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 Historical Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Regency romance and mystery: Duels & Deception

Duels & Deception, by Cindy Anstey, (Apr. 2017, Macmillan/Swoon Reads), $10.99, ISBN: 9781250119094

Recommended for readers 12+

It’s 1817, and Lydia Whitfield is an English society heiress with her future planned out for her – even her marriage partner is planned for her, thanks to her departed father. She will run the family estate until her marriage, when Lord Aldershot, her intended, will take over the day to day work. Until then, her drunkard uncle and his unbearable wife and daughters are living at Roseberry Hall with Lydia and her mother. She wants to be free of her meddling uncle, so she contacts Mr. Robert Newton, a law clerk, to begin drawing up marriage contracts, and everything seems to be progressing nicely. Until Lydia is kidnapped!

Lydia is taken as she’s about to meet with Mr. Newton regarding the contracts, and he ends up a victim of circumstance; first kidnapped with her, then rudely thrown out of the coach. But the kidnappers aren’t very thorough, and make it way too easy for Lydia to escape (with Robert’s help). Lydia starts wondering if the kidnapping had far deeper motives than a ransom, and Mr. Newton is too happy to help her investigate. After all, it keeps him close to Lydia, who he finds himself falling for… and she feels the same about him. Can the two get to the bottom of the plot and work through their feelings for one another while maintaining a sense of propriety?

Duels & Deception is a fun mix of proper Regency romance and a complex whodunit. The kidnapping comes with an interesting twist that stands out, and the main characters engage in witty, flirty banter that is sweet and funny. I did struggle with the pace of the novel at times, but overall, romance and historical fiction fans will enjoy this one. A glossary and discussion questions round out the book.

Duels & Deception was named one of Entertainment Weekly‘s 35 Most Anticipated YA Novels of 2017 and received a starred review from Voya magazine. Add Cindy Anstey’s previous historical romance, Love, Lies & Spies to your booktalking list, and spice it up a little with some superpowers, courtesy of Tarun Shanker’s These Vicious Masks series.

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Rollin’ with the Royces: YA’s answer to the K… well, you know…

Royce Rolls, by Margaret Stohl, (Apr. 2016, Freeform), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484732335

Recommended for readers 12+

Sixteen year-old Bentley Royce is the “bad girl” member of the Royces, reality TV’s family du jour. Her family: Mercedes, her narcissistic, media-obsessed mother; Porsche, her self-absorbed sister, and her brother, Maybach, who may or may not be nurturing a gambling addiction, live the high life in the spotlight – or is that the camera glare? The thing is, it’s all an act. Bentley is the classic middle child, overlooked and unheard; the one who takes one for the team when the family needs her, whether it’s pretending to be drunk and staggering out of a nightclub or sticking her tongue out for the cameras in true “Bad Bentley” character mode. But things aren’t looking so good for the Royces as of late: the show’s sixth season is up in the air, and Mercedes is desperate to keep her family’s business on the air, no matter how outrageous the shenanigans have to be to stay there. Looks like it’s up to Bentley to pull the family out of the fire one more time.

Royce Rolls is a biting send-up of all things reality TV, taking gleeful aim at shows like that show where everyone’s name starts with a K because the matriarK Klearly needs all the attention the world Kan give. Loaded with “footnotes” from various show insiders and taking a seemingly vapid character and giving readers an inside view of the “reality” machine, we get satire, a whodunit, and a brilliant reference to Stohl’s Black Widow novels (my favorite part of the book).

The novel is narrated through press releases, news clips, and a third-party narrator. There are plenty of pop culture and reality TV references for readers to spot and laugh at; the emphasis here is on the fact that reality TV is NOT real – they have writers and character treatments, just like any fictional show. It’s about the breakdown and redemption of a family, with a mother who would sell her daughter’s first period on television to get viewers and a Hollywood machine that treats people as disposable. And it’s about how one person can decide to finally say, “Enough”.

I didn’t love Royce Rolls, in part because I found most of the characters exasperating and in part because I’m sick of 99% of reality TV. (I have my vices, I am human.) But I did enjoy it; teens will get a kick out of the references, the unexpected romance, and the satisfying ending.

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

Geekerella gave me feels!

Geekerella, by Ashley Poston, (Apr. 2016, Quirk Books), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1594749476

Recommended for readers 12+

The short story: Geekerella is Cinderella for geeks, starring a fangirl and fanboy.

