10 of Our Most Popular Discussion Posts

10 of Our Most Popular Discussion Posts

Over 10 years of blogging, we have written a lot of discussion posts at Pages Unbound! Some of these were received more enthusiastically than others. In no particular order, here are some of the posts that have received the most views over the years.

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10 Reasons You Should Not Skip The Lord of the Rings Appendices

Technically, reading the appendices that follow The Lord of the Rings is not really necessary.  An appendix, after all, contains additional information; a reader could stop after the story proper and still have the full story.  However, the Lord of the Rings appendices are far less boring than you might think.  Here are ten reasons you should not skip them the next time you pick up The Lord of the Rings.

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16 of Tolkien’s Most Bad-Ass Women

Tolkien sometimes has a bad reputation for not including more women in his writings. Many of his female characters are, however, quite amazing! This list goes beyond Eowyn and Galadriel to discuss some of his most inspiration, most powerful, and most interesting women characters.

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Boromir the Bold: Reconsidering One of Tolkien’s Most Maligned Characters

Boromir is easy to hate, especially for those who have only seen his interpretation in the Peter Jackson films. However, despite his negative qualities, Boromir is not a complete villain. This post discusses the characteristics that make Boromir a reflection of the readers, an Everyman of sorts who reveals that who is “good” and who is “bad” is not a simple a question as might appear.

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Is Amazon Really Cheaper Than Barnes and Noble?

In light of discussions about how ethical it is to support Amazon, this post investigated how much cheaper than its main competitor Amazon really is, and if the difference is worth it.

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Miscategorizing Adult Books as YA

Why are adult books routinely miscategorized as YA by readers and Goodreads users? Is sexism at work?

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Thoughts on the Ending of King of Scars

Was the ending of King of Scars just an easy way to create shock and hook readers for the sequel? This post discusses one reader’s initial reaction after finishing the much-anticipated fantasy novel.

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Why Did Snow White Eat the Poisoned Apple?

If the evil queen is obviously out to harm Snow White, why does the girl keep falling for the queen’s tricks? This discussion explores the reasons Snow White might have been tempted to eat that apple.

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Why I Don’t Like the Ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken

How the second installment of a bestselling trilogy disappointed a fan of Brigid Kemmerer’s work.

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Why I’m Team Keefe for Keeper of the Lost Cities

Read enough children’s books and you know exactly how the romance will go.  Shannon Messenger, however, kept readers guessing for several books before revealing her hand.

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Writing Rambles: Writing Fantasy Dialogue

Unfortunately, a number of fantasy novels feature rather ridiculous sounding dialogue. So what makes realistic fantasy dialogue. And how do you get that feeling of another world without adding “–eth” to everything?

10 Middle Grade Titles for Fall

10  Middle Grade Books for Fall

Looking for a spooky story? Or maybe just a seasonal read, evocative of crunching leaves underfoot and a briskness to the air? Here are ten middle-grade books that will satisfy your desire to curl up with a book this fall.

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Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe

Twelve-year-old Eva Evergreen possesses only a pinch of magic. And that will make passing her Novice Quest incredibly difficult. She has one month to find a town to live in, and then do enough good for the inhabitants that they will recommend her to the Council–otherwise she will lose her magic forever. Eva’s plan is to do small repair magic to help the locals. But the mayor of her new town insists that Eva protect the town from the Culling–a magical storm of unknown origin that even the most power witches and wizards fail each year to contain. Eva has no idea how to succeed, but she certainly means to try.

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Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

When Ollie finds a woman trying to throw a book into the local swimming hole, she can’t help herself–she grabs the book and runs. It tells the story of a farm where, long ago, a woman’s husband disappeared, taken by the smiling man. Then Ollie finds herself on the same farm for a school field trip–and something is not right. The bus driver gives an eerie warning, leading Ollie to flee the bus. Can she survive through the night? Or will the smiling man come for her, too?

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Well Witched by Frances Hardinge

Needing money for the bus, Ryan and his friends steal coins from an old wishing well. Little do they know that the Well Witch guards the waters–and she wants compensation. Now Ryan and his friends are developing strange powers, all to serve at the Well Witch’s command. But what if some wishes were never meant to come true?

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Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker

Seven young foxes gather round to hear a scary story. But will the heroes, Mia and Uly, make it through unscathed? The kits cannot bear to find out. Will any of them stay long enough to hear the end?

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Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle longs more than anything to be a sorcerer, but her grandmother keeps her practicing goblin magic. So Beetle is excited when her old friend Kat comes back to town after attending a school for sorcery. But Kat’s aunt has plans to tear down the local mall–the place where Beetle’s best friend Blob Ghost is tied to for eternity. Now Beetle and Kat have three days to figure out how to release Blob Ghost before they are destroyed forever.

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The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner

Gianna Zales is looking forward to run in sectionals–if she can pass science class. Unfortunately, she forgot all about her leaf project.  If she can’t collect enough leaves in time, her arch nemesis will run in her place.  But how on earth is Gianna supposed to focus on school when she’s worried about her Nonna’s memory, she’s wondering if her best friend Zig might ever be something more, and her dad keeps embarrassing her by driving her around in the family hearse?

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Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert plan to adopt an orphan boy to help on the farm, but a mistake sends them eleven-year-old Anne Shirley instead.  Anne has an imagination as big as her heart, but also a penchant for getting into scrapes.

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Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Luna can see ghosts–the spirits of her ancestors that mostly appear as fireflies in a tree in her yard. But then her ancestors start getting restless, saying something dark is approaching. Can Luna and her friend Syd save Luna’s family by reciting a spell to waken the dead? Or will they only make things worse?

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Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

When Clara Wintermute goes missing after her twelfth birthday party, the police suspect master puppeteer Grissini and his two orphaned assistants.  Though the police find nothing, Grissini’s increasingly suspicious behavior draws the attention of the children, who determine to find Clara and return her to her family.  Their journey will entangle them with Grissini’s ancient enemy, a witch who desires to save her own life at any cost—even if that means taking the life of a child.

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

One day the Green Wind catches up September and takes her to Fairyland—but all is not how it should be.  Fairies are scarce, winged beasts are forbidden to fly, and the Marquess has stolen the spoon the witches use to see the future.  September agrees to travel to the capital and retrieve the spoon, but somewhere along the way she realizes that her quest has grown bigger than she anticipated.

All the YA Novels We’ve Reviewed So Far in 2021 and What We Thought (46 Books!)

We love young adult books here at Pages Unbound. Here are 46 of them we’ve reviewed so far in 2021. (Ok, we reviewed one more, Ace of Spades, while I was drafting this post, so we’ve reviewed 47 by the end of August.) Check out our thoughts here, and click on the titles to see the full reviews.


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The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

4 STARS

The Hazel Wood is an intriguing story, one that breaks the mold of YA fantasy and presents readers with something darkly original. While it does have a sequel, the story is satisfying–and perhaps even stronger–on its own.

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THE LIVES OF SAINTS BY LEIGH BARDUGO

4 STARS

This is a beautiful book any Grishaverse fan will be pleased to read, but even if you aren’t familiar with the world, I think you can appreciate the strange and magical stories Bardugo has created about these saints.

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Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

4 STARS

Rule of Wolves is another stunning installment from Bardugo to the Grishaverse. Fans of Bardugo’s work will not want to miss out on this exciting adventure–especially as it seems to be setting up a future novel, maybe even the ones readers have been waiting for since Six of Crows.

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CINDERELLA IS DEAD BY KAYLNN BAYRON

3 STARS

Still, the weaknesses I see inn Cinderella Is Dead are really common in YA books, and many readers do not mind them at all. While they do prevent me from finding the book to be a five star read, I think it has enough originality and fast-paced action to be enjoyable. Readers who enjoy YA fairy tale retellings will want to give this one a try.

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This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

2 STARS

With a smart, determined protagonist, ties to Greek mythology, and magic that permeates our real world, This Poison Heart has a lot of potential, and I can see why Goodreads users are loving it. Personally, however, I was put off by poor pacing, clunky characterization, and general vagueness about the magic system, and the novel didn’t grip me the way I’d hoped.

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THE INFINITY COURTS BY AKEMI DAWN BOWMAN

5 STARS

The Infinity Courts is a spellbinding story about death, family, and fighting for what you believe it is right. While books about artificial intelligence and questions about what it means to be “real” and whether it’s wrong to hurt or kill an AI have obviously been done before, Bowman brings heart and creativity to the questions and lets readers seem them through the eyes of protagonist Nami. Readers will be as torn as she is, wondering if humans and an out-of-control AI can learn to coexist and what it means ethically to decide they cannot. The result is a captivating book that will have readers glued to the pages for the plot even as they ponder some of the big questions of life. (Or, er, of death?)

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Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

4 STARS

Etiquette and Espionage isn’t my favorite book ever, but I think it’s just a matter of my personal taste. If someone likes this sense of humor, or if someone is looking for a lower YA book, this could be a great choice.

