Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Devil and the Bluebird, by Jennifer Mason-Black

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Devil and the Bluebird

by Jennifer Mason-Black

Amulet Books (Abrams), 2016. 327 pages.

Blue Riley goes to a crossroads at midnight to make a deal with the devil.

She wants to find her sister, who walked out two years ago. She’s pretty sure her sister made her own deal.

She meets there a lady in a red dress, who does make a deal.

Blue tries to trade her soul for her sister’s. But instead the lady offers her a game.

“You win, your sister comes home, safe and sound. I win, two souls for the price of one.”

The lady gives Blue six months to find Cass, and she even gives her a homing device — enchants her boots to tell her the right direction.

But after Blue accepts the deal, the lady changes the terms. Did Blue think it would be easy? The lady takes her voice, so she can’t make a sound. “You win the game, you get your sister and your voice back.”

And the terms get harder as she goes on the road. If someone she meets learns her name, then Blue can only stay with them for three days — or it will be bad for them. If they don’t know her name, Blue can stay with them for three weeks.

Blue sets out with $900, her guitar, and a notebook and pencil for trying to communicate.

Magic realism is not my thing, so this story isn’t something I’m naturally drawn to. It ends up partly as a catalog of the dangers that homeless people face. Not that it comes across as dry like a catalog — you care deeply about each one.

But it’s also an exploration of family and music and success — and what people are willing to give up to find success. Or fake success. And what it means to be who you truly are.

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Review of The Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

The Crown’s Game

by Evelyn Skye

Balzer + Bray, 2016. 397 pages.
Starred Review

This book is about a magic duel in Imperial Russia.

Russia has always had magic, but over time it is hidden, and the people don’t believe in it. But the tsar needs an Imperial Enchanter, who draws on the magic of Russia. However, there can only be one, or they will dilute the magic. The magic needs to be concentrated.

The tsar explains the Crown’s Game to the two participants, Vika and Nikolai:

The Game is a display of skill and a demonstration of strategy and mettle. The goal is to show me your worthiness to become my Imperial Enchanter — my adviser for all things from war to peace and everything in between.

The Game will take place in Saint Petersburg, and you will take turns executing enchantments. There is no restriction on the form of magic you choose, only that you do not alarm or harm the people of the city….

Each enchanter will have five turns, at the most. As the judge, I may declare a winner at any point in the Game, or I may wait until all ten plays have been made. Remember, your moves will reveal not only your power but also your character and your suitability to serve the empire. Impress me.

So the two enchanters start the Crown’s Game. Besides impressing the tsar, they can end the game by killing the other enchanter. At the end of ten moves, if both are still alive, the tsar will declare a winner. The other will be incinerated by the brand placed on each enchanter at the start of the game.

So Nikolai and Vika begin the work they’ve trained for all their lives. Neither one expected to find a kindred soul in their opponent. It shouldn’t be a surprise, since never before has either one met someone who can work with magic like they can. But there is only room for one Imperial Enchanter.

The book gives the flavor of Imperial Russia. Nikolai has grown up in fashionable Saint Petersburg, a friend of the son of the tsar, mentored by harsh and power-hungry Galina. Vika grew up out in the country, learning how to manipulate nature from her kind mentor Sergei. For the first time, both are going to show their magic to the world.

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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 Ruined, by Amy Tintera

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

Ruined

by Amy Tintera

HarperTeen, 2016. 355 pages.

Ruined begins with the main character killing someone, which is fair enough – It’s a violent and bloody book. But the author wins you over anyway.

The stakes are obviously high right from the start. Em and two Ruined fighters are attacking the carriage of the princess of Vallos. This princess is the one who killed Em’s father, the King of Ruina, and left his head on a stick for her to find. The princess was traveling to marry the prince of Lera. Lera was responsible for the death of Em’s mother, and they took her sister Olivia captive. Em is going to take the princess’s place and marry Cas, the prince of Lera.

The plan is dangerous. If anyone discovers her deception, she will of course be killed. At the start of the book, as Em meets the royal family of Lera, with each person she meets, she thinks about how she could kill them if things go bad. What weapons are handy? How could she use them?

The Ruined are feared because they have magic. Anyway, most of them have magic. Em was born without magic and is considered useless. Her powerful sister was to be the next queen. Em hopes that by infiltrating the royal family, she can learn Olivia’s whereabouts, before warriors from Olso attack with the remaining Ruined.

