Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Stepsister, by Jennifer Donnelly

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Stepsister

by Jennifer Donnelly

Scholastic Press, May 14, 2019. 342 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 13, 2019, from an advance reader copy I got at ALA Midwinter Meeting.

Stepsister was my airplane reading on my way back from ALA Midwinter Meeting and made the long flight a delight. It tells about Isabelle, one of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters.

The story begins when Isabelle is ready to cut off her toes so they will fit into the glass slipper the prince has brought, after her sister Octavia was discovered to have cut off her heel.

“We should’ve heated the blade for Tavi,” Maman fretted now. “Why didn’t I think of it? Heat sears the vessels. It stops the bleeding. Ah, well. It will go better for you, Isabelle.”

It’s not easy, but Isabelle cuts off this part of herself, as she has cut off metaphorical parts of herself all during her life at Maman’s bidding.

And yet, when Maman demanded that she get up, Isabelle did. She opened her eyes, took a deep breath to steady herself, and stood.

Isabelle could do this impossible thing because she had a gift – a gift far more valuable than a pretty face or dainty feet.

Isabelle had a strong will.

She did not know that this was a good thing for a girl to have, because everyone had always told her it was a terrible thing. Everyone said a girl with a strong will would come to a bad end. Everyone said a girl’s will must be bent to the wishes of those who know what’s best for her.

Isabelle was young, only sixteen; she had not yet learned that Everyone is a fool.

Anyone who knows the fairy tale “Cinderella” knows that this didn’t go well for Isabelle. However, that’s only the beginning of this book.

There’s a Prologue that came before this, and we learn that the three Fates have a wager going wiith Chance, who appears as a bold and handsome young man.

He was dressed in a sky-blue frockcoat, leather britches, and tall boots. A gold ring dangled from one ear; a cutlass hung from his hip. His face was as beautiful as daybreak, his smile as bewitching as midnight. His eyes promised the world, and everything in it.

Isabelle is the very mortal whose life map (showing her fate) Chance has stolen. The Fates are not happy about it.

“All this trouble for a mere girl?” asked the crone, regarding Chance closely. “She’s nothing, a nobody. She possesses neither beauty nor wit. She’s selfish. Mean. Why her?”

“Because I can’t resist a challenge,” Chance replied. He rerolled the map with one hand, steadying it against his chest, then tucked it back inside his coat. “And what girl wouldn’t choose what I offer?” He gestured at himself, as if even he couldn’t believe how irresistible he was. “I’ll give her the chance to change the path she is on. The chance to make her own path.”

“Fool,” said the crone. “You understand nothing of mortals. We Fates map out their lives because they wish it. Mortals do not like uncertainty. They do not like change. Change is frightening. Change is painful.”

“Change is a kiss in the dark. A rose in the snow. A wild road on a windy night,” Chance countered.

“Monsters live in the dark. Roses die in the snow. Girls get lost on wild roads,” the crone shot back.

So there’s something at stake as Isabelle’s life plays out. The stepsisters’ story becomes known to the people around them, giving them contempt from the other villagers. Then war comes close to the region. Isabelle hears from a fairy queen a way to change her fate, but will she dare seize that? And meanwhile, neither Chance nor the crone of the Fates is shy about inserting themselves into Isabelle’s story to make sure they win the wager.

Yes, some may say you need to cut off pieces of yourself to make your way in the world. But this book suggests that it’s possible to recover those pieces again and take your fate in your own hands. A wonderful story about what happens after the fairy tale.

jenniferdonnelly.com
scholastic.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

Muse of Nightmares

by Laini Taylor
read by Steve West

Hachette Audio, 2018. 16 hours on 13 CDs.
Starred Review
Review written December 10, 2018, from a library audiobook
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Teen Speculative Fiction

Wow. This book is wonderful. I confess, I listened to this book even though it’s technically eligible for the Newbery Medal. Our committee had agreed not to listen to audiobooks of eligible books so as not to be swayed in either direction. But the book this follows, Strange the Dreamer, was the book that gave me a crush on narrator Steve West (what a gorgeous voice!), and it’s very long – way too long to indulge in reading the book – and that first book struck me as much more appropriate for young adults than for children.