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INCENDIARY BY ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA

4 STARS

Incendiary is a solid YA fantasy, one that provides enough detail for readers to immerse themselves in the world, without ever sacrificing action or drama. Renata and her friends will win over readers, making them want to cheer her on, even as they wait desperately for book two to be released.

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MY LAST SUMMER WITH CASS by Mark Crilley

4 STARS

The story behind the themes is a bit predictable, but there were a couple twists that mildly surprised me; I do think the questions the book raises are more interesting than the overarching plot, even when the plot is fun. The friendship between the two girls, lasting over years, is also sweet.

This is a book I would recommend if you’re interested in stories about art, identity, and friendship.

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WICKED SAINTS BY EMILY A. DUNCAN

2 STARS

Wicked Saints will possibly appeal to readers who want more of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. However, the danger in trying to copy another book’s success is that any failure to reach the bar set by the first book becomes more pronounced. Wicked Saints is no substitute for the Grisha trilogy, and it is disappointing to open up a book with a promising summary only to find weak characterization, a bland romance, and a nonsensical plot. I won’t be picking up the sequel.

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HUSH BY DYLAN FARROW

3 STARS

Hush may be appreciated more by readers who missed the dystopian boom after The Hunger Games was published, and so may think that this book reads as more original than it is. For my part, however, Hush proves a lackluster read. I have no plans to read the sequel.

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THE GILDED ONES BY NAMINA FORMA

3 STARS

I was excited to read The Gilded Ones because it seemed like a fresh, action-packed fantasy–just the type of YA book I would enjoy. However, in the end, I could not suspend my disbelief enough to overlook the glaring plot holes. And the depressing vision of a world where girls and women are almost all at the at the mercy of wicked men left me feeling disquieted. I wanted to love this book, but, unfortunately, it did not live up to expectations.

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THE COURT OF MIRACLES BY KESTER GRANT

3 STARS

I enjoyed the action and the intrigue of A Court of Miracles. While it is not a perfectly executed story, it does provide entertainment. And, while I was reading it, that was largely what I wanted. Further, I am not overly attached to the storyline of Les Misérables, so I was able to take the many changes in stride. Readers looking for a YA book that provides plenty of action, drama, and intrigue will likely find this book a winner.

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HOUSE OF EL: THE SHADOW THREAT BY CLAUDIA GRAY

3 STARS

The book is far from perfect. I did not ever feel like I truly go to now Zahn or Sera, and I still have many questions about the world of Krypton itself. However, the story does do a great job at raising interesting questions. How much do genetics determine who we are? Can we ever overcome our genetics to be our own person? What qualities should we look for in people? Do we sometimes overlook the qualities one should have–such as a scientist who needs creativity as well as logic? These questions will likely inspire much reflection on the part of readers. And that, I imagine, would make the author proud.

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ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL BY ROBIN HA

4 STARS

Almost American Girl is a powerful portrayal of both the difficulties and joys of moving to a new place, finding new friends, and starting over. Even readers who do not generally pick up graphic novels may want to give this beautiful memoir a chance.

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One Year at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

3 STARS

One Year at Ellsmere does at least have Faith Erin Hicks’ wonderful artwork, but that is not enough to make the book feel like it is worth reading. Not when so many graphic novels are being published and there is a wealth of amazing content to choose from. There is an interesting premise here, but it needs an extended storyline and more detailed worldbuilding for the book to be really great.

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Speak for Yourself by Lana Wood Johnson

4 STARS

Speak for Yourself is a gripping novel that combines academic competition, app creation, and a hint of romance to create a story that will have readers cheering on Skylar page after page.

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The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson

4 STARS

So is The Box in the Woods worth reading? Absolutely, if you enjoy an atmospheric mystery and funny banter between characters, or if enjoyed the first three books. If you were disappointed by the way Truly Devious case was cracked, however, you will likely be disappointed again.

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WENCH BY MAXINE KAPLAN

3 STARS

I enjoyed Wench primarily because I loved Tanya’s character. Readers who are excited to see a tavern wench in the starring role may feel the same. However, a lack of detailed worldbuilding and uneven pacing prevent this book from being the truly phenomenal fantasy I hoped it would be.

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A VOW SO BOLD AND DEADLY BY BRIGID KEMMERER

2 STARS

My best guess is that A Vow So Bold and Deadly is meant to depict how leading a country is hard, and sometimes there appear to be no right choices. And, normally, I would find such a book fascinating. In this case, however, the characters were not shown to be trying to do right, but sometimes failing or making a hard call. They were more like different people every time we met up again with them. The way they acted in book one seems very different from how they acted in book two and again in book three. The characterization was everywhere! And normally characterization is Kemmerer’s strength. In the end, it seems rather like Kemmerer was not quite sure how to create her own fantasy world that has rules and politics that make sense–and the whole book suffered as a result.

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THE THEFT OF SUNLIGHT BY INTISAR KHANANI

5 STARS

The Theft of Sunlight is basically everything I like in YA, or just in a really enjoyable story. Strong, nuanced characters. A plot that hooks me and then keeps bringing surprises. Questions about life and morality and one’s own identity. I spent a long time thinking about this book once I finished it, which for me is always the mark of a good read.

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Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee

4 STARS

Ultimately, however, Luck of the Titanic is an engaging novel sure to delight readers looking for a historical fiction that focuses on the little-known tales of the past. The interesting premise, combined with Valora’s amusing disguises and subterfuges, will keep readers turning pages, even if they know how it all must end.

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Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

4 STARS

Six Crimson Cranes is an imaginative, immersive fairy tale retelling that focuses on family and friendship and finding oneself through hard work and sacrifice. Readers will fall in love with protagonist Shiori as she fights to free herself and her brothers from a curse, before their kingdom falls to usurpers.

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Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson

4 STARS

 If you like Matson’s books, it’s a no brainer to pick this one up, as well. If you haven’t read any of her books yet but like contemporary novels with fast-paced plots, complex characters, great girl friendships, and family relationships, check this out.

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THE COUSINS BY KAREN M. MCMANUS

4 STARS

Karen M. McManus solidifies her reputation as a talented writer of YA thrillers with The Cousins. Like her previous release One of Us Is Lying, the book switches among various perspectives to give readers an insider’s look at the potential suspects. Someone in the cousins’ pasts did something to get their parents disinherited. Do any of them know why? Or could they be harboring dangerous secrets of their own? This strategy works to make the readers feel empathetic towards the characters, even as they harbor their own suspicions. A great thriller keeps the audience guessing until the end and this book did that for me. So, while it may not be a perfect read, The Cousins will certainly entertain.

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INTO THE HEARTLESS WOOD BY JOANNA RUTH MEYER

3 STARS

While I was expecting more from Into the Heartless Wood after absolutely loving Echo North, it’s a fine book. Readers who want something woodsy and atmospheric and don’t mind a bit of slowness will likely enjoy it. It’s a nice pick if you like fantasy but don’t want over-the-top epic fantasy or drawn-out wars.

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The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

2 STARS

The book is fine, I guess. It’s interesting. People will probably like the hunky love interest. I liked Kiva myself, and her 11-year-old helper in the infirmary. I wanted to like the book, but I just couldn’t when so much of it doesn’t make sense. I know I’m in the minority on this point, however, because I always am.

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SHURI: WAKANDA FOREVER BY NNEDI OKORAFOR, ET AL

4 STARS

Shuri: Wakanda Forever is both a thrilling superhero comic and an emotional look at Shuri’s journey of self-discovery. Fans of Shuri and of Marvel will not want to miss this latest installment in her story.

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The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

4 STARS

The Girl from the Sea is an engrossing story that expertly blends a story of self-acceptance with a hint of romance and a dash of magic. The beautiful artwork only adds to the tale. Readers who enjoy graphic novels, especially ones that blend the fantastic with the everyday, will want to pick this one up.

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IN THE HALL WITH THE KNIFE: CLUE MYSTERY #1 BY DIANA PETERFREUND

2 STARS

In the end, the mystery was easy for me to solve, and I was bored most of the book. I wouldn’t recommend it, and I will be on the lookout for better YA mysteries to read.

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CHARMING AS A VERB BY BEN PHILIPPE

3 STARS

Charming as a Verb has been on my radar for awhile and I had high hopes. A rom com where the romance begins with one party being blackmailed by the other? Intriguing. Unfortunately, however, the characterization of the protagonist, Henri Haltiwanger, felt incomplete and even a little confusing. This was enough to make the book only a so-so read. Something that’s okay, but generally unremarkable.

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The Endless Skies by Shannon Price

2 STARS

This was a big miss for me. I was excited about the book, and I like to think that Tor usually publishes great stuff in their imprint, but this felt very surface-level. I didn’t care about practically anything that was happening, and that made it boring.

