Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Tween Reads

Fantastic Fairy Tale: The Prince and The Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang, (Feb. 2018, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626723634

Recommended for readers 10+

In a Parisian town, during what looks like a Renaissance period, Frances is a brilliant dressmaker who slaves away in drudgery until she’s hired to work for the crown prince, Sebastian. It’s only when Frances arrives at the palace does she realize that Sebastian has a secret: he loves to wear extravagant, lavish dresses and go out on the town! Together, he and Frances craft a persona, Lady Crystallia, and hit the streets of Paris together; Lady Crystallia makes a splash on the Paris fashion scene, and Frances finds her talents in demand. But to go public with her talents puts Sebastian’s secret at risk.

This is a great modern fairy tale. It challenges gender identity, it’s got great characters, the art is soft realistic with a touch of the fantastic, and a touch of sweet romance that will make you just sigh, “Aww!” Frances is a lovable character who I felt for, and Sebastian put my emotions through the ringer as he went through his own stress. Each chapter is set off with a dress pattern, keeping readers in the overall story. Give this one to your readers who loved Princess Princess Ever After, your Lumberjanes fans, and anyone who appreciates a good, modern fairy tale.

The Prince and the Dressmaker won’t be out until February, but you can pre-order now (and check out more amazing art).

 

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, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Sleeping Beauty, reimagined: Spindle Fire

Spindle Fire (Spindle Fire #1), by Lexa Hillyer, (Apr. 2017, HarperTeen), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062440877

Recommended for ages 14+

This Sleeping Beauty reimagining gives us parallel narratives of two sisters: Aurora and Isabella, the princess and her bastard sister, and Belcoeur and Malfleur, fairies whose longstanding feud may bring down the kingdom. It starts like the familiar tale of Sleeping Beauty, with a twist: in this world, fairies may bestow gifts upon you, but it’s a tithe – ain’t nothing for free. Aurora’s parents, the king and queen, give up Aurora’s sense of touch and ability to speak in order to receive her gifts. Malfleur, like the fabulous Maleficent, storms in and puts the spinning needle curse on Aurora, but this time around, a fairy offers to mitigate the curse not out of the goodness and kindness of her heart, but for another tithe: sight. The queen offers up Isabella – called Isbe – bastard daughter of the king, as tithe. So we’ve got one sister who can’t speak or feel, another who can’t see, but they communicate with a language all their own.

There is a lot of story here: there’s turmoil in the kingdom; Isbe runs off while the Aurora falls victim to the spindle. Malfleur is getting an army ready to march and take over the kingdom as Isbe tries to wake her sister; Aurora wakes up in an enchanted world, meeting a woodsman that she eventually falls in love with. There are moments where Spindle Fire is really good storytelling, but there are moments where there’s almost too many threads; too much going on to get the proper gist of the story. I liked the interactions between Aurora and Isbe, and I really loved reading the backstory between the two faerie queens: more of that, please! The ending leaves readers with no question: there will be a sequel (and GoodReads has this listed as Book One).

If you have reimagined fairy tale readers, this is a good add; romance readers will enjoy the chemistry between each of the sisters and their paramours.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

Happy British National Tea Day! Spend it with The Queen!

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, by Kate Hosford/Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, (March 2017, Carolrhoda Books), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-4677-3904-7

Recommended for ages 5-10

A pampered queen is fed up with her usual cup of tea and demands that her butler take her in search of the perfect cup of tea. The duo travel via hot air balloon to gorgeous, green, tea-growing lands and meet three children: Noriko, from Japan; Sunil, from India, and Rana, from Turkey, all of whom teach the Queen to make tea as they do – after she snuggles a kitten, dribbles a soccer ball, and dances. The Queen, noticeably more relaxed with each trip, returns home, invites the children to a tea party, and greets them, hair askew, smiling, and happy.

The soothing repetition of this story, combined with Gabi Swiatkowska’s colored pencils and the strong individual characters Kate Hosford creates all come together to give readers a story about unity, multiculturalism, and letting your hair down. The Queen’s transformation from stuffy and coddled to open and self-sufficient is a joy to watch. Each new experience, each new child she meets, expands her world view, signified by the different teas she enjoys.

The tea rituals are also repetitive in their own way; each ingredient is laid out, and the steps in making each tea are illustrated, inviting readers (with adult help) to make their own tea. An author’s note at the end touches on the history of tea and the author’s inspiration in coming up with the Queen.

This makes a great addition to a multicultural storytime, or a fun addition to a food-related storytime (have some cooled tea prepared for kids to try). I read this one with my 4 year old, who loved the idea of traveling by balloon and meeting new kids – wasn’t so interested in the tea – and that’s the whole point of the book. Talk to kids about being self-sufficient and open to new experiences, and you’ll be just fine.

Want a Queenly storytime? Pick up Gabi Swiatkowska’s own book, Queen on Wednesday (2014), and see how the two monarchs match up.

Updated: Lerner Books just posted an interview with the author AND downloadable tea recipes!

Don’t forget to enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance to win a copy of How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea!