That continues to be my opinion. Yes, there are some teens in this book – but they are dealing with life as adults, deciding careers and where to live and yes, having sex. There are no parents telling them what to do.

This second book is even sexier than the first. I would hesitate to give it to a 14-year-old. In fact, it would almost be a shame to give this to anyone who hasn’t already had sex themselves – might give them the wrong idea. Our two protagonists have some special powers. Sarai is a ghost with a body – but she can do things like make her body light up when Lazlo kisses her. And they can go to fantasy locations in dreams – and it’s all very amazing. And I wouldn’t want to give anyone a misleading impression about what normal sex is like!

Even setting aside that part, this book is amazing. We’re set up at the end of the first book with what seems to be an impossible situation. Minya is keeping Sarai “alive” as a ghost. But Minya also wants to destroy the people of the city of Weep. Lazlo is caught in the middle. If he doesn’t let Minya get her vengeance, then she’s going to let Sorai completely die.

Can Laini Taylor pull off a satisfying and believable ending from that set-up? It turns out that yes, she can.

To pull off that satisfying ending involves telling another story and giving us a bigger picture of worlds parallel to the one where our story is set. It’s all intricate and well-worked-out and I am again marveling at Laini Taylor’s imagination.

It’s also long. Yes, there’s some repetition. Yes, there are some places where we get more descriptions of people’s emotions than we necessarily need. But again, listening to Steve West’s narration on my commute, I didn’t mind the experience being prolonged.

In the first book we found out about generations of abuse that happened to the people of the city of Weep. In the second book, we find out what was behind that abuse – and see realistic beginnings of healing from it.

And the whole story is intricate and imaginative and beautifully told.

lainitaylor.com
strangethedreamer.com
hachetteaudio.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of What the Night Sings, by Vesper Stamper

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

What the Night Sings

by Vesper Stamper

Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. 266 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 27, 2018.

Wow. This is a Holocaust novel. They tend to be powerful. But not all of them have me closing the book saying, “Wow” – stunned by hope.

To be fair, the book begins as World War II is finishing. Gerta Rausch is in Bergen-Belsen as the British are liberating the camp, holding her bunkmate, sick with typhus, in her arms:

The soldiers begin removing the dead. There are so many. How could I not have noticed them lying right next to me?

And suddenly – Rivkah, too, is gone.

I feel her final breath wisp across my lips. They pull her from me, but I can’t let her go. She is my last connection to the living world. I clutch her arm, her hand, her fingers. I sing the lullaby after her, my foster mother. I know no one else in all of Bergen-Belsen, either from Auschwitz or Theresienstadt. Everyone has come and gone, piles of shells pulled in and out of waves, and I’m still here, a skeleton of a sea creature, dropped in this tide pool, living, watching, still living.

This book is about living – and trying to figure out how to make a life – after the war. Gerta is sixteen years old and in a displaced persons camp on the site of the old concentration camp. Her only family – her Papa – died during the war in the furnaces.

Gerta had trained to be an opera singer like her stepmother, her stepmother who watched while she and her papa were taken to the cattle cars. Gerta did manage to bring her papa’s viola with her – and got assignments to play in the camp orchestras. They played while people were sorted, for life or for death.

Part of the power of this book is that it includes illustrations. The book size is larger format than most novels, and many of the illustrations take up entire double-page spreads, though some are next to the text. The picture that hit me the hardest was a picture of a smokestack on the side with smoke going all the way across the top of the two pages. Those pages conclude with these words:

“Come with me,” the woman says softly, pragmatically. “You’ve been sent to the orchestra, yes? Well. Join your very lucky sisters. Music has saved your life today.”

“Where’s my papa?” I plead with her. “I want my papa!”

