Family, Rats (with Magic Powers), Friendship
In this topsy-turvy tale of a young girl whose evil nanny turns out to be more evil than she could ever have imagined, Emmy befriends a talking rat and a slew of other talented rodents as she struggles to make friends and win back the love of her parents. Jonell has produced a tale for anyone who has ever felt alone or longed for a little magic in their life. I would recommend this to boys and girls as the talking rodent aspect is pretty hilarious and Emmy’s busy schedule would definitely resonate with today’s busy students. A tale with a lot of heart and humor.
War, Magic, Vengeance, Identity
War in the peninsula of the Palm has torn its many provinces apart and divided them into the control of two powerful sorcerers bent on total control of the land. In the crossfire the soldiers of Tigana killed the sorcerer Brandin’s son and brought his wrath down upon them— the name of the province Tigana magically removed from the minds of everyone not born there and its cities and citizens all but destroyed. The last living prince of Tigana gathers allies for his final attack on the sorcerers to free the Palm from tyranny and reclaim his land after 20 years of oppression. The characters are so well done that they all have a vital role in the story and you understand the motivation driving each and every one. Skillful weaving of tragedy, humor, love, loyalty, and bravery into an amazing story.
Asia, Dragons, Family, Fortune, Adventures
Minli sets out from her village to find fortune from the Old Man in the Moon: she leaves her parents behind and on the way befriends a dragon, a king, and the happiest family that has ever lived. Her journey (and her parents’ emotional journey back home) teach friendship, patience, love, and that the best things in life cannot be bought. It is a charming fairy tale like story that tells many short tales within its pages, a form that breaks up the narrative and adds color. A quick read and a fun one.
Murder, High School, Friendship, Horror
In this And Then There Were None style teen horror, Meg and her best friend Minnie find themselves at a small party on a treacherously stormy island near Seattle where people keep winding up dead. It is the perfect book for anyone who likes a bit of horror but not scary movies; it felt exactly like a scary movie but there was backstory and internal motivations that only work on the page. The romance is cute but not tacky and the friendship between Meg and Minnie, while hard to deal with, is surprisingly strong. It is gruesome and entertaining and a great afternoon read.
Dystopian Societies, Relationships, Forgiveness, Humanity
Moving a lot slower than the first two books, Allegiant takes us out of Chicago and into what is left of the world. Tris and her friends finally learn the secrets about their own history and come to terms with each other; the scenes feel necessary but time-consuming and the story takes too long to get rolling once Tris and co. leave the city. The characters seem to finally have come to terms with who they are and the conflicts really revolve around what their decisions will come to mean and the true definition of bravery. The ending delivers a suckerpunch the likes of which I haven’t seen in another dystopian book.
Previous books: Divergent, Insurgent
Fantasy, Magic, Time Travel, Portals
The entity Destiny has plans to create a portal across the universe between Earth and the planet Kervanis, and Kate Merin and Alaya Le Faye are the ones chosen to make it happen. The plot itself is interesting, 2 girls on different planets are being led to this final epic creation of a portal across the universe and have to escape necromancers in order to do it. I really appreciated that the adults in the story listened to the kids (for the most part) and had respect for their abilities and ideas. The magic system is also unique, but I was disappointed in the lack of futuristic technology and evolution that the Kervanians have had literally millions of years to create and experience (also why do the ancient Kervanians look like modern day humans when they have been around for millions of years?). I think it’s a great fantasy/scifi combo concept but the history of the Kervanians and their technology and evolution as a species needs way more development and thought.
Book 1 in the Kervanian Chronicles
Cinderella, Fairy Tales, Chickens
The story is the basic Disney-style Cinderella fairy tale set in Russia with chickens as the main characters. It’s really short but it’s adorable and the illustrations are absolutely magnificent. I enjoyed the simplicity, but if you want a longer Cinderella with interesting twists in the plot this might not be for you.
Magic, Southern Small Towns, First Love, Family, Choice
Ethan is a small town boy counting the three years until he graduates high school and can move far away—but when Lena Duchannes comes to town, he falls in love and finds himself in the middle of the Casters’ magic world and he must find a way to be with her and save her from turning Dark on her sixteenth birthday. Ethan and Lena are both likable, smart characters and their supporting cast of eccentric uncle, goofy best friend, shut in father, sassy librarian, mystic Southerners, prejudiced Southerners, and Casters (think witches) make for a wild and entertaining story. Ethan narrates the story giving a human perspective as he slowly learns more about Lena’s family and fights the prejudice of his town against her unusual family. Amidst a backdrop of hatred, DAR meetings, secret libraries, and Civil War reenactments, a story of finding out who you are and what you believe in pops off the page. Would recommend highly for anyone looking for a good fantasy without vampires and werewolves (also it does have sequels but it can absolutely stand on its own).
Later books: Beautiful Darkness, Beautiful Chaos, Beautiful Redemption
Superheroes, Super Villains, School, Publicity, Almost Noir
Haime delivers a fresh plot: a school for villains, an absurd and nearly twee headlining villain named Ashes, and a boy who wants to leave his heroic family behind and become apprentice to the aforementioned Ashes. Unfortunately, it feels more like a first draft than a final story: too many grammar mistakes and misspellings pull the reader out of the story. The characters feel outlined but need something more; I wanted to know why Toby wants to be a villain so badly and more about the history of the school itself. His friends are much more interesting than he is so a focus on them would have been a great counterpoint to the focus on the showy villain. Overall the idea is great and the fact that big companies bid on villains is delightful, it just seems like it could use a lot more polishing.
