Tag Archives: fantasy

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia. February 26, 2019. Katherine Tegen Books, 384 p. ISBN: 9780062691316.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

In this daring and romantic fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Latinx authors Zoraida Córdova and Anna-Marie McLemore, society wife-in-training Dani has a great awakening after being recruited by rebel spies and falling for her biggest rival.

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.

And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.

Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

Part of Series: We Set the Dark on Fire (Book 1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Grotesque imagery, Mild language, Strong sexual themes, Violence

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist starred (November 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 5))
Grades 9-12. In Medio, a myth tells of the Sun God, who took two wives, one wise and loyal, the other sensual and nurturing. Now, selected young women train to become the dual wives of the nation’s politicians: the Primera to be his partner in work and business, and the Segunda to run his home and family. Daniela’s poor parents lied to get her into the school, hoping to secure her a better future, and indeed, Dani has become the top Primera student, keeping her emotions in check and her forged papers a secret. Mateo, her new husband, seems strangely cold and cruel, and it doesn’t help that the family has chosen Dani’s longtime rival, Carmen, as their Segunda. But the worst comes when Dani is contacted by a resistance group and asked to spy on Mateo and politicos like him. As she learns more about Mateo’s narrow-mindedness and oppressive politics—​and as she and Carmen grow startlingly closer—Dani’s sympathy for the resistance grows, but is there even a life for her beyond this one? Like the revolution, Mejia’s world is carefully built. With its achingly slow-burn romance and incisive examination of power structures, this is a masterfully constructed novel, made all the more impressive as it’s a debut. This timely examination of how women move through the world is potent and precise, and readers will be eager for the sequel.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 1, 2018)
Power, truth, and lies intertwine dangerously in Mejia’s debut novel about oppression and resistance with a cunning Latinx teenage heroine. Medio, an island nation divided by a wall, is literally in between extremes: “On one side there was the might of a nation. On the other, desperation.” Clear parallels to Mexico in imagery and themes abound. Born on the wrong side of the wall without legal papers, 17-year-old brown-skinned Daniela “Dani” Vargas graduates after 5 years of diligent training at an elite finishing school to join the powerful Garcia family as their son’s Primera. In this well-constructed world, an ancient mythology forms the basis for a practice in which husbands have two wives each: Primeras are quick-witted and emotionally restrained while Segundas are brave and passionate. When Dani’s Primera training falters in the face of her ruthless, power-hungry husband, her past overwhelms her present, and she is recruited to spy for the resistance. Excerpts from the Medio School for Girls rulebook precede each chapter, a juxtaposition that effectively reveals Dani’s conflicted self-awakening. An action-packed third-person narrative, smart dialogue, and lush descriptions offer readers a fresh and steely heroine in a contemporary coming-of-age story. This well-crafted fantasy offers a mirror that reflects themes in our own difficult world, namely privilege, immigration, and individualism versus the common good. A queer subplot with sensual tenderness adds rich complexity to the story. Thrilling and timely. (Fantasy. 14-18)

About the Author

Tehlor Kay Mejia is a YA author and poet at home in the wild woods and alpine meadows of Southern Oregon. When she’s not writing, you can find her plucking at her guitar, stealing rosemary sprigs from overgrown gardens, or trying to make the perfect vegan tamale. She is active in the Latinx lit community, and passionate about representation for marginalized teens in media.

Her website is www.tehlorkaymejia.com

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Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao. November 6, 2018. Philomel Books, 384 p. ISBN: 9781524738327.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This fairy tale retelling lives in a mystical world inspired by the Far East, where the Dragon Lord and the Serpent God battle for control of the earthly realm; it is here that the flawed heroine of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns finally meets her match. An epic fantasy finale to the Rise of the Empress novels.

Princess Jade has grown up in exile, hidden away in a monastery while her stepmother, the ruthless Xifeng, rules as Empress of Feng Lu. But the empire is in distress and its people are sinking into poverty and despair. Even though Jade doesn’t want the crown, she knows she is the only one who can dethrone the Empress and set the world right. Ready to reclaim her place as rightful heir, Jade embarks on a quest to raise the Dragon Lords and defeat Xifeng and the Serpent God once and for all. But will the same darkness that took Xifeng take Jade, too? Or will she find the strength within to save herself, her friends, and her empire?

Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with breathtaking pain and beauty, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is filled with dazzling magic, powerful prose, and characters readers won’t soon forget.

Sequel to: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Part of Series: Rise of the Empress (Book #2)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Grotesque imagery, Harsh realities of war, Mild sexual themes, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 6))
Grades 9-12. Dao continues and completes her East Asian–inspired retelling of Snow White, incorporating historical, cultural, and folkloric elements for a stand-alone sequel that will likely inspire new readers to find the first volume. Princess Jade, raised by her devoted Amah in a secluded monastery, is turning 18 and is summoned back to court by her stepmother, Empress Xifeng, whose story was told in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (2017). Jade’s father, Emperor Jun, is in failing health, and the Empress wants Jade close by—not necessarily to inherit the kingdom. Wren, Amah’s granddaughter, and Koichi, son of former Ambassador Shiro on neighboring Kamatsu, are among the rebels and allies determined to see the empress’ reign of terror end and Jade established as rightful ruler. Dao’s characters are complex and intriguing; villains are admirably drawn so the reader sees their paths to unfortunate decisions. Battles, military strategy, and romance blend with stories within stories as Dao brings this richly embroidered saga to a satisfying close. A detailed and comprehensible cast of characters easily situates new readers.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2018)
A young princess finds the courage to usurp an evil queen. Upon Empress Xifeng’s dark and violent rise to power, Princess Jade was sent to a monastery to be raised in meditative simplicity. Pure-hearted Jade is the daughter of Emperor Jun’s first wife and a descendant of the Dragon King—in other words, a constant threat to her evil stepmother’s rule—and is summoned back to the Imperial City for her 18th birthday celebration. Jade quickly discovers her stepmother’s plot to poison the emperor and murder Jade using blood magic from the sinister Serpent God. Disguised as a commoner, Jade escapes with the help of her beloved Amah (nursemaid) and a handful of servants still loyal to the true heir. Thus begins a quest to save the kingdoms of Feng Lu, following crumbs from Amah’s moral tales and a legend that prophesies that “the one who reunites the relics will bring peace to Feng Lu once more.” In this sequel to A Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (2017), Dao marries Chinese history with Western folklore, which will entrance some readers, but the well-trodden paths involving forbidden poisoned apples, legendary swords, and magic invisibility cloaks will frustrate those who enjoyed the rich characterizations in Book 1, Xifeng’s descent into villainy in particular. A grand adventure for fans of fairy tales, fables, and legends coupled with the vibrant history of Chinese dynasties. (Fantasy. 12-16)

About the Author

Julie C. Dao  is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author.  Julie lives in New England.

Her website is www.juliedao.com

Teacher Resources

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix on Common Sense Media

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West by Edith Pattou

West by Edith Pattou. October 23, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 528 p. ISBN: 9781328773937.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 840.

In the sequel to the beloved high fantasy East, Rose sets off on a perilous journey to find her true love when he goes missing in a thrilling tale of danger, magic, adventure, and revenge.

When Rose first met Charles, he was trapped in the form of a white bear. To rescue him, Rose traveled to the land that lay east of the sun and west of the moon to defeat the evil Troll Queen. Now Rose has found her happily-ever-after with Charles—until a sudden storm destroys his ship and he is presumed dead. But Rose doesn’t believe the shipwreck was an act of nature, nor does she believe Charles is truly dead. Something much more sinister is at work. With mysterious and unstoppable forces threatening the lives of the people she loves, Rose must once again set off on a perilous journey. And this time, the fate of the entire world is at stake.

Part of Series: East (Book #1)

