Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Since the death of her parents eight years ago, Bitterblue has been the Queen of Monsea. Buried in paperwork, she longs to see more of her city and hear stories from local taverns. But following the reign of her evil father Leck, Bitterblue must deal with the aftermath of his mind control over the entire realm. With everyone around her, including her closest advisors, acting a bit crazy at times, Bitterblue decides to get to the truth behind what all her father did during his reign. But someone is desperate to keep the secrets hidden and will even murder to keep the past buried.
Bitterblue is an extremely likeable young woman, with a good heart eager to make her country whole again. Though, she never quite feels like a queen – as she doesn’t command enough authority or assertion. She’s meek and humble – which is great for a storybook character but not believable as queen. I enjoyed her friendship with the two thieves she meets while exploring the city on her own and in disguise. Though the romance with Saph never comes close to the level of the main characters in Graceling and Fire. Which worked here. There was too much conspiracy, danger and confusion going on for her to form an actual relationship with someone like Saph and have it be rational. Bitterblue puts her country and its people above everything, even her happiness at times.
Fire (book 2) seems to stand apart a bit and was somewhat of a prequel to Graceling (book 1). And Bitterblue (book 3) is a direct sequel to Graceling. It may seem confusing to those that haven’t read them! Yet by the end of Bitterblue the storyline of Fire is woven in wonderfully. This YA fantasy is an epic adventure with complex codes, mystery, and suspense. The colorful characters and fast-paced story was thoroughly enjoyable and captivating. Bitterblue is a fantastic conclusion to an inspired trilogy.
Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey
Jessica Packwood spots a mysterious stranger on the way to school one morning. Lucius Vladescu has arrived from Romania claiming Jessica is his betrothed. And a vampire princess. Jessica thinks he’s crazy, until he makes a miraculous recovery after getting kicked by a horse. But by the time Jessica realizes her feelings for Lucius, it might be too late. As a malicious classmate has already claimed Lucius for her own. Jessica must get Lucius back on track and marry him in order to stop a vampire war and save her people.
Jess and Lucius have a fun chemistry. Jess is attracted to him, but his bizarre behavior and talk of vampires make him seem a bit too insane. Then there’s the part of being betrothed that Jess rebels against immediately as well. Jess is likeable and relatable. I liked that she doesn’t fall head over heels with Lucius immediately. And the book Growing Up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions that he gives her is just too funny. In fact, I would have loved to see more excerpts from the guide come into play. The humor really sets this vampire romance apart from other YA fantasies. Fantaskey blends vampire romance with a fairy tale-like reluctant princess that I thoroughly enjoyed. Full of drama, laughs, romance, and suspense – I flew through this surprising and entertaining read.
Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock
Mackenzie’s best friend Amy was murdered, just one in a string of serial killings. But this serial killer is apparently a white werewolf. Lupine syndrome is a virus spreading across the country by just a scratch or bite from a transformed werewolf. But when a dangerous posse called the Trackers come to town, no one is safe from the self-appointed werewolf hunters. So, trying to protect those she loves from the Trackers, Mac decides to investigate Amy’s murder on her own. But as she investigates, she discovers all of her friends have been keeping secrets.
Mac is a brave girl who puts her friends’ needs in front of her own. Having come from a rough early life, she tries desperately to keep her closest friends Jason and Kyle from harm. Often in spite of their bad choices.
Peacock’s urban fantasy world is set in the present day where werewolves are real and multiplying every day. Werewolves are treated with prejudice and, if reported, are sequestered to internment camps to protect the general public. This YA fantasy is incredibly captivating and full of suspense. With plenty of drama, mystery, and romance – this fast-paced adventure is a highly enjoyable read for older adults as well as young. First in a new trilogy, this impressive debut was pleasantly surprising.
A Confusion of Princes Garth Nix
Prince Khemri is training to be the next galactic Emperor, along with ten million other hopefuls. As a Prince, he has been augmented to be stronger and smarter than other humans. And if he dies, he could have the opportunity to be brought back again and again. But as Khemri quickly learns, he’ll need all of his abilities to protect himself against the other scheming Princes assassination attempts. When Khemri is sent on a secret mission to further his advancement, he discovers an Empire secret and meets a young woman named Raine who will show him what it means to be human.
Nix’s universe is full of advanced technology and a unique government shrouded in mystery and violence. Khemri is book-smart but naïve when he first enters the real galaxy as a full Prince. Then, when he is forced to briefly live life as a human, he has to relearn how act and think – kind of a second childhood. At times the story seemed to lag with descriptions and confusion with so many characters and their bizarre names. But for the most part, it’s fairly fast-paced with plenty of adventure and excitement. There’s a thin line between YA and adult novels, and this story could be marketed for either. But at its heart, A Confusion of Princes is a coming of age story. Unpredictable and often surprising, Nix has created a fascinating universe with unforgettable story. This YA space opera has plenty of drama, action, and techno-babble for most science fiction fans.
A Confusion of Princes releases from Harper Teen on May 15, 2012.
Of Poseidon by Anna Banks
Emma literally runs into Galen at the beach on vacation. Emma is embarrassed at her awkwardness, especially after seeing how attractive Galen is and his piercing, familiar eyes. Galen isn’t human. He’s Syrena prince (just don’t call them mermaids). Galen has been looking for someone that supposedly can communicate with sea life. But he isn’t sure Emma is the one he’s been looking for until a violent shark attack where Emma proves that she has the gift of Poseidon. According to legend, Emma has the power to save his people, but his attraction to her may be a problem as a treaty states she must marry his older brother, the king.
