Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Holly Black’s newest fantasy series begins with The Cruel Prince

The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black, (Jan. 2018, Little, Brown), $18.99, ISBN: 9780316310277

Recommended for readers 12+

I have been insanely excited about this book since I saw Holly Black talk about it during her panel with Ryan Graudin at BookExpo last year, so when the ARC showed up on NetGalley, I jumped on it. It was worth the wait, because The Cruel Prince is Holly Black at her high fantasy, intrigue and betrayal finest.

Jude is a mortal girl, raised with her twin sister, Taryn, and half-sister sister, Vivi, in the Court of Fairie. By the main that killed her parents, who also happens to be Vivi’s father. The two human sisters want desperately to belong, but are looked down upon for their mortality; the Folk use every opportunity to sneer at and humiliate them, and fiery Jude takes most of the abuse. Cruelest of them all is Prince Cardan, the youngest son of the High King. When Jude is given the chance to become part of a shadowy group of spies, she grabs at the chance, and discovers her own capacities for bloodshed and double-dealing. And that will serve her well as the Court of Faerie moves toward a big change: one that will see Jude making and breaking alliances to save those closest to her.

There is SO much to unpack here, and it’s all brilliant. The characters are as loathsome as they are amazing – and that’s said with the highest compliment. The faerie folk are beautiful, cruel, entitled, and immortal; we love them as much as we hate them. Jude emerges as a strong heroine; conflicted by loving the man who raised her as his own, yet murdered her parents in cold blood; conflicted by her desire to live among the Folk as one of them, yet disgusted by their capacity for cruelty. There are plot twists that you won’t see coming, and betrayals that will make you yelp. If you’re a high fantasy fan – or have readers who are – this is a must have for your shelves. Now, to tensely wait for the next installment. (In the meantime, pick up Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.)

Posted in Adventure, History, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The League of American Traitors gives us a glimpse at darker American history

The League of American Traitors, by Matthew Landis, (Aug. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1510707351

Recommended for readers 13+

Seventeen year-old Jasper is an orphan, losing both parents in under a year. His father was never much of a father to him, so when a lawyer approaches Jasper at his father’s gravesite, he ignores his offer of help: there’s no money involved, and that’s what he needs, now that he’s on his own. But when he’s attacked by unknown assailants, he learns that he’s the sole surviving descendant of Benedict Arnold: possibly the most infamous traitor in American History. Like an American Revolution-era Percy Jackson, Jasper discovers that descendants of history’s traitors belong to a group called The League of American Traitors, and that the True Sons of Liberty – a militant Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution – holds a heck of a grudge. Every time a traitor’s ancestor turns 18, they’re challenged to a duel by one of the Libertines, as the League calls them. The League kids go to a special school that teaches them the survival skills they’ll need in a duel, but Jasper’s case is special. His father was researching his ancestor, and he was onto something. Something that the Libertines will do anything to keep secret. Cyrus, his father’s lawyer and member of the League, urges Jasper to continue his father’s research; it will give all of the League families a new lease on life. Jasper has new friends that stand ready to help, but the Libertines have spies everywhere.

The League of American Traitors is a fun thrill ride through American history. A little bit Percy Jackson, mixed with some National Treasure and a dash of Hamilton, teens will enjoy this look at America, where our heroes’ hands may be a little dirtier than we imagined. The author knows how to keep a book moving, and once introductions are made, supporting characters come with their own rich backstories. This one’s a fun add to fiction collections, especially for fans of realistic intrigue and adventure with a twist.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

When Pigs Fly…

Pigs Might Fly, by Nick Abadzis/Illustrated by Jerel Dye, (July 2017, :01First Second), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250176943

Recommended for readers 9-13

Lily Leanchops is the daughter of famous inventor Hercules Fatchops, and she’s certainly inherited her father’s pioneering spirit. While the rest of the folks in Pigdom Plains scoff at the very notion of pigs flying, Lily’s been working on her own flying machine in secret. She’s seen her father’s flying machines fail, and she’s taking everything he’s doing into account as works to create her own flyer. Like her father, she embraces science, not magic (mostly), but when the dangerous Warthogs threaten to invade – flying their own machines, powered by magic, and led by someone very familiar with Lily and her dad – it’s up to Lily to save her home and her town. Even if that means pushing her experimental craft and herself to their limits.