She signs and points ahead. “See that chimney?” she says, still softly, but so that I will clearly understand. “See that smoke? There’s your papa.”

But I said that it’s a book that left me with hope. Though the book does explain the dark setting, Gerta must make the hard choice to keep living. And to love. And it’s not easy.

I especially appreciated the Author’s Note at the back, because it put a bow on why the book felt so applicable to my life – I, who had never experienced anything remotely like the Holocaust. She explained that in high school she developed a deep identity as a musician.

There’s a problem with that, however. When you decide early on who you “truly are,” it can trick you into thinking that you were destined to live by a certain script. And when you’re out on your own and you realize that there is no script, you might panic.

Several years ago, I was rear-ended by a texting driver, which resulted in my arm being partially paralyzed. I completely lost the ability to play guitar – I had been a touring musician – and it took me a full year of rehab before I could reliably draw again. I had to relearn everything, even how to lift a fork to my mouth. This wasn’t in the script. A huge element of my deeply ingrained identity had been smashed. Like Gerta, I had hinged my future on a set of expectations, which depended on life’s machine running with no glitches. Being disabled cast a pall over every area of my life: my ability to drive, hold a baby, cook, hug or shake hands, let alone create art and music. How could I live my life? Without my script, who was I?

Perhaps that puts all the more power into Gerta’s story – and the art Vesper Stamper created to go with that story.

A stunning book about starting over when everything and everyone is gone. About finding joy again, about choosing life and choosing love.

vesperillustration.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book sent from the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Thunderhead, by Neal Shusterman

Monday, March 11th, 2019

Thunderhead

Arc of a Scythe Book 2

by Neal Shusterman

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 504 pages.
Review written January 25, 2018.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Teen Speculative Fiction

This book was a bad choice to bring to Silent Book Club — I wanted to shout when I got to the last page. I did NOT see that coming! (And it’s perfect!) And I doubt that any reader will see it coming, even if I warn you.

But let me back up. This book is a sequel to Scythe. One thing I liked about Scythe was that I wouldn’t have even known it was a Book One if the flap cover hadn’t said so. It wrap ups nicely, and you think good is winning.

Ummm, let’s just say that Good has many setbacks in Book Two.

This series is set in a future earth where mankind has conquered death. They have also eliminated government, and the world is run by the Cloud – which is now known as the Thunderhead. And the Thunderhead is a perfect ruler.

But because it’s not sustainable to have the population keep growing forever, some people need to die. They didn’t want to leave that choice into the hands of a machine, so that’s why the Scythedom was developed. Scythes must hold themselves to high standards and ten commandments. Their responsibility is to glean people and end their lives.

There is strong separation between Scythe and State. So even though the Thunderhead knows something is going terribly wrong with the scythes, it cannot intervene directly.

This book shows that something is indeed going terribly wrong.

I used to tell people that besides apparently having a grim reaper on the cover and being about two teens becoming apprentice scythes, the first book was more thought-provoking than grim. The second book, I’m not going to say that! Some truly horrific things happen in this book, as well as some enormous surprises.

But they are all brilliantly done and I really really really want to read the next book!

Since I won’t be able to post this review until a year after I write it, maybe the next book will be out and I can finally find out how this all turns out. (If this ends up being longer than a trilogy, I may scream.)

Added in March 2019: Nope, not yet! No next book yet. I want to add that this was probably the best-plotted book I read in 2018. In my opinion, though, it is not a children’s book. Teens will enjoy it, yes, but the book appeals to the part of them that is becoming an adult. The characters have chosen careers (grim ones) and are living on their own or with a mentor. And again, they are dealing with some truly horrific events and choices.

But wow! For young adults and old adults – this series will make you grapple with lots of big and profound life-or-death right-or-wrong questions you might never have even thought to propose before.

storyman.com
simonandschuster.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/thunderhead.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Courting Darkness, by Robin LaFevers

Monday, March 4th, 2019

Courting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 503 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 25, 2019, from my own copy.

