Thanks to partners NetGalley and Tor Books for the digital ARC of T. J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on September 21!
I cried my way through large portions of T. J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door. While ultimately, I would call it a beautiful, hopeful book, it is also deeply, deeply sad. I mean, it is about death and the afterlife, so I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, but I’m just putting that out there.
Here’s the setup: Wallace is a horrible Scrooge of a fellow who is financially successful but just a miserable human being. He’s basically alienated everyone with whom he’s ever had a relationship, but he doesn’t even recognize that because he’s so focused on work and power and money. In fact, he takes an odd sort of pride in being needlessly cruel.
Then, he dies suddenly of a heart attack. And all of those concerns that consumed his life and his time are gone.
The world he enters is populated by an eccentric crew: reapers—in this case, a reaper named Mei; a ferryman named Hugo; and the ghosts of Hugo’s grandfather Nelson and dog Apollo. Wallace is stuck in Hugo’s tea shop until he can accept his death and figure things out and be ready to cross through a mysterious door on the fourth floor.
The world building is more complex than I can or should cover, but there are fabulous conversations about Hugo and Mei’s responsibilities to the dead; about what matters in life; about who we choose to be when and if we have the chance to reconsider our choices.
I feel as if I should address a big question here since I’ve been raving about The House in the Cerulean Sea since I read it (and that’s a big reason I requested this book!): Under the Whispering Door is NOT The House in the Cerulean Sea, nor does Klune try to make it that book. I always feel as if the expectation game is so fraught, so when I go in with high expectations, I’m almost always disappointed. Did Whispering Door bring me to the giddy heights that Cerulean Sea did? No. But that’s okay. I still found myself thinking and smiling and crying. This book is a success all on its own merits, and for me, it survived the peril of comparison with one of my favorite books of the year.
Thanks to Partners NetGalley and Atria Books for the digital ARC of Shea Ernshaw’s A History of Wild Places in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on December 7, 2021.
I’m a fan of Shea Ernshaw’s YA books The Wicked Deep and Winterwood, so I’m not surprised that I loved A History of Wild Places, her first book for adults, as much as I did. It demonstrates the same talents for establishing and sustaining a unique, unsettling atmosphere and for building a compelling, complex world as those first two books. Ernshaw also has an ability to create complex, intriguing characters to populate her novels.
In A History of Wild Places, we start with a book within the book: Foxes and Museums, book one in the Eloise and the Foxtail series, a super-dark fairytale for children. The book’s author, Maggie St. James, has been missing for five years, and Travis Wren—the protagonist of the second layer of the novel—has been hired by her parents to find her. He has an ability to touch objects and then see their memories which has made him valuable to those searching for lost loved ones, but personal tragedy has made him back away from humanity. It’s only as a favor for a distant friend and a desperation for work that has brought him to this search.
As he follows her last-known path, he enters an isolated town in search of a mysterious community called Pastoral.
Then, the narrative shifts again and relocates into Pastoral itself, where we follow three characters: Theo, a man who is increasingly curious about what lies outside of Pastoral; Calla, who fears the potential consequences of her husband’s questions; and Calla’s sister Bee, a blind woman with abilities that make her valuable to Pastoral’s leader.
The shifting nature of truth, of what we think we understand and what lies beneath, mirrors the characters’ own search for identity and truth. It’s a gorgeous novel full of narratives made unreliable because of every character’s limited knowledge. As those disparate pieces come together, I found myself shifting them around, trying to make sense of the way the layers of the story connected.
A History of Wild Places is a brilliantly immersive novel, one that I couldn’t stop reading. Ernshaw is definitely an auto-read author for me.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Gallery Books for the digital ARC of Marissa Meyer’s Instant Karma in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, November 3!
Marissa Meyer is an auto-buy author for me. I absolutely love her fairy-tale inspired Lunar Chronicles series and stand-alone novel Heartless, and her original take on superheroes in the Renegades trilogy is amazing. So, when I saw that she had a YA rom-com coming out, I instantly requested it.
Instant Karma is so much fun. It has a clever premise: sophomore Prudence Daniels has had a frustrating last day of school plagued by an unreliable partner and a low grade on their final project. So, she’s thrilled to go out with her twin brother Jude (yes, all five kids in Prudence’s family are named after songs by The Beatles) and her best friend Ari for a relaxed evening and some karaoke. After Prudence takes a bad fall and passes out, she wakes up with a strange new ability: she can make karma strike in the moment.