The science versus magic dilemma takes center stage in this graphic novel, which will appeal to kids and, on a deeper level, to older readers who are aware of the science versus faith arguments that frequently occur splashed across social media. Although pigs are the main characters in the story, they are illustrated and given very humanlike qualities and dress – Lily could be another Amelia Earhart or Bessie Coleman in her pilot gear. An interesting parable for current events, with a plot that embraces diversity and working together. A good addition to middle school reading lists and libraries; invite readers to make comparisons between the story and what they see in the world around them and on the news.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult/New Adult

New fantasy YA brings a together a group of Royal Bastards

Royal Bastards (Royal Bastards #1), by Andrew Shvarts, (Jun 2017, Hyperion), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484767658

Recommended for ages 14+

This new fantasy series follows a group of Royal Bastards – illegitimate children of royals – as they try to save a royal princess’ life and prevent a war. Sixteen year-old Tilla is the bastard daughter of Lord Kent of the Western Province; she lives in comfortable accommodations, but her father has held her at arm’s distance ever since his legitimate wife bore him two daughters. Tilla’s half brother, Jax, from a different father, lives on Kent’s lands as a stablehand. While Jax is happy with life as it is, Tilla longs for legitimacy and a better relationship with her father; two things he’s withheld from her thus far. She’s invited to her father’s banquet honoring the visiting royal princess Lyriana, and sits at the bastard table with Miles, a bastard from neighboring House Hampsted, and Zell, a trueborn son-turned-bastard from the warrior Zitochi clan of the North. Lyriana insists on sitting with them and getting to know them, and ends up tagging along on what was supposed to be an evening out between just Jax and Tilla. While out at the shore, the group stumbles upon a horrific and treasonous episode that puts every one of their lives in danger: in Miles’ and Tilla’s cases, even from their own parents.

The group of teens is on the run, hoping to make it back to Lyriana’s kingdom before the combined forces of Lord Kent, Lady Hampsted, and the Zitochi clan can catch them. The bastards have to stay alive, prevent a mage slaughter, and a civil war that will claim thousands of lives – can they get along long enough to survive the journey?

There’s a lot of story to unpack in this first book. The biggest stumbling block for me was the contemporary language used in the high fantasy setting. It’s off-putting and took me out of the flow of the novel. Vernacular aside, Royal Bastards is a fast-paced adventure, loaded with intrigue, betrayal, and teen romance. I like the world-building: a fantasy world where bastards are recognized and can gain legitimacy if their parents choose to bestow it upon them; a major coup in the works, and plenty of intrigue and betrayal to keep things interesting. There’s rich character development, particularly in the relationship between Jax and Tilla and Tilla’s growth throughout the novel. There’s some diversity in the characters, although some fantasy tropes pop up here; most notably, the clueless royal who wants to meet “the little people” and the brooding, fur-wearing savage.

YA fantasy fans will dig in and enjoy this one. I’d booktalk Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules as an interesting counterpart that looks at the relationship between royals and their children and war. Talk up the Game of Thrones books to readers that may be familiar with the HBO series. Give a copy of Joshua Khan’s Shadow Magic and Dream Magic books to younger siblings who aren’t ready for this one yet.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Stone Heart takes a deeper look at The Nameless City’s turmoil

stone-heart_1The Stone Heart, by Faith Erin Hicks, (Apr. 2017, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781626721586

Recommended f0r ages 10+

Picking up shortly after the events in The Nameless City, The Stone Heart throws readers right back into the turmoil within the Dao as the General of All Blades seeks to form a Council of Nations that will bring peace to the City. The general’s son is furious at being denied his perceived birthright to rule. Kaidu, meanwhile, believes he’s discovered a text that describes how to create a devastating weapon used by the City’s founders. Kept in the archives by the Stone Heart monks – where his friend Rat lives – Kaidu is torn between betraying his friend and bringing the solution to his father’s attention, should war break out.

The Stone Heart is one of those sequels that shines just as brightly as the original story. We get more character development, deeper story progression, and an ending that left me with clenched fists, waiting for the next chapter in this series. Kaidu’s father and the General of All Blades are tired warriors who just want peace in their time, and both struggle with their relationships to their sons. Where Kaidu’s frustration lies with an absentee father, Erzi, the general’s son, has been raised in a foreign land, with entitled expectations, and finds his father stripping away everything he’s ever known. Rat and Mura are two street urchins, both cared for by the Stone Heart monks at some point in their lives, but have become two very different people. These character parallels add so much more to the overall story and really invest readers. Even seemingly peripheral characters, like Rat’s friends from the City, enrich the overall story and illustrate how different Kaidu’s life has been thus far.

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The Stone Heart is one of the first must-read books of 2017. Add it to your graphic novel collections and booktalk this series hard. Get your copies of Amulet, Avatar, and Legend of Korra back out on display shelves for this one. An author note provides background on the author’s influences, and a lovely shout-out to libraries. There’s also a great sketchbook at the end.

Check out Faith Erin Hicks’ author webpage for info, including interviews, webcomics, and art.

