter, and learning to say no to new obligations that don't actually help anybody, etc. It was helpful. I learned. I suggest it to stressed workers.
Elisabeth's April 2020 pick
What happens to the Chosen Ones after they defeat the Dark One and save the world and the novel ends? There are no happily ever afters, just decades of PTSD and living with the trauma and memories, and struggling to find a place in the world that wants to keep you as its greatest celebrities, when all you want is to disappear.
And then one day you get magically kidnapped into a desperate parallel world that needs you, an experienced Chosen One, to defeat THEIR Dark One, please and thank you. See, their Chosen One died horribly, and.... Veronica Roth's first foray into adult novels punched me in the face, which was wretched, and I say that as a compliment.
The misery and unhappiness of Chosen One #2 Sloane (one of five; they stayed friends, because who else can understand a trauma like that? Dating is also tricky.) as she struggles to live her Post-Hero Life, struggles to live with her choices and their consequences, tries not to remember the memories, and takes benzos to sleep and survive the flashbacks, felt gritty and real. Similarly real were the grim realities of fear and struggle of their scrabble to survive, of the Chosen Ones trying to push down their panic at the thought of doing this all AGAIN, oh God no we barely survived last time, how can we face this again, we're barely holding our sanity together on the sunshiney normal days, let alone on the days when we've been yanked into an alien but bizarrely familiar parallel Chicago. And things here may not be what they seem... I had a pit in my stomach and an anxious ache in my shoulders reading this whole thing. Congratulations, Ms. Roth.
Elisabeth's February 2020 pick
This book simultaneously makes me want to cry from the self-examination it is forcing, and makes me feel so incredibly SEEN.
If you have ever felt that the liberating feminist freedom of "you can have it all" has become a pressuring mandate of "you MUST have it all, and you're a failure if you are average, or if you have only a career but no children, or only raised your children into non-serial-killers but don't have a successful career," this book is from your people.
If you have ever felt that you were running out of time to achieve the life goals that were decided for you in your youth, this book is from your people.
If you have ever felt the doors closing, and realized that your youth is disappearing and with it society's view of your worth, this book is from your people.
If you have ever thought "we were supposed to have figured it out by now," this book is from your people.
I finally have words for all the distress that has been swirling in my head.
Elisabeth's January 2020 pick
First, thank you to Emma Lord for introducing me to mustard in a grilled cheese in Tweet Cute, which is the darlingest romance I've read in ages. Seriously. I felt GOOD after I finished reading this. It made me HAPPY. Jack and Pepper made me smile. Tweet Cute is sweet and funny and there are no trope-y "this whole thing could have been explained if you had just waited for 10 seconds for them to explain a situation before you stormed off" moments. Pepper and Jack are both seniors at a prestigious and competitive high school in Manhattan, and both secretly run the social media accounts for their families' restaurants. When a Twitter feud over a secret recipe menu item breaks out between the two restaurants, they are unmasked to each other and it spills into real life, almost spoiling their burgeoning friendship and flirtation.
This is almost Romeo & Juliet with grilled cheese, but fewer people die. (Like, 100% fewer people die.) Or You've Got Mail in the Twitter era.
Elisabeth's November 2019 pick
Gird your loins; Jude is back for more courtly wheeling and dealing. This time she is forced out of the shadows and into the front battle lines as she fights two wars; one for the throne of Faerie, and one for the two loyalties of her heart. I didn't take a full breath for 300 pages.
Elisabeth's October 2019 pick
Ninth House is Queen Bardugo's transition from YA fantasy to adult urban fantasy, and it is flawless. If Six of Crows is PG-13, this is a hard R. It is dark. It is gritty*. It is real. It is spooky**. It makes you question whether a magical underworld really does exist in the real world, and you're in danger, living your mundane life, oblivious. The prose is divine, the characters are real, and nothing is more frightening than how vicious people can be.
Told in alternating Then and Now chapters, two story timelines converge, slowly revealing what happened to Alex and Darlington in Late Fall, to give context to Alex's Winter (while you wonder WHAT HAPPENED TO DARLINGTON?!), before we finally catch back up to the Spring scene we all read in the first teaser chapter.
*Content warnings would be appropriate before you let your high schooler read it. This is not Six of Crows Plus.