The slightly less short story, but short enough for review purposes: Elle is a devoted fan of the science fiction show, Starfield. Its got a fandom right up there with Star Trek and Star Wars, with conventions and cosplay, online forums and blogs. Elle’s still feeling the loss of her father, who introduced her to the love of Starfield as a child, and the mother that died when she was little. She’s living with her awful, social climbing stepmother and her vapid, beauty vlogger stepsisters and working in the vegan food truck, The Magic Pumpkin.

Darien Freeman is a teen sensation. Half-British society, half Indian, he lives with his Dadager (dad manager), who will sell Darien and his insured abs at any opportunity. Darien’s claim to fame came on an OC-type teen soap opera, but playing Federation Prince Carmindor is going to make him a star – and since he’s a Starfield fanboy, it’s kind of a dream come true. Too bad he’s miserable: his best friend sold him out to the paparazzi, he’s under fire online for taking on the role of Carmindor, and his father is a social climber who uses his son as his stepladder. And now, his dad has him going to this Starfield convention where he just knows he’s going to get eaten alive by the fandom.

Told in shifting perspectives between Elle and Darien, this is the fangirl adaptation of the Cinderella story, complete with cosplay masquerade ball, a magic pumpkin and a punk lesbian fairy godmother in the form of Sage, who works the Magic Pumpkin truck, has a fantastic eye for dress design, and quotes Lord of the Rings at will.

Geekerella hits all the feels for me. I’m a 46 year-old fangirl; a fangirl nurtured by my dad, my uncle, J.R. R. Tolkien, and the kind creators of Star Trek and Star Wars. Unlike Elle, I’m still lucky enough to have my parents, but the story and feelings resonate. Do you know how it’s going to end? Of course you do, but darned if you don’t love the journey. There’s something for every fan in here: Firefly references join hands with Lord of the Rings, Supernatural, Avengers, Trek, and Star Wars winks and nudges. You’ll embrace the characters like longtime friends (I’m partial to Sage and Frank the dachshund), because Ashley Poston’s writing to her tribe: the fans, the cosplayers, the fanfic writers, those of us who have looked beyond the ordinary and dared to see more.

Give this to your fangirls, fanboys, gamers, and geeks. Display or pair with other fandom fic like All the Feels, Queens of Geek, and The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love.

Follow Ashley Poston’s Tumblr for great fandom musings and pictures of amazing cosplay (Yuri on Ice fans, get over there now). Her website has more info about her books and an FAQ.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade

Henry and the Chalk Dragon unleashes imagination!

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton/Illustrated by Benjamin Schipper, (Apr. 2017, Rabbit Room Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9780986381881

Recommended for readers 8-12

Henry Penwhistle is a young boy with an active imagination. He’s an artist and a dreamer who draws his quests in secret, afraid to share his art with anyone – even his best friend, Oscar. His mother used blackboard paint to transform Henry’s door into a canvas; a canvas on which he’s drawn a dragon. A dragon that has managed to escape and wreaks havoc all over Henry’s school! Henry, Oscar, and their classmate Jade – who chronicles the boys’ heroism in epic poetry – try to save their classmates and teachers and bring an end to the dragon’s mischief. What Henry discovers is something far deeper.

This book is so many things. It recognizes the dreamers, the artists, those of us who look at life a little differently. It’s a gentle squeeze, a hug, a reminder to us grownups that we don’t really have to give up our robots and superhero personas, just because we’ve gotten older. And it’s a call to action to readers – grownups and kids alike – to rethink ways of tackling problems. Henry has his own hero’s quest through Henry and the Chalk Dragon, as do – to a slightly lesser degree – his teacher, lunch lady, and principal, and he emerges as a very different boy at the book’s close.

Henry and his friends are stuck in dreary school life, but so are the grownups in that school. His principal, beaten down by the School Bored, tells Henry, “the world doesn’t care about your art… the world only cares about facts and numbers and budgets. I’m sorry, but it is my job to prepare you for the world you’re going to have to live in, Henry: the real world.” His lunch lady is an artist who wails that “everyone wants pizza, and meatloaf, and macaroni and cheese made from a box. A box! How can anything beautiful come from a box?” They’re artists and dreamers who’ve been worn down by the world around them, but Henry is here to show everyone, with a child’s innocence and imagination, that things are so much better than that. Finally, Henry and the Chalk Dragon is about the enduring power of friendship: Henry and Oscar spend the better part of the book working out an argument that took place before the events of the book, and Jade makes sure that Henry and Oscar know that the old boys’ club isn’t a formula that works for her; she’s going to be part of this adventure.

