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!


one

September 2017

The Way We Fall (Fallen World, 1) -Megan Crewe

Climate Fiction, death, diversity in YA, families, Series

Kaelyn narrates a virus outbreak through her journal entries intended for her former best friend.  Little did she realize beginning a journal-apology would act as a first hand account to an illness that soon begins killing off her friends and neighbors.

What starts with an itch and a cough leads to a hyper-hallucinating fever, with the end result being death.  Soon school is cancelled, and Kaelyn remains in her house with her family.  While her dad is one of the island’s doctors, he cannot explain what is happening.  When the government and the World Health Organization comes to town searching for answers, Kaelyn and her neighbors are left in the dark.  Things go from odd to worse with eventual Quarantine status for those left on the island.

Even though her current circumstances seem out of the ordinary, her friendship struggles are quite ordinary for teenagers.  Kaelyn’s family moved away years ago and only recently returned.  She tries to make new friendships, but is haunted by one from the past.  Her friend Leo who after being best friends for a decade, had a falling out, and now Kaelyn wants to make amends – only, this virus is keeping her on the island and him off.

Soon it’s been months, the island is still under quarantine, and more have gotten sick.  The Mainland isn’t helping other than drop offs by helicopter, but with a recent rogue gang taking things by force, the humanity of Kaelyn’s neighbors begins to disappear as would happen as fear and death increase while supplies decrease.  There’s also a light romance, but the overall focus is the disease and the island.

Being the beginning of a series, I grew tired of it expecting more action and story line progression. I’m a bit curious how the series moves forward once our characters get off of the island (which is the plot of the second), so I may finish this series eventually.


A great science/virus – apocalyptic plot like Life As We Knew It, The Living, Sweet, and H2O and other ClyFi or science conspiracy books.


Series Continues:

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

Scarlett Undercover – Jennifer Lathiam

Award Nominee, diversity in YA, Female Leads, Young Readers

Scarlett is a Muslim-American, private detective.  Not much past teenage years, she seems to have either insanely good luck or an unprecedented ability of street smarts, an unrealistic ability in observational tendencies (more than the local police), and is very smart and able to defend herself.  In summary – this is a bit far fetched (and that’s before we get to the mystery of a suicide with secrets, relics which hold special power, and the murder of her own father.)

I understand and appreciate the diversity Lathiam offers with a Muslim narrator and her community, but it’s not enough for this book to have my vote for the Arkansas Teen Book Award, which is why I read it.  I enjoyed some of the mystery when we first learned a suicide isn’t all it appears to be and the scrappy little siblings of a pair of friends who have more depth to them then the detective, even though she is older and is the main character.  It’s a light mystery, but mostly far fetched, even if the effort is to bring about minorities in a young adult novel, the plot isn’t enough.  Well done on diversity and a little creativity, but it doesn’t totally deliver.  Or maybe it does for the pre-teen crowd, I was just expecting more.

Although, before you hand it to the preteen crowd, there are deaths within this story besides the suicide or Scarlett’s dad.  Also, there is a strong focus on the Muslim community and Arabic appears throughout – in greetings and mention of prayers – but for such a focus on a devout Muslim family, and a sister named Reem who wears a hijab, I don’t find the name Scarlett fitting with the family.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans – Don Brown

Award Nominee, graphic novel

This is an honest, detailed portrayal of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath in New Orleans.  As a graphic novel, many teens will enjoy the quick read and illustrations.  Don Brown managed to fit in every aspect and disaster as it occurred in 2005 including how people drowned in their attics, bodies bloated on the streets, President Bush’s comment of “Good Job Brownie” praising the FEMA Director when most of America didn’t think FEMA went in soon enough.

It shows how the people of New Orleans came together to rescue others in their own boats and also the desperation felt by many.  Hospitals are shown caring for patients even as generators failed and machines were not relied upon. Pets being deserted are covered, police deserting the city is shown, lack of food and water is addressed, and I could only think of one or town details that weren’t covered in this book, but it is fabulous.

Don Brown also has 3 pages of source notes and a bibliography which will help justify a graphic novel acting as a legitimate source.

Awards:  Sibert Honor Book (2016)

The Naturals – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Award Nominee, death, families, Female Leads, Series

Cassie is viewed as trouble.  Her dad is across the world and her mother is missing, presumed dead.  Cassie lives with her extended Italian family while her dad is away and one day when a young stranger leaves a business card for the FBI, her usual mundane life has an element of mystery.  This card attracts her interest in that she may finally gain some answers about her mother’s disappearance 5 years ago.

The chapters alternate between Cassie’s life and the narration of a serial killer [be warned, 14 and older].  Cassie is a “natural” a personality type the FBI is searching for of young teenagers with natural abilities – profiler, mind-reader, statistician, emotion-reader.  Now Cassie’s ability, trained by her mother’s influence seems to have a real purpose.  As she goes to D.C. under the ruse of a specialty government school, her FBI training begins, but for Cassie there is always the haunting reminder of her mother’s absence.  Her desire to learn the truth about her mom leads her to join this special group of the FBI, trained by real FBI agents.