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Posted in Science Fiction, Steampunk, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Time fractures can cripple cities in Timekeeper

timekeeperTimekeeper, by Tara Sim, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781510706187

Recommended for ages 13+

My first entry in this year’s Diversity Reading Challenge is Tara Sim’s Timekeeper, a steampunk story taking place in an alternate Victorian London, where clock towers control time. A damaged clock affects the populace, and if a clock is badly damaged or loses a vital part of its machinery, the town “stops”: no one dies, but no one can leave; the citizens are stuck in a time loop. That’s what happened to 17 year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart’s father three years before, and Danny’s become a mechanic in the hopes that he can free his father one day. On an assignment to a clock in the London borough of Enfield, Danny meets Colton, who throws a figurative wrench in all of Danny’s plans. Colton is a clock spirit – the essence of time for the Colton Tower clock – and the two boys fall in love. Danny knows this can’t end well, but he risks everything to be with Colton, who will find a way to keep Danny coming back to Enfield.

Some of the people of London are against the clock towers. They want time freed, uncontrolled, and stage protests that get heated. Clock towers are attacked, and Danny is blamed. He has to find a way to clear his name, keep Colton safe, and keep his father’s town safe so he can bring him home alive.

Timekeeper is the first in a planned trilogy by debut author Tara Sim. The story is very detailed – budding clock aficionados, and readers interested in the science of time (horologists – thanks, Google!) will fall in love with the lyrical way Sim discusses the delicate parts of the clocks and the idea of a spirit manifestation of each clock tower. The romance between Danny and Colton is sweet and gentle, and Danny’s feelings for men is more or less accepted, with some minor snark from the novel’s bully.

Shadowhunters fans will love this one. Get your steampunk on and put this with your Gail Carriger books, your Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, and your old school Jules Verne and HG Wells collections.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Puberty, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Kill the Boy Band takes aim at fandom

boyybandKill the Boy Band, by Goldy Moldavsky, (Feb. 2016, Point), $17.99, ISBN: 9780545867474

Recommended for ages 14+

Four super fangirls stalk their boyband favorites with disastrous results in this insanely funny dark comedy.

The Ruperts are the boy band of the moment, and our narrator – who takes on the names of ’80s teen movie heroines – and her three (mainly online) friends have a plan to be near them, securing a room in the same hotel as the boys. When one of the girls encounters her favorite Rupert (they all have the same first name) at the ice machine, she overreacts and the girls find themselves with an unconscious boy bander in their hotel suite. And things get crazier from there. Each girl has a different agenda, and before the day is over, there are going to be some ugly revelations and even uglier circumstances.

Kill the Boy Band is at once a laugh-out loud black comedy in the vein of Pulp Fiction and Fargo and a scathing look at fandom and fangirl culture. Ms. Moldavsky takes aim at the culture that expects us to destroy our idols, even as we worship them. She looks at the long-established culture of loathing popstar girlfriends, celebrity stalking, and what happens when you find out that the man behind the curtain really isn’t Oz at all.

As a Duranie who was a teenager during the social media-bereft ’80s, Kill the Boy Band made me laugh and cringe, often at the same time. With boy band and fandom culture at an all-time frenzy now, teens will recognize themselves (hopefully, not too much) or laugh in recognition of someone they know. There’s a great whodunit that will keep readers guessing until the very last page – and maybe even after. You’ll laugh, and you’ll think – it’s a great book to have a discussion group with.

Great addition to collections with a thriving teen population that’s plugged in. This should be a good summer read. For older teens, consider introducing them to Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band for a look at pre-online fandom culture.

Kill the Boy Band has been selected as an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Mysterium #1: The Black Dragon has suspense, magic, and mystery

black dragonMysterium #1: The Black Dragon, by Julian Sedgwick/Illustrated by Patricia Moffett (Mar. 2016, Carolrhoda Books), $18.99

Recommended for ages 10-14

Danny Woo didn’t have the most traditional upbringing. As the child of circus performers in a traveling circus, he learned a great deal from his death-defying parents, until a suspicious fire left him an orphan in the care of his journalist aunt, Laura. When an explosion at Danny’s boarding school closed the school while repairs are made, Laura swept him off to his mother’s homeland, Hong Kong; she’s researching a dangerous triad gang known as the Black Dragon, but Danny feels like she knows more than she’s letting on. After his aunt is kidnapped, Danny and his old circus friend, a dwarf named Major Zamora, are left to save Laura – and themselves – using every trick they learned at the circus.