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Pride and Premeditation by Tizrah Price

4 STARS

Pride and Premeditation is a fun romp. Yes, the author tries a bit too hard to adopt a writing style reminiscent of Austen’s. And, yes, much of the plot feels like wish fulfillment for contemporary audiences, who seem to like protagonists of historical fiction to be far ahead of their times. And, yet, Pride and Premeditation is an enjoyable read. Because this Lizzie is witty and clever, just like the original. And this Darcy is caring and noble, again like the original And the plot is absolutely a riot. What Austen fan would not find the thought of Mr. Bingley being accused of murder equally hilarious and intriguing? Pride and Premeditation is not like the original, but perhaps that is its charm. It takes an old tale and gives it a clever little twist that many a fan will not be able to resist.

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THE BLACK KIDS BY CHRISTINA HAMMONDS REED

5 STARS

The Black Kids is a beautifully written novel with a powerful story focused on friendship, family, and identity, along with a vibrant protagonist. It is a standout novel, and one certain to stay with its readers.

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OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS BY JUSTIN A. REYNOLDS

3 STARS

Still, by the end, I was actually wondering what Jack would do to solve his problems and end the cycle of time travel. Unfortunately, I only stuck around to the end because I didn’t have another audiobook, so, in another version of events, I would have stopped listening very early on. I am bumping up the star rating for the ending, but I rather wonder how many other people will make it that far.

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These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan

2 STARS

I don’t know that this is a bad book, but it depends on what you’re looking for. Fun steamy Fae book you aren’t going to take too seriously? Sure. A thoughtful fantasy with strong world building and complex characters? Probably not. It wasn’t my thing, but I can see why people looking for a readalike for ACTOAR would be into it.

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GAME CHANGER BY NEAL SHUSTERMAN

3 STARS

Game Changer is certainly a book trying to speak to its political moment. As a result, I imagine it will be a bit controversial. However, if a few readers come away with the eyes opened a bit more or with a commitment to fighting prejudice in their own lives and communities, I think the effort on Shusterman’s part will have been worth it.

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Recommended for You by Laura Silverman

3 STARS

On the whole, Recommended for You is a pretty forgettable read. It hits all the normal notes for a rom-com, but relies too heavily on the premise of being set in a bookstore to try to distinguish itself meaningfully in other ways. I finished the book because it is short, but I never felt invested in it.

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RAVAGE THE DARK BY TARA SIM

3 STARS

Ravage the Dark entertained me immensely while I was reading it, and I think it is a stronger book than Scavenge the Stars. Objectively speaking, however, I have to admit that the worldbuilding is close to nonexistent and that the plot structure is a little too unwieldy. I think fans of YA fantasy will enjoy this one, but it may not be the type of book one wants to return to again and again.

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HUNTED BY MEAGAN SPOONER

3 STARS

If you like fairy tale retellings and “Beauty and the Beast,” check it out. If you want really original take on the story or a YA fantasy that’s epic and complex, this might not be for you.

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Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater

5 STARS

Mister Impossible is a worthy addition to the Dreamer trilogy, a whirlwind ride of action, adventure, and mystery. Fans of Stiefvater’s work may miss some of the characters that they have come to love in previous volumes, but this story gives them new ones to enjoy. And the cliffhanger will certainly have readers clamoring for book three, that they may know that everyone lives happily ever after. We hope.

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The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (Series Review)

5 STARS

I loved the Raven Cycle. It has a feeling of magic about it that is not quite like anything else I have read. I can only hope that Stiefvater continues to write these characters and their enchanting world.

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CONCRETE ROSE BY ANGIE THOMAS

5 STARS

Concrete Rose faces the difficulties of life head on, acknowledging the hard choices that many teens make every day. It tells these teens that they are seen, and heard, and loved. And it reminds them that they are not alone in their struggles, and that there is hope for a brighter future, if they have the courage to imagine it.

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Love And Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

3 STARS

Aside from Olive’s constant need to feel sorry for herself, however, the book is pleasant. It feels like a love letter to Santorini, with the author wanting readers to understand all its beauty and wonder. I had fun exploring with Olive, and I hope that one day we can have more travel stories from Jenna Evans Welch.

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Parachutes by Kelly Yang

4 STARS

On the whole, however, Parachutes is a wonderfully-told story with a timely message about the need to take sexual assault seriously and to listen to the the stories of the survivors. This book is so painful in part because it reads as so true–organizations and privileged individuals and families do very often leverage their wealth and reputations to silence the people that they have harmed. Too often, protecting someone or something that is deemed more “important” takes precedence over protecting people and getting them justice. Seeing that happen to Dani and Claire is heartbreaking, but it is that emotional reaction from readers that I think Yang is hoping to use to inspire her readers to action.

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I Am Not Starfire by Mariko Tamako and Yoshi Yoshitani

3 STARS

DC has released many great graphic novels for tween and teen readers lately. I Am Not Starfire is a solid offering, but not one of the best. The idea is good; the execution is only so-so.

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Namesake by Adrienne Young

4 STARS

Altogether, however, Namesake is a strong YA novel, one that offers adventure, mystery, romance, and a great deal of intrigue. Readers who love books set on the high seas or even books about pirates will want to check out Adrienne Young’s gripping duology.

10 Young Adult Books Being Released in Fall 2021 to Add to Your TBR Pile

Looking to add more YA books to your TBR piled? Here are 10 young adult novels coming out fall 2021 you might want to check out.

1

So, This Is Christmas by Tracy Andreen

Release Date: Oct. 5, 2021

Summary

Sarah Dessen meets Let It Snow in this new YA Christmas romance!

When Finley Brown returned to her hometown of Christmas, Oklahoma, from boarding school, she expected to find it just as she left it. Christmas hasn’t changed much in her sixteen years. But instead she returns to find that her best friend is dating her ex-boyfriend, her parents have separated, and her archnemesis got a job working at her grandmother’s inn. And she certainly didn’t expect to find the boy she may or may not have tricked into believing that Christmas was an idyllic holiday paradise on her grandmother’s doorstep. It’s up to Finley to make sure he gets the Christmas he was promised. This is Finley’s Christmas. It’s about home and family and friends and finding her place, and along the way she also finds the best Christmas present of all: love.

2

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

Release Date: Sept. 28, 2021

Summary

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Caraval, the first book in a new series about love, curses, and the lengths that people will go to for happily ever after.

Evangeline Fox was raised in her beloved father’s curiosity shop, where she grew up on legends about immortals, like the tragic Prince of Hearts. She knows his powers are mythic, his kiss is worth dying for, and that bargains with him rarely end well.

But when Evangeline learns that the love of her life is about to marry another, she becomes desperate enough to offer the Prince of Hearts whatever he wants in exchange for his help to stop the wedding. The prince only asks for three kisses. But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she’s pledged. And he has plans for Evangeline that will either end in the greatest happily ever after, or the most exquisite tragedy . . .

Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray

Release Date: Sept. 28, 2021

Summary

Magic doesn’t exist in the broken city of Lkossa anymore, especially for girls like sixteen-year-old Koffi. Indentured to the notorious Night Zoo, she cares for its fearsome and magical creatures to pay off her family’s debts and secure their eventual freedom. But the night her loved ones’ own safety is threatened by the Zoo’s cruel master, Koffi unleashes a power she doesn’t fully understand–and the consequences are dire.

As the second son of a decorated hero, Ekon is all but destined to become a Son of the Six–an elite warrior–and uphold a family legacy. But on the night of his final rite of passage, a fire upends his plans. In its midst, Ekon not only encounters the Shetani–a vicious monster that has plagued the city and his nightmares for nearly a century–but a curious girl who seems to have the power to ward off the beast. Koffi’s power ultimately saves Ekon’s life, but his choice to let her flee dooms his hopes of becoming a warrior.

Desperate to redeem himself, Ekon vows to hunt the Shetani down and end its reign of terror, but he can’t do it alone. Meanwhile, Koffi believes finding the Shetani and selling it for a profit could be the key to solving her own problems. Koffi and Ekon–each keeping their true motives secret from the other–form a tentative alliance and enter into the unknowns of the Greater Jungle, a world steeped in wild magic and untold dangers. The hunt begins. But it quickly becomes unclear whether they are the hunters or the hunted.

In this much-anticipated series opener, fate binds two Black teenagers together as they strike a dangerous alliance to hunt down the ancient creature menacing their home–and discover much more than they bargained for.

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Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

Release Date: Sept. 14, 2021

Summary

From New York Times bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer comes a blockbuster fantasy series about a kingdom divided by corruption, the prince desperately holding it together, and the girl who will risk everything to bring it crashing down.

The kingdom of Kandala is on the brink of disaster. Rifts between sectors have only worsened since a sickness began ravaging the land, and within the Royal Palace, the king holds a tenuous peace with a ruthless hand.

King Harristan was thrust into power after his parents’ shocking assassination, leaving the younger Prince Corrick to take on the brutal role of the King’s Justice. The brothers have learned to react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion–it’s the only way to maintain order when the sickness can strike anywhere, and the only known cure, an elixir made from delicate Moonflower petals, is severely limited.

Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most–but it’s still not enough.

As rumors spread that the cure no longer works and sparks of rebellion begin to flare, a particularly cruel act from the King’s Justice makes Tessa desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds upon her arrival makes her wonder if it’s even possible to fix Kandala without destroying it first.

