Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Black Canary’s YA novel starts the new year off with a Canary Cry

Okay, 2021. Let’s see what you’ve got. Please be gentle with us, we’re still reeling from 2020. Thankfully, there were books. So many great books. And 2021 is shaping up to have just as many great books – seriously, look at the upcoming Latinx titles, and lists from Here We Read, Brightly, and Beyond the Bookends, for starters. And let’s dive into the first book I finished this shiny new year.

Black Canary: Breaking Silence (DC Icons #5), by Alexandra Monir, (Dec. 2020, Random House Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9780593178317

Ages 12+

I’ve been a Black Canary fan for a while now (thanks, Arrow!), and getting an email inviting me to read the new Black Canary YA novel sent me over the moon. The fact that it takes place in a dystopia where Gotham City has been taken over by the Court of Owls – some of the best storylines in the Batman universe –  made me salivate. The Court of Owls, in the comics, is a secret society that quietly oversees the machinations of Gotham City, always looking out for the wealthy founding families’ interests. In Breaking Silence, the Owls have taken on a fundamentalist-type role, sending women back into the home and relegating them to second-class citizens in the name of “decency” and “morality”. Penguin, the iconic Bat-villain who sided with the Owls during their takeover 20 years prior to the events in Breaking Silence, engineered a toxic gas that stole the singing voices away from women in Gotham; finding a way to silence them while still allowing them to function. The overthrow of Gotham and Silencing, the culminating event that stole women’s singing voices, was sparked by the death of Bruce Wayne – Batman – who died of old age; the revolt also saw the deaths of Commissioner James Gordon and superheroes at the hands of the Owls and their enforcers, the Talons. Dinah Laurel Lance has grown up under the boot of the Owls. Her father, Detective Larry Lance, works for the Gotham City Police Department and treads lightly between the Owls and his duties for the GCPD, while raising his daughter as a widowed father. Now a high school senior, Dinah listens to forbidden music in private and is already on the Owls’ watch list. Between a cautious romance with new student Oliver Queen and discovering the hidden truth about her mother, Dinah’s heading into strange new territory. The Owls had better be ready, a revolution is coming.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Breaking Silence. Smashing the patriarchy and literally finding one’s own voice? Sign me up! Dinah Laurel Lance comes right off the pages; her frustration and fear are palpable and serve as a motivator and a hindrance; it isn’t all black and white here. Alexandra Monir gives us a smart teen heroine who navigates family secrets, a secret society, and the frustration of being a woman in a male-dominated society with skill. Her father, her male friend Ty, and the super-handsome, mysterious rich boy Oliver Queen all lament the current circumstances with her, but they don’t – can’t – get it: they’re men. They have freedom and privilege that they just can’t comprehend not having. There’s a DC cameo or two that made my heart sing, too… Read this book, add it to your booktalks, and get it into the hands of other readers. Then, go read Black Canary: Ignite and get some Birds of Prey trade paperbacks! (Psst… Gail Simone’s run is unparalleled).

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Books from Quarantine: Pleasant Grove

Pleasant Grove, by Jason Price, (June 2020, Independently Published), $3.99, ASIN: B08C21Y281

Ages 12-16

Agnes Goodwin is a 12-year-old girl living in Pleasant Grove, a small town where families live in peace… and under a glass dome. The adults are all keeping a secret from the kids of Pleasant Grove, and Agnes is determined to find out what that secret is, especially after spotting a strange boy in a field one day. There are no new families in Pleasant Grove, you see; and when word of the boy gets out, the adults are determined to find him. Agnes, her brother, Charlie, and her group of friends set out to find the boy, see the alleged “wasteland” beyond the dome, and learn the secrets of Pleasant Grove for once and for all, but are they prepared for the truth?

Keeping readers guessing from the beginning, Pleasant Grove is a little bit Stephen King’s Under the Dome, a little bit Stranger Things, and a splash of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. I thought the narrative was going in one direction, but I was wrong: the plot twists were unexpected and clever, keeping me wondering until the very end. Agnes is a smart, capable character who is determined to get to the bottom of the Pleasant Grove mystery; her brother and her friends have strong personalities that readers will take to and identify with, whether it’s the timid friend, the smart-aleck friend, or the protective older brother who still isn’t sure about the whole business. Good for tweens and early teen readers who enjoy being kept off balance with their sci-fi/fantasy/horror thrillers and dystopian fiction.

