Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns #1)

Action, alternating narration, families, Fantasy, Female Leads, Series

The first of the series with the same title, the story begins with three queen sister (triplets) each facing the ceremony on their 16th birthday in which will not only validate their power, but will begin the time period where they should – and are expected to – kill the other sisters so she may be the true queen.

Each generation produces triplet sisters, all holding different magical abilities.   Mirabella can control the elements, Kat (Katherine) is a poisoner and can ingest any poisons and survive, and Arsinoe is a naturalist who can control all things in nature.  Each sister remembers a time before separated from her sisters, a time in which sister’s love was strong.  Only now, each has advisers who not only prepare their queen  for the fight ahead, but encourage murder for their queen’s survival.

As for the sisters, their ambition is only challenged with the memory of sisterhood.  With suitors approaching all three girls as if the prize is marriage, they learn power is both isolating and, at times, unwanted.  Each sister wants to be Queen, but the only way to become Queen is to eventually kill the other two sisters during the Ascension year.  Each sister also has her strengths and weaknesses whether it is confidence, skill, or beauty. As suitors and servants provide allies and comfort (and many bears play a part), Mirabella, Kat, and Arsinoe also learn that they can be enemies too.

This story has lots of fantasy elements and some action, but at times I found it difficult to remember which sister was friends with other side characters and even how to balance the lives of the side characters when learning of their parentage.  One great aspect is the growth they face by the end of this installment: one who was weak is strong, one who was confident is shaken, and one who felt powerless has a newfound power.  Once I could follow who was supporting which sister, the night of the reunion was soon and the Quickening to begin the year of ‘try to kill your sisters so that you can be Queen’ was happening.  So a bit confusing at first, but with some solid action at the end – and a cliffhanger of course!


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September 2017

Going Rogue (Also Known As #2) – Robin Benway

Action, Best "best friends", families, Female Leads, love, Middle Grade Romance, Safe Bets, Series, spies, Young Readers

In this second novel of the Also Known As series focused on the average family out the outside, super spies on the inside, we find 16-year-old Maggie in a good place.  She still loves living in New York, her best friend Roux, and her boyfriend Jesse.  She has great parents (spies) and a friend-uncle (also a spy) and her skills at opening safes are amazingly honed.

……. and of course that can’t last…….

Soon her parents are facing false accusations of stealing and Maggie must face her next challenge without them.  Don’t worry for our girl though, she’s a quick thinker and has a new team to help her.  This tale takes us to Paris, a new twist with the Collective, and also the typical high school challenges that Maggie, Roux, and Jesse face – as well as the secret world that awaits our favorite spy family.  Maggie is a little more experienced than the first novel and faces more grown up issues once she is on her own.  However, she is still a character with heart who puts the protection of her friends and family above her own.

It’s a safe series that keeps the reader’s attention.  Roux is, thankfully, a voice of realism and sarcasm and even she finds some happiness and acceptance in this sequel.  The intrigue continues not only throughout this book, but enough that I will continue with the series (as soon as there is word on Book #3, which there isn’t as of today).  It’s funny, smart, loyal, and adds adventure and mystery.

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel – Deborah Hopkinson

Action, death, period pieces, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Life for Eel is difficult as he tries to survive the streets of London as an orphan, doing odd jobs and being a “mudlark” who searches along the River Themes for trinkets to sell.  With a cruel man after him, no parents to protect him, and a little brother he pays lodging for, life is worse than for most 13 year olds.  And then an outbreak of cholera (“the blue death”) occurs the streets of his friends and community.

Together with the good doctor, Eel uses his wits and familiarity with the locals to try to help the doctor learn more of the disease and how it spreads.  Happy to have a safe place – even though it’s a shed – and two meals a day, Eel feels important in trying to protect his neighbors as he learns the ways of medicine and science.  After losing a few friends he is even more focused with Doctor Snow.  Can Eel get past his station as a mudlark and help the good doctor?  Will Henry remain safe?