Set in a richly imaginative world with striking similarities to our own, Brigid Kemmerer’s captivating new series is about those with power and those without . . . and what happens when someone is brave enough to imagine a new future. 

Gilded by Marissa Meyer

Release Date: Nov. 2, 2021

Summary

Marissa Meyer, #1 New York Times-bestselling author, returns to the fairytale world with this haunting retelling of Rumpelstiltskin.

Long ago cursed by the god of lies, a poor miller’s daughter has developed a talent for spinning stories that are fantastical and spellbinding and entirely untrue.

Or so everyone believes.

When one of Serilda’s outlandish tales draws the attention of the sinister Erlking and his undead hunters, she finds herself swept away into a grim world where ghouls and phantoms prowl the earth and hollow-eyed ravens track her every move. The king orders Serilda to complete the impossible task of spinning straw into gold, or be killed for telling falsehoods. In her desperation, Serilda unwittingly summons a mysterious boy to her aid. He agrees to help her… for a price. Love isn’t meant to be part of the bargain.

Soon Serilda realizes that there is more than one secret hidden in the castle walls, including an ancient curse that must be broken if she hopes to end the tyranny of the king and his wild hunt forever. 

Terciel and Elinor by Garth Nix

Release Date: Sept. 21, 2021

Summary

Bestselling novelist Garth Nix returns to the Old Kingdom for the never-before-told love story of Sabriel’s parents, Tericel and Elinor, and the charter magic that brought them together—and threatened to tear them apart. A long-awaited prequel to a classic fantasy series.

In the Old Kingdom, a land of ancient and often terrible magics, eighteen year-old orphan Terciel learns the art of necromancy from his great-aunt Tizanael. But not to raise the Dead, rather to lay them to rest. He is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, and Tizanael is the Abhorsen, the latest in a long line of people whose task it is to make sure the Dead do not return to Life.

Across the Wall in Ancelstierre, a steam-age country where magic usually does not work, nineteen year-old Elinor lives a secluded life. Her only friends an old governess and an even older groom who was once a famous circus performer. Her mother is a tyrant, who is feared by all despite her sickness and impending death . . . but perhaps there is even more to fear from that.

Elinor does not know she is deeply connected to the Old Kingdom, nor that magic can sometimes come across the Wall, until a plot by an ancient enemy of the Abhorsens brings Terciel and Tizanael to Ancelstierre. In a single day of fire and death and loss, Elinor finds herself set on a path which will take her into the Old Kingdom, into Terciel’s life, and will embroil her in the struggle of the Abhorsens against the Dead who will not stay dead.

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Little Thieves by Margaret Owen

Release Date: Oct. 19, 2021

Summary

Once upon a time, there was a horrible girl…

Vanja Schmidt knows that no gift is freely given, not even a mother’s love–and she’s on the hook for one hell of a debt. Vanja, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele’s dutiful servant up until a year ago. That was when Vanja’s otherworldly mothers demanded a terrible price for their care, and Vanja decided to steal her future back… by stealing Gisele’s life for herself.

The real Gisele is left a penniless nobody while Vanja uses an enchanted string of pearls to take her place. Now, Vanja leads a lonely but lucrative double life as princess and jewel thief, charming nobility while emptying their coffers to fund her great escape. Then, one heist away from freedom, Vanja crosses the wrong god and is cursed to an untimely end: turning into jewels, stone by stone, for her greed.

Vanja has just two weeks to figure out how to break her curse and make her getaway. And with a feral guardian half-god, Gisele’s sinister fiancé, and an overeager junior detective on Vanja’s tail, she’ll have to pull the biggest grift yet to save her own life.

Margaret Owen, author of The Merciful Crow series, crafts a delightfully irreverent retelling of “The Goose Girl” about stolen lives, thorny truths, and the wicked girls at the heart of both.

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It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi

Release Date: Sept. 14, 2021

Summary

Two exes must revisit their past after their siblings start dating in this rom-com perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon and Morgan Matson.

After Kiran Noorani’s mom died, Kiran vowed to keep her dad and sister, Amira, close–to keep her family together. But when Amira announces that she’s dating someone, Kiran’s world is turned upside down.

Deen Malik is thrilled that his brother, Faisal, has found a great girlfriend. Maybe a new love will give Faisal a new lease on life, and Deen can stop feeling guilty for the reason that Faisal needs a do-over in the first place.

When the families meet, Deen and Kiran find themselves face to face. Again. Three years ago–before Amira and Faisal met–Kiran and Deen dated in secret. Until Deen ghosted Kiran.

And now, after discovering hints of Faisal’s shady past, Kiran will stop at nothing to find answers. Deen just wants his brother to be happy–and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Kiran from reaching the truth. Though the chemistry between Kiran and Deen is undeniable, can either of them take down their walls?

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Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells

Release Date: Nov. 2, 2021

Summary

Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…​

Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler—and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.

Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to—about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.

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A Rush of Wings by Laura E. Weyworth

Release Date: Nov. 2, 2021

Summary

For fans of Serpent & Dove and A House of Salt and Sorrows comes a darkly atmospheric and romantic fantasy about an untrained witch who must unlock her power to free her brothers from a terrible curse and save her home.

Rowenna Winthrop has always known there’s magic within her. But though she hears voices on the wind and possesses unusual talents, her mother Mairead believes Rowenna lacks discipline, and refuses to teach her the craft that keeps their Scottish village safe. And when Mairead dies a sinister death, it seems Rowenna’s only chance to grow into her power has died with her. Then, on a fateful, storm-tossed night, Rowenna rescues a handsome stranger named Gawen from a shipwreck, and her mother miraculously returns from the dead. Or so it appears.

The resurrected Mairead is nothing like the old one. To hide her new monstrous nature, she turns Rowenna’s brothers and Gawen into swans and robs Rowenna of her voice. Forced to flee, Rowenna travels to the city of Inverness to find a way to break the curse. But monsters take many forms, and in Inverness, Rowenna is soon caught in a web of strangers who want to use her raw magic for their own gain. If she wishes to save herself and the people she loves most, Rowenna will have to take her fate into her own hands and unlock the power that has evaded her for so long.

Briana

10 Middle Grade Books to Read in Fall 2021

There are a lot of excellent middle grade books coming out in fall 2021. Here are 10 of the ones I think are the most interesting! (Ok, one came out in July 2021, but it’s a Halloween book, so you should still read it this autumn!) What fall releases are you looking forward to?

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The Raven Heir by Stephanie Burgis

Release Date: September 14, 2021

Summary

Deep within an enchanted forest lies a castle where a set of triplets and their sorceress mother have lived for years–safe from the decades-long war for the Raven Throne that rages in the kingdom. Cordelia, one of the triplets, has the power to become any animal with just a thought, and she yearns to discover more about the world outside her castle.

But one day, the world comes to her, when the eldest of the triplets becomes the newest heir to the throne. Knowing that being named heir means certain death, Cordelia’s mother hid the truth about which child is the eldest when she hid them in the forest. When her family is captured, it’s up to Cordelia to use her powers to keep her siblings hidden and discover the truth about the Raven Heir–before it’s too late.

From the author of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes a thrilling new fantasy full of magic, adventure, and the power of family.

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BEASTS AND BEAUTY: DANGEROUS TALES BY SOMAN CHAINANI

Release Date: September 21, 2021

Summary

Twelve tales, twelve dangerous tales of mystery, magic, and rebellious hearts. Each twists like a spindle to reveal truths full of warning and triumph, truths that free hearts long kept tame, truths that explore life . . . and death.

A prince has a surprising awakening . . .                           

A beauty fights like a beast . . .

A boy refuses to become prey . . .

A path to happiness is lost. . . . then found again.

New York Times bestselling author Soman Chainani respins old stories into fresh fairy tales for a new era and creates a world like no other. These stories know you. They understand you. They reflect you. They are tales for our times. So read on, if you dare. 

Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzales

Release Date: October 9, 2021

Summary

Ivette. Joanna. And now: Katrina

Whatever her name is, it won’t last long. Katrina doesn’t know any of the details about her past, but she does know that she and her parents are part of the Witness Protection Program. Whenever her parents say they have to move on and start over, she takes on a new identity. A new name, a new hair color, a new story.

Until their location leaks and her parents disappear. Forced to embark on a dangerous rescue mission, Katrina and her new friend Parker set out to save her parents — and find out the truth about her secret past and the people that want her family dead.

But every new discovery reveals that Katrina’s entire life has been built around secrets covered up with lies and that her parents were actually the ones keeping the biggest secret of all. Katrina must now decide if learning the whole truth is worth the price of losing everything she has ever believed about herself and her family.

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The Halloween Moon by Joseph Fink

Release Date: July 20, 2021

*Review to come on the blog in early October.

Summary

Esther Gold loves Halloween more than anything in the world. So she is determined to go trick-or-treating again this year despite the fact that her parents think she is officially too old. Esther has it all planned out, from her costume to her candy-collecting strategy. But when the night rolls around, something feels . . . off.

