Apr 222024

School Library Journal: This prequel to Elatsoe features Ellie’s grandmother Shane, a 17-year-old Lipan Apache, and further expands upon the strange and unique world. Shane and her mother track down missing persons using ghost dogs (familiar to those who’ve read Elatsoe), even when the families can’t pay them. This means Shane is used to barely scraping by, her deep practicality almost at odds with her unique power to raise the dead. When her mother disappears after tangling with a fairy ring, Shane will journey across the south and the world Below to find her. The narrative emphasizes generational trauma and the power of community with flashbacks, finding ways to ground the fantastical worldbuilding elements of vampires, fae, and ghosts in the culture and relationships Shane finds important. Little Badger artfully navigates Shane’s family history—from disasters to stolen land—and how they fight to reclaim their identity. While the novel stands alone, common elements from the first book reappear to add humor and tension. Part road trip, part classic quest, this novel manages to add fresh and exciting elements to the worldbuilding while retaining Elatsoe’s slightly spooky atmosphere. The flashbacks and changes in point-of-view slightly hinder the pacing, but readers will likely be too invested in Shane’s story to care. Shane and her family are Lipan Apache, with additional diversity in the supporting cast.

VERDICT: A wonderful addition to the Elatsoe universe with vital representation, worthy of any YA collection. Highly recommended.

Apr 182024

Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine: Like many another, I discovered Martha Wells via her Murderbot series. Her new novel, Witch King, is fantasy rather than science fiction, but it is equally engrossing.

As in the Murderbot series, this novel has an ensemble cast, and many, many delightful characters. Tahren’s younger brother Dahin is one of them—I was always happy to see him come on stage—as is the feral child adopted by Kai and Ziede as they search for Tahren. Further, the worldbuilding is intricate but not overwhelming. Fantasy novels often present us with a monoculture; Wells gives us a complicated, many-cultured world, with complicated characters who have complicated motives. This is masterly work. Though I love the Murderbot books and eagerly await each new installment, I’d love a sequel to this one, too.

Apr 082024

Publishers Weekly: Following the news that her father cheated on her mother, white-cued 17-year-old Olivia Owens and her mom must give up their lavish lifestyle; they’re both kicked out of their Rhode Island estate and Olivia loses her inheritance. When her father decides to marry for a third time and Olivia’s boyfriend cheats on her, she resolves to exact revenge. She refuses to let her father get away with his past lying and cheating, especially as her mother’s medical bills mount. With the help of a former high school teacher, Olivia assembles a motley crew of classmates à la The Italian Job and plots a heist to infiltrate her father’s upcoming wedding at the Rhode Island estate. But her quest for vengeance (and search for millions) is complicated by curious wedding guests, apologetic ex-boyfriends, and extended family members with agendas of their own. In this quickly moving story of self-discovery and high-stakes revenge schemes, married creators Wibberly and Siegemund-Broka (Never Vacation with Your Ex) employ Olivia’s sardonic first-person voice to construct a serpentine plot that’s equal parts intense action and organic teenage interactions. Ages 12–up. (June)

Apr 042024

Shelf Awareness: The gritty, luminous Sheine Lende, a prequel to Darcie Little Badger’s acclaimed first novel, Elatsoe, features stouthearted Shane (grandmother to Elatsoe’s Ellie) who uses the family’s ability to raise ghosts to find three people, one of whom is her own mother.

Little Badger’s beguiling novel includes stories within stories that enrich the main narrative, telling tales whose monumental purposes are “to be shared and remembered.” She entices readers by creating a world where monsters and “powerful magics” exist alongside actual history. Rovina Cai once again gracefully illustrates Little Badger’s work with delicate line drawings that act as chapter headings. Intergenerational relationships (with relatives both alive and Below) form the basis of this wonderful novel, as does Shane’s sense that her family–and their ghost animals–are looking out for her. Here’s hoping readers will receive more sequels, prequels, or spin-offs that take place in this fresh, compelling world.

Apr 032024

The Bulletin: Inspired by a viewing of the 1996 film The First Wives Club, Ezra and his two best friends decide to get revenge on their terrible ex-boyfriends. Among the ensuing hijinks, Ezra anonymously uploads a TikTok video setting fire to his closeted ex’s letterman jacket, which quickly goes viral at their school. Further videos of school administrators enforcing their Watch What You Say initiative, which targets queer students and the expression of their identities, also go viral, and the trio begins to realize they can use all this attention to get their voices heard, carve out a place for themselves, and achieve something greater than their own revenge. Ezra narrates this funny, frothy Moxie read-alike, featuring a side cast of Ezra’s unfailingly supportive single dad, a warm, encouraging set of friends, and Ezra’s new hot jock crush (conveniently replacing his former hot jock boyfriend). The revenge antics are entertaining, but like their cinematic inspiration, the boys eventually channel their efforts into standing up for themselves and others, showcasing the power people have when they come together. Some readers should be cautious as Ezra’s disordered eating habits and negative body image are potentially triggering, but the ultimate message, as Ezra’s dad puts it, is that weight “doesn’t change your value.” Ezra bravely faces harassment, oppression from authority figures, and his own insecurities in this inspiring and uplifting story.