I love a good historical fiction, and this doesn’t disappoint.  There is action until the end and things get wrapped up quite nicely as many juvenile books do.  The reader is even lucky enough to have author’s notes at the end and learn more about the mid 1800’s, this real epidemic, and some of the real people – like Doctor Snow.

The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3) – Marie Lu

Action, alternating narration, death, diversity in YA, Fantasy, Favorites, Female Leads, gay characters, Series

Three different groups of people continue to fight for power and their desire to be the one ruler in the final installment following  The Young Elites and The Rose Society.

Adelina is where she wants to be after the first two installments of this trilogy and that is as the White Wolf ruler.  She has reversed all prejudice and killings of the marked (those with powers) and has reversed the hatred she and her people faced and now in pure revenge fashion, aims it towards her former perpetrators.  She, along with her Rose Society of warriors, ensures that all marked (those formerly dubbed the ‘malfettos’) are respected in society. Her anger, and the voices in her head, make her self-conscious, paranoid, and cruel.

A few countries away her sister Violetta’s health is failing and a  prediction given earlier that the Elites will lose their powers and die seems to be coming true.  Violetta is protected by a powerful group of Elites – the same group that used to work with Adelina.  The Daggers know Adelina has gone off the deep end with her quest for revenge. They are another group vying for power.

Then there is Queen Maeve, one of the best female characters since Lady Macbeth, who harbors the two men that she brought back from death – and not with their former humanity.  Enzo, the former Malfetto Prince is still as powerful, but will kill more easily and Maeve must realize that her youngest brother, the one she always protected, is now more harmful than she realized.  Better think twice before bringing people back from the Underworld.  So Maeve, her soldiers, and her half-dead violent men are the third group.

Soon all sides collide in a battle of skill, power, and death.  People are captured by the other side and no one seems safe from each other or from the new threat they all face as marked malfettos, but a larger issue faces the powerful marked leaders: they are losing their powers.  A prophecy that was shared in the second book of the series seems to be coming true and now these strong leaders and enemies must come together for their own survival.  As battles continue, more people die (seriously – it’s like a Game of Thrones season), we wonder who will survive, who will retain power, and who will be the last leader standing. As the Elites travel to find the Gods and into the Underworld in order to learn why their powers lessen, more die on their journey.  This is a conclusion to the series that was focused on power and ruling an empire, but resolves in characters finding forgiveness, peace, love, and loyalty.

All in all after a violent, power hungry series, the Elites all finish mostly happily – if they were lucky enough to survive – and it’s a sweet ending, full circle all the way.

Nightfall – Jake Halpernhe & Peter Kujawinski

Action, Award Nominee, Fantasy, Series

A crazy science-fiction where on an island, the sun doesn’t rise and fall each day, but the sun is present for 14 years, then disappears for 14 years.  As the sun will soon leave the island our teenage twins, Marin and Kana, help the family clean the house and prepare it “as it was” when they arrived.  The teens are confused why the town has bizarre traditions of removing locks from doors and rearranging furniture before they leave the island for the long night.  They don’t receive any answers from parents or the town’s leaders, but are told to pack and prepare for the voyage.

On the day the tide rolls out (think the beginning of a tsunami, but it never returns), everyone gathers what luggage or food they can carry and head to the boats which have arrived to take the villager’s to the dessert.  [This whole plot is weird at first.]  Marin and Kana realize their friend Line is missing and knowing where he probably is, they set out to find him….. of course missing the loading of boats and being forgotten and left on the island, as the sun sets for the last time.

As the friends cope with their new abandonment, something they never imagined begins to happen.  They find a note that reads, “HIDE” and the first night alone on the island brings a terror they never imagined.  With nightfall becoming 24/7 they face far worst dangers than finding food.  What are the creatures that roam the island during this long darkness and without the water and tide, will the friends even be able to get off the island or survive the creatures of the island?  And how will they get off the island to the feet of boats without a boat or the tide?  I’m still trying to wrap my head around some of the details of the creatures and the land dwellers having this arrangement to share an island, but alternating each decade.  And where are the desert lands that the villagers go to?

This is an older plot for our YA readers


A sequel is in the works…..