Sequel to: East

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 7-10. In this long-awaited sequel to East​ (2003), plucky, determined Rose once again finds herself on an arduous, life-or-death journey to rescue the man she loves. While East was a retelling of the Nordic fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, this is a wholly original adventure. After she rescued Charles, once trapped in the body of a white bear, from the evil Troll Queen, Rose settled down with Charles and their new son. But now Charles has been lost at sea, presumed dead. Rose, however, doesn’t believe he’s really gone, and terrible things are happening to her family and across the globe. Someone is pulling magical strings, and Rose will have both old and new enemies to face if she wants to protect what’s dear to her. Both East and its sequel stand alone, and this is an exciting, layered adventure that draws from various cultural mythologies. An epic drama featuring high romance and a resourceful heroine that will appeal to fans of Pattou and new readers alike.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2018)
Once upon a time (East, 2003), a girl rescued an enchanted white bear from a wicked Troll Queen in a palace “east of the sun and west of the moon.” But what happened after “happily ever after”? Rose and Charles (or, as she still calls him, her “White Bear”) have been blissfully married for three years and have an adopted daughter and a baby boy. When word comes that Charles has been lost at sea, Rose is not convinced it was an accident, suspecting the Troll Queen has survived to seek vengeance. After leisurely reacquainting readers with the characters and backstory, the pace quickens and the stakes become both grander and more personal, as the Queen schemes to kidnap the “bairn” and eradicate every other “softskin” human. Pattou (Ghosting, 2014, etc.) builds a solid, convincing 16th-century Europe from minutely observed details. No longer tethered to a specific tale, this sequel brings in elements from legends across time and around Europe. Like the first entry, the narrative here unfolds in short vignettes from multiple perspectives (all apparently white). The secondary characters—even in brief appearances—make the most vivid impressions; Rose and Charles seem somewhat opaque. Still, she remains fearless, independent, clever, and determined (if headstrong and heedless); he is again the kindhearted, if bewildered, gentleman in distress. Necessary wherever the first is popular; a good addition to any collection where fairy-tale retellings circulate well. (glossary) (Fantasy. 12-18)

About the Author

Edith Pattou is the author of several fantasy novels, including East, an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. She is a graduate of the Francis W. Parker School, Scripps College (B.A., English), Claremont Graduate School (M.A., English) and UCLA (M.L.I.S.). She is married to Charles Emery, a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University. They have one child, a daughter.

Her website is edithpattou.com

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King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo. January 29, 2019. Imprint, 528 p. ISBN: 9781250142283.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

The Grishaverse will be coming to Netflix soon with Shadow and Bone, an original series!

Face your demons…or feed them.

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war―and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried―and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

Part of Series: King of Scars (Book #1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 11))
Grades 9-12. Though the nation of Ravka survived a brutal civil war, it was left ravaged and scarred, and no one knows this better than its king. Infected with traces of dark magic at the end of Ruin and Rising (2014), the concluding volume to Bardugo’s first foray into the Grishaverse, Nikolai Lantsov weathers uncontrollable transformations in this duology starter, as he, charming king by day, becomes without warning a vicious beast in the night. With Ravka in desperate need of stabilization and delegations of princesses—potential brides—on their way, Nikolai and his Grisha general, the unshakable Zoya Nazyalensky, set off on a journey that, futile though it may be, takes them deep into the history of their country as they search for a cure. Meanwhile, in Fjerda, to the north, Grisha soldier Nina Zenik is on a mission of her own, one that’s part spy assignment on Nikolai’s orders, part a deeply personal journey through grief. This is Bardugo’s third series in the Grishaverse, and while it draws from both the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology, both Bardugo’s skill and Nikolai’s appeal are such that readers new to the world should have no problem joining in. Deadly clever political intrigue, heart-stopping adventure, memorable characters, and several understated, hinted-at romances (how will we wait?!) come together in one glorious, Slavic-folklore-infused package. Bardugo’s star continues to rise.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2019)
In this Grishaverse novel, King Nikolai struggles to keep his kingdom afloat in a destabilized, rapidly changing world. Though Ravka’s civil war ended three years ago, Ravka still faces threats both domestic—pretenders to the throne, policies that are popular with commoners but anger nobility—and external—old enemies like Fjerda, debts owed to Kerch. Worse, for the past 6 months Nikolai has been struggling with an enemy inside himself: The monstrous curse thought ended by the death of the Darkling re-emerges when he sleeps, posing a danger to his people, crown, and soul. With traveling becoming too risky given his secrets, Nikolai and his inner circle hatch a display of strength that will bring the other powers to him for diplomacy, using the cover of his seeking a queen. Meanwhile, in the months since the end of Crooked Kingdom (2016), grieving Nina has returned to Fjerda on a mission to rescue and recruit Grisha. Following the call of her changed abilities, she’s drawn to an area with poisoned waters and a mysterious factory holding dark secrets. Multiple romantic storylines among the multiethnic cast develop organically and don’t pull the focus away from keeping up with the plots. Strategically-deployed backstory makes already likable characters even more compelling; international political developments (especially with Grisha experimentation) are woven seamlessly in with the epic themes. Will leave readers begging for the sequel. (cast, maps) (Fantasy. 14-adult)

About the Author

Leigh Bardugo is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University, and has worked in advertising, journalism, and most recently, makeup and special effects. These days, she’s lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be elated if you visited her web site.