Solid cliffhanger though—
*Reviewed from copy gifted by author.
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death, Life, Hope
Death is depressed — after uncountable millennia of being Death he no longer finds life worth caring for, and a teenager named Xander Atwood is the only one who can bring him back on his feet. Kessler does a great job of weaving Death’s past and the other Rider’s presents around Xander’s story; his friends are realistic and it is nice to see the other Riders in action. It was fascinating to see Death act so human and see a human boy try to save him. However — Kessler broke one of my absolute most stringent writing rules (if you do not want to know a partial about the ending, don’t read on) and made the entire story a dream sequence in Xander’s comatose head. This is a real problem for the story as throughout the book Death reveals the origin of himself, the Riders, and before his suicide he asks each of the Riders whether they would like to remain Riders or go back to their lives, and each Horseman’s story is tied up neatly by the end—so when Death tells Xander that he made it all up, you are left believing that the Horseman and Death himself never actually got their redemption.
Previous books: Hunger, Rage, Loss
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Pestilence, Conqueror, Bullying, Alzheimer’s
Billy Ballard has been bullied for years—even when he was five the Conqueror himself, the White Rider Pestilence, made him promise to wear the crown when the time came. Now fifteen and dealing with bullies in high school, he must also find a way to bring the White Rider back from his own mind—because if he doesn’t, he will have to become the White Rider himself. Billy takes a why-me attitude to everything which is very much in contrast to the other riders; he tries to get the Conqueror to take his bow again but he also spends a lot of time hating himself and feeling guilty for unleashing sickness on his bullies. The story spends a lot of time in the White Rider’s memories which are interesting but having more modern scenes would have sped the story along better. Overall it was an interesting look at the history of the Riders and the difference between Pestilence and the Conqueror.
Previous books: Hunger, Rage
Later book: Breath
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Self Injury, High School, Anger
Missy Miller’s body is covered in scars of her own making; when one day she goes too far after her classmates cruelly berate her for her skin, she is given a choice by death himself: to die or become his handmaiden. And so Missy becomes War and learns that being angry does not mean a fight is always the right choice. A disturbing story that is hard to read in parts and darkly touching in others, Kessler once again finds a way to put the reader in a self destructive person’s shoes without going overboard. Missy is a tough and likable War, and the way her internal struggles with the sword of office leak out into her life is truly fascinating to watch.
Previous book: Hunger
Later books: Loss, Breath
Mermaids, Puritan Living, Curses, Modern Teenagers
Hester (a normal 17-year-old) and Syrenka’s (an ancient mermaid) fates are intertwined in this story about a mermaid who falls in love with a human and commits unspeakable acts to keep him on the earth so that she can be with him. As the story unfolds, Hester learns more about what truly happened all those years ago and finds herself facing down ghosts, mermaids, and betraying her friends to get to the bottom of the curse that has killed every mother in her family in the last 140 years. The story is full of horrific acts that made it hard to get through: vicious rape, the murder of a child, mermaids ripping open chest cavities and eating lungs (that one happens twice), spells to trap a man’s soul on land for eternity—it is certainly a monstrous tale, but I found it seriously lacking in beauty. Every character is so flawed as to become intensely unlikable and while the story could have been fascinating despite this, it took far too long to get the story out and by the time it did I had long stopped caring what happened to anyone. Overall it was a horror story that failed to deliver on the heart and love it promised.
Robin Hood, Historical Fantasy, Revenge, Political Intrigue, Medieval Times
Retelling of the tale of Robin Hood set in medieval Wales with a touch of magic and a lot of murder and mayhem. Bran is arrogant and impulsive but also has a deep love of his land and people that makes me alternately want to slap him and cheer him on. Bran’s father, the king of the small Welsh kingdom of Elfael, is murdered by the Freinc and Bran himself is left for dead in the woods while his kingdom is taken over. It feels slow in the middle but picks up towards the end once Bran starts his crusade against the Freinc in earnest. There are a lot of political issues going on in addition to some implied magical happenings that come together to set up Bran to retake his throne and become a legendary king.
Book 1 of the King Raven trilogy
Sequels: Scarlet, Tuck
Purgatory, Afterlife, Serial Killers, Friendship
Velveteen is dead: brutally murdered at sixteen by a serial killer, she is trapped in purgatory and works as a body thief (she and her team of other purgatory-trapped spirits inhabit humans on earth to rescue trapped souls) when she isn’t breaking the most important law of all : do not haunt. Velveteen is not given to listening, and so she haunts her murderer and tries to save his other victims, while she worries about the troubles in purgatory and ignores her feelings for a beautiful new boy. Velveteen is full of odd characters in that they all care an awful lot for people trapped in purgatory with little hope of getting out. The world building left a lot to be desired; knowing more about purgatory and its effect on its inhabitants would have made Velvet and her friends a lot more believable and intriguing; instead, I felt like I was blindly stumbling through while Velvet ran ahead kicking things that got in her way. The idea was interesting but the overall execution was handled weakly.