The Distance Between Lost and Found – Kathryn Holmes

Action, religious, Young Readers

If ever there was a metaphor, this title is the icing on the cake (get it?)

In all seriousness, Hallie (Hallelujah) is dealing with a deep secret and some serious isolation and bullying.  On a youth group trip, the story begins reliving the last 6 months of Hallie’s life as well as the current predicament of trying to both be invisible and also how to stand her ground towards the cause of her troubles – Luke.  She explains early on to a newcomer Rachel, that Luke didn’t raper her, but while you read you wonder what could have done to her besides that which led to rumors resulting in her friends abandoning her, her parents distrusting her, and her inner anxiety and self of irrelevancy that removed her voice, both figuratively and literally (the singing voice, that is).

On the day of a 12 mile hike with her youth group, Hallie finds herself with Rachel, both willing to lose the group and be reprimanded with being sent home.  Only they, and a once-friend, now foe Jonah, end up isolated from the group and lost in the woods ….. for days.  As the rain pours down and their energy bars soggy, the threesome realize their own damaging pasts and guilt, but know for the sake of survival they must focus as a team.  Hallie and Jonah face their past when his friendship abandoned her and together the three of them try to survive the nights and days lost in the woods.

I liked the premise, but it got a  little religious for me and my YA typical reading.  I think it’s fair to believe teenagers have these questions of when God is present, when he is not, how bad things happen, etc.  But it was a bit overkill for me.  I believe the character growth, forgiveness, and facing fear (as well as beauty in nature – yes, even on their 5th day lost, really…..) could have been covered with a little less focus on spirituality, but some may dig it.  I imagine preteens or parents of who want certain behavior from children and want them to be devout would enjoy the book.  I really liked the three friends coming together and finally Hallie stands up for herself once rescued.  But I feel the adventure and survivalist plot was overshadowed by the religious conversations.  Still, teenagers could all learn some to focus on treating people kindly and also on the skill of forgiveness so maybe I’m reading too much into this plot [get it?  another pun …. “reading into it” and it’s a novel, ha].

 

 

The Detour – S.A. Bodeen

Action, Favorites

This is like the Young Adult version of Stephen King’s Misery – a plot I still do not want to read as an adult.   I began this novel with some reluctance, but as it’s up for the Arkansas Teen Book Award (and I must read it as I’m on the committee), I remembered I am an adult and I can handle a sort of scary plot.  So here we go –

When a  rich, beautiful YA author (17 years old) crashes her car on the way to a conference she is rescued(??) by a young girl and her mother and Livvy assumes she will get to go home.  Not only is that not true, but she is locked in a basement and told that she must remember what she has done that would warrant this treatment.  As if that weren’t scary enough, the child that is 50% responsible for Livvy’s captive state, is a bit sadistic as well.  Known simply as “flute girl” since she was playing the flute on the side of the road which led to Livvy’s car crash, the pain she inflicts is sometimes worse than the mental games of her mother.  [Are we sure this is a young adult novel?  I’m still not feeling safe with that classification choice]

Peg keeps blaming Livvy for something that she destroyed.  Although Livvy has no idea what she has done, she begins to plan ways she can escape.  It seems each ray of hope she finds or hope she has for being rescued (they will find her car, right?) is quickly shattered by the cold Peg, evil “Flute Girl”, or a perverted cousin trying to get into Livvy’s room.  While Livvy spends her day napping and planning, she also flashbacks to her rough childhood of mean girls who teased, of hair pulling she inflicted upon herself, and the dread that her private journal in her car will be found by Peg – who can use words just as violently as her hands.

This is an insane story – but so fabulous!  There are twists, surprises, and I was shocked many times.  Well worth the read and one of my votes for sure.  Teens and adults will enjoy it, but I wonder if we will get more of “Flute Girl” …. that girl is crazy.

The Cipher – John C. Ford

Action, Award Nominee, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Any fan of action plots, computer geeks and techy secrets, and a discovery that would both break into any computer account or basic internet connections will find this fast paced plot entertaining – oh, there’s also a mysterious death and a beautiful girl.

