March 23, 2018

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YA: Outlandish Fantasy & Poignant Realistic Fiction | June 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Baldwin, Kathleen. Refuge for Masterminds. (The Stranje House: Bk. 3). 352p. Tor Teen. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780765376046.

Gr 8 Up –Lady Jane Moore tells this third part of the ongoing series. The dialogue remains top-notch, and the plot moves quickly as adventures and excitement abound. The story begins at night, when Lady Jane (who calls herself “plain Jane”) sees a cloaked girl running through the trees and follows her through the woods. She overhears plans to capture the boat Alexander has made for England. Unfortunately, Alexander picks that moment to sneak up on Lady Jane, and they are overheard by the enemy spies. Lady Jane strategizes ways to confound Napoleon’s spies and ruin their plans. As the group figures out how to get Alexander’s steamboat, Mary Isabella, to England’s safely, Lady Jane is frantic to conceal her own secret. As events unfold, she might have to reveal her past—and the horrible consequences her secret holds. Will the girls of Stranje House still accept Lady Jane if her secret is discovered? Will they be able to protect Alexander and his ship from Napoleon’s deadly spies? Fans of Celia Rees’s Pirates! will enjoy this tale of action and derring-do. VERDICT An outstanding alternative history series entry and a must-have for teen libraries.–Cathleen Ash, Manor High School Library, TX

Beaty, Erin. The Traitor’s Kiss. 384p. Imprint. May 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250117946.

Gr 9 Up –A debut novel that blends fantasy, romance, and battlefield action. Sage Fowler’s stubbornness keeps her from a marriage match, but her keen eye lands her a job as the matchmaker’s apprentice. Tasked with surveying a caravan of brides, Sage assumes a false identity. Meanwhile, Captain Quinn’s rookie mistake dooms his company to the group’s escort duty. But a treacherous threat looms. Sage’s secret position and the military’s urgent mission become irreversibly intertwined. Readers will be rewarded when the romantic chemistry heats up and a spy’s true character is revealed in this character-driven story. The short chapters keep the perspectives changing, but the pace and the world-building feel gradual at times. Unfortunately, Beaty employs problematic tropes, such as “dark-skinned” foreign invaders, and Sage and the brides exhibit misogyny. VERDICT A slow burn YA fantasy with clever genre mixing but some troublesome underlying elements. Not recommended.–Elizabeth Nolan, San José Public Library, CA

Copling, Steve. Sage Alexander and the Hall of Nightmares. 416p. Brown Bks. Apr. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781612549422.

Gr 6 Up –An action-filled fantasy adventure. Sage Alexander is 14 years old and tired of listening to Leah, an angel whom only he can see, tell him of his destiny and need to prepare for the global destruction that is to come when the descendants of humans and angels (like him) and the demons and creatures that are sent to destroy the world by the Seven Princes of Hell do battle. Sage has generally ignored his training for this warrior destiny, but he starts to see that one of the princes has influence over Sage’s dad, and physical changes begin that only Sage can see. As this fear causes him to start taking things seriously, he discovers that his grandfather; his grandfather’s assistant, Ronan; and Theo—an elderly shop owner with whom Sage spends time—are all like him and have been waiting for him to accept his fate. Sage jumps into an alternate realm in an attempt to save missing members of an angelic council, get a squad together, save his dad, and destroy Mammon, one of the Princes of Hell. The action is engaging, but at times it feels as if some details are missing or the plot is rushed. For example, the council members that Sage meets all accept his story without any question and are ready to join him, which doesn’t feel realistic. However, fans of heroic fantasy will be entertained. VERDICT A good choice for fans of the “Percy Jackson” series or for collections where more adventurous fantasy is needed.–Megan Huenemann, Norris High School, Firth, NE

Dickerson, Melanie. The Noble Servant. 320p. Thomas Nelson. May 2017. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780718026608.

Gr 9 Up –When 19-year-old Magdalen, daughter of the deceased Barron of Mallin, receives a written wedding proposal from 21-year-old Steffan, Duke of Wolfberg, she and her stern and callous mother believe things are looking up for the family and for the people of Mallin. Mother immediately sends Magdalen on her way, but the situation quickly changes when Agnes, her maidservant, and Erlich, Agnes’s father, threaten her life if she does not swap places with Agnes. Magdalen quickly discovers that trickery is afoot at Wolfberg Castle: the “duke” to whom imposter Agnes is now engaged is not Steffan but Alexander, his cousin, acting under the control of his father, Lord Hazen. When the real Steffan arrives, he is forced to play the role of a poor shepherd until he can prove his true identity. Magdalen and Steffan must find a way to regain their true identities as they wrestle with their mixed emotions for each other and their concern over the fate of their people. Dickerson develops the male and female protagonists by stripping them of the royalty to which they are accustomed and placing them in the vilest of human states at the time in which this story was set: 1365, during the Holy Roman Empire. Though the plot of this story, inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s “The Goose Girl,” is very quickly revealed, readers will revel in both Magdalen and Steffan’s journey and Agnes and Alexander’s. VERDICT Christian fiction fans who enjoy fairy tales and romance will not be disappointed.–Susan Harris, Ridgeway High School, TN

Gunnery, Sylvia. Road Signs That Say West. 216p. Pajama. May 2017. pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781772780239.