No one is answering their door. The moon is an unnatural shade of orange. Strange children wander the streets, wearing creepy costumes that might not be costumes at all. And it seems like the only people besides Esther who are awake to see it all are her best friend, her school bully, and her grown-up next-door neighbor.

Together, this unlikely crew must find a way to lift the curse that has been placed upon their small town before it’s too late. Because someone is out to make sure Halloween never comes to an end. And even Esther doesn’t want to be trapped in this night forever.

A Soft Place to Land by Janae Marks

Release Date: September 14, 2021

Summary

Joy Taylor has always believed home is the house she lived in her entire life. But then her dad lost his job, and suddenly, home becomes a tiny apartment with thin walls, shared bedrooms, and a place for tense arguments between Mom and Dad. Hardest of all, Joy doesn’t have her music to escape through anymore. Without enough funds, her dreams of becoming a great pianist—and one day, a film score composer—have been put on hold.

A friendly new neighbor her age lets Joy in on the complex’s best-kept secret: the Hideout, a cozy refuge that only the kids know about. And it’s in this little hideaway that Joy starts exchanging secret messages with another kid in the building who also seems to be struggling, until—abruptly, they stop writing back. What if they’re in trouble?

Joy is determined to find out who this mystery writer is, fast, but between trying to raise funds for her music lessons, keeping on a brave face for her little sister, and worrying about her parents’ marriage, Joy isn’t sure how to keep her own head above water.

The Shattered Castle by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Release Date: October 19, 2021

Summary

King Jaron has outwitted the Prozarians and returned to his own kingdom with one secret in his pocket that not even his friends know about. He’s hoping that secret will help him finally bring stability to Carthya.

But a surprise attack on his own land — on the castle itself — reminds Jaron that nothing is easy. The Prozarian Monarch threatens to crumble Jaron’s entire kingdom. And that’s not the only thing in danger: With old enemies and new rumors circling around him, even Jaron’s relationship with Imogen is uncertain.

This former False Prince will need his best tricks and many allies at his side to hold Carthya together.

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Barakah Beats cover

Barakah Beats by Maleeha Siddiqui

Release Date: October 7, 2021

Summary

Twelve-year-old Nimra Sharif has spent her whole life in Islamic school, but now it’s time to go to “real school.”

Nimra’s nervous, but as long as she has Jenna, her best friend who already goes to the public school, she figures she can take on just about anything.

Unfortunately, middle school is hard. The teachers are mean, the schedule is confusing, and Jenna starts giving hijab-wearing Nimra the cold shoulder around the other kids.

Desperate to fit in and get back in Jenna’s good graces, Nimra accepts an unlikely invitation to join the school’s popular 8th grade boy band, Barakah Beats. The only problem is, Nimra was taught that music isn’t allowed in Islam, and she knows her parents would be disappointed if they found out. So she devises a simple plan: join the band, win Jenna back, then quietly drop out before her parents find out.

But dropping out of the band proves harder than expected. Not only is her plan to get Jenna back working, but Nimra really likes hanging out with the band-they value her contributions and respect how important her faith is to her. Then Barakah Beats signs up for a talent show to benefit refugees, and Nimra’s lies start to unravel. With the show only a few weeks away and Jenna’s friendship hanging in the balance, Nimra has to decide whether to betray her bandmates-or herself.

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The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu

Release Date: October 12, 2021

*Review to come on the blog in September

Summary

If no one notices Marya Lupu, it is likely because of her brother, Luka. And that’s because of what everyone knows: that Luka is destined to become a sorcerer.

The Lupus might be from a small village far from the capital city of Illyria, but that doesn’t matter. Every young boy born in in the kingdom holds the potential for the rare ability to wield magic, to protect the country from the terrifying force known only as the Dread.

For all the hopes the family has for Luka, no one has any for Marya, who can never seem to do anything right. But even so, no one is prepared for the day that the sorcerers finally arrive to test Luka for magical ability, and Marya makes a terrible mistake. Nor the day after, when the Lupus receive a letter from a place called Dragomir Academy–a mysterious school for wayward young girls. Girls like Marya.

Soon she is a hundred miles from home, in a strange and unfamiliar place, surrounded by girls she’s never met. Dragomir Academy promises Marya and her classmates a chance to make something of themselves in service to one of the country’s powerful sorcerers. But as they learn how to fit into a world with no place for them, they begin to discover things about the magic the men of their country wield, as well as the Dread itself–things that threaten the precarious balance upon which Illyria is built. 

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The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis

Release Date: September 21, 2021

Summary

Twelve-year-old Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he witnessed a Great White Wolf steal his grandpapá’s soul, preventing it from reaching the Sea-in-the-Sky and sailing into eternity. When the superstitious residents of Bouge-by-the-Sea accuse the boy of crying wolf, he joins forces with another orphan to prove his innocence. They navigate their shared grief in a journey that ultimately reveals life-changing truths about the wolf––and death. Narrated in a voice reminiscent of The Book Thief and Lemony Snicket, this fast-paced adventure is perfect for fans of literary fiction fantasy such as A Wish in the Dark and The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

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Tidesong by Wendy Xu

Release Date: November 16, 2021

*Review to come on the blog in October

Summary

Sophie is a young witch whose mother and grandmother pressure her to attend the Royal Magic Academy—the best magic school in the realm—even though her magic is shaky at best. To train for her entrance exams, Sophie is sent to relatives she’s never met.

Cousin Sage and Great-Aunt Lan seem more interested in giving Sophie chores than in teaching her magic. Frustrated, Sophie attempts magic on her own, but the spell goes wrong, and she accidentally entangles her magic with the magic of a young water dragon named Lir.

Lir is trapped on land and can’t remember where he came from. Even so, he’s everything Sophie isn’t—beloved by Sophie’s family and skilled at magic. With his help, Sophie might just ace her entrance exams, but that means standing in the way of Lir’s attempts to regain his memories. Sophie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but without Lir’s help, can she prove herself?

Briana

11 Young Adult Books Set in New York City

Young Adult Books Set in NYC

Looking for a read set in the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps? Check our our list of 11 young adult books set in New York City and set out on your next reading adventures:

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Summary

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

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Dash and Lily

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn

Summary

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

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Beastly

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Summary

I am a beast.

A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright—a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.

You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.

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Where She Went book cover

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Summary

It’s been three years since the devastating accident… three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future – and each other.

Told from Adam’s point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I StayWhere She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

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Invisibility by Andrea Cremer and David Leviathan

Summary

Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.

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Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Summary

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

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Take Me Home Tonight book cover

Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson

Summary

Two girls. One night. Zero phones.

Kat and Stevie—best friends, theater kids, polar opposites—have snuck away from the suburbs to spend a night in New York City. They have it all planned out. They’ll see a play, eat at the city’s hottest restaurant, and have the best. Night. Ever. What could go wrong?

Well. Kind of a lot?

They’re barely off the train before they’re dealing with destroyed phones, family drama, and unexpected Pomeranians. Over the next few hours, they’ll have to grapple with old flames, terrible theater, and unhelpful cab drivers. But there are also cute boys to kiss, parties to crash, dry cleaning to deliver (don’t ask), and the world’s best museum to explore.

Over the course of a wild night in the city that never sleeps, both Kat and Stevie will get a wake-up call about their friendship, their choices…and finally discover what they really want for their future.

That is, assuming they can make it to Grand Central before the clock strikes midnight.

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Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Summary

Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.

Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, Étienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.

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They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Summary

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day. 

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catcher in the rye

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Summary

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Summary

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Summer Reads Recommendations: 7 YA Books Set Near the Water

Looking for your next summer read? Here are 7 young adult books set near the water to make you wish you were near it, too.

Wicked Deep book cover

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

Summary

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.

Thoughts

The Wicked Deep promises to be a book full of suspense and mystery. Set in a small coastal town cursed by three witches the residents drowned 200 years ago, the book has hints of magic, secrets, and revenge.  A compellingly atmospheric read, even if it does include some YA tropes.

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What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Summary

Gwen Castle has never so badly wanted to say good-bye to her island home till now: the summer her Biggest Mistake Ever, Cassidy Somers, takes a job there as the local yard boy. He’s a rich kid from across the bridge in Stony Bay, and she hails from a family of fishermen and housecleaners who keep the island’s summer people happy. Gwen worries a life of cleaning houses will be her fate too, but just when it looks like she’ll never escape her past—or the island—Gwen’s dad gives her some shocking advice. Sparks fly and secret histories unspool as Gwen spends a gorgeous, restless summer struggling to resolve what she thought was true—about the place she lives, the people she loves, and even herself—with what really is.

Thoughts

What I Thought Was True offers a heartbreakingly realistic view of what it can be like to oneself with a reputation as easy in high school. Gwen certainly never thought of herself as a slut when she was sleeping with those boys, but everyone else seems to think she is, and now she is beginning to worry it might be true. The book follows Gwen as she struggles with coming to grips with how much everyone else is judging her versus how much she is judging herself. The story itself is never preachy and never really weighs in on one side or the other, instead emphasizing that it is possible to find new beginnings and to decide who you want to be in life.