When I heard that Robin LaFevers was writing another book in the world of His Fair Assassin, I put the book on pre-order from Amazon right away. Although I loved re-entering that world, and the author’s writing is still magnificent, and once again I learned things about medieval Brittany – I was a little disappointed with this book compared to the others.

First, although there was lots of sex, I didn’t think this one was as romantic as the others. One couple may have fallen in love, but they’re certainly not admitting it yet. But it also didn’t come to as good a stopping-place as each of the first three books did. There’s a lot that’s still unresolved, and the book ends on something of a cliff-hanger. Which is all the more annoying when the next book hasn’t been written yet.

But please don’t think I didn’t love reading this book. I have a feeling that I will appreciate it all the more once more books are written in this series. I still intend to preorder the next book — may that day come soon.

And back to the assassin nuns. In this book, we meet Genevieve, another girl sent out from the convent of St. Mortain, the god of death. Years ago, Genevieve was sent with Margot to the court of France and told they’d be called on when needed by the convent. They have heard nothing since. Now they’re in the household of Count Angouleme, and Margot is about to have his bastard. Then Genevieve finds someone forgotten in a dungeon….

That story is alternated with what’s going on with Sybella, who was featured in Dark Triumph. Now she has custody of her younger sisters, but her vicious brother still wants them all in his power. The Duchess of Brittany can protect them – but will she still be able to do so after she becomes Queen of France? Sybella needs to protect the duchess on her journey to reach the king, but it is probably best if the king and the power behind the throne – the king’s sister – don’t realize that Sybella is a trained assassin and a daughter of Mortain, the god of death.

And is the duchess even doing the right thing becoming Queen of France? Or has she given up her power to rule her own people?

The story is once again absorbing and fascinating. It once again is firmly based in historical fact – so that we begin to think there really may have been assassin nuns serving the Duchess of Brittany. If I was a little disappointed, it was only because I wanted another like the first three. But hadn’t I been delighted in how different each of the first three books was from the others? Also, I suspect once I get over the cliff-hanger ending – by reading the next book – I will be all the more happy with this new series.

[Ah! Amazon says it will be a Duology. So if I think of this as half of one complete story — it’s a lot more satisfying.]

And now that I’m not reading for the Newbery – I may just go back and enjoy the His Fair Assassin trilogy all over again.

robinlafevers.com
hmhco.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Blood Water Paint, by Joy McCullough

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

Blood Water Paint

by Joy McCullough

Dutton Books, 2018. 304 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 16, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2019 Morris Award Finalist
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 General Teen Fiction

Wow. This book is amazing.

Now, the central event of the book is a rape – so I, personally, don’t think that’s “presentation for a child audience” [though that is only my personal opinion and I haven’t discussed it with anyone else on the Newbery committee]. But by the time I figured that out, there was absolutely no way I was going to stop reading.

This is a verse novel, which usually I don’t have a lot of patience with. But this verse spoke with a compelling voice that pulled me in immediately.

We have the perspective of Artemisia Gentileschi, who was seventeen years old in 1611 in Rome. Her mother died when she was twelve. She worked for her father, an artist, grinding pigments, preparing paint – and creating paintings for him, even though they bore his name.

In that world, women were used by men. Her mother had told her stories of the ancient heroines Susanna and Judith – they stood up to men and were vindicated, though it was not easy for them. Those stories, woven through the book, are the only parts that are not written in poetry. Yet they quickly make you feel what it must have been like for those ancient women – in a way that men who have never felt powerless cannot understand.

And then a young man hired to teach Artemisia perspective rapes her. And she tells the world what he did – but the resulting trial comes at great cost to Artemisia.

The powerless woman, used by men, stands up to the powerful, like Susanna and Judith before her. Though none of them spoke up without cost.

And the amazing part is that Artemisia is an actual woman, an artist, and her trial in 1611 actually happened.

Being verse, this book is not long. But its effect is long-lasting indeed.