Mar 292024

Esquire: The latest work from the astonishingly prolific Mohamed (who has three books out this year alone) is a visceral yet intimate story about violence, nationalism, and war. Injured, captured, and tortured by his own side in an endless conflict, the famous pacifist Alefret is sent on a mission to infiltrate an enemy city. With him is Qhudur, a fanatic who will do anything for victory. Mohamed’s bio-technical setting is vivid and unusual—trained medical wasps, floating cities, and lightspiders dot these pages—but the heart of her story is Alefret’s moral struggle. Would killing Qhudur, an act of violence, lead to peace? When does violence become a habit that a country cannot break? How can a person hold tight to their ideals even amid suffering? How can stories and myths help sustain us? But The Siege of Burning Grass isn’t just a thoughtful consideration of war and pacifism; it’s also a feat of worldbuilding, moral complexity, and taut, precisely paced storytelling. After this, I’m ready to hunt down everything else Mohamed has ever written.

Mar 282024

Mystery and Suspense Magazine: Kim Harrison is best known as one of the mainstays of the modern urban fantasy scene. Three Kinds of Lucky is only going to cement that reputation further, as she gets this new series started with a bang!

There’s no shortage of books in the urban fantasy genre, and it’s such a delight to come across really original worlds, especially when they’re accompanied by a nice twisty plot and characters you really want to spend time with. There’s no shortage of surprises, which kept me glued to the page and reading much too late into the night as I waited to find out what would happen next.

Though it’s the first in the series, Three Kinds of Lucky wraps up nicely – while still leaving plenty of ground to cover with the next few books in the series. I appreciate a book that works as a read on its own, while getting me ready to see where the author takes the world next – and I’ll be there when Kim Harrison is ready to show us what that might entail.

Mar 272024

Booklist: Little Badger returns to the world of her revelatory, award-winning debut, Elatsoe (2020). Seventeen-year-old Lipan Apache Shane and her mother, Lorenza, set out on a search-and-rescue mission to find two young siblings missing in Texas hill country. In this alternate 1970s America, fairy rings are transport centers. The missing seem to have stumbled on a group of dangerously unpredictable (and potentially world-destroying) mimic rings. They could be anywhere—and anytime. After Lorenza vanishes too, Shane undertakes her first solo rescue with the help of her ghost dog, Nellie. (Like all of the women in her family, going back to her four-greats-grandmother, Elatsoe, Shane is a ghostraiser, able to summon insects, birds, and animals to her aid.) The search takes them to a deserted lakeside town hiding a monster, to the site of a notorious Colorado mimic ring disaster, and, ultimately, Below—to the underworld. Shane’s progress is interspersed with family history, stories, and flashbacks to the traumatic loss of their home eight years earlier. A slower pace allows readers to absorb each inventive twist, unexpected encounter, jolt of creepy menace, and dreamy illustration. It also gives them a chance to know the family and friends, old and new, past and present, who witness and support Shane’s growing determination to not only survive and return home but also thrive and find justice.

Mar 252024

Kirkus: A Rhode Island teen who went from riches to rags when her parents divorced masterminds a scheme to get even with her father.

After her mom leaves her philandering dad, 17-year-old Olivia Owens and her principled, loving mother are left broke. Swimming in medical debt after her exhausted mom falls asleep at the wheel in between jobs and is injured in a car crash, Olivia assembles a madcap cast of peers, plus a former teacher, each of whose skills are required for her plan to steal the codes for her dad’s offshore accounts. She intends to execute the heist during her father’s lavish wedding to his third wife, who’s only 25. Tom Pham, Deonte Jones, Cassidy Cross, and Mr. McCoy each have their own basically noble reasons for needing their cut of the money, though Jackson Roese, Olivia’s recent ex, still tries to convince her to abandon her potentially dangerous plan when he shows up at the wedding in a bid to win her back. Twists, obstacles, and double-crossing abound in this totally fun, over-the-top novel featuring smart, witty characters whose first impressions belie their more complex selves. Olivia’s frenetic inner thoughts as she navigates each successive snag balance her ongoing hurt feelings from being abandoned by her dad. Most central characters read white; Tom’s surname cues Vietnamese heritage, and Deonte is Black.

Goofy, poignant, and wildly entertaining.

Mar 212024

Washington Post: Fairies have starred in some terrific books of late, but in Mohamed’s novella they pack a lot more menace. In “The Butcher of the Forest,” the children of a despot known only as the Tyrant wander into an enchanted forest from which nobody has ever emerged, except a woman named Veris. Naturally, the Tyrant forces Veris to go rescue his kids, using her nimbleness to evade the snares and dangers in the woods, while grappling with the ethics of saving the children of a monster. Mohamed excels at telling the stories of ordinary people trapped by dark forces, and she infuses these characters with astounding tenderness and compassion. “The Butcher of the Forest” shows exactly why Mohamed is one of fantasy’s rising stars.