Harry Potter fans will love the magical world of A Shadow Bright and Burning, the first book in Jessica Cluess’ Kingdom on Fire series.
Henrietta Howell can set herself on fire, something only she and her best friend Rook know about. In their world, not all magic is created equal, especially that wielded by a woman. When Henrietta’s secret is suddenly revealed, she expects to be executed immediately. Imagine her surprise when, instead, she is dubbed the prophesied female sorcerer, the key to saving the world from the terror of the Ancients.
As she begins her training, however, Henrietta realizes she is not like the other sorcerers-to-be. Frustrated and alone, she seeks advice from an unexpected friend and learns of a secret that puts everything she believes into question: maybe she is not the prophesied one after all. One thing is certain, Henrietta must do whatever she can to hone her skills and blend in with her fellow trainees. Her life, and the lives of everyone around her, depends on it.
A Shadow Bright and Burning is a great introduction to what promises to be a powerful and enlightening series. Cluess puts an enchanted spin on an age-old tale: triumph in the face of inequality, something readers of all ages can relate to.
For some, having magic run in your family would be pretty cool; you could heal injuries, conjure light and even talk to the dead. But for Alex, who watched magic drive away her father and distort her memories of her favorite aunt, magic is nothing but trouble and pain. Seeking to escape her family’s struggles, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her magic. But in Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost, rejecting the gifts of your ancestors comes with horrific consequences, and Alex is going to have to work very hard to fix her mistake if she ever wants to see her family again.
The trouble begins on Alex’s Deathday, the day her entire family (living and dead) gather to bestow their blessings on a bruja, or witch, newly come into her power. When Alex damages the cantos they were performing, she calls an entity known as the Devourer, who then steals her family away. To rescue them, Alex will have to journey to the world of Los Lagos, an in-between limbo where nothing is what it seems, accompanied by Rishi, her best friend, and an untrustworthy brujo named Nova. There, she’ll have to face horrific monsters, powerful curses and her own painful memories as she begins to understand not only her role as one of the most powerful bruja in a generation, but also her place in the long tradition of her family.
Córdova expertly blends Latin American traditions, Latinx culture and urban fantasy to create a fresh, richly detailed story filled with diverse characters, but Labyrinth Lost isn’t just about magic. Alex’s physical journey may take her through the twisted wonderland of Los Lagos, but her emotional journey requires her to work through her fears and anger in learning to accept her family’s love and acceptance.
Fans of the book should know this is the first of the Brooklyn Brujas trilogy, although there’s no publication date yet for the second book. Readers who enjoyed Daughter of Smoke and Bone or When the Moon Was Ours should consider giving Labyrinth Lost a try.
Crooked Kingdom is Leigh Bardugo’s second near-perfect and engaging venture into the city of Ketterdam, and her fifth foray into the world first introduced in her bestselling Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising). I’ll freely admit that the Grisha trilogy was not my cup of tea at all, but Six of Crows (Bardugo’s first book in the duology of the same name) was easily my favorite read of 2015. Ketterdam, the cosmopolitan capitol city of Dutch Republic-inspired Kerch, is a vibrant combination of Amsterdam, Las Vegas and New York; a bustling hub of education, trade and crime. It’s in the Barrel—the lascivious, indulgent entertainment district of Ketterdam— that Kaz Brekker’s gang of criminals, outcasts and misfits find themselves reeling from the events of the previous book. The Six of Crows duology is not two stories, but one long epic told in two parts.
The greatest strength of both books is easily the characters, but that’s more a testament of how fully realized and interesting they are than it is a condemnation of any other aspect. As the glue and primary motivating force of the narrative events, Kaz is somehow equal parts sympathetic and unsettling and is easily the best teen protagonist I’ve ever encountered.
Six of Crows has a split focus, however, with every chapter focusing on the perspective of a different character. I’m not usually a fan of this technique, as in my experience there are always some weaker characters that drag down the flow and only leave you longing for the chapters of characters you enjoy. I’m happy to report that Leigh Bardugo proved me wrong. Not one of these six perspectives is any less enjoyable or dynamic than the others. The story slips between them easily and feels completely natural, and Bardugo weaves the different threads of this narrative together seamlessly.
The first book is, in essence, a heist story with a fantasy twist, but as fans of the genre know, a good heist story doesn't end when the job does. There are always betrayals, broken hearts or some other complications that throw a wrench into the plan. Crooked Kingdom is no exception, as we see Kaz’s gang playing defense for the majority of the book in a definite departure from Six of Crows, where they successfully pulled of the biggest heist in the Grishaverse’s history. The second book is about survival , though Kaz Brekker wouldn’t be Kaz Brekker if he couldn’t spin a profit out of the situation. It’s fitting that Crooked Kingdom takes place on an island that worships the god of trade and deals, since nothing is without a price, not even the reader’s enjoyment of the book. By the end it exacts a heavy toll on the audience, and I found myself tearing up more than once.