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Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko. November 1, 2018. Harper Voyager, 416 p. ISBN: 9780062694591.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The definitive English language translation of the internationally bestselling Ukrainian novel—a brilliant dark fantasy with “the potential to be a modern classic” (Lev Grossman), combining psychological suspense, enchantment, and terror that makes us consider human existence in a fresh and provocative way.

Our life is brief . . .

While vacationing at the beach with her mother, Sasha Samokhina meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov under the most peculiar circumstances. The teenage girl is powerless to refuse when this strange and unusual man with an air of the sinister directs her to perform a task with potentially scandalous consequences. He rewards her effort with a strange golden coin.

As the days progress, Sasha carries out other acts for which she receives more coins from Kozhennikov. As summer ends, her domineering mentor directs her to move to a remote village and use her gold to enter the Institute of Special Technologies. Though she does not want to go to this unknown town or school, she also feels it’s the only place she should be. Against her mother’s wishes, Sasha leaves behind all that is familiar and begins her education.

As she quickly discovers, the institute’s “special technologies” are unlike anything she has ever encountered. The books are impossible to read, the lessons obscure to the point of maddening, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, their families pay a terrible price. Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of . . . and suddenly all she could ever want.

A complex blend of adventure, magic, science, and philosophy that probes the mysteries of existence, filtered through a distinct Russian sensibility, this astonishing work of speculative fiction—brilliantly translated by Julia Meitov Hersey—is reminiscent of modern classics such as Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Max Barry’s Lexicon, and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, but will transport them to a place far beyond those fantastical worlds.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Violence

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 2))
While on holiday, Sasha notices a strange man following her. He has an unusual request: swim during the early morning. After a friend is mysteriously injured, Sasha feels that she has to fulfill his command. Even after she returns home, the man keeps coming back with demands. The strangest is that she change her university plans and attend the Institute of Special Technologies. Soon after arriving at the institute, Sasha realizes that this is no ordinary school. She takes classes like philosophy and English, but all students are required to take “Specialty.” At first, the readings in Specialty make no sense, but, once she begins to understand, she starts to manifest strange abilities. As Sasha’s powers grow, the novel builds to a mind-bending conclusion. While a magical school is a familiar trope, Harry Potter this is not. Dark and foreboding, this fantasy, translated from Russian, is more of philosophical treatise on growing up and the nature of reality than an adventure tale. Readers willing to challenge themselves and slowly digest this deep book will enjoy it immensely.

Kirkus Reviews starred (September 1, 2018)
Punishingly intense academic pressure transforms a university student into a transcendent being in this harrowing fantasy novel by a married Ukrainian couple, the first in a trilogy. Vacationing at the beach with her mom, 16-year-old Sasha Samokhina reacts with terror when a mysterious man in dark sunglasses starts following her around and staring at her. She’s right to be scared. He’s a supernatural recruiter using coercion—everything from threatening her family to trapping her in time loops—until she agrees to enroll in a provincial university nobody’s ever heard of. There, Sasha and her fellow students must memorize long passages of gibberish, solve koanlike math problems, and listen to deadening recordings of silence, all without a single error or misstep, or the people they love will die. Over and over the students are told they’re not ready to know the meaning of this work or what their future holds, but their studies change them, eventually uncoupling their existence from the physical plane. In Hersey’s sensitive translation, the Dyachenkos (The Scar, 2012, etc.) make vivid the tormenting preoccupations of adolescence and early adulthood: the social anxieties; the baffling dawn of sexuality; the new, uncontrolled powers that come with physical changes; and that simultaneous sense of one’s vital importance and one’s utter insignificance. It’s no surprise that Sasha is at the age when serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder typically first make themselves apparent; the Dyachenkos turn the delusions of mental illness into dangerous magic. Although it fits squarely in the popular school-for-magicians genre, this dark, ambitious, and intellectually strenuous novel will feel like a fresh revelation to fantasy readers glutted with Western wish-fulfillment narratives.