Em didn’t expect to find Cas so different from his parents, so willing to listen to reason. She didn’t expect to fall in love with him.

This book is full of action and, yes, blood and gore. There’s a violent history on both sides. And not everything goes smoothly in the attack Em had tried to coordinate.

By the time I read this book, during my reading Teen Speculative Fiction for the 2016 Cybils, I was getting tired of girls falling in love with a prince-of-a-family-who-oppressed-my-people-but-has-a-heart-of-gold. Really? I did enjoy the book, but wasn’t quite comfortable with that aspect of it, even by the end.

Unfortunately, this is only Book One. Though the story comes to a decent stopping place, it’s not finished. There will be conflict ahead! Fortunately, this is only Book One. There will be more!

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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 Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Wolf by Wolf

by Ryan Graudin

Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 379 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Wolf by Wolf is an alternate history novel about a world where Germany won World War II. On top of that, our heroine is a Jewish girl who was experimented on by Nazi scientists — who gave her the ability to shapeshift her face.

With the ability, she was able to escape the concentration camp. Now, in 1956, she is the key to a plot to assassinate Hitler.

Now, my fundamental problem with the novel is I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that any sequence of injections could make a person able to change their bone structure. Yael can adjust her height and add freckles to her arms — but she can’t get rid of her prison camp tattoo. Even if I could accept that, she can also change her already-grown hair to be a different color or be thicker. I don’t quite see how that can work.

However, the story is so gripping and so dramatic, I was able to forgive it for its unlikely premise. I’ll grant you, it was sobering to read about Hitler’s Europe as the 2016 election happened.

The plot is a complicated one. Because Hitler has survived too many assassination attempts, he now never appears in public, except twice a year — at the start and end of the great motorcycle race, the Axis Tour, where motorcyclists rode from Germania (Berlin) to Tokyo, the capital of the Japanese empire. Last year, a girl, Adele Wolfe, had disguised herself as her brother and won the race. Hitler had danced with her.

Now Yael is going to take Adele’s identity, win the race, and assassinate Hitler in front of the world when he dances with her at the victory celebration. This will be a signal for her allies in the Resistance to move and topple the Third Reich.

But the race is long and grueling. Adele’s brother has entered the race to try to stop her. — He wants to save her life. Then there are the two other previous race victors who also want to be the first to win the Axis Tour a second time. Life and death are on the line. On top of that, Yael must navigate relationships blind.

And she must get to the Victory Ball. She must win.

But to do that, she needs to survive.

It took me awhile to warm up to this story. As I said, I had a hard time with the premise. I thought the writing seemed a little overdramatic. But as I read, I have to admit that a girl in that situation would feel the weight of everything depending on her. The situation is inherently dramatic.

Little by little, we learn her history. Yael has gotten a tattoo of five wolves to cover her prison tattoo. Each wolf represents one person she has lost. She is doing this for them.

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them — made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.

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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 The Last Execution, by Jesper Wung-Sung

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

The Last Execution

by Jesper Wung-Sung

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016. 132 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Author Jesper Wung-Sung lives in Svendborg, Denmark. On February 22, 1853, fifteen-year-old Niels Nielsen was beheaded on charges of arson and murder of the sheriff’s son. This book fictionalizes that execution, getting us into the heads of Niels himself and various people who come to the execution.

The book takes us through the final twelve hours of Niels’ life, with a different perspective each hour, though usually going back to the boy, Niels Nielsen.

He and his father had wandered the countryside for years, looking for work. But his father became less and less able to work. Meanwhile, people like the mayor, the baker, and the carpenter think about how horrible he must be to do that terrible thing and how their town will now be a better place.

The book isn’t pleasant reading. In many ways, it just feels sad and empty. But it is an exercise in perspective. And will perhaps make you look at society’s outcasts with a little more compassion.

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Review of Railhead, by Philip Reeve

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

Railhead

by Philip Reeve

Switch Press (Capstone), 2016. 333 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s brilliant and original world-building in a distant future science fiction novel.

When it begins, it almost sounds like your typical book about a street thief:

Listen . . .

He was running down Harmony when he heard it. Faint at first, but growing clearer, rising above the noises of the streets. Out in the dark, beyond the city, a siren voice was calling, lonely as the song of whales. It was the sound he had been waiting for. The Interstellar Express was thundering down the line from Golden Junction, and singing as it came.