I would (and do) recommend the Six of Crows duology to anyone and everyone, not just readers who enjoy fantasy, crime novels or teen books. Crooked Kingdom is my favorite book of 2016, just as its predecessor occupied that spot in 2015. These books truly do contain something for everyone, and I was disappointed to discover that this would not be another trilogy. Fortunately, I get the impression that Leigh Bardugo is far from done with the Grishaverse or Kaz’s Crows. You can keep up with her work and learn more about her worlds on the Leigh Bardugo website and, trust me, she’s very worth following on Twitter.
In The Glittering Court, Richelle Mead weaves a tale that transports readers from the royal palace of Osfridian to uncharted territory in the lands of Adoria. At the center of the story is Lady Whitmore, Countess of Rothford, who has a major dilemma, one that will decide her fate. Descended from a long line of royalty, at age 17 she is quickly learning the consequences of maintaining a privileged lifestyle and the obligations that come along with it.
Caught in a world where a woman’s greatest asset is her beauty or family name, a marriage to one of equal status may be the answer to a secure financial future. Despite the precarious situation, a timely meeting leads to a decision that charts the course of this entertaining read. Assuming the identity of another, the countess risks everything to have the freedom to make her own choices. She encounters the true meaning of friendship along the way, and also finds that following her heart comes with its own complications — especially when it comes to a particular gentleman she is unable to avoid.
The front cover may promise the reader an evening of “glittering” festivities, however, Lady Whitmore is not the average princess. The Glittering Court takes you on an adventure through rugged terrain as you follow the journey of a fearless heroine who discovers that life is more than ball gowns and fine dining. The first in the series, read as a stand-alone or continue on with Midnight Jewel, which is due out in early 2017.
We return to the world of the Shadowhunters in Cassandra Clare’s Lady Midnight, the first installment of The Dark Artifices trilogy, a sequel to The Mortal Instruments series.
Five years after the Dark War that ravaged the Shadowhunter population, Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn have grown into brave young warriors. For Emma, dealing with demons, vampires and werewolves is much more appealing than dealing in matters of the heart. She lives for revenge, determined to find out who really murdered her parents five years ago. Jules, on the other hand, has his hands full raising his younger siblings and doing whatever he has to do to keep his family together.
When faerie bodies bearing the same ritualistic marks as Emma’s parents start turning up all over Los Angeles, the young Shadowhunters take up the illicit task of investigating the murders. The stakes are raised even higher when Mark, the eldest Blackthorn, kidnapped by faeries during the Dark War, is returned to his family under the condition that the murderer be brought to the land of Faerie. If the Shadowhunters don’t find the killer, and quick, they risk losing Mark forever.
Full of fun banter, wild adventure and forbidden romance, Lady Midnight will have you on the edge of your seat throughout and leave you itching for book two. If you loved The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series, you can’t miss out on this thrilling next chapter.
On the front cover of The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, a quote from a bestselling author is highlighted: “You will not sleep, check your phone, or even breathe once you begin reading…” Skeptical at first, I felt those were pretty high standards to be placed directly in clear view of the reader. However, after finishing the book in less than five hours, I can say with confidence that this one that will have you hooked from the first page.
A tragedy occurs in a Florida beach community, and the town never fully recovers. Six kindergarten children go missing and, 11 years later, five return with no memory of where they have been. Now 16 years of age, mystery surrounds the return of the teens, and many in town question the motives behind this “miracle.”
Altebrando takes the readers into a kaleidoscope of interpreting memory loss through visual cues and a creative use of text. Different points of view guide us through the agonizing process of recovering memories. The words come to life and will take the reader into the minds of the main characters. As the story unfolds, you realize that the town is connected in more ways than you imagined, and that many questions are unanswered.
In the end, what stands out the most are the who and why, which will be gnawing at you throughout the story. If you are looking for a fast-paced teen fiction that will constantly have you on edge, go straight to the BCPL catalog and request this today. The only regret I have after reading this book is that it doesn’t have a sequel.
Time-traveling pirates? Count me in. Heidi Heilig has offered up just such delicious fare with The Girl from Everywhere, the first installment in her new teen series.
Nix, whose father is the captain of The Temptation, has grown up on the ship traveling to any far-flung place in time they happen to have a map for, including magical and mythological locales. The eccentric crew members are the closest thing she has to family. But, one place always beckons her father back — the place where he lost Nix’s mother. If he could get back, perhaps he could save her.
Time travel has rules, however. The crew can never use the same map twice, and the map must be an original reflection of the place in time it was created. While the captain would do anything to get his hands on a usable map of 1868 Honolulu, it is hard to find one that will actually work.
To acquire a potentially usable map, the crew will have to pull more than one major heist. Since piracy is never as simple as it sounds, they must also deal with unforeseen obstacles along the way.