They tell me I know
about perspective now.
Too well.
They say I’m standing
at the start of a long road,
looking out into the distance.
What do I see?

joymccullough.com
PenguinTeen.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of West, by Edith Pattou

Friday, February 8th, 2019

West

by Edith Pattou

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 514 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 13, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Speculative Teen Fiction

I was so excited when I found out West was coming out! I still remember, approximately 15 years ago when I was working at Sembach Library and a shipment of new books came in that included East, by Edith Pattou and The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale – two fairy tale retellings that ended up being my two favorite books of the year. I ordered my own personal copy of both of them, I liked them both so much. The Goose Girl has become the start of an entire series since then, but this is the very first follow-up to East.

Since this is my Newbery committee year, I didn’t get to reread East before reading West as I would have liked to do. But I remembered the basics, from the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” Rose went off with a white bear to save her family, but used a candle to try to see his face and then had to travel east of the sun, west of the moon. In the end, she had to defeat the Troll Queen in order to save him. They were supposed to live happily ever after.

But in this book, we learn that the Troll Queen is not dead. And she’s ready to get revenge, not only on Rose and Charles, but on the entire human race.

Like the fairy tale it all began with, this book is something of a saga. Rose and Charles now have a baby boy and an adopted daughter. As the book begins, Rose was visiting her family in Trondheim while Charles was performing as a court musician in Stockholm. But word comes that there has been a shipwreck of the ship Charles was taking home. There’s something off about the report.

In this book, it’s very much a case of one thing leading to another. Rose ends up taking a journey every bit as taxing as the one that took her east of the sun, west of the moon. Again her quest requires ingenuity, perseverance, and resourcefulness.

But it also requires help from others. Once she finds Charles (that’s the first difficult part), he helps. But so do her brother Neddy and her friend Sib, and so does Estelle, the little girl they adopted, who is kidnapped by the Troll Queen along with their son and watches over him. It turns out she also needs help from the Fates themselves.

The journey takes Rose in every direction on the compass in her quest to save her beloved husband, then her son, and even all humankind.

The Troll Queen is a formidable opponent and frightening in her power and her hatred. But Rose has something stronger in the power of love.

This is another gripping adventure saga with all the resonance of a fairy tale.

edithpattou.com
hmhco.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Dark Energy, by Robison Wells

Friday, October 26th, 2018

Dark Energy

by Robison Wells

HarperTeen, 2016. 278 pages.
Starred Review

Dark Energy is set in the near future. Aliens have landed, well, crash landed, in Minnesota, after skidding through Iowa. Alice Goodwin’s Dad is director of special projects for NASA, so this news means that Alice is moving to Minnesota and enrolled in an elite private school there.

It’s actually a few weeks before the aliens emerge from their giant spaceship. When they do, they look like humans.

Naturally, there are protestors. Almost 20,000 people died when the ship crashed. The aliens don’t seem to be looking for conquest, but they also don’t seem to have special insight or knowledge capable of creating such amazing technology.

Most of the thousands of aliens are settled in a tent city, but Alice’s Dad arranges to have two of them attend her private school. Can Alice teach Coya and Suski human ways? And can she and her friends figure out what’s so fishy about their story?

This is an imaginative look at what would happen if aliens crash-landed, combined with a mystery as to what it is the aliens aren’t telling. Combined with a boarding school story and a road trip tale, with some life-or-death danger, this book is an entertaining read.

I enjoyed this paragraph, where the aliens first come out of the ship and are met by a delegation:

Still, it was apparent from the communication that the aliens were impressed with the dress uniforms of the military men, and the alien woman’s hands moved from a dangling award on one of their chests to the dangling tie around the vice president’s neck and back again. Then she noticed that the man in the back had the same kind of tie, only his was striped instead of silver, and that seemed to impress her even more. The alien man was the first to approach the woman in the business suit, and he pointed to the tiny flag pin on her lapel, and then at the many pins on the military uniforms, then the men’s ties, and he gave her an encouraging Try harder next time smile.