About the Authors

Marina and Sergey Dyachenko — co-authors of novels, short fiction, plays and scripts. They write in Russian and Ukrainian languages with several novels soon to be published in translation in the United States. The primary genres of their books are modern speculative fiction, fantasy, and literary tales.

Their website is www.dyachenkowriters.com

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Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk. July 31, 2018. Graphix, 272 p. ISBN: 9781338139228.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Lexile: 340.

Sixth grade was SO much easier for Danielle. All her friends were in the same room and she knew what to expect from her life. But now that she’s in seventh grade, she’s in a new middle school, her friends are in different classes and forming new cliques, and she is completely lost.

When Danielle inherits a magical sketchbook from her eccentric great aunt Elma, she draws Madison, an ideal best friend that springs to life right off the page! But even when you create a best friend, it’s not easy navigating the ups and downs of relationships, and before long Danielle and Madison are not exactly seeing eye-to-eye.

To make matters worse, Danielle has drawn the head of her favorite (and totally misunderstood) cartoon villain, Prince Neptune. He’s also come to life and is giving her terrible advice about how to make people like her. When she rejects him and he goes on a rampage during a school pep rally, Danielle and Madison have to set aside their differences to stop him!

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cartoon violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Dany is an awkward seventh-grader navigating her way through the perilous world of middle school when she stumbles upon her great-aunt’s enchanted sketchbook; suddenly, her talent for drawing gives her the amazing ability to create friends out of thin air. But Dany’s creations start to turn on her; first her perfectly engineered best friend, Madison, begins to search for meaning in her own life. Then Prince Neptune (the disembodied head of the handsome villain of Dany’s favorite show, the Sailor Moon-esque Solar Sisters) plots his evil reign over Connecticut. At once cringeworthy and delightfully absurd, Making Friends, much like middle school itself, is somewhere between teenage cynicism and a childlike mastery of fantasy. Although Gudsnuk’s characters are sometimes suspiciously wise beyond their years, and her stylized visual references perhaps a bit too meta-referential for some younger readers, they will certainly recommend this story to readers for whom middle school is a distant and painful memory. Middle-schoolers, meanwhile, will appreciate Gudsnuk’s light touch in bringing an empathetic, joyful, and judicious treatment to those tough in-between years.

Kirkus Reviews (May 15, 2018)
Making friends is tough in a new school; could a magical notebook be the answer? Seventh grade is not beginning well for Dany; her two besties are not in any of her classes, and not only is she having a tough time making new friends, she is also being bullied. One day, Dany inherits an unusual sketchbook from her recently deceased great-aunt. While sketching her favorite evil prince from the beloved anime Solar Sisters, she discovers that anything she draws in the notebook becomes real. Dany then creates for herself the perfect best friend: Madison Fontaine, a trendy new girl from New York City who is knowledgeable about trends, sassy, and fun. However, Dany soon learns that even if you tailor-make your own BFF, how you treat them still matters. This charming graphic novel features full-color, manga-inspired illustrations and a breezy plot that blends wish fulfillment and fantasy with an approachable and contemporary storyline. With a broad brush, Gudsnuk hits many of the angst-y issues of middle school, including popularity, bullying, family relationships, body image, and fandom, creating appeal for a large swath of readers. Main character Dany is white and seemingly comfortably middle-class, as is her creation, Madison. Secondary characters offer a bit more inclusivity, portraying different races, ethnicities, and orientations. A nifty pastiche of middle school matters. (Graphic fantasy. 7-12)

About the Author

Kristen Gudsnuk is a comics writer and illustrator. She got her start with the webcomic Henchgirl, which was later published by Scout Comics in single issue and Dark Horse Comics as a collection. Her newest works include the middle grade graphic novel Making Friends, from Scholastic Books, and Modern Fantasy, a miniseries from Dark Horse (written by Rafer Roberts). Gudsnuk also illustrated the VIP series by Jen Calonita, published by Little, Brown. Originally from Shelton, CT, she now lives in Queens, NY with her boyfriend and dog.

