Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Holly Black’s newest fantasy series begins with The Cruel Prince

The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black, (Jan. 2018, Little, Brown), $18.99, ISBN: 9780316310277

Recommended for readers 12+

I have been insanely excited about this book since I saw Holly Black talk about it during her panel with Ryan Graudin at BookExpo last year, so when the ARC showed up on NetGalley, I jumped on it. It was worth the wait, because The Cruel Prince is Holly Black at her high fantasy, intrigue and betrayal finest.

Jude is a mortal girl, raised with her twin sister, Taryn, and half-sister sister, Vivi, in the Court of Fairie. By the main that killed her parents, who also happens to be Vivi’s father. The two human sisters want desperately to belong, but are looked down upon for their mortality; the Folk use every opportunity to sneer at and humiliate them, and fiery Jude takes most of the abuse. Cruelest of them all is Prince Cardan, the youngest son of the High King. When Jude is given the chance to become part of a shadowy group of spies, she grabs at the chance, and discovers her own capacities for bloodshed and double-dealing. And that will serve her well as the Court of Faerie moves toward a big change: one that will see Jude making and breaking alliances to save those closest to her.

There is SO much to unpack here, and it’s all brilliant. The characters are as loathsome as they are amazing – and that’s said with the highest compliment. The faerie folk are beautiful, cruel, entitled, and immortal; we love them as much as we hate them. Jude emerges as a strong heroine; conflicted by loving the man who raised her as his own, yet murdered her parents in cold blood; conflicted by her desire to live among the Folk as one of them, yet disgusted by their capacity for cruelty. There are plot twists that you won’t see coming, and betrayals that will make you yelp. If you’re a high fantasy fan – or have readers who are – this is a must have for your shelves. Now, to tensely wait for the next installment. (In the meantime, pick up Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.)

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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, Science Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Step into YA Cyberpunk with Marie Lu’s Warcross

Warcross, by Marie Lu, (Sept. 2017, Penguin), $18.99, ISBN: 9780399547966

Recommended for readers 12+

Okay, confession time: I have never read a Marie Lu book. The desire’s been there: the Legend books, the Young Elites series, and most certainly, the upcoming Batman novel she’s writing. I finally saw my chance and jumped on the Lu reader wagon with Warcross, and I am SO glad I did.

Eighteen year-old Emika Chen is a bounty hunter, but not your conventional bounty hunter. Warcross is a MMORPG that’s a global sensation; accessible through VR-type glasses that convince your brain you’re in a different series of worlds. Emika tracks down Warcross players who are betting illegally, or getting up to otherwise shady stuff online, but business has been rough and she’s facing eviction. She decides to hack into the Warcross championships to steal an artifact or two to sell – the same shadiness she’d normally get an assignment to track down – and thanks to a glitch in the game, finds herself visible in front of the world. Hideo Tanaka, Warcross creator and brainchild, flies her out to Japan and immediately hires her to take down a security problem inside the game. He puts her on one of the Warcross championship teams and gives her carte blanche to track down the risk, but what she uncovers goes far deeper than a simple game glitch.

Warcross transports you into the story, making you feel like you’re observing the action from your own viewing area. There’s intrigue and subplots that constantly keep you guessing, and characters that will keep you invested – love them or not. It’s cyberpunk for a whole new generation – Neuromancer crossed with World of Warcraft. Intense writing, diverse characters, some romance, high-speed virtual reality gaming, and personal agendas gone wild make Warcross must-read YA.

 

Warcross received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Tween Reads

Castle in the Stars – a steampunk space race!

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869, by Alex Alice, (Sept. 2017, :01FirstSecond), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626724938

Recommended for readers 10-14

Seraphin is a young boy who loses his brilliant scientist mother, Claire Dulac, on her aether-seeking expedition. He’s being raised by his genius engineer father, Archibald, when the summons comes from the Bavarian king: he’s building a ship and he wants it powered by aether. Seraphin and his father narrowly duck a kidnapping attempt at the train station, arriving in Bavaria to discover a king who secludes himself from his people, consumed by his obsession, and betrayal within the castle walls.

This first volume of Castle in the Stars spends time setting up the story and developing characters. It’s nice to see both parental figures involved, with a female character every bit as intelligent and accomplished as the male character. The art has a touch of manga inspiration, particularly with the character, Hans, who’s drawn to communicate his mischievous side.  There’s a Jules Verne feel to the story; intrigue mixes with the race to explore the unknown, and with Seraphin’s heartfelt belief that his mother is still alive, we have a bit of mystery thrown in.

Beautifully illustrated, and a fun book for steampunk and aviation fans. Castle in the Stars was first published in French in 2016.

Posted in Adventure, History, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The League of American Traitors gives us a glimpse at darker American history

The League of American Traitors, by Matthew Landis, (Aug. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1510707351

Recommended for readers 13+

Seventeen year-old Jasper is an orphan, losing both parents in under a year. His father was never much of a father to him, so when a lawyer approaches Jasper at his father’s gravesite, he ignores his offer of help: there’s no money involved, and that’s what he needs, now that he’s on his own. But when he’s attacked by unknown assailants, he learns that he’s the sole surviving descendant of Benedict Arnold: possibly the most infamous traitor in American History. Like an American Revolution-era Percy Jackson, Jasper discovers that descendants of history’s traitors belong to a group called The League of American Traitors, and that the True Sons of Liberty – a militant Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution – holds a heck of a grudge. Every time a traitor’s ancestor turns 18, they’re challenged to a duel by one of the Libertines, as the League calls them. The League kids go to a special school that teaches them the survival skills they’ll need in a duel, but Jasper’s case is special. His father was researching his ancestor, and he was onto something. Something that the Libertines will do anything to keep secret. Cyrus, his father’s lawyer and member of the League, urges Jasper to continue his father’s research; it will give all of the League families a new lease on life. Jasper has new friends that stand ready to help, but the Libertines have spies everywhere.

