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 Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

The Nocturnals Return in The Fallen Star

The Nocturnals (Book 3): The Fallen Star, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Kate Liebman, (May 2017, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781944020057

Recommended for readers 8-12

The lovable group of Nocturnal sleuths is back in their third adventure, this time with high stakes: the forest’s pomelos have been poisoned, and the flowers that cure the sickness are disappearing! As the group watches a star fall one evening, they meet a mysterious aye-aye, Iris, who declares that the forest is being invaded and monsters from space have poisoned the pomelos! Dawn, ever the thoughtful and skeptical fox, is suspicious, and seeks a more down-to-earth reason, but things become more tense when they discover that animals in the forest are getting sick, including poor Tobin, who’ve all eaten pomelos. The blue flowers that help cure the sickness are disappearing, and a strange blue glow shows up right before the flowers start disappearing. This sounds like a job for the Nocturnals!

This third book in the animal friends series takes no prisoners: things are tense, with the friends racing against time to help their sick friends and find out the truth behind the poisoned fruit and disappearing cure. Bismark is in full narcissist with a heart of gold mode, proclaiming he speaks alien (and then slipping and admitting it was gibberish) and wooing Dawn every chance he gets. Dawn is still the most focused and perceptive member of the group, and sweet, gentle Tobin is the source of possibly the greatest fart joke in the history of children’s literature, giving readers much-needed comic relief throughout the white knuckle moments The Fallen Star is filled with.

We also meet some more animals in this book; most notably, an Aye-aye named Iris, and the woylies, a group of small marsupials who pitch in to help the Nocturnals. You can find more information about Aye-ayes at Zooborns.com, and Whiteman Park, a conservation center in Australia, has a downloadable fact sheet available on the endangered woylie.

This Aye-aye has its eyes on you! (source: Zooborns.com)
Woylie: Now say it with an Australian accent! (Source: whitemanpart.com.au)

Teamwork, friendship, and determination sees the friends through this latest adventure, and there’s a lovely message about tolerance that is especially important reading.

Things have started taking off for Nocturnals since the first book published last year!  The Nocturnals World website offers Boredom Busters, face painting tips, and a wealth of educational resources for classrooms and libraries, and the New York Public Library, in conjunction with Fabled Films, launched a read-aloud writing program in New York City public schools.

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Secret Societies, Angels, and Demons: Toward a Secret Sky

Toward a Secret Sky, by Heather Maclean, (Apr. 2017, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-310-75474-9

Recommended for readers 12+

Seventeen year-old Maren Hamilton is an orphan; her father dead for years, her mother, the recent victim of a freak accident. Sent to Scotland to live with grandparents she’s never met, she discovers much more about her parents than she could ever have realized. They weren’t systems analysts, as she’d always thought; they were members of a secret organization that fought demons. Real demons. Now that she’s discovered her mother’s secret journal, she’s a target for the demons – and so is everyone around her. Luckily, she’s got Gavin, her literal guardian angel, to help her, but against all the rules, she finds herself falling in love with him and is pretty sure the feeling is mutual. When Maren’s friends and grandparents find their lives in danger, it’s up to Maren and Gavin to save them all.

I thoroughly enjoyed Toward a Secret Sky. There’s some DaVinci Code-level action, with secret societies, code-breaking, and angels fighting demons over the United Kingdom skies. It’s also got a solid set of characters and good world-building, and an ending that left me excited for another installment. YA romance fans will love the burgeoning forbidden love between Maren and her angel, the gorgeous, Scottish, Gavin (and I don’t even have to feel like a cougar because he’s over 200 years old). The book teases us, giving little hints about not only The Abbey; the secret organization Maren’s connected to, but about Maren’s own heightened abilities. It’s the perfect amount of information to keep us guessing and reading. It’s a fast-paced, wild ride that YA fans will love, and it’s a solid book to put in your more conservative readers’ hands, too.

Definitely add this to your Summer Reading TBR, and match it with proper romances like Duels & Deception and Jacob Gowans’ A Tale of Light and Shadow duology. There’s also a good 2016 article from Bustle with YA DaVinci Code readalikes that fit nicely with this one.

 

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 Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Fairy Tale Reform School’s seeing some changes in Tricked

Tricked, by Jen Calonita, (March 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $15.99, ISBN: 9781492637950

Recommended for ages 8-13

Gilly and friends return in Tricked, the third installment of Fairy Tale Reform School, but things are very, very different now. Gilly’s in school to be a cobbler, like her dad, but she really isn’t into it. Her sister, Anna, is falling in with a bad crowd: Hansel and Gretel are jerks, causing trouble all over town. They go too far with one prank that lands the three of them in – you guessed it – Fairy Tale Reform School, but the school has been through some big changes: Flora, Cinderella’s formerly wicked stepmother, is no longer headmistress; instead, the master dealmaker, Rumpelstiltskin, is in charge now, and the classes seem to encourage the kids to be more villain than hero. Gilly, Jax, and Maxine need to get back on the inside to find out what’s going on in those hallowed halls, get to the bottom of Rump’s treachery, and save Anna while Gilly’s at it: if Anna even wants to be saved.