Gr 8 Up –When their parents go away on a European adventure, three sisters, Hanna, Claire, and Megan, embark on a road trip across Canada from Halifax to Vancouver, from the east to the west coast. Stopping in various cities along the way, the sisters camp, swim, and make friends. Picking up hitchhikers, white water rafting, attending weddings, visiting monuments, and more are all on the agenda during the road trip. The girls all seem to have dramatic backstories, but Gunnery offers little detail about them, although there are realistic sibling rivalries and bickering. The book feels underdeveloped; the writing style is disconnected and not a lot is explained. The third-person narrator jumps around from character to character with no rhyme or reason, making the plot hard to follow. The characters have no substance. They are not fully developed and leave readers confused and wanting more. VERDICT A good premise, with the road trip setting and sisterly relationships, but the execution makes it hard to recommend this title.–Morgan O’Reilly, Riverdale Country School, NY

McCrina, Amanda. Blood Road. 320p. (Blood Oath: Bk. 1). Month9Books. Apr. 2017. pap. $15. ISBN 9781945107887.

Gr 7-10 –A medieval fantasy with plenty of fighting, desert sand, and men who can’t seem to get along. Noble-born Torien Risto is riding his horse with his manservant-friend Alluin when someone fiercely stabs Torien’s shoulder from behind. Alluin and Torien manage to capture Torien’s assailant and are surprised to discover that the person who stabbed Torien is a teen girl. The girl tells Torien that her brother—a free man—has been taken as a slave. Torien vows that he will discover who’s been kidnapping free citizens and why. Torien and Alluin set out to uncover the truth about their Empire and what exactly is happening to people who find themselves forced into slavery on the Blood Road. Torien is painted as a superhero noble, but his altruistic motives aren’t exactly clear. The girl who stabbed Torien is a complete stranger to him; he owes her nothing at all. Any normal person would be upset at such an injury, especially since Torien did nothing to deserve the girl’s spear in his back. Yet Torien promises her that he will investigate the kidnappings, despite the danger to himself and his friend Alluin. There is plenty of action, but at times, the plot gets lost in wordy prose. Nearly all the characters are men, and the few women who appear are underdeveloped and shallow. VERDICT A fine addition for where medieval stories about war and constantly quarreling nomadic tribes circulate well.–Leigh Collazo, Dulwich College, Suzhou, China

Michaels, Melinda. Roses. 230p. Reuts. May 2017. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781942111474.

Gr 7 Up –Twenty-year-old college student Poppy has always known she’s a member of the Hood family, descendants of the real-life Red Riding Hood, who did not have a happy ending. When her grandmother is found murdered, Poppy is positive that her family story is coming to life. Det. Owen Pierce, member of the Charming line, believes otherwise; he knows the wolf line personally and thinks them harmless. Owen is overly protective of the immature Poppy, who rebels by running away and throwing fits. Poppy almost immediately regrets her rash action and works to start opening up to Owen and his family. Throughout the book danger is ever shifting, with Poppy never knowing how close it is or if someone is truly after her. Though Roses is a sequel to Michaels’s previous work, Golden, both take place in the same world and frequently refer to events taking place in the earlier book. Drawing from fairy tales, this fantasy sticks to simple and easy-to-follow world-building. Heavy-handed foreshadowing in the form of a story about “The Three Virtues” and gratuitous red herrings distract and at times muddle the plot. The story leaves on a purposely unclear and unproductive ending, a not-so-subtle setup for a third book. VERDICT For readers who enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s “Lunar Chronicles” or the “Once upon a Time” series. Additional purchase for libraries where fairy-tale retellings are popular or strongly in need.–Rebecca Greer, Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative, FL

Nelson, Katie A. The Duke of Bannerman Prep. 320p. Sky Pony. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781510710405.

Gr 9 Up –Tanner McKay transfers to Bannerman Prep, an elite private school to which he has been awarded a scholarship after his public school’s debate victory. Once there, he is paired up with the rich and popular student called the Duke. The Duke is well liked for his easy manner, parties, connections, and ways of getting things for his friends, but doesn’t pull his weight when it comes to debate. When Tanner gets pulled into the Duke’s glamorous lifestyle, everything comes crashing down around him. Facing the consequences and learning about the Duke’s secrets almost cost Tanner everything he’s dreamed about. The realistic novel set in present-day California is a retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Tanner is well developed, but the supporting characters are less so. The language is realistic given the setting, and the plot is nicely paced and well developed. High school students who love Gatsby will enjoy this novel, and it may encourage others to give the original a try. VERDICT A solid purchase for large collections, especially where YA retellings of classics are popular.–Terri Lent, Patrick Henry High School, Ashland, VA

Sugiura, Misa. It’s Not Like It’s a Secret. 400p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062473417.

Gr 9 Up –When high school junior Sana, who is Japanese American, moves from her lifelong home in Wisconsin to California, she can socialize for the first time with other Asian American teens. She arrives at her new school with a number of secrets, including her suspicion that her father has been cheating on her mother for years. Sana is also sure that she herself is a lesbian. And now she has a crush on Jamie, a whip-smart Latina classmate, and Sana has another secret that she’s sure she must conceal from her new crowd of friends. In addition, Sana also copes with her emotionally cold mother and faces racial profiling by a local cop when she’s with a group of Mexican American friends. Sugiura handles the story adroitly; readers will feel Sana’s onslaught of emotions, understand her missteps as she chooses dishonesty over opening herself to rebuke in several situations, and cheer for her strengthening capacity to own her identity, trust her friends, and see her parents’ relationship with empathy. Major and minor supporting characters of every age and both genders are just as credibly realized as Sana as her narration unfolds. VERDICT An essential and delightful choice that realistically celebrates a teen’s discovery of trust in herself and in others.–Francisca Goldsmith, Library Ronin, Worcester, MA

This article was published in School Library Journal's June 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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