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

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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…..

Wither – Lauren DeStefano

Dystopian, Fantasy, Female Leads

In a future where science has resulted in men dying at the age of 25 and women at the age of 20, life rules have changed and what is legal has certainly changed. Previous generations tried to create a super-race, but instead have given early death sentences to future generations.

The Gatherers, a group of men who kidnap women to be young brides only to procreate before their deaths and help the human race survive, have captured Rhine.  She now faces a future away from her brother and as a new bride in a house that feels more prison than “starter home.”  Along with her are two other teenagers.  These are her future sister wives.  This is part dystopian and part Mormon family lifestyle.  While their groom Linden seems to actually be considerate, Rhine soon realizes he is in the dark on how the girls were captured and sent to his mansion.  At the patriarchal lead is Linden’s dad Vaughn, who even though he is one of the first generation doctors, there is a sinister side to him and what goes on in the basement of the mansion.  Is he really working on a cure that will let people live past their 20’s?

Rhine must deal with her spoiled captivity and fights against it the full time she’s in the mansion.  Her sister wives are opposites and while young Cecily is eager for the marriage, Jenna approaches this kidnapping as a place to die.  Friendships among the ladies occur, but their differences are always apparent in how much they give in to the marriage and inner resistance.    Rhine wants to escape and must find a way to escape, under the noses of Vaughn and Linden, but also find her way back to her brother.

There’s mystery, love, relationships, and enough questions left unanswered that the series is worth a read.


The Chemical Garder series continues with Fever and Sever

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 Glass Sword -Victoria Aveyard

Fantasy, Favorites, Female Leads, Series

Oh conflicted Mare Barrow, power-hungry and deceiving Maven, and crazy Shakespearean Queen Elara….. how I’ve been waiting for your return!

Aveyard picks up right where our beloved rebels within the Scarlet Guard left off – rescuing Mare and taking Cal prisoner – but the newly crowned KING Maven is on their tails with the Silver army and declaring Cal a murderous traitor and Mare an enemy to be killed.  Maven no longer hides his power hungry persona or distain for the Reds and now, with the crown, he holds the power to strengthen the attack on the Reds.  Since he also knows that Mare is not the only Red with powers he wants to capture any powerful Newbloods as well as the Scarlet Guard. Speaking of the Scarlet Guard, it is stronger and smarter than Mare realized and Farley, although strong and a good leader, is not the leader at all.

Like previous series, this second installment is full of action and the plot progresses from the very beginning.  The second is often my favorite of series from titles like Catching Fire and The Rose Society and this one continues that favoritism.

Our strong and conflicting characters now realize they must rely on one another as Mare, Captain Fairley, Cal, and Shade break away from one group of captors and into the clutches of another.  It seems Maven’s power has stretched through the land showing  the false story he created of Cal’s treachery in manipulating the truth for his gain.  With the lists of Newbloods (the same list Maven is using to kill Reds with power), the crew flies among villages to try and build an army of Reds with power against Maven and the silvers. Mare struggles with no longer being the Mare from the Barrows, nor the pretend Silver of the palace.  As she finds the rebellion leader within her, she struggles with what she has lost of her home-life, but also benefiting from traits and skills she learned from the Silvers.  How can she find her true self when her drive for justice contradicts her ideals?  Was her time with the Silvers actually helpful to the leader she has become?

“To rise. And rise alone.” It echoes like the howl of a wolf.  “I see you as you could become, no longer the lightning, but the storm. The storm that will swallow the world entirely”   (306)

As Mare and team gather more Newbloods, she hears others are being killed and tortured by Elara’s mind control and are even facing fighting for the Silvers.  Mare takes on the pressure of leadership and fear takes its toll on Mare.  As her confidence and pride succumbs to grief and guilt, she realizes all too late that a leader can still trust the people near her.  With plans of an attack and a path of justice, she is caught off guard and her future is uncertain once she reunites with Maven.  It’s still a battle between the Scarlet Guard and the Silvers, the difference now is that Mare is willing to risk herself to protect those she loves – even at the cost of herself.

“If I am a sword, I am a sword made of glass, and I feel myself beginning to shatter” (250)

 

As with any political struggle and a sudden rise to fame, Mare has soon lost the closeness of her inner circle as she has made decisions they do not believe were right nor necessary.  Only when a trusted person returns to her life does Mare realize how she can still maintain some of her ideals and values she had in the Burrow even as she takes on a new  role with command in the Scarlet Guard.  She is told

“No one is born evil, just like no one is born alone.  They become that way, through choice and circumstance.  The latter you cannot control, but the former…” (411)

The sequel ends with Mare in the lowest place she could find herself and it appears the Scarlet Guard cannot help.  Oh, and of course the side plot of Maven’s to bring down the Reds and Newbloods…. the 5,000 teenagers being sent to battle that now are without Mare’s rescue.  Who will win the next power struggle between the Silvers and the Scarlet Guard?  Will the Newbloods continue to be accepted and protected by the Scarlet Guard or will Maven achieve his genocide of these Reds with power?  Then there’s Mare herself, now at full control of her enemies.