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Summer I Turned Pretty book cover

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

Summary

Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer—they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one terrible and wonderful summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along. 

Thoughts

Neither Krysta nor I have personally read this one, but it sounds intriguing and is by Jenny Han, so it has promise!

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Salt & Storm cover

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

Summary

You don’t know what you must give up to become a witch.

Avery Roe wants only to claim her birthright as the witch of Prince Island and to make the charms that have kept the island’s sailors safe at sea for generations, but instead she is held prisoner by her mother in a magic-free life of proper manners and respectability.

Avery thinks escape is just a matter of time, but when she has a harrowing nightmare, she can see what it means: She will be killed. She will be murdered. And she’s never been wrong before.

Desperate to change her future, Avery finds a surprising ally in Tane—a tattooed harpoon boy with magic of his own, who moves her in ways she never expected. But as time runs out to unlock her magic and save herself, Avery discovers that becoming a witch requires unimaginable sacrifice.

Avery walks the knife’s edge between choice and destiny in Kendall Kulper’s sweeping debut: the story of one girl’s fight to survive the rising storm of first love and family secrets.

Thoughts

Kendall Kulper’s Salt & Storm is a masterpiece witch book.  With an elaborately developed system of magic and a rich history of witches and their tenuous relationship with the normal people they help, Salt & Storm approaches the topic of witchcraft with insight and realism.  In Salt & Storm, magic can earn one power and respect—but it also comes with a price.  Protagonist Avery, who has dreamed of becoming the Prince Island witch since her childhood is willing, determined, to pay that price and more.

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Summary

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

Thoughts

A backlist book that’s having a comeback thanks to BookTok! It’s set on a rich family’s private island, where secrets and mysteries abound.

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Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Summary

It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um…

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane’s list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait…what? 

Thoughts

Morgan Matson has a gift for writing books with wild premises but relatable characters that bring readers the best of two worlds: a story that’s both unattainable for many readers but will also make them feel right at home.  Since You’ve Been Gone, for instance, is the story of a teenage girl whose parents are famous playwrights whose best friend has mysteriously disappeared and leaves her a list of crazy things to do.  She makes more friends in the meantime, who are generally as rich and well-connected as she is (one friend’s parents are well-known architects).  Yet Morgan’s focusing of the story on friendship and her talent of simply making the characters human grounds it.  You forget you’re reading about privileged rich kids who have a life you’ll never have and who are having improbably adventures, and instead you just see their troubles with life, love, parents, etc., and it’s a glorious ride.

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Along the Shore

Along the Shore: Tales by the Sea by L. M. Montgomery

Summary

A wide-ranging selection of Montgomery’s tales that exemplify her story-telling art. Linked by the presence of the sea, these are sixteen enchanting tales, previously unpublished, forming a memorable volume for fans of the creator of Anne of Green Gables.

Thoughts

Ok, this isn’t strictly a YA book, but Montgomery often writes about younger characters, and everyone of all ages loves her work, so I’m including it here. This collection of short stories is, as always, charming and insightful and sometimes humorous, and you can really see Montgomery’s own love of the sea come through.

7 Books I Have Accused of Being Illogical

It’s important to me that books make sense for me to enjoy them, but often logic is sacrificed for plot convenience or a “cool” premise. Here are 7 books that I’ve accused of being illogical.


Spindle Fire Book Cover

Spindle Fire By Lexa Hillyer

Summary

A kingdom burns. A princess sleeps. This is no fairy tale.

It all started with the burning of the spindles.

No.

It all started with a curse…

Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and her voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.

And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood—and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.

As the faerie queen and her army of Vultures prepare to march, Isabelle must race to find a prince who can awaken her sister with the kiss of true love and seal their two kingdoms in an alliance against the queen.

Isabelle crosses land and sea; unearthly, thorny vines rise up the palace walls; and whispers of revolt travel in the ashes on the wind. The kingdom falls to ruin under layers of snow. Meanwhile, Aurora wakes up in a strange and enchanted world, where a mysterious hunter may be the secret to her escape…or the reason for her to stay.

From My Review

Spindle Fire has mediocre reviews on Goodreads, and I can understand why.  Some of the book is cheesy (the villain lives in a country named La Mort), and much of it doesn’t really make sense—either because it’s completely unexplained or because the given explanation is illogical.  But still….

Somehow I managed to look past this, and I was captivated by the plot and by two sisters willing to give up much to help each other. 

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The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly

Summary

A princess with a powerful and dangerous secret must find a way to save her country from ruthless invaders in this exciting debut fantasy, the first novel in a thrilling duology packed with heroism, treachery, magic, and war.

Askia became heir to the Frozen Crown of Seravesh because of her devotion to her people. But her realm is facing a threat she cannot defeat by sheer will alone. The mad emperor of the Roven Empire has unleashed a horde of invading soldiers to enslave her lands. For months, her warriors have waged a valiant, stealth battle, yet they cannot stop the enemy’s advancement. Running out of time, she sets sail for sun-drenched Vishir, the neighboring land to the south, to seek help from its ruler, Emperor Armaan.

A young woman raised in army camps, Askia is ill-equipped to navigate Vishir’s labyrinthine political games. Her every move sinks her deeper into court intrigues which bewilder and repel her, leaving her vulnerable not only to enemies gathering at Vishir’s gates, but to those behind the palace walls. 

And in this glittering court, where secrets are worth more than gold, Askia fears that one false step will expose her true nature. For Askia is a witch gifted with magical abilities—knowledge that could destroy not only her life but her people. As her adversaries draw closer, Askia is forced to make an impossible choice—and no matter what she decides, it may not be enough to prevent Seravesh’s fall.

From My Review

The Frozen Crown promises an epic story of war, magic, and political intrigue as protagonist Princess Askia leaves her northern home to beg an army from her powerful neighbors to win back her throne. While I did enjoy the magic system and some of Askia’s political maneuverings, much of the book was too illogical for my tastes, and I found some of the characterization lacked nuance.

It’s a priority for me that books need to make sense for me to enjoy them, but The Frozen Crown fell flat for me from the first chapter. I was baffled by the idea the protagonist was going to a derelict city for aid, that her own country was only a mile away (but over a whole mountain range!) yet the war was completely contained there, and that the first course of action involved hunting and a ball rather than anything more…pressing. While the book is supposed to be about political intrigue and not really the war itself (which readers never see), the book never hooked me on its logic. Some of the political maneuvers were interesting, and it was fun to watch Askia grow from a short-sighted woman with a temper to someone more cunning, but ultimately the political intrigues never felt that twisty or clever to me, which was a disappointment.

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Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh

Summary

Odessa is one of Karthia’s master necromancers, catering to the kingdom’s ruling Dead. Whenever a noble dies, it’s Odessa’s job to raise them by retrieving their souls from a dreamy and dangerous shadow world called the Deadlands. But there is a cost to being raised–the Dead must remain shrouded, or risk transforming into zombie-like monsters known as Shades. If even a hint of flesh is exposed, the grotesque transformation will begin.

A dramatic uptick in Shade attacks raises suspicions and fears among Odessa’s necromancer community. Soon a crushing loss of one of their own reveals a disturbing conspiracy: someone is intentionally creating Shades by tearing shrouds from the Dead–and training them to attack. Odessa is faced with a terrifying question: What if her necromancer’s magic is the weapon that brings Karthia to its knees?

From My Review

Possible Small Spoilers

The problems start at the beginning of the novel, where it becomes immediately obvious the magic in this world isn’t well thought-out. Krysta has written about wanting more logic in fantasy, and the lack of logic is exactly the problem here.

1.) The Dead become monsters when someone sees their skin.  But…why?  I can accept magic in general, but it just seems ridiculous to me that somehow your skin would know that someone else’s eyeball saw it, and then you’d insta-transform into a raving monster.  Also, why do the Dead wear shrouds that can accidentally show their skin?  Why has no one invented a body suit?

2.) Wait…no one invented a body suit because the Dead king who has been ruling for centuries doesn’t allow “change.”  No widening the streets.  No new fashions.  No new medicines.  No new rules.  Except the castle itself is allowed to change because the nobles need more room as more of them are born but none of them leave because they keep getting resurrected.  Ok…

(Also, what magic you can perform or what talents you have is determined by your eye color, and all brown-eyed people are Inventors, but they are unilaterally not allowed to invent anything because that is change. I’m sure this large subset of the population loves this.)

3.) This is an inherently unstable political system even if people generally like this Dead king (“May he reign eternal”) because he has to be killed and re-resurrected every once in a while, meaning there are periods, even if only a day here and there, where someone else must be in charge of the country.  Also, it seems unrealistic that his family would keep raising him instead of going for their own shot at the throne.

So, really none of this book makes sense, and I could go on.  But did I enjoy other aspects of the novel?

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The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

Summary

Seventeen-year-old Kiva Meridan has spent the last ten years fighting for survival in the notorious death prison, Zalindov, working as the prison healer.