Prudence, who has a strong sense of responsibility and of right and wrong, has no patience for people who defy rules. So, if someone is putting gum under their table or not picking up their dog’s poop or just being unkind, Prudence is thrilled to have the ability to make sure that person suffers, just a little bit.
She can’t however, totally enjoy her new ability because she’s still trying to bring up that final grade. And, since her science teacher is (in Prudence’s eyes) totally unreasonable, he insists that teamwork is the one skill she most needs to learn. She’s still stuck, therefore, with unreliable partner Quint . . . who may not be quite the person she thought he was.
Meyer’s touch with magic is light here, but this book is a perfect addition to her catalog of YA books. I love the array of characters who round out Prudence’s life, and Prudence herself (while sometimes frustrating in her lack of self awareness) is a nuanced, thoughtful character. This book is perfect for anyone wanting a sweet, fast-paced read with an emphasis on first love . . . and lots and lots of Beatles references.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion for the digital ARC of Julie C. Dao’s Broken Wish in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, October 6, 2020.
Julie C. Dao’s Broken Wish is the first in a series of four YA novels spanning generations of a cursed family. (The authors are heavy hitters: Dhonielle Clayton, L. L. McKinney, and Jennifer Cervantes will round out the series.)
I requested this one because it has so many elements I love, including witches and magic and romance. The Grimms appear, and so do magic mirrors and wishing wells. It’s a beautiful tribute to folklore and fairy tales.
The book begins with a familiar story: a couple moves into a small cottage in 1840s Germany. The wife, Agnes, befriends a neighbor through baskets and gifts and written notes but hesitates to pursue the friendship because of rumors her husband Oskar has heard. Eventually, though, the two women meet and solidify their friendship, and the solitary woman, Mathilda, offers to help Agnes with her dearest wish, to have a child. She only asks in return that Agnes maintain their friendship.
Oskar, however, is opposed--he’s been an outcast before and wants to escape that fate. So Agnes lies to Mathilda and breaks her promise, despite the fact that Mathilda succeeds in helping her fiend. Agnes does indeed have a daughter. Agnes’s dishonesty and betrayal begins the curse.
The narrative picks up with the couple’s daughter, Elva, who has a strange magical ability and no knowledge of her parents’ history. Her parents have stayed true to their desperation not to be outcasts and have trained Elva to hide her magic from everyone, which she does . . . until she falls in love.
Broken Wish is a lovely novel, filled with all the magic a lover of fairy tales could want. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I think it’s perfect for YA readers (and some middle-graders!). I cannot wait to read the rest of the series.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Roshani Chokshi’s The Silvered Serpents in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, September 22, 2020.
***PROCEED WITH CAUTION: SPOILERS FROM BOOK ONE, THE GILDED WOLVES, APPEAR.
Roshani Chokshi’s The Silvered Serpents focuses again on the crew of Séverin as they come back together for another heist. After being driven apart by the loss of one of their own in book one, their trust has been fractured. Séverin is desperate to find The Divine Lyrics, a book that can make him a god, able both to protect his friends and to become impervious to being hurt by them or by their loss. Laila, too, wants to find the book--she believes it’s the only thing that can keep her alive. Enrique is desperate once again to prove himself: he has lost confidence since separating from his friends, unable to make his mark as an academic. And Zofia is ready to quit so she can be with her dying sister . . . until Séverin convinces her otherwise.
As in The Gilded Wolves, the strengths here for me are the diversity of the group, who each come from different races, different countries, different classes, and different religions. Their disparate talents and ways of thinking mean that they can each contribute a unique strength to the group--and, of course, their magical talents are different, as well. The world here is one of a series of magical houses, unified in asserting their own superiority but also in competing against each other for new treasures and wealth and prominence, and each of the protagonists wants (or needs) something from the ruling class who runs the houses.
There’s a cinematic quality to so many scenes within the novel--I love the different locations that Choskhi imagines so beautifully--and I like each of the characters and the personal challenges each is undergoing, as well. Shifting between the four points of view works well for me. I did wish for more from Séverin’s sections. I empathized with his grief, which has made it difficult for him to interact with his friends the way he used to, but I didn’t completely believe the personality change he underwent, and I wanted more from his chapters, which were my least favorite. I found Laila, Enrique, and Zofia each to be more believable and more nuanced.
Overall, Roshani Chokshi’s The Silvered Serpents is a compelling story, a worthy sequel to The Gilded Wolves.
Tehlor Kay Mejia's Paola Santiago and the River of Tears - The Perfect Blend of Middle School and Folklore
Check out my review of this great, middle-grade fantasy book over at unabridgedpod.com.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.