Her website is kristengudsnuk.com

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The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta. October 30, 2018. Viking Books for Young Readers, 352 p. ISBN: 9780451478443.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.

All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas–wielders of magic–are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.

Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son–not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.

Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country–and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong sexual themes, Violence

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 2))
Grades 9-12. Teodora understands what it takes to protect her family. Powerful people have powerful enemies, and she will do anything to keep her family safe, even using her strega magic to transform those enemies into decorative objects. Even keeping that magic a secret from everyone, including her dearest siblings. But when the ruler of Vinalia poisons Teodora’s father, along with the heads of the other four most powerful families, and demands that each family sends a son to the capital, Teodora uses her magic to take her brother’s place as her family’s representative. On her journey, she meets Cielo, another strega capable of transformative magic. Cielo can become man or woman, human or animal—and as the two grow closer, they learn more about the depths of their powers, the secrets of their country, and the truth of their feelings for each other. This first in a duology is a luminously imagined, Italian-inspired fantasy that thoughtfully speaks to ideas of gender perception and identity. A rich world, with much left to be explored in the next volume.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 15, 2018)
In the face of war and family destruction, a young strega fights to claim her power. For olive-skinned Teo di Sangro, daughter of a high lord of Vinalia, “family is fate.” As a girl, she stands no chance at inheriting her father’s title, but she protects her family from the shadows in a way neither of her brothers can. No one knows about Teo’s magic, which she unleashes on anyone who dares to challenge di Sangro power. Teo longs for her father’s acknowledgment, but she also yearns to control her secret abilities. When a pale-skinned, black-haired, genderfluid shape-shifter named Cielo appears in the mountains on the same day as an assassination attempt on Teo’s father, she gets swept up in a dangerous plot of murder and politics. Capetta (Echo After Echo, 2017, etc.) captures readers’ attention with alluring first-person prose and a protagonist who does not shy away from ruthlessness to achieve her goals. As Teo struggles with her place in her family and society, she also explores her sexuality and gender identity. Her interaction with Cielo, who contains a shifting balance of both boy and girl, helps her realize that she too may not always “fit inside the boundaries of the word girl.” Through shape-shifting and in her romance with Cielo, Teo discovers the meaning of wholeness and ownership over her body. A delicious and magical intrigue too tempting not to devour. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

About the Author

Amy Rose Capetta studied theater at the Stella Adler Studio as a teenager before spending four years in a Shakespeare troupe. Echo After Echo is her first book with Candlewick Press.

Amy Rose Capetta lives in Michigan. Her website is amyrosecapetta.com.

 

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Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

GIrls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan. November 6, 2018. Jimmy Patterson Books, 400 p. ISBN: 9780316561365.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Homophobic slur, Sexual assault, Strong sexual themes, Violence

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
Grades 10-12. In Ikhara, there are three castes: the chimera-like, demonic Moon; the part-human, part-demon Steel; and the fully human Paper. Paper Lei’s otherworldly golden eyes draw unwanted attention, and when she is picked to become a Paper Girl—a member of the Demon King’s human harem—she cannot say no. Lei trains with other Paper Girls, learning exactly how few freedoms she is allowed, and dreading the day the king summons her. As she navigates this new world of social graces and subterfuge, she grows close to Wren, a Paper Girl with a mysterious past. Loving a fellow Paper Girl is dangerous enough, but Wren is involved with deadlier plots, and Lei learns just how far she’s willing to follow her heart. This glittering commercial romance has real stakes, and the lavish, intriguingly conceptualized world will capture readers. This is a story about violence against women and difficult choices, and it’s rarely easy to read. Love stories between women are still disappointingly few in fantasy, and romance and action fans alike will find much to savor here.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2018)
Thrust into the beauty and horror of the Hidden Palace, will this Paper Girl survive? Ngan (The Memory Keepers, 2014, etc.) offers an amalgamation of Asian cultures set in a fantasy world reminiscent of imperial China. Individuals are separated into three castes: Moon, the ruling class that is wholly demon; Steel, who are human-demon hybrids; and Paper, the oppressed population that is entirely human. Seventeen-year-old Lei is dragged from her small village to become a Paper Girl, or concubine. Besides her long, raven hair, her only striking features are her unusual gold eyes. She reluctantly submits in the slim hope of finding her mother, who was abducted. While in the Palace, Lei lives as best she can, developing friendships and finding forbidden love in the arms of Wren, another Paper Girl, who possesses a feline elegance and is hiding secrets of her own. Lei’s natural clumsiness and the requirements of learning court manners keep her out of the King’s bed for a while, but sexual violence and the threat of it, though not graphically depicted, are prevalent throughout the story. Lei can be painfully naïve at times and, unfortunately, does not have fire superpowers as the title might suggest. The setup and worldbuilding are strong, but many supporting characters are unfortunately more interesting than Lei. Setting up a strong foundation for a hoped-for sequel, this is ideal for those seeking diverse LGBTQ fantasy stories. (Fantasy. 14-18)