When the Rebel Queen is captured, Kiva is charged with keeping the terminally ill woman alive long enough for her to undergo the Trial by Ordeal: a series of elemental challenges against the torments of air, fire, water, and earth, assigned to only the most dangerous of criminals.

Then a coded message from Kiva’s family arrives, containing a single order: “Don’t let her die. We are coming.” Aware that the Trials will kill the sickly queen, Kiva risks her own life to volunteer in her place. If she succeeds, both she and the queen will be granted their freedom.

But no one has ever survived.

With an incurable plague sweeping Zalindov, a mysterious new inmate fighting for Kiva’s heart, and a prison rebellion brewing, Kiva can’t escape the terrible feeling that her trials have only just begun.

From My Review

My only explanation for most of the book, and most of the decisions the characters made, was that they were all lying about everything. Some of them must have had different motivations for what they were doing than what they were saying, some of them must know things they weren’t letting on about, etc. I read hoping and praying this was the case and everything would come together in the end. And I think even the author knows logic is an issue because she spends so much time trying to explain things about the Rebel Queen and the world building and the royal family, etc. and make it fit, and yet it never fully does.

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Songs from the Deep

Songs from the Deep by Kelly Powell

Summary

A girl searches for a killer on an island where deadly sirens lurk just beneath the waves in this gripping, atmospheric debut novel.

The sea holds many secrets.

Moira Alexander has always been fascinated by the deadly sirens who lurk along the shores of her island town. Even though their haunting songs can lure anyone to a swift and watery grave, she gets as close to them as she can, playing her violin on the edge of the enchanted sea. When a young boy is found dead on the beach, the islanders assume that he’s one of the sirens’ victims. Moira isn’t so sure.

Certain that someone has framed the boy’s death as a siren attack, Moira convinces her childhood friend, the lighthouse keeper Jude Osric, to help her find the real killer, rekindling their friendship in the process. With townspeople itching to hunt the sirens down, and their own secrets threatening to unravel their fragile new alliance, Moira and Jude must race against time to stop the killer before it’s too late—for humans and sirens alike.

From My Review

The book also suffers from lack of logic, one of my biggest pet peeves.  I don’t expect characters to act 100% rationally 100% of the time, but I can’t stand when they do obviously stupid things that I can’t imagine making sense to anyone…and the author/narrative voice gives the sense that it’s normal and they’re not behaving illogically at all.  My biggest example of this would be a spoiler for the book, but overall it’s surprising that the main characters themselves weren’t murdered for the way they handled their amateur investigation.

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Four Dead Queens

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

Summary

Seventeen-year-old Keralie Corrington may seem harmless, but she’s, in fact, one of Quadara’s most skilled thieves and a liar. Varin, on the other hand, is an honest, upstanding citizen of Quadara’s most enlightened region, Eonia. He runs afoul of Keralie when she steals a package from him, putting his life in danger. When Varin attempts to retrieve the package, he and Keralie both find themselves entangled in a conspiracy that leaves all four of Quadara’s queens dead.

With no other choices and on the run from Keralie’s former employer, the two decide to join forces, endeavoring to discover who has killed the queens and save their own lives in the process. When their reluctant partnership blooms into a tenuous romance, they must overcome their own dark secrets in hopes of a future together that seemed impossible just days before. But first they have to stay alive and untangle the secrets behind the nation’s four dead queens.

An enthralling fast-paced murder mystery where competing agendas collide with deadly consequences, Four Dead Queensheralds the arrival of an exciting new YA talent.

From My Review

The fantasy aspect might be the strongest–if you can overlook the completely absurd form of government (and apparently readers can, as has been demonstrated by very popular books like Three Dark Crowns.)  I, however, cannot get over the fact there is a country with four queens who each rule a different quadrant, who claim to be acting “together” for the good of Quadara while actually deciding that nearly all the benefits of their quadrant must remain in that quadrant.  (For example, only one quadrant can produce food. For some reason, they just give it away to the other three and accept the fact they’re not “allowed” to have things like electricity from the technology quadrant to make farming easier.  Why are they not rioting?  Why are they not trying to withhold food to get what they want from the other quadrants?  What army is enforcing all this?)  Other inane rules include not allowing the queens to ever set foot in their quadrant once they ascend the throne (not knowing anything about your quadrant helps you rule better, apparently), and all the queens must live in the same palace for their safety (because we all know the safest thing to do is to put all the most important people in the same place that can be taken out by a single major attack).  The set-up of this country is, frankly, ludicrous, and I couldn’t help thinking they basically deserved to have their queens murdered or couped or something so someone could set up a more stable government. Really the most shocking thing is that no one tried to murder all the queens before.

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The Crown's Game

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

Summary

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love… or be killed himself.
As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear… the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

From My Review

Possible Small Spoilers

Ostensibly Vika and Nikolai are dueling to the death. Their goal: impress the tsar with their magic and show him they have what it takes to be a royal advisor and also lead a upcoming war.  What do they with their magic instead? Decorate St. Petersburg.  Now, the book goes out of its way to assure readers that Vika and Nikolai are performing stunning, complex, difficult magic, that it takes enormous strength and power and concentration to do something like paint all the houses on a square or make a water fountain in a river.  So, sure, I’ll buy that.  However, this takes place in a world where 1) few people believe in or know anything about magic and 2) the tsar started the Crown’s Game because he fears a looming war.  So 1) probably no one knows whether painting some houses is complex magic or not and 2) it definitely doesn’t have an immediate use in war.  Of course, the book also has to come up with lots of convoluted explanations to help the plot make sense (i.e. no one believes in magic, so the competitors can’t do anything too dangerous or scary). However, this is still stupid because they could have just gone somewhere more isolated, and I think there’s still a way to demonstrate you have warlike abilities that would be more effective than making magical puff pastries.  The enchanters’ training exercises that nobody saw were more to the point than the things they choose to do during the actual competition.

Briana

Top 10 Books I Read in the First Half of 2021

Best Books I Read in 2021

The ten best books I’ve read so far in 2021! Tell me what your favorite books have been so far this year in the comments!


The Infinity Courts (The Infinity Courts #1) by Akemi Dawn Bowman

The Infinity Courts is a spellbinding story about death, family, and fighting for what you believe it is right. While books about artificial intelligence and questions about what it means to be “real” and whether it’s wrong to hurt or kill an AI have obviously been done before, Bowman brings heart and creativity to the questions and lets readers seem them through the eyes of protagonist Nami. Readers will be as torn as she is, wondering if humans and an out-of-control AI can learn to coexist and what it means ethically to decide they cannot. The result is a captivating book that will have readers glued to the pages for the plot even as they ponder some of the big questions of life. (Or, er, of death?)

Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe

I have my review for this scheduled closed to the release date in October, but you can read Krysta’s review linked above. Both of us thought the book was excellent — creative, atmospheric, with a nice touch of inspiration from Shakespeare even though the story stands quite on its own.

Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien edited by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan

Overall, this collection is essential reading for anyone who loves Tolkien, and it will provide some eye-opening arguments for anyone who thinks Tolkien’s women are flat or his portrayals are sexist. The authors consistently offer evidence that while, of course, Tolkien would not have held the views of a 21st-century feminist, the women in his books are nuanced and powerful and generally subvert gender expectations rather than fulfill them. Tolkien was also a champion of women academics in his personal life, and we have no evidence to suggest he didn’t like or respect women.

Belinda by Maria Edgeworth

Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda is an exciting Regency-era novel that throws scandalous characters together with kindhearted ones to tell a story that ultimately brings most characters their happily-ever-after (or, in some cases, their just desserts!).

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Belinda, my knowledge of this time period, of course, being dominated by Jane Austen novels. I was startled to discover a novel that, at times, is a bit wild and over-the-top, with women challenging each other to duels and people playing scary pranks and all kinds of things. I had this vague idea I would be reading about balls and matrimonial maneuverings, and while those are part of the novel, their presence doesn’t make the book staid.

Speak for Yourself by Lana Wood Johnson

Speak for Yourself is a gripping novel that combines academic competition, app creation, and a hint of romance to create a story that will have readers cheering on Skylar page after page. I don’t read a lot of YA contemporary, but I loved this one, as well as how Johnson really seems to capture the lives of today’s teens.

The Theft of Sunlight (Dauntless Path #2) by Intisar Khanani

Intisar Khanani’s Thorn was one of my favorite books of 2020, so it was with great enthusiasm that I picked up The Theft of Sunlight to read more of Khanani’s work. Not only does the book deliver an engaging story with a sweet developing romance and a protagonist that had me admiring both her kindness and her sass, but it also tackles one of the threads I thought was bizarrely left hanging in Thorn: the fact that dozens of children are being snatched from the street each month.

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

I still have to officially write my review of this one, but it’s engrossing and imaginative, and I love how the main character goes from off-putting to sympathetic — and also her magical powers are still so unexplored, with so much potential! Novik grips me with everything she writes, and this is no exception.