Cassie and the four other “naturals” she is being trained alongside focus on their specialties also while trying to deal with typical teenage relationships, crushes, grudges, and confusion. Soon, of course, Cassie’s past and her mother’s death become key elements to a current serial killer’s traits and murders.  When Cassie begins receiving anonymous “gifts” from the killer, the FBI and The Naturals must all hone their abilities and work together to protect Cassie and catch the killer – before the killer gets Cassie.

It ends up being a good mystery and the “Naturals” are all interesting characters with good backstories.  I’m interested in if the series remains as dark as this first one with the plot of a serial killer or if there will be a variety of types of cases.  Also, will Cassie ever get the real answers surrounding her mother’s disappearance?

On a side (and fascination note) Jennifer Barnes is a professor of psychology, has a PhD from Yale, and has advanced degrees in psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive science.  This definitely adds a level of respect to the series and her darker characters.


 

series

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 Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly –

Award Nominee, Female Leads

Minnow Bly’s parents joint a cult when she was young.  She was punished by her hands being chopped off at the wrists.  Let’s take a moment and process that.  Many people, including my public library, thought this book was an adult book – so be warned.

The story is told in flashbacks and to the FBI psychologist that visits Minnow in juvenile detention.  We read about her story from her family joining “The Community”, the years her family increased in both children and importance within The Community, and the events that led to Minnow’s disability –  as well as the death of the Prophet. Minnow is a smart seventeen year old, despite the fact she cannot read and has had the world kept from her.  Through the years she didn’t trust the Community or the Prophet’s stories and communication with God.  Only when she runs further into the woods and finds a teenage boy living in a cabin, with his dad, does she realize the lies she has been told and that people outside of the Community are not evil.  Jude helps her through the years by offering a supportive escapism.

With such a sad and dark plot, the humor found with Minnow’s cell-mate Angel is a nice reprieve, in juvenile detention, but still.  Angel helps Minnow learn the rules of juvenile detention.  Minnow decides to get the truth out about the Community, especially how it treated children and women, and agrees to talk to the FBI, who are investigating the burning of the Community and the death of the Prophet.

A dark story of mystery, a cruel disfigurement, and overcoming something horrible.  Similar to This. As we read more about Minnow’s background and the brainwashing the men of The Community taught, it is difficult to separate this story from modern cult-like groups.  For being a debut novel, I was very impressed with the depth of the various plots.  Be aware there are beatings, torture, and some cussing, but overall it shows how Minnow survived and begins to rebuilt her life.

Here is an interview with Stephanie Oaks


William C. Morris YA Debut Novel Nominee (2016)

 

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.

Untwine: A Novel – Edwidge Danticat

Books Worth Crying Over, death, diversity in YA, families, Read-a-Likes

Identical twin sisters Isabelle and Giselle are born into this world holding hands – and are holding hands when a car wreck takes Isabelle out of this world.   The description of “untwine” sort of breaks your heart in the first chapter.

Haitian parents who have announced their divorce to their teenage daughters and then a car crash all within the first chapter – it’s another death story, but the twin aspect is new.  There are very detailed descriptions of the car crash that nearly destroys this family.   While Giselle is in the hospital unconscious, she hears her visitors and is trying to will her body to wake up.  Finally she does wake to the realization that her sister is dead.  The rest of the story is showing the family trying to cope and move on.  When the police come to question the family stating the accident is under investigation because they do not think the driver who ran into the family’s car (another high school student) was an accident, Giselle starts to investigate this theory.  What would a new student have against her family or her sister?

This is a heartbreaking story as we witness this family try to physically heal from horrific injuries to emotionally heal with the loss of a sister, daughter, niece, and granddaughter.  Giselle narrates the first part of the book from within a coma and tries to focus on visiting family members and doctors.  She can’t stay awake long enough to learn of her injuries or her sister’s.  Once she is released from the hospital, she must begin living her life minus her other half.  This is a lovely story of friendship, love, and having to start over.  There’s a little mystery thrown in, but the beauty in Untwine is the way in which love and heartache are portrayed from everyone from a boyfriend to a parent  Throughout the novel there are flashbacks and stories to exhibit the family dynamics, the tradition of Haitian culture, and Giz still manages to find a few teenage secrets her twin kept to herself.

You’ll cry.  You’ll feel love and hope, but you’ll cry.  Danticat writes of how the sisters are entwined, they were holding hands when they entered the world and they held hands in the backseat of the crash, which eventually was their final separation: their untwine. As Giz slowly accepts Isabelle’s death, she realizes the rest of her family survived.  One decision, to remove her seat belt for a  moment, changed everything, but she and her family will survive this.  She questions how even though some goodness came with closure (remember, it’s a bit of a mystery so I’m not going to give that away), her sister is still gone, and pain is still felt.  In her sixteen year old logic seeking brain, she believes that maybe her family had just had too much joy, it was time for something bad to happen, and others needed some joy.  Giz questions the idea of why bad things happen and feels the loss of not only her sister, but of her best friend and now has no one to be other other half to whom she talks too.

In a touching scene late at night, on the kitchen floor, her aunt says she will become that person for Giz.  I sort of want to be adopted into this family.   This is a beautiful multi-generational family who come together in the worst moment of their lives and support one another in order to try and heal.  Very touching family moments and a good tear-jerker well worth shedding a few tears.