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

Sanctuary: A Plausible Dystopia from Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher

Sanctuary, by Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher, (Sept. 2020, GP Putnam & Sons), $17.99, ISBN: 9781984815712

Ages 14+

Set in a not-too-distant America where an unchecked President who advocates for hate is still in office, Sanctuary is an unsettling, often brutal, story of survival. In 2032, Americans are microchipped and tracked. Getting on the bus? You’re scanned. Going into school? You’re scanned. Some undocumented immigrants have underground chips that don’t always work: and when they malfunction, it’s bad news. Sixteen-year-old Vali and her mother are undocumented and living in Vermont. Vali’s parents crossed over into California when Vali was a toddler; her younger brother, Ernie, was born shortly after. Vali’s father was discovered, deported, and murdered, forcing Vali’s mother to flee, with her two young children, to Vermont. They’ve managed to create a life for themselves until a crackdown from the government’s Deportation Forces hits their town, sending them on the run once again. Vali’s mother’s chip malfunctions, and she’s taken away, forcing Vali and Ernie to head back toward California – a sanctuary state that’s been walled off from the rest of the United States – in the hope that their tía Luna is still alive and able to help them.

Sanctuary is a stressful, urgent, horrific book, because it’s a future that’s entirely plausible. The Wall exists in this future; people are empowered to openly hate and inform on one another, and Deportation Forces brutally enforce racist executive orders with relish. There are deportation camps in hidden areas, out of the public’s line of vision, where human beings are treated like animals, and drones hunt people down like prey. There are people all too willing to take advantage of desperation: coyotes, individuals paid to illegally transport others to California, steal and do worse. There are kind people, like the nun running an underground shelter for refugees, but they feel too few and far between. Vali is an incredible well of strength for her terrified younger brother. There are no wasted characters here: Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher create living, breathing characters that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book and returned it to the shelf. With taut pacing and storytelling that will penetrate readers to the bone, Sanctuary is essential reading.

Paola Mendoza is an activist and co-founder of the Women’s March. Abby Sher is a YA author and You can read an excerpt thanks to Teen Vogue.

Sanctuary has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Children of Jubilee concludes Margaret Peterson Haddix’s latest series

Children of Jubilee, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, (Nov. 2018, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9781442450097
Ages 9-13

The third book in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Children of Exile series is told through Kiandra’s point of view as the alien Enforcers raid Refuge City, capturing Edwy, Kiandra, Enu, and Rosi and transporting them to an alien planet, where they are forced to labor in mines as slaves with no bodily autonomy. Somehow, the Enforcers control their every movement, pushing them to mine and harvest strange bluish pearls from the planet, long past the point of exhaustion and only giving them their bodies back for the briefest amount of rest. Kiandra plots to find a way out, but she can’t do it alone – luckily, little Cana has found her way to the group; working under the Enforcers’ radar, she’s able to explore the planet and just maybe, find some help.

Margaret Peterson Haddix writes fantastic science fiction and dystopian fantasy. I discovered her Shadow Children series when my eldest read the first book, Among the Hidden, in elementary school. The two of us hit our local bookstore and bought every book in the series that weekend, and I can’t wait until my youngest is ready to read them in a few more years. She creates fascinating characters and morally ambiguous situations that leave a wealth of room for discussion. Children of Exile has been a voraciously readable series from the first installment; Children of Jubilee includes some final plot twists, subplots, and a reveal that left me picking my jaw up from the floor. It’s that good.

For my home and my library, Margaret Peterson Haddix books are a must-have. If you have sci fi/fantasy readers, they should be for you, too. There’s a free downloadable discussion guide for the first book, Children of Exile, on Ms. Haddix’s author website; they provide excellent jumping-off points for deeper discussion into the series.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Scythedom faces big challenges in Thunderhead

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2), by Neal Shusterman, (Jan. 2018, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9781442472457

Recommended for readers 12+

Scythe was one of the best books I read last year, so I was waiting for Thunderhead like a kid for… well, Christmas. How could he top Scythe? Well… in tremendous fashion. When we last saw the characters from Scythe, Citra Terranova had become Scythe Anastasia, working with the well-established Scythe Curie. Rowan adopted the persona of Scythe Lucifer and has since set about cleaning up the Scythe community in his own way – which puts him on the entire Scythedom’s hit list. Scythe Anastasia challenges the “new order” scythes, who want to glean with no quotas and no strictures; this puts her in the crosshairs of those Scythes who would operate outside of the rules.

Meanwhile, the Thunderhead – the artificial intelligence that keeps society running as a virtual utopia – is watching society fall apart. Hampered by its own rules and inability to take direct action, it laments humanity and the paths we constantly find ourselves on.