**I spent one night too hot to sleep well because the comforter was too warm, but sticking my leg out from under would leave me vulnerable to a murderous spirit that was likely lurking in the shadowy corners of my bedroom.
Elisabeth's August 2019 pick
How many books say they're "Harry Potter for adults?"
How many books say they're "for people still waiting on their Hogwarts letter?"
So when MAGIC FOR LIARS was described like that, I rolled my eyes internally (but you'll notice i still picked it up) and expected a magical adventure that entertained but fell far short of HP.
This story isn't just for people who like wizards.
It's about a woman whose twin sister DID get a Hogwarts letter (well, not Hogwarts exactly), but she got left behind, mundane and normal and not magical.
And now here she is, 14 years later, jaded and bitter at the world, taking photos of cheating spouses for her private investigator business, gumshoeing through the linoleum'd hallways of a private wizarding boarding school that her estranged sister works at, and there are no magic talking portraits or floating candles or pumpkin pasties, but there is magic graffiti ("Samantha is a slut") that resists all attempts by the janitor to scrub off, and magic birth control from the health teacher, and dimensional folding to pass notes secretly, and mandated reporters for prphecy fulfillment.
AND A DEAD BODY IN THE THEORETICAL MAGIC SECTION OF THE LIBRARY, where the health teacher was vivisected into two equal halves.
Who didn't get their Hogwarts letter.
Please excuse me, this book won't finish reading itself. The Physical Magic instructor is HOT.
Elisabeth's July 2019 pick
I thought this book would be a fun romp. I thought this book would be sarcastic and snarky.
I did not expect depth, and found myself drowning in its literary beauty, in the feelings and poetry of Agent Red and Agent Blue.
This is the story of two rival Time Agents braiding and unraveling time through well-placed small actions, each seeking to bring about their agency’s ideal future; one a mechanized utopia, one a wild and free Garden. This is a universal story of two people on opposite sides of a war who fall in love. But for the settings, this could be a CIA agent and their KGB counterpart in the Cold War, or a British and Nazi duo in WW2.
This is the story of love and desperation, threaded through impossible settings and stories.
Short, less than 200 pages, this book is easily digestible in short chunks, read one of Blue’s chapters and then one of Red’s with breakfast, and then digest so you’re ready for two more chapters at lunch.
Elisabeth's June 2019 pick
If you want a sword-carrying librarian apprentice trying to care for and contain deadly sorcery grimoires (which may sing or bite or try to sew your face to their pages, before trying to turn into a monster to go on a murderous rampage), reluctantly teaming up with a debonair licensed sorcerer and his soul-bound demonic gentleman's servant, as they try to save the world (and the magical library system), this is the book for you. Come for the plot, stay for the humor.
It was a delight to have a single-shot book instead of a trilogy spread, but now that it's over I'm not ready for it to be over. I do hope Margaret Rogerson comes back to these characters in the future.
This book showed tremendous sophomore growth of Rogerson's writing craft following An Enchantment of Ravens (which I also liked, but this was BETTER).
Elisabeth's May 2019 pick
This is, on the one hand, the story of a Napoleonic Cairo con-woman who discovers her true heritage and scrabbles to find her feet in an opulent, unfamiliar, dangerous city of magic, and struggles to stay afloat as the rival factions seek to use her to their ends.
This is also a story about djinn politics, about classism and racism, and about war and the narrative of history.
This is also a story of the conflict of religion and power, of true and noble men trying to follow the tenents of their faith even when it conflicts with the wishes of the rulers who they have pledged their lives and obedience to.
There is murder and love and a cursed lake that may or may not contain a blood-thirsty marid (don’t touch the water).
Elisabeth's February 2019 pick
My flabber has been gasted.
"I don't like hyped-up books," I protested.
"Shhhh," whispered this book, stroking my hair.
"These rarely live up to their buzz," I whined, and turned another page.
The book smiled at me, and waited.
"Popular books are rarely worth my time! I've got a snobbish reputation to maintain!" I howled, rubbing sleep from my eyes and tossing leftover spicy peanut noodles at the children so I had time to finish it.
The book sipped its tea. It had won. I was in love.