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

The Kaitan Chronicles #1: Shadow Run

Shadow Run, by Michael Miller and AdriAnne Strickland, (March 2017, Delacorte Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780399552533

Recommended for readers 13+

Nev is the newest crew member aboard the starship Kaitan Heritage, a ship that “fishes” for Shadow, a volatile energy harvested from space. The crew is a ragtag collection of misfits, and their captain, a teenage female named Qole, is the youngest ever to pilot her own ship – she’s hard as nails because she has to be. She’s from a desolate world where Shadow poisoning killed her family, except for her brother, Arjan, a member of her crew. Nev has his own secrets: he’s a prince from a world that wants to examine how Shadow binds to organic material, ostensibly to make the galaxy a better place – and help their own interests, naturally. But Nev has to get close to Qole first, before he can reveal who he is and convince her to come back to his homeworld with him.

Nev isn’t the only one who knows about Qole and her ability to channel the Shadow inside her, though. A rival royal family is onto them, and they’re not nearly as concerned with the greater good as Nev is. As Nev tries to win Qole’s trust, and the trust of everyone aboard the Kaitan, he must navigate the rough and tumble spacefaring world and the world of privilege he’s grown up; he may also learn that not everything on his home world is what it seems to be, and his own family’s intentions may not be as honorable as his are.

Shadow Run is the first book in the science fiction series, Kaitan Chronicles. There is a lot of solid world-building here, but the first half of the book just didn’t catch me. Once the story hit its stride, though, it was a solid pulse-pounder, loaded with diplomatic intrigue, betrayal, and action. The characters are well thought out; revelations happen throughout the course of the book, so it’s worth sticking with it.

Shadow Run‘s been compared to both Firefly and Dune. I see more Firefly than Dune; the rivalry between the royal families is the only facet tying it to Dune. This is more space opera/western, like Firefly, with a diverse crew of characters that have much more going on than meets the eye. I liked the chemistry between Qole and Nev, and I liked the relationships that each of the supporting characters had to Qole. Their reactions to Nev were honest, visceral, and I appreciated that; no “magic friendships” or melodrama popped up here and I respect the writers for it. There’s gender fluidity that truly brings this novel into the 21st century and beyond, too. Stick with Shadow Run: you’ll be happy you did.

Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

An overscheduled princess takes a day off: Princess Cora and the Crocodile

Princess Cora and the Crocodile, by Laura Amy Schlitz/Illustrated by Brian Floca, (March 2017, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-4822-0

Recommended for readers 4-8

A king and queen have a baby that they coo and marvel over – until they realize that she’s clearly not ready to run an entire kingdom. From that moment on, Princess Cora’s life is a nonstop schedule of lessons, physical training, and nonstop bathing (seriously, her nanny’s got a bit of a complex). Cora writes to her fairy godmother in desperation, and the response, while not necessarily what Cora expected, is exactly what she needs. A crocodile shows up to take Cora’s place for a day; while Cora takes a day off to enjoy being a kid, the crocodile sets to teaching the king, queen, and nanny a thing or two.

Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz and Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca have joined their considerable forces to create a book that parents need to read (cough, cough, and education administrators, cough, cough) as much as their children do. Princess Cora and the Crocodile is all about the stresses our kids face today: the lack of time to enjoy being a kid, doing kid things. The king and queen are so stressed out about what Cora’s not ready for, they strip the joy not only from Cora’s childhood, but rob themselves of the chance to enjoy watching Cora grow up; of playing on the floor with her as an infant, climbing trees and running around their considerable lands with her, of reveling in the carefree fun that parents should embrace.

When Cora’s fairy godmother sends a crocodile to her family, the croc immediately – if a bit roughly – sets to whipping Cora’s family into shape, with hilarious results. While the croc wreaks havoc at home, Cora spends the day picking strawberries, climbing trees, even stepping in a cow pie, and enjoying every moment of it. Every. Unscheduled. Moment. Brian Floca’s ink, watercoor, and gouache artwork is fun, hilarious, and every bit as free and joyful as the story’s text.

Image courtesy of Brian Floca

Parents, read this one. Please. It’s as much for us as it is for our kids. Schlitz and Floca created this fairy tale to let kids know that it’s okay to be a kid, but the message here is for us adults, because we’re the ones who can make the changes kids need to be happy – to be kids – again.

Princess Cora and the Crocodile received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly.

Illustrator Brian Floca has a fantastic webpage, with lots of online extras, information about school visits, and upcoming events.

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, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Beyond the Red: Intergalactic politics and species war with a dash of romance

beyond the redBeyond the Red, by Ava Jae (March 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781634506441

Recommended for ages 16+

Kora is a reigning queen of an alien race that’s seen its share of violence: her parents were killed during a terrorist attack during her birthday; her people are locked in a race war with human settlers, known as red-bloods, that exist on her planet, and she’s been the target of assassination attempts. Her twin brother, Dima, holds a grudge against her – he and their deceased father felt Dima should have ascended the throne – not a woman – but birth order is destiny.

