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…..

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 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 Unwanteds – Lisa McMann

Fantasy, Favorites, Safe Bets, Series

The cover proudly quotes Kirkus Reviews describing the book as  “The Hunger Games Meets Harry Potter” and that is a pretty accurate statement.

Children, teens, and adults will all enjoy this 7 (about to be 8) book series where children are determined to be “Wanteds”, “Necessaries”, or “Unwanteds” based on intelligence vs. creativity.  For Alex, an Unwanted, he assumed he’d be executed after the Purge – as that is what has occurred for decades, but instead all of the Unwanteds are rescued each year and live peacefully hidden away in a magical part of the forest run by an elected official, who is supposed to execute the very children he protects.

In Artime, the children are encouraged and taught to express themselves and their creativity.  Those with talent for acting, writing, painting, and drawing being to hone their talents.  As they master basic levels, they then begin their magical training [see how Harry Potter-esque this is.]  After about 6 months, their skills have advanced, but Alex still misses his twin brother (a Wanted) and finds a way to communicate with him.  At the same time Mr. Today informs the student body, professors, and magical creatures and statues that he fears someday in the near future they will be found and will be forced to defend one another and Artime.

In a magical, hidden forest, where creativity is encouraged and slam poetry or splatter painting can be magical defenses, who wouldn’t find enjoyment in this story?

Very enjoyable both for the magic and the politics between Quill and Artime.  Only a few deaths in the battle at the end, but similarly as Harry Potter, I suspect it gets darker as the series continues.

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unwanteds

Defy – Sara B. Larson

Uncategorized

It’s Aria Stark!

Well not really, but Alexa is disguised as a boy after her parents are killed by a sorcerer, village burned, and the army approaches the survivors. Marcel is her twin who quickly cuts off her curls and helps her create her new persona: Alex. (And can I mention how if the army had found Alexa as a girl she would have been sent to the “breeding house” – this book hits upon all of this within the first few pages)

Years later, Alex and Marcel are training as soldiers for Prince Damian. As rebels attack the palace, Alex(a) becomes Prince Damian’s nightly guard – an inconvenience for the female used to being able to dress less confining during the night.  Soon sorcerers return, our trio of main characters are kidnapped, and Alexa’s secret is out.  Sorcerers, secrets, and histories come out a little over half way through the book which left me wondering where this would go – so much so soon!  And the answer is: It went in a WONDERFUL direction.  This plot is more of an adult book so it’s definitely for the older teen (note: breeding houses, death, romance, and the fact that rape occurs in the breeding houses is mentioned numerous times).  Still, very brave and heroic characters, mysteries, and both good and bad sorcerers make characters rethink their belief of good and bad people in their society.

Definitely a “Girl Power” book.

Read more about the series from Sara B. Larson’s blog.


Series Continues: Ignite, Endure

The Red Queen – By Victoria Aveyard

Uncategorized

Mare, no not like a horse, but like an impoverished teen living in a caste society, faces a bleak future with her life already mapped out: to go fight in a war when she turns 18.  In doing so she follows her brothers into a never-ending war.  The Reds are the poor who must do as the Silvers command.

Her world soon turns upside down when her family loses some financial security, her best friend loses his apprenticeship and faces going to war, and she meets a kind stranger who gets her a job in the Palace.  Soon Mare discovers more about a rebellion as well as a power she didn’t know she had.  Secret powers a’la The Young Elites .  The King and Queen are shocked and angered that a Red has powers, which they believed only Silvers were given – being the superior and more prestigious people.  They cannot lock up Mare or kill her as there were too many witnesses who saw “little lightening girl” and Mare ‘s ability to control electricity.  Instead, they create a new backstory for her and engage her to their younger son Mason.

Mare begins living the lie knowing one mistake will be her death.  Living among her enemies, she finds a few friends who do not trust the King and Queen or the decades long war the Silvers force the Reds to fight.  As a rebellion begins, Mare understands more of her power, and friends and foes take on new roles, she must decide how far she is willing to go for the good of her people or her own safety.

This has the personal drama of Game of Thrones (with less of the political storylines, and adult content of course) and is more dark than The Selection, but fans of both would enjoy this for some of the wicked characters.


Sequel: Glass Sword (and she is working on a third)

The Archived – Victoria Schwab

Uncategorized

archived

The Archives are a library of the dead. Mackenzie ‘s grandfather, who passed on his position to Mackenzie as a Keeper of the Archives, and her brother are both dead and she is torn between her present world of grief and this other world where she knows she can see the dead again. Mackenzie is a hunter of “Histories” who get lost between worlds and need to return and be placed in the Archives. She is not an archivist of texts but someone of this world who helps the dead pass on, get to where they are going, and find peace.  There are three groups of workers who help the dead: the Keepers, The Librarians, and the Archivists.  Mackenzie came into this role sooner than the Librarians would have liked, but her Grandfather named her his successor when she was a teenager.

Her job is to go into the Narrows when a soul has died and gotten free, well ….loose or lost may be a more fitting term, and for a better understanding she helps them ‘find the light’ with a magic key that can turn certain doors into a magical door which sends the lost soul to their restful place [Are you still reading?  Yeah, it took me a bit to follow too].  The problem is these recently deceased people occasionally get out and roam The Narrows and some are beginning to fight back in order to stay in this world.

With a piece of paper that receives written names as if a Ghost Writer scrawls them onto it, Mackenzie searches her territory – an old hotel turned into apartments – for these souls.  She can also read the histories (note the difference in capital ‘H’ verses lowercase ‘h’) of people by touching objects of this world.  This story is part fantasy, modern, mythical, and spiritual.  Mackenzie (also known as Mac, M, or Kenzie depending on who is talking to her) is able to find the recently deceased and get them out of limbo between our world and the next. Her role is that of a Keeper.

Now add to that that there are killers trying to kill the Keepers within the Narrows; her family is recovering from the death of her 10 year old brother (who Mackenzie obsessively tries to get the librarians to let her see his vault); and a secret to the old hotel her family now lives in and there is plenty of mystery.  She finds another Keeper and finds a stranger who saves her, and with the help of Roland, one of the librarians, she tries to not only solve the mystery of the hotel, but solve the conspiracy within her own organization.

The realistic side of this story is when the plot of her family life is the focus.  As you read more about her parents and her brother Ben, and his death, you find a very raw experience with both loss and how different people heal from tragedy.

It’s full of action and if your young readers can handle the death of a little brother and grandfather, then I think they’d enjoy the mystery.  Still, the parts about brother Ben and both Mac’s grieving and healing are a realistic downer.

Sequel: The Unbound (and a third is announced, but is without a title)