Give this book to your dreamers, artists, and adventurers. Give it to your teachers and your parents that used to be superheroes, and should be again.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.

Would you like a chance to win your own copy of Henry and the Chalk Dragon? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!

About the Author

Jennifer Trafton is the author of The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic (Dial, 2010) which received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and was a nominee for Tennessee’s Volunteer State Book Award and the National Homeschool Book Award. Henry and the Chalk Dragon arose from her lifelong love of drawing and her personal quest for the courage to be an artist. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where, in addition to pursuing her love of art and illustration, she teaches writing classes, workshops, and summer camps in a variety of schools, libraries, and homeschool groups in the Nashville area, as well as online classes to kids around the world. To learn more, and to download free materials, visit jennifertrafton.com.

Praise for HENRY AND THE CHALK DRAGON:

★“A delicious face-off between forces of conformity and creativity run amok, spiced with offbeat names as well as insights expressed with eloquent simplicity.” —Booklist (starred review)

★“A perfect title to hand to young readers looking for laughs along with a wild and crazy adventure.”

—School Library Journal (starred review)

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Middle grade paranormal thrills: Future Flash

Future Flash, by Kita Helmetag Murdock, (Jan. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510710115

Recommended for readers 10-14

Laney has the ability to “future flash”: she often gets glimpses of the future when she makes physical contact with someone for the first time. She’s spent her life knowing Walt, who claims to be her dad, found her as an infant, in a car seat and wrapped in a blanket. She knows Walt isn’t telling her the whole truth when he talks about being her dad and about her mother, who died when she was a baby. She meets Lyle, a new kid in school, and flashes on him covered in blood and engulfed in flames. She tries to stay away from him, but unfortunately for both Laney and Lyle, the school bully has them both in his sights. As Laney tries to keep Lyle safe from both Axel, the bully, and from the future she saw in her flash, she will discover much more about the circumstances of her birth than she ever expected.

It’s not often you get a middle grade character with these kinds of circumstances – this tends to be more of a YA situation, so I happily tore through Future Flash. It’s a page-turner with a solid female character dealing with some way out-there circumstances. I have to wonder why Lyle kept coming back for more after their first meeting, but I did enjoy the development of their friendship. Things wrap up neatly enough that a sequel isn’t likely. Discussion questions are available at the end of the book.  Kita Murdock’s got a writing style that will keep you turning pages and in the action. Give this to your thriller and mystery middle graders, and your reluctant and struggling YA readers.

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

Historical middle-grade fiction: Snakes and Stones

Snakes and Stones, by Lisa Fowler, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-1031-3

Recommended for readers 9-12

The year is 1921, and Chestnut Hill, a 12 year old girl, travels with her father and 7 year-old triplet siblings (also named after nuts) across the American south, putting on medicine shows so her daddy can sell his elixir. Daddy’s a snake oil merchant, and Chestnut is sick and tired of living in a cramped wagon, wearing clothes to rags, and going to bed with a rumbling stomach. She’s mad at Daddy from stealing her and her siblings away from their Mama, who must be out of her mind with grief right now. Even when the Hill family meets up with Abraham, a friend of her father’s, who tells her that there’s a lot Chestnut doesn’t know about her Daddy, she refuses to believe it and decides to take matters into her own hands, setting off a chain of events that will change her and her family.

I was happy to see a middle grade historical fiction piece take place in the early ’20s – it’s an interesting time that hasn’t seen a lot of middle grade storytelling just yet. Lisa Fowler has several strong characters here, most notably, Chestnut, who narrates the story. Her father is a seeming ne’er do well, a con man with a heart of gold, who just doesn’t know how to take care of his family; Abraham, an African-American character, allows for a look at the everyday racism and segregation in the South. Readers may get tired of Chestnut’s firm belief that her father’s the bad guy, especially when there’s clearly more to the story that Abraham knows but won’t discuss. While Abraham is a potentially strong character to highlight the racial issues in the Southern U.S., readers may be put off by the way his speech is written, which can be construed as negative stereotyping rather than striving for historical accuracy.

Overall, it’s a story that means well but gets caught up in melodrama and possibly troubling characterization.