I liked Alice’s voice as the narrator describing all this. She’s got a sense of humor about it all and because of her Dad’s job, tends not to catastrophize one way or the other. When things take a dramatic turn for the worse, she’s level-headed and thinks through how to help her friends.

How would you feel if aliens landed?

robisonwells.com
epicreads.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/dark_energy.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

This Savage Song

by Victoria Schwab

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2016. 427 pages.

Kate Harker and August Flynn live in a divided city overrun by monsters. The monsters are created when violent acts are committed. In the north side of the city, people pay Kate’s father for protection. Those who wear one of his medallions will not be touched by the monsters (or the monsters will pay). In the south side of the city, August’s father’s forces patrol to control the monsters. But he uses three of the most powerful type of monster — which includes August himself.

But the truce between the two powerful men and the two halves of the city is growing shaky.

Kate has been sent away for her own protection. But after she gets kicked out of six boarding schools, her father has to take her back. She will attend Colton Academy on the north side of Verity. August is also going to attend Colton Academy. Because the truce may fail. And Kate Harker may be the one thing her father cares about.

Monsters are only capable of telling the truth. Which might make it hard for August to pose as human, but he manages. His type of monster, the Sunai, can steal the souls of sinners by making music. He can tell when someone has committed violence, the kind of violence that produces monsters — their shadows don’t hold still.

The Sunai bring about justice. They work for good, right? But when they get Hungry, they can lose control….

Kate wants to prove she’s strong enough to live in the city, that she is enough like her father to not fear the monsters and rule the city. She notices there’s something off about August.

When monsters attack her school and it looks like the Sunai are doing it — but August is the one who saves her — Kate realizes that someone is trying to make the truce fall apart. Both she and August are in danger, but can they trust each other?

This book has an imaginative premise and explores what makes a human and what makes a monster. There is gore and violence, but interesting thoughts about society and violence and family.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/this_savage_song.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Shadow Bright and Burning, by Jessica Cluess, read by Fiona Hardingham

Monday, October 15th, 2018

A Shadow Bright and Burning

by Jessica Cluess

read by Fiona Hardingham

Listening Library, 2016. 12 hours, 49 minutes on 10 compact discs.

This is alternate history Victorian England, read with impeccable English accents, reflecting class differences in the accents (even though I wouldn’t know the difference if I hadn’t heard it.)

Henrietta Howel has always hidden her ability to set things on fire and burst into flame without burning. So when a sorcerer comes to the school where she grew up and now teaches, she works hard to keep from flaming out. It turns out the sorcerer is looking for a girl with power over flame not to execute her as a witch, but to fulfill a prophecy about a woman from sorcerer stock who will save the country.

When the Ancients attack that night — seven great horrific spirits from another dimension who have been attacking England for years — Henrietta’s powers are revealed. But she is brought back to London to train as a sorcerer. She discovers a different world than the one where she grew up.

Henrietta’s one requirement is that she must bring Rook with her — a boy who is “Unclean,” marked by scars from an attack by one of the Ancients, Korazoth. Rook and Henrietta have always looked after each other. The sorcerer is willing to take him on as a stable boy — anything to get Henrietta to train with the sorcerers.

She’s up against a lot in London. She’s out of her depth with society. And she’s training in a house full of boys. She must master her powers in order to be commended by Queen Victoria and become an official sorcerer. And then she meets someone who says he knew her father. And she has grave doubts as to whether she really is the prophesied one. But if she isn’t, she’ll lose everything.

There are layers within layers in this book, but it never gets too complex to follow. I am delighted that there is more to come — the back of the book says it’s Book One of The Kingdom on Fire. The author develops a complicated world here with sorcerers, magicians, and witches — and powerful beings besieging England who destroy humankind and take people as their familiars. And in the middle of all that, you’ve got Victorian England trying to keep women in their place and a girl trying to figure out what that place is for her.

This book is imaginative, suspenseful, and gripping. The narrator’s voice and delightful British accent ensured that my commute was enchanting as long as I was listening to this book.

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

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