Rhythm of War (Stormlight Archive #4) by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War is one of those books I feel are almost not worth reviewing: it’s book 4 in a proposed 10 book series, and you’re either committed to reading the series at this point or you’re not. (Or you may not have started the series at all, but then why are you reading a review of book 4 and not book 1?) However, I can say with confidence that Rhythm of War is excellent, as complex and imaginative as the previous three books in the Stormlight Archives, yet highly readable, as all Sanderson’s book tend to be.

The Fellowship of the Ring book cover

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is my favorite book, and I’m (possibly) running out of things to say about it. This may be only the fourth time I’ve read it though. I’m currently in the middle of The Two Towers, but life keeps getting in the way of finishing it!

Namesake (Fable #2) by Adrienne Young

Namesake is just such a wonderful mix of action and adventure with a bit of heart (and a lot of backstabbing and scheming and burning other people’s ships, actually…) that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who loves a good story.

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Honorable Mention: The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

The miniseries is such a faithful adaptation of the book that I can hardly separate the two, and I actually think I prefer the show, but overall it is a great story.

Briana

10 Backlist Middle Grade Books that Deserve More Love

10 Backlist Middle Grade Books That Deserve More Love

Everyone loves reading the latest releases. However, there are also a lot of backlist books that are amazing and deserve to be read! Here are 10 backlist middle grade books that I think more readers should check out.


1

One Plus One Equals Blue by Mary Jane Auch

I tend to read more fantasy than contemporary, which will become obvious from the rest of this list, but One + One = Blue was a unique, stand-out book for me, and also the first time I heard about synesthesia.

Summary

Twelve year-old Basil knows he’s special—he’s been associating numbers with colors since he was a kid. His gift (or curse) has turned him into somewhat of a loner, but his world begins to change when he meets Tenzie, the new girl in school who has similar freakisms. She, too, has synesthesia (a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another). At first, Basil is somewhat annoyed with Tenzie’s pushiness, but after Basil’s estranged mother returns, his life is turned upside down . . . and Tenzie may be the only person to help him put it back together again.

Once again, MJ Auch has written a thoughtful coming-of-age novel that explores friendship, family, and fitting in.

2

The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton

I read this in 2016 and absolutely loved it. I was blown away and could hardly wait for it to become the next big thing. Now I see it hasn’t even cracked 600 reviews on Goodreads, and I am extremely disappointed for the author and the book because it deserves so much more.

Summary

Brimming with dragons, goblins, and logic puzzles, this middle-grade fantasy adventure is perfect for readers who enjoyed The Princess Bride or Rump.

THE BOY is a nameless slave on a mission to uncover his true destiny.
THE GOBLIN holds all the answers, but he’s too tricky to be trusted.
PLAIN ALICE is a bookish peasant girl carried off by a confused dragon.
And PRINCESS ALICE is the lucky girl who wasn’t kidnapped.

All four are tangled up in a sinister plot to take over the kingdom, and together they must face kind monsters, a cruel magician, and dozens of deathly boring palace bureaucrats. They’re a ragtag bunch, but with strength, courage, and plenty of deductive reasoning, they just might outwit the villains and crack the goblin’s puzzle.

Remarkable by Lizzie K. Foley

I often say I don’t like quirky, but actually sometimes I do! Remarkable is fun, feel-good book about what it actually means to be special.

Summary

In the mountain town of Remarkable, everyone is extraordinarily talented, extraordinarily gifted, or just plain extraordinary. Everyone, that is, except Jane Doe, the most average ten-year-old who ever lived. But everything changes when the mischievous, downright criminal Grimlet twins enroll in Jane’s school and a strange pirate captain appears in town.

Thus begins a series of adventures that put some of Remarkable’s most infamous inhabitants and their long-held secrets in danger. It’s up to Jane, in her own modest style, to come to the rescue and prove that she is capable of some rather exceptional things.

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Pilfer Academy by Lauren Magaziner

Pilfer Academy Lauren Magaziner

A school for criminals with lots of fun rooms and secrets? Count me in!

Summary

Troublemaking George has never heard of Pilfer Academy, a top-secret school for cultivating young crooks, until he’s kidnapped as its newest student. The teachers are kooky at best, and naughty does not even begin to describe his sneaky, smart, and morally bankrupt new classmates. Between disguise classes, cracking safes, and DIY gadgets, George becomes an expert bandit and finds true friendship with Tabitha, his new partner-in-crime. But everything is ruined when George comes to a shocking realization: He is just too good-hearted to be a thief! 

Unfortunately, not thieving is not an option at Pilfer Academy, and “misbehaving” students face Dean Deanbuggle’s favorite punishment—the Whirlyblerg! In order to gain their freedom, George and Tabitha must pull the biggest heist the school has ever seen and reveal their true colors not as thieves, but as kind (and, okay, mischievous) kids. 

Wrinkled Crown book cover

The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet

I never got around to reviewing this book for the blog, which is a shame, because I thought it was a delightful middle-grade fantasy that more people should pick up!

Summary

Up in the magical, wrinkled hills, Linny breaks an ancient law. No matter how musical a girl may be, she must not so much as touch a string of a lourka before she turns twelve, or she’ll be spirited off to Away. When the curse meant for her strikes her best friend instead, Linny must leave her home behind to try to set things right. If you walk down out of the wrinkled hills, you will never find your way home–everyone knows that other law. But Linny has the gift of not getting lost, and she will risk everything to rescue her friend. With her father’s young apprentice, Elias, she travels down into the Plain, where science may have found a cure for magic. Linny and Elias soon find themselves caught up in the age-old battle between the wrinkled places and the Plain. Can Linny keep the fractured land from falling apart—and save her best friend?

The Silver Crown by Robert C. O’Brien

The last time I read this was when I was a child, and I actually remember thinking parts of it were a bit weird. But I also remember reading it multiple times, and if that isn’t a recommendation, what is?

Summary

Ellen awakens one morning with a mysterious silver crown on the pillow beside her. What magic powers it possesses she has not yet discovered, but the sudden changes in her life are unmistakable: her house is burned down, her family has disappeared, and a man in a dark uniform is stalking her. Can Ellen ever find her family? Can she use the power of the silver crown to thwart the powers of darkness? What diabolical force hides inside the mysterious castle in the woods?

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Witch Wars by Sibeal Pounder

Witch Wars

As far as I can tell, some of Pounder’s books aren’t even published in the US, just the UK, and we are all missing out! This fun series about witches and Ritzy City is creative, quirky, heartfelt, and overall delightful.

Summary

When Fran the Fabulous Fairy turns up in Tiga Whicabim’s shed to tell her she’s a witch, Tiga doesn’t believe her. Or at least not until Fran points out that TIGA WHICABIM is actually an anagram of I AM A BIG WITCH . . . and takes Tiga through the drainpipes to compete in a challenge to crown the next Top Witch of Ritzy City. No one expects a witch from ‘above the pipes’ to be a serious contender, but soon Tiga and her new best friend, Peggy Pigwiggle, are at the head of the pack! Does one of them have what it takes to win?

There will be spells. There will be shrunken heads. But most of all, there will be serious shoe envy. Perfect for fans of Sarah Mlynowski’s Whatever After series and filled with hilarious black-and-white illustrations, delectable dresses, and ridiculous riddles, Witch Wars is whimsical, magical fun!

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If the Magic Fits by Susan Maupin Schmid

If the Magic Fits

This is exactly the whimsical fantasy series I would have been all over as a child. It has magical dresses! Some romance and adventure. But magical dresses in a magical castle! Why did no one think of this premise before?

Summary

Inside an enchanted castle, there’s a closet—a closet with one hundred dresses that nobody ever wears. Dresses like those need a good trying-on, and Darling Dimple is just the girl to do it. When she tries on Dress Number Eleven, something unbelievable happens. She transforms into the castle’s Head Scrubber! It turns out that each dress can disguise her as someone else. And Darling is about to have an adventure that calls for a disguise or two…or a hundred.

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A Posse of Princesses by Sherwood Smith

Posse of Princesses book cover

I think Sherwood Smith is sort of well-known because if I mention her, other people vaguely mention having heard of her– but I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of discussion of her books in the online book community. But if you like books about princesses, this might be just your thing!

Summary

Rhis, princess of a small kingdom, is invited along with all the other princesses in her part of the world to the coming of age party of the Crown Prince of Vesarja, which is the central and most important kingdom. When Iardith, the prettiest and most perfect of all the princesses, is abducted, Rhis and her friends go to the rescue.

What happens to Rhis and her posse has unexpected results not only for the princesses, but for the princes who chase after them. Everyone learns a lot about friendship and hate, politics and laughter, romantic ballads and sleeping in the dirt with nothing but a sword for company. But most of all they learn about the many meanings of love.

This edition, correcting the errors in the print editions, also contains an added chapter. 

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Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail book cover

Kind of dark but actually lighthearted, this is such a fun read with a protagonist you can’t help cheering for.

Summary

When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail’s doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle’s minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn’t who she says she is.

This quirky, richly illustrated novel is filled with humor, magic, and an unforgettable all-star cast of castle characters.

Briana