The League of American Traitors is a fun thrill ride through American history. A little bit Percy Jackson, mixed with some National Treasure and a dash of Hamilton, teens will enjoy this look at America, where our heroes’ hands may be a little dirtier than we imagined. The author knows how to keep a book moving, and once introductions are made, supporting characters come with their own rich backstories. This one’s a fun add to fiction collections, especially for fans of realistic intrigue and adventure with a twist.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A Dash of Dragon introduces readers to monster cuisine

A Dash of Dragon, by Heidi Lang, Kati Bartkowski, (July 2017, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481477932

Recommended for readers 9-13

Lailu Loganberry is a 13 year-old master chef, newly graduated from the Academy. Her mentor, Sullivan Slipshod, used to be one of the greats, and Lailu won’t listen to anyone who has a bad thing to say about him – including her best friend, Hannah. But Master Slipshod has accepted a loan from Mr. Boss, an unscrupulous loan shark, whose terms are dire: if they don’t pay back the loan in time, they not only forfeit the restaurant, but they are stuck working for Mr. Boss for the rest of their lives. Lailu’s determined to beat the odds, cook the perfect monster cuisine – which she has to hunt AND prepare – for her customers, protect Hannah from the Elven mafia that’s out to get her, AND navigate the delicate balance she’s found herself walking between Mr. Boss and Elister, the king’s assassin. She also has to join forces with Greg, her obnoxious fellow Academy graduate and rival restaurateur.

A Dash of Dragon is a fun, fantasy middle grade read. Lailu is a strong, smart heroine who keeps her wits about her when everyone else seems to be losing theirs. There’s some mystery, some humor, lots of adventure, and there’s monster cuisine. I love that the Academy trains chefs to hunt their exotic prey – krakens, dragons, and batyrdactyls all make an appearance in the novel – in addition to preparing the cuisine; it adds a nice touch of adventure to the fantasy and fun. Hannah is Lailu’s foil; she’s flighty and seemingly skin-deep compared to Lailu’s determination and focus, but the two have a strong bond that keeps them there for one another. There’s intrigue, double-dealing, and the age-old magic vs. science conflict is alive and well thanks to a rivalry between elves and scientists. The characters are well thought-out and the pace of the book will keep readers turning pages. There’s a somewhat Asian influence in the overall storyline, with references to cookery gods, altars, and dragon cuisine, but Lailu and her friends are not specifically described as such.

 

A fun and different fantasy selection to add to your collections.

Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Middle School, Tween Reads

Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard series: a good series for Alex Rider fans

As pop culture phenomenons get younger, the need for these teens can only increase. From pop stars and young stars and starlets to trust fund kids and scions of political powerhouses, everyone is a potential target. Now, imagine if there were an elite team of teens that receive Special Forces training to be that next line in defense. They’re trained to blend in with the crowd, to be a member of an entourage; they’re trained to protect. The teens of Guardian are a private, elite force, and Connor Reeves is their newest member.

Bodyguard is an interesting series. Part Alex Rider, part Jack Bauer from 24, it’s the story of 14 year-old Connor Reeves, a new recruit to the Guardian organization. Most of the first book chronicles Connor’s recruitment and training, with an interesting subplot that frames the series on a larger level. There’s a big terror plot afoot, and a Yemeni group is behind it, creating havoc on each of Connor’s missions as they progress toward their as-yet unknown greater goal. The first four books chronicle Connor’s first two missions; each mission spans two novels. In the first two books, Recruit and Hostage, Connor is sent to protect the US President’s headstrong, rebellious daughter; in Hijack and Ransom, he and a fellow Guardian protect an Aussie media mogul’s daughters as they vacation on their luxury yacht.

   

The writing is fast-paced and action-packed, with interesting characters and the potential for an exciting conclusion to this building subplot. I had some issues with the author’s initial descriptions of the terrorists, though: it’s a bit discomfiting, especially for someone like me, who works in one of the most diverse library systems in the country. Happily, Bradford puts more emphasis on plot development as the novels progress. Connor tends to come across as a white knight, and Bradford needs to let his female characters breathe a little more, but overall, this is a good middle school-level series for kids who wants to read a series similar to Alex Rider.

Chris Bradford’s Bodyguard series was originally released in the UK; the first four books are available in the States now, with three more to come. The Bodyguard series webpage offers a rundown on the books, plus audio excerpts; bodyguard training tips, and a teacher’s guide for the series.

Want a shot at winning your own BODYGUARD set? Enter my raffle by filling out this Google Form! Good luck!

Bodyguard: Recruit, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524736972
Bodyguard: Hostage, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524736996
Bodyguard: Hijack, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524737016
Bodyguard: Ransom, by Chris Bradford, (May 2017, Philomel), $8.99, ISBN: 9781524737030