He had an excuse to hurry now. He was not running away from a crime anymore, just running to catch a train. Just Zen Starling, a thin brown kid racing down Harmony Street with trouble in his eyes and stolen jewelry in the pocket of his coat, dancing his way through the random gaps that opened and closed in the crowds. The lines of lanterns strung between the old glass buildings lit his face as he looked back, looked back, checking for the drone that was hunting him.

In this distant future, humans live all over the universe. They travel between star systems on train lines that go through K-gates. The trains are sentient, their AI having developed so far. In fact, the gods of that time, the Guardians, started out as Artificial Intelligence long ago on earth.

Zen starts as a street thief, but a powerful man named Raven, hundreds of years old, wants Zen to steal something for him. He tells Zen that he’s actually a member of the Noon family — the Imperial family. His mission is to go on the Noon train and steal a small object. Raven sends a Motorik named Nova along with Zen to get through firewalls and tell him what to do through Zen’s headset.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Zen stealing this thing will change the fate of the galaxy.

Not all the characters in this book are human, but they’re all recognizable personalities. When I finished, I was amazed at how the world, as wild as it seems, had absorbed my interest without pulling me out by implausibilities. It’s easy to extrapolate to this world from today’s technology. Everyone has access to the Datasea made from the interlinked internets of all the inhabited worlds. The various AI technology can access this swiftly.

I liked some of the names of the intelligent locomotives. They choose their names “from the deep archives of the Datasea.” There are some bizarre names like Gentlemen Take Polaroids and some more traditional like Damask Rose.

This could well be Book One of a series. But it may also be a stand-alone. While there is much room for further adventures in this well-developed world, the adventure comes to a satisfying conclusion. I would love to read more.

Zen’s sister calls him a railhead, and he guesses she’s right:

He didn’t make these journeys up and down the line simply to steal things, he made them because he loved the changing views, the roaring blackness of the tunnels, and the flicker of the gates. And best of all he loved the trains, the great locomotives, each one different, some stern, some friendly, but all driven by the same deep joy that he felt at riding the rails.

This book shows that deep joy, along with galaxy-shaking adventure. You’ll meet creatures that make you rethink sentience. (Uncle Bugs is just plain creepy!)

Sentient trains that travel the galaxy. It’s a wildly imaginative scenario — and Philip Reeve pulls it off.

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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 The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman

Friday, June 29th, 2018

The Dark Days Club

by Alison Goodman

Viking, 2016. 482 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2016.

This book is one of my favorite kinds – a Regency novel with magic thrown in.

We’re introduced to Lady Helen Wrexhall, eighteen years old and getting ready for her Royal presentation. Lady Helen is an orphan, and her mother died with the cloud of treason over her name. Helen lives with her aunt and uncle, who want her to curb any impulses to be anything like her mother. Lady Helen has recently noticed herself extra excitable and restless.

Then she meets Lord Carlston, about whom rumors swirl that he killed his wife. Lord Carlston believes that Helen, like her mother, is a Reclaimer – one of eight people in England who is able to fight the thousands of Deceivers who feed on the souls of others.

Lady Helen indeed discovers unusual powers. And when she holds the miniature her mother left her, she is able to see Deceivers. She witnesses the shocking scene of Lord Carlston fighting a Deceiver. He tells about the Dark Days Club – a group of people who work with the Reclaimers to fight the Deceivers and save humankind.

But meanwhile, her aunt and uncle and brother know nothing of this and are intent that Helen should be seeking a husband. They continue with preparations for her Royal presentation and her ball.

The two worlds are at odds and one is very dangerous. Then Helen receives a letter her mother left for her and discovers that she may have a choice as to which world she wishes to remain in.

This novel is clearly just the first of a series – and I definitely want to find out what happens next. Regency plus magic is one of my favorite genres. There’s still romantic tension going on, as well as real peril associated with the activities of Reclaimers. She is a Direct Inheritor from her mother, so it is believed this means a Grand Deceiver will arise, and Helen needs to fight them. It will be very interesting to see how this develops.

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Audiobook Review of My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows, performed by Katherine Kellgren

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

My Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
performed by Katherine Kellgren

HarperAudio, 2016. 13.75 hours on 11 discs.
Starred Review

I’ve already reviewed this book in print form, but oh, Katherine Kellgren’s performance makes it so much fun!

We’ve got alternate history England, featuring Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days. In this version, many people have the magic power to turn into an animal. In the course of things, Jane finds out she is one, which is how she escapes losing her head.