Smiles is the misfit son of a successful, computer systems genius millionaire. On a whim to accompany his neighbor genius to a math conference (because it’s in Vegas and he’s a gambler), Smiles and Ben not only cause a scene at the conference, but Ben has uncovered a cipher that can break into any bank account, computer account, online anything.  And then Smiles has the plan to sell it and make his own millions, away from his father’s company.  So they try to deal with the government, which you know isn’t going to go smoothly.

The other part of the plot is Smile’s ex-girlfriend Melanie who is uncovering a mystery of her own dealing with the company Smile’s dad created and her dad’s employer.  There’s a suicide decades ago that seems to have raised questions recently.  Also,  a secret letter Smiles was to receive when he turned 18 was destroyed by his father and Melanie is piecing together clues of what that suicide has to do with her father and Smile’s dad.

Vegas, disappearances, and a code to break the internet accounts and government records…. it will certainly appeal to fans of mysteries, those who believe in conspiracy theories, and any misfit trying to find his identity.  What makes it special is the twist.  It all comes full circle and besides a lovely plot wrap up, the reader will see how good guys can sometimes be bad and how bad guys can sometimes be good people.  A mind blowing realization that even a cipher couldn’t uncover.

Truthwitch – Susan Dennard

Action, Fantasy, Female Leads

The concept of being able to “read” people takes on a variety of abilities through the witches in this fantasy.  There are many who hold magical power that different groups want to master: the ability to know whether someone tells the truth, the ability to “smell” and find any foe, and the ability to see the threads that connect people to one another and understand the making of your enemies and friends.

Safiya and Iseult are witches on the run, after a robbery gone wrong against a powerful man and his Bloodwitch bodyguard, the one who can “smell” true witches powers.  In other words, he is on the hunt for Safi – a Truthwitch.  The larger plot is a 20 year truce about to be lifted between different empires.  This is where readers meat Prince Merik, the son of a King, but one who holds no real magic.  He is, therefore, an ostracized disappointment and his sister will be the powerful Queen, and skilled in magic, after their father dies.

The women must separate for survival and each begin a separate journey which they must overcome stereotypes, arranged marriages, and true power.  Once reunited you would hope for an easier journey for the friends, but that is not the case.  As they are hunted, they must rely on new partnerships – even though they are only contracts for money.  Still adventure abounds, even with the occasional confusion of “Now which witch is this?”


Series The Witchlands continues with not two, but three planned sequels.

The Girl With The Wrong Name – Barnabas Miller

Action, Female Leads

This is a multi-level mystery concerning a “night in question” for Theo Lane who does not remember a night a few months ago, one that left her with a scar across her cheek.  As she has hidden away from her friends for the summer (and away from mirrors), she finds a connection in watching strangers and trying her hand at film making.  One stranger in particular catches her eye – both because he is attractive and also because he returns to the cafe at the same time everyday and she is curious as to why he returns.  As Theo must return to her teenage life of attending school and rejoin her friends, she also befriends this stranger, Andy, and helps him navigate New Your City looking for a girl he met days ago, but he doesn’t have a lot to go on.

It begins as navigating subways and burrows of the city and spirals into a sinister scenario where Theo questions Andy, her “night in question” and her own lack of memory, and what really happened to Andy’s mystery girl Sarah.  There are similarities between Sarah and Theo, earily so.  Are their mysteries related?  How does Andy seem to know so many people if this is her first time in New York?  Why do both Theo and Andy seem to have so many questions about their own past?

The mystery is the plot of the whole novel and at each new discovery, Theo faces moments of mental confusion as if her past and “The night in question” are intertwined with Andy.  She also over-medicates herself which brings a new mystery to the reader: Are Theo’s revelations real or are the connections made while in a drug induced haze?  Similarly, as We Were Liars the mystery comes with twists and turns and right when you think you know the ending – Boom, there’s a twist.  This takes a while to understand and even if you think you know the twist and end to the mystery, you don’t.  I had about three different “bad guys” I suspected before I found the truth.

It’s great.  It’s bold.   Read it, but there are lots of levels perhaps too much for the under 13 crowd.