The series continues with Book 3 and Book 4, both untitled.  But to quench your thirst, Aveyard has created two prequels that are already published:

Queen Song (The Red Queen #0.1) and Steel Scars (The Red Queen #0.2) which give us background to the first queen, Queen Coriane and Fairley, respectively.  A continuation of strong female characters I’m sure.

 

Serafina and the Black Cloak

Action, Fantasy, Female Leads, Young Readers

A setting similar to Downton Abbey with the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina,  a girl who is so sneaky many don’t know she exists, and a man who makes children disappear into smoke.  This is a dark mystery [with a happy ending] with a brave girl as its protagonist.


 

Biltmore-Estate

The real Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina


Serafina lives in the basement of the Biltmore Estate with her Pa, who is the handyman.  The Vanderbilt’s do not know of her existence or that they live in the basement.  One night while Serafina is sneaking around as the rat catcher, she witnesses a young girl being chased by a man in a black cloak, who later makes the little girl disappear and come after Serafina herself.  As Serafina investigates Clara’s disappearance she looks at the servants, Vanderbilts themselves, and at the guests wondering how to look at people and see if they are honest and how to tell truth from lies.

When her Pa tells her she is not his blood daughter, but a newborn babe he found in the woods, after a creature of dark magic left a mess of babies she realizes the world is not fair to those who do not look like them. Just because she has gold eyes, her spine was twisted, and because her body was deformed, many townspeople and even the nuns did not want to help her Pa save this baby.  At such a young age, little Serafina has seen injustice and mystery.  When another child goes missing, Serafina and the young Master Braeden being to investigate.  She believes she knows which guest is the mysterious man in the black cloak who takes children and she is determined to find them and stop him.  There is also a bit of mystery to her own past as well that she discovers.

This is a bit of fantasy and a lot of mystery.  There is the power of the cloak and also a shapeshifter involved, but more importantly is the lesson of a little girl who doesn’t quite look like everyone else, but who is good and kind.  Good conquers evil; Appearances do not matter; People who are different from one another can be friends.

“Character isn’t defined by the battles we win or lose,

but by the battles we are willing to fight”

Serafina realizes that being a part of the world is much better than just observing it.  She also thinks multiple times about how being judged on appearance or being treated because she looks differently is not fair, but that it’s character that matters.  She and her Pa both do not fit the norm of the Vanderbilt’s guests’ appearance or manners, but they are good people who, in the end, work hard, help others, and are rewarded.

I am a little surprised this is Juvenile (Serafina is 12) due to the scary encounters Serafina has with the man in the black cloak and the whole children disappearing thing.  But there is a happy ending so maybe that’s why.  Kids who like mystery and a little fantasy will enjoy it ans Serafina is a quality character.


Sequel: Serafina and the Twisted Staff                                     sera 3

 

The Gathering – Kelley Armstrong

diversity in YA, families, Fantasy

A teenage girl lives in a community owned by a pharmaceutical company and the town thinks nothing of it (#1 mystery foreshadow).  Oh yeah, her best friend – a great swimmer – drowned last year (#2 mystery foreshadow) and she can heal animals faster than the vet. It isn’t until a newcomer comes to down, an old lady calls Maya a witch – and that’s why her biological parents left her (ouch! They just met), and she begins to have fainting spells does Maya think her life may not be as normal as it seems.  Lots of mysteries thrown in this first book of Darkness Rising.

She also seems to connect closely with animals, mostly the cougars who live on the park her dad manages.  Yeah…. she thought this was a normal life.  Although I guess when you live in isolation your idea of ‘normal’ needs to be put in perspective. So this is fantasy and clearly the real reason all of these scientists and families live isolated will come out, but what begins at a normal teenage party results in the realization that skinwalkers (shape shifters) exist and a certain birthmark identifies you as such.  Have I mentioned that all of these teenagers excel at some athletic ability: swimming, boxing, running?  And the company which owns the town sends a team of doctors once a year to do physical check ups on these kids. Part Native American folklore and part Science Fiction, the story incorporates many creative elements to keep the mystery going nearly to the end.  And as it’s the first of a series….. the mystery clearly continues past shape shifters, strangers with guns, and the reason the town has to be evacuated.

Other topics: folklore, adoption, love, death, and communicating with animals.   So far this series is safe for younger readers – minus one incident with a drink being drugged, but nothing happened.


Series continues with The Calling and The Rising.

 

The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness

Action, diversity in YA, families, Fantasy, Favorites, gay characters, mental illness

This is a funny combination of fantasy and realistic fiction for a group of seniors in high school whose town seems to face some type of fantasy end-of-the-world scenario every few years: vampires, ghosts, mystical deaths. Besides trying to survive strict parents, these teens need to simply survive.