The story is funny and clever and twists history just enough to be terribly fun. And Katherine Kellgren’s brilliant vocal abilities are perfect to bring out all the humor in the situations.

By now, I’ve become Katherine Kellgren’s fan. In a story set in England that was already outstanding in an over-the-top humorous sort of way, her performance puts it even more over the top. Now when I recommend this book, I’m going to suggest listening.

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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 Blood Rose Rebellion, by Rosalyn Eves

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

Blood Rose Rebellion

by Rosalyn Eves

Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House), 2017. 407 pages.

I’m getting used to alternate histories with magic, but this was an alternate history of something I didn’t know much about in the real world – the Hungarian revolution in 1848.

Anna Arden doesn’t mean to break other people’s spells. But sometimes, especially when her emotions get stirred up, this happens spectacularly, and people get hurt. After she ruins her sister’s debut, she’s sent off with her grandmother to stay in Hungary for awhile at her grandmother’s childhood home.

But various people find out about Anna’s unusual abilities. Would she be able to break the Binding spell – the one that confines magic to the nobility, the Luminate class? And what are the motives of the people who want to use her in this way? But at the same time, what would be the cost? Would this break the power of the Circle, so that common people can have access to magic? But what will the Circle do to stop her?

Anna’s confused as to what she should do. Meanwhile, there’s a handsome Romani young man whom Anna would like to teach her Romani magic. Maybe if she can’t do Luminate magic, maybe she could do Romani magic, which is so different.

Romance and adventure, magic and danger – all put into the context of the actual history of the Hungarian rebellion from the Hapsburgs.

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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 Thanks for the Trouble, by Tommy Wallach

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Thanks for the Trouble

by Tommy Wallach

Simon & Schuster, 2016. 276 pages.
Starred Review

This book opens as Parker Santé is in a hotel, looking for something to steal. He sees a girl with silver hair pay for her coffee.

She reached into her purse and pulled out the fattest stack of hundreds I’d ever seen in real life. I’m talking a hip-hop video kind of wad, thick as a John Grisham paperback. She peeled off one of the bills — (I see you, Mr. Franklin) — and handed it over. “Keep the change,” she said. The waiter nodded a stunned little bobblehead nod, then peeled out before the girl could think better of her generosity, leaving her to tap idly at the top of a soft-boiled egg in an elaborate silver eggcup. I stared at her staring off into space, and counted the many ways in which she was incredible.

He’s attracted to the girl, but that doesn’t stop him from stealing the wad of cash when she leaves her purse behind. However, he makes a fundamental mistake, a mistake that reminds him of the myth of Orpheus.

But my dad said it was the most perfect myth ever written, because it represented the most fundamental human error: we all look back.

When I did, I saw that the silver-haired girl had returned to her seat. In spite of the fact that her purse was open and half its contents had spilled out across the tablecloth, she wasn’t screaming or crying or scrambling around, looking for the culprit. Why, you ask? Because she’d been distracted by something else. By what, you ask? Well, by my journal, of course! I’d left it behind when I tore off with all that money. It had my name in it, and my e-mail address, and an incredibly embarrassing story I’d recently written called “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Kingdom,” which she was now reading.

They get to talking. Or, I should say, the girl talks and Parker writes. Parker hasn’t been able to talk since the accident when his dad died.

But the girl tells him her plan:

“I am waiting for a phone call. And when it comes, I’m going to give this money to the first needy person I see. Then I’ll take the trolley to the Golden Gate Bridge and jump off it.”

Parker doesn’t like the sound of that. So he negotiates. He thinks he’s talking her out of jumping off the bridge, but they end up with the deal that she’s going to spend all that money on him (and with him), and he is going to apply to and attend college.

As their adventure takes off, they get to know each other better. When Parker tries to find out more about Zelda, she tells him that she was born in 1770 in Kassel, Germany. She doesn’t age.

Now her second husband is dying of old age, and she’s had enough.

But whether or not he believes her, Parker has some things to show her about life.

And she has many things to teach Parker.

I like all the questions this book opens up. What would it be like not to age? What would you do?

I wasn’t crazy about the framing — It’s supposedly Parker’s college application essay. I didn’t actually believe you’d be able to submit a book-length manuscript online. Though that does add to the fun because you don’t know if it really happened to the character. Though it certainly supports how dramatically his life changed.

An entertaining book that you can think about for a very long time.

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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?