Nix’s complex relationship with her father is especially compelling, though there are also hints of romance. Nix’s best friend aboard the ship may have deeper feelings, and she also meets an enigmatic stranger who will test her loyalties to the ship and the crew.
Heilig, a native Hawaiian, ties in a surprising amount of actual history concerning the island at this pivotal time in its history, and her descriptions of the place, the people and the food are magical.
Readers who enjoy this book should check out Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell, The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry and Passenger by Alexandra Bracken.
Welcome to the Drearcliff Grange School, where the girls have something missing or something a little extra. In The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School author Kim Newman introduces us to the school’s most recent arrival, Amy Thomsett, who was sent hastily by her mother after she was found sleeping on the ceiling. Luckily, Drearcliff encourages this particular strangeness in its students and Amy soon finds herself at home amongst the daughters of criminal masterminds, outlaw scientists and master magicians.
In her first term, Amy makes fast friends with three roommates possibly even stranger than herself: Light Fingers, the daughter of criminal stage-magicians whose hands move “like hummingbird wings;” Kali, the princess of a bandit kingdom whose English is informed by Hollywood gangster movies; and Frecks, the orphan daughter of spies who’s inherited magic chainmail blessed by the Lady in the Lake.
Together, they discover that even a school as strange as Drearcliff has its secrets, and the four set out to uncover them. Who are the hooded strangers collecting girls in the night? Why does a snowman in the yard seem to be marching closer to the school every day? And why can’t anyone get that sinister jump rope song out of their head, no matter how hard they try? The answer is terrible enough to unite an entire school of misfits against a common enemy.
Just as in his Anno Dracula books, Newman has crafted a world that is overflowing with original ideas as well as allusions to classic works like Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft. Even those who don’t appreciate Newman’s imaginative world building will enjoy the novel’s fast pace and refreshing focus on female friendship. It’s the literary mash-up of Harry Potter and Mean Girls you never knew you wanted.
If you have heard of Scheherazade, the woman who stayed alive night after night by telling a murderous king cliffhanger stories, then you may want to check out A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston, a retelling of The Arabian Nights.
She knows her village is next on Lo-Melkhiin's list. Bound by the laws of men, he has to choose a wife from each city district and each village before beginning again. He has taken three hundred wives and all have died in his palace. She fears that her fiery sister will be his next victim and her love for her sister is so strong that she successfully devises a way to make it impossible for Lo-Melkhiin not to choose her instead.
Her goal is to stay calm and to survive the night at the palace. And she does. When she survives the next night and the next, the servants and guards of the palace take notice. There's something different about her and it has to do with her sister's love and fierce will. Although she still lives, her sister prays to her as does her mother and her sister's mother. Soon, all of the women in her village and in the palace pray to her, and the longer she survives the more her story spreads. Praying to a deceased person brings comfort and goodwill to the living; praying to one who still lives translates to power that person can use to combat evil.
She tells Lo-Melkhiin stories about her sister and her family, falls into trances while spinning thread and weaves images into cloth that begin to come true. Her power grows; but the more she uses, the more she weakens. As she unravels the secrets of the palace and of Lo-Melkhiin, she feels she may have just enough power to defeat evil. For her sister. For her village. For all of the unmarried women under Lo-Melkhiin's rule. For herself.
A Thousand Nights is an elegant and descriptive retelling that stands on its own. You do not need to be familiar with The Arabian Nights to enjoy Johnston's version. The only named character is Lo-Melkhiin, which lends an air of mystery and power to the other characters, especially the women and the protagonist. A Thousand Nights starts off at a slow crawl and doesn't pick up much pace for the majority of the book, but if you can look past that you will find the beauty in the descriptions of the desert and its people and the feminist undertones in the quiet strength and cleverness and power of its women. Look out for Johnston's companion novel, Spindle, its publication date to be announced.
Sam Bosma’s debut graphic novel Fantasy Sports is a late gift to any kid who felt gym class lacked a Tolkien-esque quality.
Fantasy Sports introduces us to Wiz, a young magician beginning her internship in the mage’s guild under the tutelage of the older, grumpier Mean Mug. It’s not going great. They don’t get along, and Wiz is less than thrilled that Mean Mug doesn’t seem to know any magic. But after a chewing out from their supervisor, the two are sent to prove themselves on a treasure hunt in a mummy’s tomb. This leads them to evil skeletons, magic puzzles and a basketball game with a smack-talking mummy (of course).
Similar to Scott Pilgrim or Adventure Time, this book mixes the tropes of fantasy and video games with the heightened drama of adolescence. Like peanut butter and chocolate, it works like a charm. Although a couple of crude remarks make this book inappropriate for young children, older readers will find it infectiously fun. You’ll feel yourself swept back to a time when a friendly game of basketball had the life-or-death stakes of a boss battle.