Banks’ Syrena/mermen blend a bit of legend into modern day, with intriguing results. I’m a sucker for stories about mermaids and fairy tales, and I was happily won over by this fantasy world and tale of forbidden love. Emma and Galen have a natural and easy connection and attraction. Yet both try to hold the other at arm’s length for fear of heartbreak. Emma’s mother bothered me, and wasn’t really believable. She acted overprotective at times, then allows Emma to spend the night at Galen’s house when she had never met his “mother” and knows nothing about Galen. Bizarre is the only word to use for her. But Galen’s sister and friend have a fun relationship that adds a light-hearted humor to the story.
There is plenty of romance, teen angst, and mystery in this new YA fantasy. Engaging and even paced, Of Poseidon was hard to put down. This charming story is an impressive debut from a talented new author. Events build to a surprising cliffhanger that will leave readers eager for its upcoming sequel.
Of Poseidon releases from Feiwel & Friends on May 22, 2012.
The Selection by Kiera Cass
Thirty-five young women are Selected, one from each region of the country, to compete to win the hand of Prince Maxon. When America Singer is Selected she is anything but happy even for the opportunity to bring her family out of poverty, as her heart belongs to someone back home. But as she gets to know Prince Maxon, she forms a quick friendship with him. And that friendship slowly begins to develop into something more. Choosing between a forbidden love back home and a future she would have never dreamt of with a man who has grown to capture her heart may be an unbearable choice for America.
America is a strong, independent young woman with a good heart and a giving nature. America has loved Aspen for two years, so she feels torn when winning the Selection. Unfortunately, we don’t learn much about Aspen, and readers will quickly dislike Aspen and find it hard to sympathize with America’s feelings for him. Aspen sacrifices a lot for the sake of his family, but seems chauvinistic and too emotionally closed off for someone like America. When she meets Prince Maxon though, sparks fly. The chemistry between the two is fantastic. And the best part of their relationship is that it grows slowly and is much more realistic than other YA romances.
Cass has created a successful futuristic world where what is left of America is now a fairly new country relying on unsteady alliances and a unique caste system. Plagued by mysterious enemies from the north and south, with obviously different agendas, I’m curious to see the direction this takes in future installments. The Selection is the first in a new trilogy and is impossible to down. Blending futuristic dystopia, suspense, and romance, this surprising debut is irresistible. I think this should be the benchmark for a new subgenre – dystopian fairy tale. Both beautiful and heart-breaking, this well-paced story became a fast favorite. I highly recommend this to all who love YA dystopia and romance.
As of April 13, 2012, The Selection has been picked up by The CW for a TV pilot. Check out http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2265607/ for casting updates.
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Alina Starkov was an orphaned girl who grew to be an unremarkable girl, or so she believed. When her regiment is attacked by monstrous creatures immerging from the Shadow Fold (a dark and evil portal that has infiltrated Ravka), a bright light seems to come from Alina pushing back the monsters. Now, Alina is one of the elite Grishas that serve the powerful Darkling and the king. Everyone believes Alina’s new-found power will bring about the end of the Shadow Fold, if she can just harness her abilities. But as Alina spends more time at the palace, she uncovers a dark conspiracy that will threaten the entire kingdom.
Alina is sweet and humble, and finds it impossible to believe that she could hold so much power. Her chemistry with both her long-time friend Mal and the Darkling is stirring. Bardugo’s world of Grisha’s with their different abilities ranging from healing to manipulating appearances is magical and mysterious. I never fully understood what the Shadow Fold is nor why it has such a violent effect on the land and people. But it’s a successful tool at creating suspense and mystery. Shadow and Bone is an exciting start to a new fantasy series. Full of adventure, mystery, drama, and suspense – I enjoyed every minute of this debut. Shocking twists and intriguing characters made this surprising YA fantasy impossible to put down.
Shadow and Bone will release from Henry Holt and Co. on June 5, 2012.
The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda
Gene lives his life surrounded by predators. If they knew he wasn’t one of them, he’d be devoured in a second. Unlike the others, Gene has strong emotions, sweats, grows body hair, can be out in the sun, and doesn’t thirst for blood. Gene has kept his secret his entire life and goes to great pains to hide his true self from everyone around him. But then Gene wins a lottery to compete in society’s most sought after game – a hunt for the last remaining humans. And the winner claims the kill.
Fukuda has created an amazingly intense and creepy world where vampires have completely taken over and humans are almost extinct. Readers can easily sympathize with Gene and experience the heart-pounding and chilling suspense along with him.
First in a trilogy (as all hit YA novels seem to be), there are no sparkling vampires who pine over humans here – unless they’re to eat. If the Hunger Games were taken over by vampires, this would be the result. A perfect blend of horror and YA fantasy, The Hunt sets a whole new bar for vampire novels. With incredible suspense, drama, ethical dilemmas, and a bit of romance – it’s completely riveting. I loved every minute of this fast-paced, thrill ride. Don’t miss this one.
The Hunt releases from St. Martin’s Griffin on May 8, 2012.