Roshani Chokshi's The Gilded Wolves seduced me with promises of con-artist magic users, and also delivered a pulse pounding Indiana-Jonesesque adventure treasure hunt set in 1889 alternate history Paris. Magnificently crafted characters (Actual diversity, no icky-feeling token characters! Neurodivergent characters! Strangely sympathetic assholes who make mistakes instead of everything coming up roses!) in a well plotted and paced story, with a thread of romance that ADDS to the story instead of taking it over. Please excuse me while I got read everything else she has ever written (including that copy of The Star Touched Queen that I bought this summer and never got around to).
Likely available, but must be ordered by email/phone
Elisabeth's October 2018 pick
Exhilarating and fresh, this book is part fantasy, part post-AI-apocalyptic dystopian. Two story halves (one a young mage Edge Guard in his idyllic hidden pocket of the world struggling to reconcile young love and duty, and one a young Resistance fighter struggling to save the human race from their genocidal robot overlords after the A.I. uprising 13 years previous) crash together in a shocking second act.
Elisabeth's December 2016 pick
For teens and lovers of Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass. (No sex in this book, although there's some forbidden romance and kissin’.) A fractured fairy tale, the story of how young Lady Catherine turned from a sweet young woman (and talented baker) into the bitter and jaded “off with their heads!” Queen of Hearts that we are familiar with.
The Queen of Hearts, she baked some tarts, all on a summer’s day. The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts, and took them clean away. He stole her heart too.
Elisabeth's September 2016 pick
There's something about a *Sarah's Scribbles* comic that cuts straight to the truth, espeically if you're an introvert. Each comic is hilarious and insightful, and makes you think "Yes. Someone out there gets me."
Elisabeth's September 2015 pick
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass, by Jim Butcher
I challenged a co-worker to a cage match in order to get this Advance Reading Copy. (She declined. The publisher's rep had two copies.)
Reading a new Butcher book is always an emotional experience, in that you early want to suck down the pages, to find out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, but each page consumed brings you another page closer to the dreaded end of the book, and it will be at least a year before another new volume arrives to thrill you. I rejoiced with each page turn, and mourned as the unread section of pages got slimmer and slimmer.
This was a lovely new offering from Butcher, new series that has it all. Sky pirates (ahem, privateers), cats, sword fights, espionage, war, world building, genial wizards (of a sort) whose brains are too full of the magic of the ether to remember mundane things like how to work a doorknob or wear pants, sky battles, a subtle romance, politics, humor, and cats. Did I mention cats? Rowl is my favorite character. Butcher writes a cat's perspective very well.
An ensemble cast of characters provides chapters from multiple perspectives, even some from the (surprisingly sympathetic) enemy, and keeps the story moving without bogging down. As you observed each character from their companion's perspective and from their own thoughts, it was easy to get attached.
Did I mention the cats? Seriously one of the best parts. (I'm leaving out something very big here, so you can have the delight of discovery that I did when they appear about 20 pages into the book.)
Elisabeth's November 2013 pick
The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
A hilarious romp narrated by Simon, a brilliant geneticist who, despite his lack of understanding social cues, embarks on a scientific campaign to find a wife, reasoning that companionship would be practical and convenient. His method of evaluating candidates, a lengthy questionnaire to ensure compatibility before investing time and effort, turns away several fantastic candidates, and his inability to pick up on social cues turns away several beautiful and brilliant and definitely interested women.
It is Rosie, a wholly inappropriate candidate (according to his questionnaire) who begins to mold Simon in to regular life as they work towards solving the mystery of Rosie's father (he's a geneticist, remember?).
The author is very careful not to label Simon as autistic, although autism and Asperger's Syndrome are mentioned, because the label would flatten this rich character into a two dimensional figure. Simon does have many characteristics that only he does not seem to notice, and has a very particular way of viewing the world that makes for a fascinating narrative, and it makes him a sympathetic and likeable character even as you scream at him to notice what is going on around him.
Elisabeth's May 2013 pick
Sanderson's worldbuilding ability shines in this novel, a first YA offering from this fantasy giant. An alternate earth contains just enough place names and events to provide a sense of familiarity to ground the alternate history and the fantastical events of this novel, and the physics and math based magic provides a credibility that "Abracadabra" just can't match. The characters of this novel suit the late middle school crowd of readers, but the serious tones of the novel will still hold the interest of a high schooler.