In the heart of the novel is Mikey and his family – overbearing mom with dreams of becoming a US Congresswoman, alcoholic dad, a recovering anorexic sister, and a little sister who all adore and is a typical 10 year old in love with a boy band.  His school friends are a small group consisting of the missionary’s beautiful African-American daughter whom he has liked for years, a gay friend with a Goddess as a grandmother and who has the ability to communicate with all felines and also has healing powers, and his older sister Mel who is repeating senior year, due to the anorexia the previous year.  This is a mix of the quirky, well written, TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fantasy elements and a modern story of families and friends. Trying to survive high school cliques and demanding parents is hard enough, but with the occasional mystical mystery, teenagers dying far too frequently, and hoping the high school isn’t blown up (again) makes this a comical read.

The group takes on a few newcomers as more weird things occur across town: dead dear coming back to life, blue light shooting through the sky, and more Indie kids die each day.  I love how the chapters bounce between Mikey’s narration of his high school life and family and a factual account of how the Immortals invade the town – and the Finns, Satchel, Kerouac, etc find their demise.  As they get closer to graduation, the weirdness and deaths continue and finally Jared admits not everyone can be a hero and perhaps the friends should just survive and get out of town after graduation.

Other elements: alcoholic father, anorexia, OCD, gay characters.  After graduation, as the friends sit observing their high school burning after the Immortals blew it up, a touching realistic thought comes from Jared, you know – the 1/4 God who can heal animals and people – and that is that everyone has stuff in their lives to deal with, whether it’s illness, being one of the Indie kids, or being a deity.  Since Ness can bounce between reality and this sort of fantasy element so well, it comes off light and humorous at times, but there is a deeper lesson.   Teenagers who feel out of place, will find a comfort in this group of friends and the town that seems to have unfair luck with soul eating ghosts, vampires, and Immortals.  I laughed a lot, I found the friendships real and loyal, and I also enjoyed the plot-within-a-plot of the Immortals and Indie kids.

The Rose Society – Marie Lu

Action, Fantasy, Favorites, Female Leads, gay characters, Read-a-Likes, Series, Young Readers

So. Excited. For. This. Sequel!!!!  There are some awesome females in this series:  “Right now, what I want is the throne.  Enzo’s power.  A perfect revenge.  And all the Inquisitors, queens, and Daggers in the world won’t be able to stop me.” (196)   —— Boom ———

Adelina is strong and she and her sister immediately begin their search for other Elites.  In hiding their powers, they sneak among society, but ever fearful of being caught by the Inquisitors ruled by Teren and Queen Giulietta – those who fear the malfettos (aka: gifted people after the fever left them with powers.  Those with the strongest powers are the Elites).  This sequel immediately keeps the plot moving and character’s personalities grow.  I may just prefer the sequel to the debut, something that I haven’t done since Catching Fire from the The Hunger Games series.

Raffaele Laurent Bessette is a new leader of the Dagger Society and a former consort, and former confidant to Prince Enzo – an Elite himself who was killed by Teren, (the self hating Elite who works and loves Queen Giulietta, the sister of Enzo) —- a very connected group of characters for sure.  While Raffaele is taken under a new Queen’s charge he struggles with the loss of Enzo.  Maeve, the Malfetto Queen and ally to Enzo with her vengeance and violent tendencies, has recently risen to power and has no problems using Raffaele as a tool, even if it means his death.  She fights and has a ferocious white tiger and I keep thinking of Lady MacBeth, yep – she’s sort of that frightening as a newly crowned young Queen.  Her power is one of the darkest.

Lots of secrets and trickery, but a fast moving plot and unlike Six of Crows, which has similarities, this one is easier to follow.  Maybe it’s just that  we’re following 3 groups instead of 6 backstories, but it flows better.  And as far as sequels go, it keeps you reading and I almost want to reread it.

Another side of the plot’s maturity deals with love, the disappointment with it (not in a teenage sappy love story).  It covers the gut wrenching loss of a confidant, the cruelty given by a parent, and true abandonment.  Not to mention our characters have to choose between friends, choose who suffers pain (even death), and who to let go.  Adelina certainly comes to understand how her ideal of love has changed.

“I’m suddenly angry.  Why must I lose everything that I care for? Why is love such a weakness? I wish, for an instant, that I didn’t need such a thing.  I can win the same things in my life with fear, with power.  What is the point of searching for love, when love is nothing but an illusion?”

I think what really makes this book stand out is the darkness that comes through for many of the characters, Adelina mostly who struggles with a desire of revenge and power, but also of the prejudice towards the malfettos.  Eventually her drive for power, and the whispers in her head overtake her initial goal of justice and it’s a glorious spiral out of control.  One that is very Shakespearean or Game of Thrones like.  Not a typical depth found in Young Adult Literature and one Marie Lu covers so well.  You will not put this book down for the last half, I promise.

Sadly, I must now wait for the third book, but at least we’re already into 2016 right?   I love this series and recommend it to male and female students and also to adults.  It does not disappoint in action, plot, creativity, and characters.