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Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Maia Tamarin is a seamstress, living and working with her father and three brothers in the family’s tailor shop – until the Emperor’s war with the shansen, A’landi’s most powerful warlord.  The youngest of the three, Keton, came home unable to walk – and Finlei and Sendo did not come home at all.  In the wake of her father’s grief, it is Maia who holds her shattered family together, and Maia who takes over the family business, even though no girl can ever aspire to become a master tailor.

The bloody civil war concludes with a treaty and a marriage contract between the Emperor and the shansen’s daughter, Lady Sarnai.  And with the engagement, the Emperor summons the twelve most talented tailors in A’landi to the summer palace to create a wardrobe for his reluctant bride-to-be.  The catch?  There is only one imperial tailor, and the twelve must compete for the position.

Maia’s Baba is one of the twelve tailors summoned, but he is much too weak to travel.  Keton cannot walk, and besides, he can barely sew on a button, much less design a royal wardrobe.  But Maia?  She knows her skills with the needle are unmatched.  But women are not allowed to compete, so, disguising herself as her brother, and with Baba’s gift of her grandmother’s possibly magical scissors, she sets off to the palace, knowing that if her secret is discovered, she will surely be executed.

What awaits her there is more splendid, and more dangerous, than anything she could have ever imagined.  Political alliances and court rivals are nothing compared to the brutal competition between the tailors as each rushes to satisfy Lady Sarnai’s almost impossible demands in the most stunning, unique way possible.  There’s also the ever-present form of Lord Edan, the Emperor’s Lord Enchanter, who Maia is sure must know her secret.  There is something so piercing about his yellow eyes – or are they blue? – that discomfits Maia, and it’s not just the fact that he is rumored to wield the magic of the gods.  But it is when Lady Sarnai makes the most impossible of demands – that Maia make her the three fabled dresses spun from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars – that Maia’s dedication to her family, her craft, and her belief in herself will truly be tested.

Spin the Dawn has been described as Mulan crossed with Project Runway, and it did not disappoint on either front!  This book has it all – an epic quest to impossible places, gorgeous gowns, cutthroat palace politics, heart-pounding danger, more than a touch of magic, and a deliciously swoony romance.  Maia is brave, determined, completely devoted to her family, and never backs down, even when all seems lost.  She’s also amazing with a needle and her grandmother’s magic scissors – I only wish I could have her on hand for my next formal event.  Fantasy readers, rejoice – your next adventure is here!

And, if you can’t get enough East Asian-inspired fantasy worlds, don’t forget to add Renee Ahdieh’s Flame in the Mist duology to your reading list – more girl-in-disguise fabulousness!

American Royals by Katharine McGee

What if, instead of the presidency, General George Washington had accepted a crown?

For the first time in history, the House of Washington is about to put a queen on the throne.  As the eldest child of His Majesty King George IV, Beatrice has spent her entire life training to be queen.  To put the needs of her country before herself.  To balance Beatrice the girl with Beatrice the heir.  As the first woman to inherit the throne, she must be prepared to work harder, sacrifice more, and hold her head higher than any American monarch that has come before.  Some days, it all seems like too much – especially when her parents tell her it’s time to select a consort.  For the good of the country, of course.  Still, there is only one future for Beatrice – or is there?

Samantha and Jefferson are the Washington twins.  Four minutes older, that makes Sam the spare, and Jeff the third.  Wild, unpredictable, and always up for an escapade or a party, the pair have just returned home from an overseas tour after graduating high school the previous spring.  And there are two people who are thrilled to have them home, despite more than a few complications and secrets that remain from last spring’s graduation party – Sam’s best friend, Nina Gonzalez, and Jeff’s ex, Daphne Deighton.

Nina and Sam have known each other for what seems like forever – since they were six and playing hide-and-seek in Washington Palace while Nina’s mom worked as the king’s Chamberlain.  Nina, Sam, and Jeff grew up together, and, despite her complete lack of titles and aristocratic background, is the most real friend Sam has.  Nina is also completely in love with Jefferson – even though she has a ton of super confusing feelings about what happened between the two of them at graduation – before he broke up with Daphne.

And Daphne?  Stunningly beautiful, titled, and dubbed America’s Sweetheart by the press, Daphne will do anything to reclaim the future, and the crown, she thought she had secured – until the events of last spring unraveled it all.

Soapy, fun, and fabulously over-the-top, this royal romp though a what-if world is absolutely delicious.  With swoon-worthy, star-crossed, and forbidden romance (all the romance!), high fashion and couture, incredible vacations, lots of paparazzi, and a vault full of crown jewels, this is everything I needed to kick off my fall reading season.  If you binge-watched The Crown, are totally in love with The Royal We, have ever gotten up super early to watch a royal wedding, kind of wish we lived in a world with more opportunities to wear fascinators, think The Princess Diaries is maybe one of the best movies ever, or just love a good, dishy romance, American Royals is for you!

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

Two hundred years ago, the Swan sisters were drowned as witches by the townspeople of Sparrow.  And every summer since, the three sisters have returned for three weeks in June, inhabiting the bodies of three local girls, luring boys into the harbor, and drowning them before returning to the sea.  Two centuries of death and revenge have haunted this small coastal town, and this summer promises to be no different.

Penny Talbot has lived on Lumiere Island in the Sparrow harbor her entire life, helping her father maintain the lighthouse before his disappearance three summers ago.  Now, Penny manages the light on her own, her mother so lost in her own grief that she rarely ventures out of bed.  Until Bo Carter turns up on the dock on the last day of May – the day before the Swan season begins.  He tells Penny he’s looking for work and he’s in Sparrow because it was the last stop on the bus line – true, but Penny knows there’s something he isn’t telling her.  Bo claims not to know about the Swan sisters, or the season, but it can’t be a coincidence that he has arrived just as the season is beginning.  She initially rejects his offer of help but, after he defends her at the Swan party that night on the beach, pulling her from the water before a Swan sister can take her, she takes him home to the island.

Penny knows the next three weeks of the Swan season will be a test.  She must protect Bo at all costs – protect him from the sisters who will want to take him below the waves and keep him there with them.  She also must protect her own secrets – secrets that would be deadly if Bo, or anyone, discovered them.  But, as the days pass, and drowned boys are discovered, Penny finds herself falling for the mysterious stranger.  If she can keep Bo, and herself, and her secrets safe until the summer solstice, then she’ll allow herself to fall in love – but some secrets can’t stay hidden forever.

This lush, atmospheric romance with a razor sharp edge is the perfect book to take you into October!  The story of the three Swan sisters is slowly unspooled as the mystery deepens and the secrets pile up for Penny and Bo.  Ghost witches haunting the sea and a small town on an endless quest for revenge is deliciously creepy, but throw in a little paranormal body stealing, a harbor full of shipwrecks, a little magic, and some star-crossed lovers, and you’ve got the perfect fall book date.  Enjoy The Wicked Deep after dark with a cup of hot herbal tea, more than a few candles lit, and a slice of cake – and be prepared to fall under its spell.