I’ve been a Fairy Tale Reform School fan from the beginning, and Tricked is every bit as good as the first two. I love the way Jen also manages to address some of the very real things going on in the news today through FTRS, with a trickster who excels in the art of the deal (ahem) pulling the strings and making everyone in that school either blindly follow him or disappear. When things came together for me as I read, I realized how brilliant Tricked is in every respect, and I admire Jen Calonita for taking such a timely message on and communicating it to the kids who need to understand that when something doesn’t seem normal, it really isn’t.

There are strong subplots, addressing the frustration of being in a sibling’s shadow, making your own dreams happen versus living up to others’ expectations.

Tricked is all-around fun reading with big messages for young readers.

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

Blog Tour Stop: The Blood Guard concludes at The Blazing Bridge

blazing-bridgeThe Blazing Bridge (The Blood Guard, Book 3), by Carter Roy, (Feb. 2017, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781477827178

Recommended for ages 9-13

In the third book in Carter Roy’s Blood Guard series, Ronan Truelove is doing his best to protect his best friend, Greta, from his evil father and the awful Bend Sinister thugs. Greta is a Pure – one of 36 pure souls on the planet – and the Bend Sinister have their own horrible plans in store for her, and for the rest of the Pure, if they get their hands on her. With the unkillable Blood Guard agent Jack Dawkins, their hacker friend, Sammy, and a taxi driver named Diz, the group races around New York to foil the Bend Sinister and keep the world safe, but Ronan’s father is closing in.

This is the first Blood Guard book I’ve read, and I’ll be picking up the first two books – The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet – to catch up on this series. Told as a first person narrative, Ronan is a likable kid who’s trying to reconcile the fact that his father is an evil creep who tried to kill him and his mother by burning the family house down, comprehend the fact that his mom (and, because of circumstances, he) is Blood Guard, and his best friend is one of a handful of Pure souls in the world. He’s funny and wry, determined, and brave. Jack Dawkins is James Bond meets Captain Jack Harkness (where are my Doctor Who and Torchwood bretheren?); a secret agent that can fight with any weapon and who can’t die. The story is fast-paced and action packed, with a fight on the New York City subway system that readers will love.

While you don’t need to have read the first two Blood Guard books to enjoy The Blazing Bridge, readers will really get the full background and enjoy the series more if they do. Booktalk and display this series with other adventure novels, including the Nick and Tesla series by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hocksmith, The League of Unexceptional Children by Gitty Daneshvari, and Michael Grant’s Magnificent 12 series.

carter-roy-photo-bw_credit-jdz-photographyCarter Roy has painted houses and worked on construction sites, waited tables and driven delivery trucks, been a stagehand for rock bands and a videographer on a cruise ship, and worked as a line cook in a kitchen, a projectionist in a movie theater, and a rhetoric teacher at a university. He has been a reference librarian and a bookseller, edited hundreds of books for major publishers, and written award-winning short stories that have appeared in a half-dozen journals and anthologies. His first two books were The Blood Guard and The Glass Gauntlet. He lives with his wife and daughter in New York City and can be found at www.carterroybooks.com or on Twitter @CarterRoyBooks.

 

 

blood-guard-series_credit-jdz-photographyGiveaway!

One lucky winner will receive a complete set of all three Blood Guard books (THE BLOOD GUARD, THE GLASS GAUNTLET, and THE BLAZING BRIDGE). (U.S. addresses only.) Just enter this One lucky winner will receive a complete set of all three Blood Guard books (THE BLOOD GUARD, THE GLASS GAUNTLET, and THE BLAZING BRIDGE). (U.S. addresses only.) Just enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance!
https://widget-prime.rafflecopter.com/launch.js

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Paranormals address conservation in Earning My Spots

earning-spotsEarning My Spots, by Mark Eastburn, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781510707788

Recommended for ages 10+

Sam isn’t having the easiest time in his rural Vermont school. He’s bullied, he’s not terribly popular, and he’s tired of eating roadkill for dinner. Before you call the authorities: he’s also a were-hyena. Looked upon as the scavengers of the animal world (that Lion King movie did his kind no favors, either), the werewolves at school are jerks that constantly gang up on him. The day a new kid, Manny, shows up and sets off Sam’s “shape-shifter sense”, he defends Manny from the wolves and discovers that Manny and his  mom are were-jaguars, and that she’s brought them to Vermont in search of a great hunter. That night, Sam’s family is attacked by were-harpies who take his family, sending Sam and Manny on a quest that will take them to Louisiana and South America, where Sam will meet more hyenas and learn about his true heritage, and discover a plot to overthrow the no-tails – that’s you and me, folks – that are destroying their planet and encroaching on their lands.

Earning My Spots is an interesting and unexpected take on human impact on wildlife and the environment. It’s a paranormal middle grade story that carries a deeper message; using shifter were-animals, we get the a side of the story we don’t usually hear, because shifters can speak for animals and humans alike.

There were ups and downs for me while reading this one. I really liked learning about the hyena heritage – the whole time spent in Louisiana was the highlight of the story for me. Other facets of the narrative, like Sam’s seeming obsession with his and other animals’ bite force (pressure behind their bite) and detailed descriptions of marking his territory, dragged down the flow of the story for me.

If you’ve got paranormal fiction readers, this may draw them in and give them an awareness of environmental conservation. For me, it’s an additional purchase for when my current paranormal collection needs refreshing.