Elisabeth's January 2013 pick
A fascinating look into the ways our cultures have shaped the way we handle and interact with food. The tools are and technologies we use are just as influenced by our societies as our societies are influenced by our tools.
Particularly fascinating is how different things were 500, 100, even 20 years ago. Women were rarely the cooks for large houses or castles back in the days of open hearths, due to the danger of death from skirts catching fire. Forks were considered effeminate until about 200 years ago. The modern potato peeler, now an indispensable tool, only appeared in the 1990's!
Elisabeth's June 2012 review
Ruby and Simon, twelve-year-old twins, are passing their first summer at their family's new farm in Wisconsin, when a mysterious man shows up to explain that the strange weather they've been having is attached to Simon's mood and that Simon is the youngest (and potentially the most powerful) Storm Maker the world has ever seen.
A delightful middle-grade reader with a girl narrator telling the story, but centered around her twin brother (thus making it palatable for readers of either sex).
It is a delight to read a book that has average protagonists. Normal teens with normal tantrums and intelligences, confusions, and fears. Thrust into overwhelming and frightening situations, they act like twelve-year-olds, not politically saavy adults or exceptionally gifted and talented wonder-kids. It is no mysterious family secret or hidden bloodline, just chance that gifts Simon with his powers.
Written well for the age group, not dumbed down ("for kids") but rather written with an age-empathic vocabulary and sentence structure.
Elisabeth's March 2012 pick
Delightful! An awkward boy and an awkward friendship with the already heroic preteen Prince Achilles, and its organic growth into the magnificence that steals the stage in the Iliad. What a wonderful side to the epic, that at last receives the attention it deserves. Bravo to Ms. Miller is her tender and sympathetic treatment of these two heroes.
Elisabeth's February 2012 pick
I wept and I would still read it again. I am tempted to leave the review at that. "I wept." This book is wonderful and terrible, and well-written. John Green has the singular ability to write like people (teenagers especially) feel, to distill into words a feeling, an impression, in a very non-literary sort of way. He is also excellent at sympathetically channeling the singular misery and drama that teenagers feel. Give this to the teenager in your life who might also like Jodi Picoult.
Elisabeth's January 2012 pick
Cinderella set after World War IV, in New Beijing, with the protagonist as a cyborg (and thus a second-rate citizen). Throw in a deadly and very contagious plague reminiscent of the Black Death, and inter-galactic political difficulty between the Earth and the independent Moon. Instead of a glass slipper, the heroine accidentally leaves behind her cybernetic left foot.
I loved this book. I confess that when I picked it up, and even after I read the back cover, I wasn't expecting much. Too weird, I thought. How do you translate Cinderella into such a strange setting? Well, I read it in one evening. I couldn't put it down. The characters are three dimensional and interesting, and inspired emotional reactions (I wanted to shake the step-mother for being such a petty, horrible person). The love story was sweet and unforced. The heroine was no Mary Sue! The writing style was light and easy to read, making this a quick read. Entirely enjoyable, I would definitely recommend this book for someone who liked The Hunger Games for its downtrodden, flawed heroine in tough life-or-death political circumstances, but who is looking for something less bloody and gory to read.
King Hugo's Huge Ego is a delight! Written in rhyming quatrains, each page has the bouncing, contagious feel of a limerick (not a dirty one, thank you very much) which trips and rolls off the tongue. This story was a lot of fun to read to children.
This book may be classified as a YA novel, but I've definitely recommended it to just about every adult I know. An excellent pick for young adult reluctant readers, because the story really is that engaging. Chosen by lottery to compete in an annual televised battle royale, where the winner is taken care of for life and the losers are brutally slaughtered by other contestants for the viewers' cruel amusement in the Capitol, Katniss Everdeen just hopes to survive long enough to make it home, and to avoid becoming one of the human monsters she is fighting against. The story is horrifying and shocking, but I couldn't put it down, wondering what would happen next. I made the mistake of bringing this book on my honeymoon, thinking to read it on the beach. My husband had to threaten to hide it in order for us to go snorkeling.