Thunderhead takes everything readers loved about Scythe and adds more: more tension, more intrigue, more to ponder about ourselves as a society. Rowan and Citra are incredible characters, and I’m thrilled to get to know Scythe Curie better in this installment. There are some truly awful Scythes here, and you’ll curl your lip as you discover some of their gleaning preferences and tactics, to be sure. Neal Shusterman has the fantastic ability to make single character come to life.

Do NOT miss Thunderhead. I’ve already got one teen counting down days until it arrives at the library.

Scythe is the 2017 Printz Award winner. Neal Shusterman received the 2015 National Book Award and the 2016 Golden Kite Award for Fiction for Challenger Deep.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Decelerate Blue wants to slow down society’s frenetic pace

decelerate-blueDecelerate Blue, by Adam Rapp and Mike Cavallaro, (Feb. 2017, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596431096

Recommended for ages 13+

In a hyper future, speed and efficiency rule the day. Everything is sped up, from literature’s classics to movies. People end sentences with, “Go”, letting the other person know it’s their turn to speak. Angela is a teen who hates this crazy pace of living, especially when her grandfather is being sent off to a “reduction colony” because he can’t keep his numbers up. Angela goes off in search of something he’s left for her and finds her way into an underground community of citizens rebelling against the hyper society. She joins the movement, but their plan to free society from this delirious pace – a drug called Decelerate Blue – is in danger of being found out by the authorities.

This is a case where I love the idea, but the execution left me a little cold. I love the idea of this crazy hyper society where everything is skin deep; no one has real conversations anymore, and even Shakespeare has been edited for brevity. It’s an outcome that is chilling in its plausibility and is begging for a dystopian telling. Decelerate Blue just didn’t grab me like I hoped it would; the graphic novel had powerful moments, but didn’t sit down and unpack them enough to invest me in the characters. The ending bordered on melodramatic, and left me frustrated. I did want to know more, though: what happened after? Did society examine what happened, or did they continue on as if nothing happened? Will the movement continue? Like I said, great ideas, stumbled in the execution.

An additional purchase for your sci fi collections.


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

Scythe is a brilliant must-read!

scytheScythe, by Neal Shusterman, (Nov. 2016, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9781442472426

Recommended for ages 12+

Scythe is my first Neal Shusterman book AND one of the best books I’ve read this year. Society lives in a utopia. We’ve defeated death, poverty, hunger, you name it. Do people turn to a Star Trek-type society and explore space and do good things? Nope, they “turn the corner” when they get tired of looking old, having surgery to bring them back to a younger face and body. They stop doing, stop trying to achieve; it’s a stagnant society that doesn’t die. That’s where the Scythes come in.

Someone has to help with population control, so Scythes are chosen to end life. There are rules: Scythes can’t glean too much from one particular race or gender; they really shouldn’t love what they do too much, and they can’t glean out of rage. Citra and Rowan are two teens chosen to be a Scythe’s apprentices, much to their consternation; things get worse when they are told that only one will become a Scythe, and the first order of business will be to glean the other.

Citra and Rowan learn that the world isn’t nearly as perfect as many want to believe, and they witness a group of Scythes who hold mass gleanings – mass murder – where they revel in what they do. They discover that this society is no stranger to corruption.

Shusterman creates a brutal world wearing the guise of a utopia in Scythe. The characters are brilliant and awful, getting inside the reader’s head and heart. He builds a society that’s stopped moving forward, where the only progress to be made is by a Scythe, dealing indiscriminate death. He gives the Scythes a comprehensive history, with journal articles by previous Scythes throughout the book, ceremonies, and rituals. It’s an intense, fantastic book that readers who want somewhere to go after reading The Giver series should read immediately.

I didn’t want to put the book down and I never wanted it to end. Thankfully, we’ll be getting another book in the series, because the ending left me breathless.

A must-read, must-add book for any bookshelf. Scythe has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal. Kirkus has also named Scythe one of the Best Books of 2016.

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

The Riven Chronicles continue with The Fallen Prince

fallen princeThe Fallen Prince (Riven Chronicles #2), by Amalie Howard, (April 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510701700

Recommended for ages 13+

The sequel to The Almost Girl starts out about a year after the first book ends. Caden has assumed the throne of Neospes, and Riven is  hunting for her father, to bring him to justice. But Caden’s new rule is threatened by Cale – the imposter prince – who’s joined forces with a deadly army. As Neospes tries to forge new alliances while fighting Cale’s forces, Riven finds herself called back to Neospes, where she needs to aid her people again – and this time, accept help from the very man she was hunting: her father.