The Black Dragon is the first book in a new series. Mysterium follows the adventures of Danny Woo, a tween who survived the fire that killed his parents. Brought up in a traveling circus, Danny has some tricks up his sleeve and knows that his remaining family – his aunt Laura and his friend, Zamora – knows more about his parents’ deaths than they’re willing to let on. Previously published outside the US, there are three books in the series (so far); I hope they’ll also be published in the U.S., to give audiences a chance to read the whole series.

I liked what I’ve read so far. There’s a lot of action and intrigue, with some questions posed and just enough answers given to tease readers into getting the next book. Danny is a smart, capable kid who uses the hypnosis and sleight of hand techniques he learned from his dad to aid his own investigation. He tends to go with his gut feelings on things, because he’s good at “reading” people – another talent he picked up from his father. His friend Zamora is a loyal friend who acts as Danny’s partner and protector. We’ve got good exposition, interesting characters with talents not usually explored by tween fic, and multi-ethnic, diverse characters that make this a good choice to add to reading lists. I’d pair this with Simon Nicholson’s Young Houdini middle grade series for a nice display on magic in fiction.

Check out the Mysterium webpage for more information on the rest of the series, which you can also buy for your reader if you can’t wait for them to be published stateside.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

A Tale of Light & Shadow – Good, old-fashioned adventure and romance!

neverak_1A Tale of Light & Shadow, by Jacob Gowans (2014, Shadow Mountain), $9.99 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1609079819

Recommended for ages 12+

The world of Atolas is a world where emperors and kings rule the land. Wealth determines one’s place in society, and social stations carry more weight with some of the populace than with others. Isabelle and Henry have grown up side by side and have fallen in love. Henry, a prosperous carpenter, wants to marry Isabelle, whose wealth is in name alone, but her father won’t allow it. When her father turns to a terrible way to get Isabelle out of the way and get to her mother’s gold, Henry comes to her rescue – and their group, including their siblings, Henry’s childhood friend, Ruther, and Henry’s apprentice, Brandol – find themselves on the run from the Emperor’s guard. There are rough times ahead for Isabelle, Henry, and their group. There will be betrayals, secrets, and a hard journey to freedom for them all.

I really enjoyed this book, the first in a new series by author Jacob Gowans. It reminds me of an old-school adventure, with the young lovers in peril, the hidden betrayer, an epic journey both in body and in spirit – each of the characters in the group goes through emotional upheaval through the course of the book – and a thread of magic that promises to grow stronger as we progress through the series. I love this book because it’s the kind of book I can give to my more conservative teens, my teens who love a good romance, and my teens who love an epic fantasy. It’s a relatively clean book – there’s some battle violence and references to concubines – but it’s within acceptable levels for teen reading. Fans of older movies will be drawn into the sprawling lands and hero’s journey that lays ahead. The ending of the book promises a sequel that will pick up where this first book leaves off.

Speaking of that second book, guess what’s next on my night table? So get ready, check out A Tale of Light and Shadow, and get yourselves up to speed for the next book in the series, Secrets of Neverak.

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Westly: A Spider’s Tale is a good, middle-grade fable

westlyWestly: A Spider’s Tale, by Bryan Beus (Sept. 2015, Shadow Mountain), $15.99, ISBN: 9781629720685

Recommended for ages 9-13

In a contained garden of a glass chandelier, a young caterpillar is born into royalty. Destined to inherit the crown of the Monarch Butterfly kingdom, he is spoiled and naïve until he emerges from his cocoon – and he’s not exactly what he expected. Instead of a regal monarch, he’s a spider. Horrified by his appearance and afraid he’ll be ostracized from butterfly society, he runs away and lives down below, among the “dirt eaters” – the bugs that live below, on the ground. Not knowing he comes from the arrogant butterflies, they take him in and teach him how to live – but what Westly doesn’t realize is that he holds the key to uniting both societies.

Blending a graphic novel feel with a moral fable storytelling voice, Bryan Beus’ debut novel is a great read for middle graders. It’s kind of A Bug’s Life meets The Ugly Duckling, with a kind-hearted, unworldly main character who goes on a classic hero’s journey to grow up, mature, and come into the leader he’s meant to be. There are wonderfully classic elements here: the villain, the wise old sage, and the curmudgeon with the heart of gold being just a few touchstones that children and adults alike with recognize and embrace. Black and white sketches throughout the book hold the reader’s interest and have a comforting, classic feel.

 

This is a solid choice for school libraries and classrooms, especially for middle grade read-alouds and units on fairy tales and fables. Animal fiction always does well in my library, so I know this one will be happily received.

Bryan Beus is the winner of the Kirchoff/Wohlberg Award from The New York Society of Illustrators. His author website offers a sneak preview of Westly‘s first two chapters, plus an adorable webcomic called Peter and Li. Westly is Mr. Beus’ first book, but I’m hoping to see more.