About the Author

Natasha Ngan is a writer and yoga teacher. She grew up between Malaysia, where the Chinese side of her family is from, and the UK. This multicultural upbringing continues to influence her writing, and she is passionate about bringing diverse stories to teens. Natasha studied Geography at the University of Cambridge before working as a social media consultant and fashion blogger.

She recently moved to Paris, where she likes to imagine she drifts stylishly from brasserie to brasserie, notepad in one hand, wineglass in the other. In reality, she spends most of her time getting lost on the metro and confusing locals with her French.

Her website is natashangan.com

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The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth. October 23, 2018. HarperTeen, 320 p. ISBN: 9780062696878.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Five years ago, Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell cowered from air strikes in a London bomb shelter. But that night took a turn when the sisters were transported to another realm called the Woodlands. In a forest kingdom populated by creatures out of myth and legend, they found temporary refuge.

When they finally returned to London, nothing had changed at all—nothing, except themselves.

Now, Ev spends her days sneaking into the woods outside her boarding school, wishing for the Woodlands. Overcome with longing, she is desperate to return no matter what it takes.

Philippa, on the other hand, is determined to find a place in this world. She shields herself behind a flawless exterior and countless friends, and moves to America to escape the memory of what was.

But when Evelyn goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Violence, Self-harm

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2018)
A mystical novel about three siblings finding, then losing, then finding their ways home again. In the middle of the Blitz, 10-year-old Evelyn Hapwell imagines “a haven of silence and golden light,” wishing to go “Anywhere but here.” She and her two siblings, Philippa and Jamie, are magically summoned to the Woodlands, greeted by a majestic stag named Cervus, who tells the children that “a Woodlands heart always finds its way home.” This refrain is repeated throughout the novel, as it alternates between the children’s adventures in the Woodlands (war, peace, negotiations with corrupt royalty) and their subsequent attempts to readjust to normal life when Cervus sends them back to London. Five and a half years of their experiences collapse when they’re transported back to the middle of the bombing they had escaped, their parents none the wiser. Evelyn, who believes that hers is truly a Woodlands heart, struggles to cope, whereas Jamie and Philippa are happier to be back home. Halfway through, the focus switches from traumatized Evelyn to cool, collected, and competent Philippa, who is a far more intriguing character with a more strongly realized plot than her sister. Main characters are white and there is significant ethnic diversity in secondary characters. The slightly lackluster fantasy at the center of this novel provides an interesting perspective on war, trauma, and recovery. (Fiction. 13-17)

Publishers Weekly (September 3, 2018)
In this haunting historical fantasy similar to Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series for adults, two sisters struggle with reacclimation to the modern world after spending years in a magical realm. In 1944, as London burns during WWII bombings, Philippa, Jamie, and Evelyn Hapwell are transported to the enchanted Woodlands-only to discover that their refuge has its own troubles with war on the horizon. Six years of Woodlands time later, the trio is returned to the moment that they left London, unchanged physically but possessing a lifetime of experiences. Years later, Evelyn, 16, who hasn’t stopped longing for the Woodlands, vanishes in an attempt to return to the only place she’s ever considered home. Her older sister, Philippa, is consumed with guilt over Evelyn’s fate, even as she tries to create a life that doesn’t revolve around responsibility for her sibling. In this love letter to portal fantasies and Narnia, Weymouth infuses her characters with a rich panoply of emotions set against wartime England. A shining thread of hope and healing mitigates the book’s heartbreak and underlying trauma, suggesting a bright future for all involved. Ages 13-up.