The Fallen Prince is a good follow-up to The Almost Girl. I’ve enjoyed reading The Riven Chronicles, and feel sad that the series seems to be concluded. Maybe there will be more adventures down the line for Riven and Caden, but for now, The Fallen Prince provided more sci-fi action with a tough, smart heroine who experiences very human emotions for all her cyborg programming: she feels jealousy and pain at the realization that Caden may need to take a bride to seal an alliance; her rage toward her father demands an outlet, and she gets one, in a brutal and brilliant fight that leaves her companions very aware of who they’re dealing with. There are good supporting characters and a couple of nice plot twists that keep things moving and interesting. I’d also like to thank Amalie Howard for personally assuring that I’ll never look at a stretch of moss the same way ever again.

Great science fiction, just enough romance to keep the drama moving, and conflicted personal relationships everywhere you look. The Riven Chronicles is such a good sci-fi series, and you don’t need to be a teen to enjoy them – just love good writing.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

Mysteries of Cove, Book 1: Fires of Invention – a new sci-fi/steampunk adventure for middle graders!

coveMysteries of Cove, Book 1: Fires of Invention, by J. Scott Savage (Sept. 2015, Shadow Mountain Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1629720920

Recommended for ages 10-14

Steampunk meets dragons in this new sci-fi series from author J. Scott Savage! Trenton is a young teen living in the city of Cove – a city created over a century before by a civilization fleeing environmental destruction. He’s got a knack for anything mechanical, but in the city of Cove, technology, creativity, and inventing are against the law. In fact, to call someone an inventor is akin to being cursed with the worst of slurs. Kallista Babbage is also a teen living in Cove. The daughter of a notorious inventor, Leo Babbage, who died in an explosion caused by his own creativity, has been scapegoated by Cove leadership as proof of the dangers of technology and forward thinking.

Trenton discovers strange pieces of tools hidden in Cove, which leads him to Kallista. Could these tools be part of a secret message to Kallista from her father? Working together, Trenton and Kallista follow the clues Babbage left behind; on the way, they uncover all of Cove’s secrets. But will the leaders of Cove allow them to share what they’ve learned, or imprison them for retraining?

The Cove series reminds me very much of the City of Ember series in that it involves a teen boy and girl, living in a hidden city because of an environmental cataclysm, and discovering the truth about the city’s history. The sci-fi twist that we get in the last third of the book is a pleasant surprise and will perk readers up as they head into the first book’s conclusion. There’s a lot of storytelling here, with in-depth character development, and plenty of action and adventure.

I’d include this book in a maker collection to spur imaginations and – GASP – creativity!

J. Scott Savage is the author of the hugely popular Case File 13 series. You can follow him on Twitter @jscottsavage, or visit his author site to check out his blog and learn more about author visits.

Salt Lake City readers, want a shot at being in the book trailer? Details are on the Shadow Mountain Facebook page! They’ll be shooting the Fires of Invention trailer on Thursday, July 2nd, in Salt Lake City, and you and a friend can enter to win spots as extras! Like and Share the Shadow Mountain Facebook post, and check out the rules. Open only to US residents. Not affiliated with Facebook or MomReadIt. The trailer will be shown at SLC Comic Con and will be a lot of fun to make!

Posted in Horror, Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Quarantine 3: The Burnouts brings the post-apocalyptic trilogy to a tense end

quarantineQuarantine 3: The Burnouts, by Lex Thomas, Egmont USA (2014). $17.99, ISBN: 9781606843383

Recommended for ages 14+

The third book in Lex Thomas’ post-apocalyptic series continues the story of Will and David, the brothers from McKinley High, where the kids are quarantined in the wake of a disastrous infection. Lucy, the last of the group from the previous book, is still inside – for now – trying to survive, and Hilary, who’s finally, completely, snapped, brings a reign of terror with her as she takes control of the school and all the gangs within it.

The publisher has called this series “Lord of the Flies in a 21st century high school setting”, which is spot-on. The kids inside the school have split into factions that fight to survive life inside the school. It’s a no-man’s land where children will do whatever they are forced to in order to make it to “graduation” – when the disease breaks and they can leave the building, assimilating into life on the outside.

I couldn’t put this book down. It’s got action, fantastic pacing, strong characters, and pulls no punches in its storytelling. There are references to sex, pregnancy, drug abuse, and violence throughout the book, so if any of these are issues for readers, this isn’t your book. It’s a powerful, gut-wrenching book that will keep you on the edge of your seat as you read.

The world in Quarantine isn’t safe inside or outside the McKinley walls – on the outside, there are those who want to destroy what the citizens have put together. They want to destroy the school and destroy the disease that rages on within its walls. The citizens on the outside – the families of the children inside – have to fight to stay alive and keep their kids alive.

The book hits shelves on August 22nd. In the meantime, check out the first two books: Quarantine: The Saints and Quarantine: The Loners and get ready.