Eros is a half-blood soldier, raised by humans and yet, held at arm’s length because of his half-alien blood. His adopted parents and brother are killed during one of Kora’s army raids, and he’s taken prisoner, where Kora decides to make him her personal guard. She has some questions about his true identity, and decides he’d be a valuable asset to keep close to her.

Despite being wildly attracted to one another, they play it safe, knowing that Eros’ half-blood status could get him killed at any time, and would certainly be a death sentence for any children they’d have if they married. Kora accepts the proposal of a high-ranking diplomat, but an assassination attempt leaves her and Eros running for their lives. Now, they have to work together to save the human rebels and keep Eros’ secret on a much larger scale.

There’s a lot of storytelling and world-building in this debut from Ava Jae. The entire story provides the groundwork for a series, and the ending leaves no question about a sequel being in the picture. It just wasn’t my book, alas: it never hooked me. The story seemed to focus on a few points that were emphasized again and again: Eros’ physical attraction to Kora; Dima’s simmering rage toward Eros, his jealousy toward Kora; Kora’s vacillating on her attraction to Eros. We don’t know anything about the human encampment on this world, only that they seem to have been left there generations ago. I’m hoping more about the schism between the two races will emerge in future books, because that has potential for a huge story.

The novel is more young adult than teen for sensual content, violence, and mild language. Space opera fans and fantasy fans should give this one a look.

Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-fiction

What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? A Brief History of Chinese Emperors

Mr_-Emperor-Front-300x300What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? Life in China’s Forbidden City, by Chiu Kwong-chiu and Eileen Ng (translated by Ben Wang)/Illustrated by Design & Cultural Studies Workshop, (Oct. 2015, China Institute in America), $12.95, ISBN 978-0-9893776-6-9

Recommended for ages 8-13

Kids learn about the U.S. Presidents, some European royalty (usually Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and King George III in England), and current heads of state, but Chinese emperors and ruling dynasties isn’t something that’s normally found on the curriculum. The China Institute in America is taking this dilemma on with the book, What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? Life in China’s Forbidden City. One of four We All Live in the Forbidden City books, Mr. Emperor introduces kids to China’s emperors, with brief biographies and answers to questions like, “How was the emperor chosen? What was school like? Who were his friends?” We learn a little bit about each emperor – princes who fought off rebel invasions, princes who didn’t do a whole lot during their reign, one emperor who ruled twice, and the roles of other members of court life, including the palace maids, the dowager empresses, and the many advisors to the rulers.

There’s a lot of information packed into these beautifully illustrated pages, and it’s a great companion for an elementary unit on China. It brings the history to kids with questions that they’ll be interested in, and easily digestible facts illustrated by artist Chiu Kwong-chiu.  The We All Live in the Forbidden City website is loaded with activities and resources to expand the discussion.

The original book and content have been developed in Hong Kong in consultation with the Forbidden City’s Palace Museum in Beijing, ensuring authentic content and resources.

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

Clean Teen Publishing Presents Queen of Tomorrow!

I’ve very excited to present a book I received news about from Clean Teen Publishing. Ever since I read School Library Journal’s article on serving conservative teens, I’ve made a concerted effort to keep an eye out for books I can keep on the shelves for the teens and tweens in my libraries, who prefer a more conservative read. I can’t wait to find out more about Queen of Tomorrow – enjoy!

The Queen Has Arrived!

It’s true what they say, royalty waits for no one. and so we are excited to announce that Queen of Tomorrow, the highly anticipated follow-up to Queen of Someday, is now available everywhere books are sold–a full two weeks early!

Queen of Tomorrow

 

Sophie—now Catherine, Grand Duchess of Russia—had a tough first year at Imperial Court. Married at sixteen to Grand Duke Peter, heir to the throne, and settled in their own palace, things start to look up. As a new day dawns, Catherine thinks only of securing her future, and the future of their country, during one of the greatest political upheavals of her time. Fighting desperately against forces that try to depose the Empress Elizabeth and put the young Prince Ivan on her throne, Catherine soon finds herself in the middle of a war brewing between her beloved Prussia and her new empire. While navigating the fragile political landscape, she quickly realizes that she has only begun to discover the tangled web of deceit and infidelity woven over the lavish court of Oranienbaum Palace.

When a strange and delicate alliance forms between the young couple, Catherine glimpses a future of happiness, only to see it vanish at the hands of those who still seek to end her life—and prevent her reign. Out of favor with the empress and running out of options, Catherine must sacrifice her own innocence on the altar of Russia if she is to save the nation and herself. To survive, she will have to do the unthinkable, betray those closest to her and become something greater and more dangerous than she ever imagined she could be… a queen.

“A must-read romance!” -The USA Today

“Addicting.” -Goodreads

“A sequel that will surprise!” -Hit Or Miss Books

 

Queen of Tomorrow is a YA historical fiction based on the life of young Catherine the Great. Fans of the hit TV show REIGN will devour this scandalous glimpse into the life of one of the most dynamic women in history.

arrival

 

Grab your copy today!

Amazon B&N.com iBooks

 

For more info on this series and for a free book club reading guide, visit the author at http://sherryficklin.com