About the Author

Laura Weymouth is a Canadian living in exile in America, and the sixth consecutive generation of her family to immigrate from one country to another. Born and raised in the Niagara region of Ontario, she now lives at the edge of the woods in western New York, along with her husband, two wild-hearted daughters, a spoiled cat, an old soul of a dog, and an indeterminate number of chickens.

Her website is www.lauraeweymouth.com

Teacher Resources

The Light Between Worlds review on Common Sense Media

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7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. September 18, 2018. Sourcebooks Landmark, 438 p. ISBN: 9781492657965.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The Rules of Blackheath

Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit.
We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer.
Understood? Then let’s begin…

Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others…

The most inventive debut of the year twists together a mystery of such unexpected creativity it will leave readers guessing until the very last page.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Grotesque imagery, Mild language, Violence

 

Video Reviews

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 17))
The Hardcastle family has decided to throw a party at Blackheath House as a memorial to their son, who was killed there years before. At 11 p.m., during the party, Evelyn Hardcastle is murdered. Aiden Bishop is trapped inside a time loop with this murder mystery at its center. Each morning he awakens in another guest’s body and relives that same day until Evelyn’s death. If he does not find the killer by 11 p.m., Evelyn will die, and the cycle will begin again. However, there is a catch: he’s racing against time—he has eight days, eight do-overs, to solve the mystery. If he fails, he will be killed himself. This novel is so ingenious and original that it’s difficult to believe it’s Turton’s debut. The writing is completely immersive. The reader slips into the pages right beside Bishop, following closely in the adrenaline-packed hunt for the killer. Evelyn’s time line could easily be confusing, but Turton masterfully creates a natural flow while jumping through different characters on different days. There are certainly echoes of Agatha Christie here, but it’s Christie ramped up several notches, thanks to the malevolent twist on the Groundhog Day theme. Readers may be scratching their heads in delicious befuddlement as they work their way through this novel, but one thing will be absolutely clear: Stuart Turton is an author to remember.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2018)
In this dizzying literary puzzle, the hapless protagonist is doomed to relive the same day over and over unless he can solve a murder at a masquerade ball. The narrator, Aiden Bishop, wakes up in a forest outside Blackheath House, “a sprawling Georgian manor house,” not knowing who or where he is—or why he’s screaming the name Anna. A man in a beaked plague-doctor mask brings him up to speed: For eight days, Aiden will wake up in the body of a different witness to the shooting of young beauty Evelyn Hardcastle. If at the end of that extended week, during which Aiden will remember all that occurs, he fails to identify the killer and break the bizarre murder cycle, he will have his memory wiped and be forced to start from the beginning. “It’s like I’ve been asked to dig a hole with a shovel made of sparrows,” Aiden moans. To be real or not to be real, that is the question for Aiden, who struggles after his own identity while being “hosted” by individuals who include the lord of the manor, a doctor, and a butler. Borrowing liberally from such cultural milestones as Groundhog Day, Quantum Leap, and Eyes Wide Shut—and, of course, the stories of Agatha Christie—the book has a built-in audience. It’s a fiendishly clever and amusing novel with explosive surprises, though in the absence of genuine feeling, it tends to keep its audience at arm’s length. Turton’s debut is a brainy, action-filled sendup of the classic mystery, though readers may be hard-pressed to keep up with all its keenly calibrated twists and turns for more than 400 pages.

About the Author

Stuart lives in London with his amazing wife and daughter. He drinks lots of tea.

​When he left university he went travelling for three months and stayed away for five years. Every time his parents asked when he’d be back he told them next week, and meant it.

Stuart is not to be trusted. In the nicest possible way.

He’s got a degree in English and Philosophy, which makes him excellent at arguing and terrible at choosing degrees.

Having trained for no particular career, he has dabbled in most of them. He stocked shelves in a Darwin bookshop, taught English in Shanghai, worked for a technology magazine in London, wrote travel articles in Dubai, and now he’s a freelance journalist. None of this was planned, he just kept getting lost on his way to other places.

He likes a chat. He likes books. He likes people who write books and people who read books. He doesn’t know how to write a biography, so should probably stop before he tells you about his dreams or something. It was lovely to meet you, though.

Her website is stuturton.wordpress.com/

Teacher Resources

7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Reading Guide

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