We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Three generations of Sinclairs spend every summer on their private island near Martha’s Vineyard, until last year. In this hard to put down young adult novel, Cadence is now 17 and has been struggling with migraine headaches and memory loss. She can’t remember what happened on the island two years ago, and no one, not even her younger cousins, will talk about it. Her mother and aunts are drinking a lot and arguing, her wealthy, aging grandfather is trying to start over without his late wife, and her cousins and their friend Gat are acting strangely. Cadence, teen cousins Mirren and Johnny and Gat (her aunt’s boyfriend’s nephew) are the liars of the title, and with her amnesia, Cady is an unreliable narrator. The island setting, with four family homes, two docks, one beach, and a building for staff, seems idyllic, but Cady finally learns the dark secrets everyone’s been trying to hide, leaving the reader stunned. And that’s really all I can safely say about this book. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, suspenseful read with a gorgeous island setting, and don’t need any of the book’s characters to be completely likeable, then read We Were Liars.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
In the first book in a science fiction trilogy for teens, life on Earth changed over a decade ago. A red star, called Calamity, suddenly appeared, and some people developed extraordinary powers, and became the Epics. David, 18, has been studying the powers and habits of Epics for ten years, since the day Steelheart killed David’s father in a bank. Steelheart is the ruler of Newcago, formerly Chicago, which he has coated in steel. Tunnels and rooms of steel are now underground. People don’t mind living underground because Nightwielder, another Epic, has blotted out the sun over Newcago. David hopes to join the Reckoners, an underground group secretly plotting against the Epics. Are all Epics evil? David thinks so, but his father believed differently. A quick, fast-paced read that will leave the reader waiting for the next book in the series.
This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
Ellie, 16 and living with her mother in Maine, gets an email from a stranger asking if she could walk Wilbur tonight. Concerned about Wilbur, she writes back to alert the sender to the mistake. The two start a funny exchange of emails (Wilbur turns out to be a pig), and Ellie and Graham, 17, become friends over several months. The teens don’t exchange names. Unknown to Ellie, Graham is a movie star. When the location for his next movie falls through, he suggests Ellie’s coastal Maine village, and the movie crew set up camp in Henley for several weeks in the summer. He doesn’t tell Ellie, and mistakenly thinks Ellie’s friend Quinn is his email pal when he meets her at the local ice cream shop. After the pair finally meet, and are definitely attracted to each other, they continue to exchange emails. Ellie is not very happy to have her friend turn out to be famous, and she knows that her mother will be upset by the media who follow Graham’s every move. Ellie and her mom have a family secret that they’re trying to keep, even from Ellie’s friend Quinn. The two teens are very likeable, and had normal, happy childhoods, unlike many of the teens in fiction today. Except for his fame and career, Graham is normal. He’s lonely and feels isolated since he left school and feels that Ellie is his only real friend. Ellie is trying to earn enough money to go to a poetry camp at Harvard, and hopes her absent dad can help out with tuition. Graham gets in trouble trying to keep photographers from hassling Ellie, and the two take a boat and head out of town to meet Ellie’s dad. Nothing goes as planned, but it makes for a good story. I enjoyed this sweet fantasy teen romance with a lot of humor.
Recommended for fans of Joan Bauer’s books.
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Allegiant, the third novel by Veronica Roth, goes on sale today, and is sure to be a young adult bestseller. I recently finished reading Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent. This dystopian series is set in a future Chicago, and the architecture of the Loop makes a good backdrop for the series. Tris Prior, who earlier picked the daredevil Dauntless faction over the humble Abnegation of her upbringing and over the intellectual Erudite, has an exciting scene in Insurgent when she and others cross the Chicago river from underneath a bridge, and try to break into the Erudite headquarters. But I didn’t find this book as interesting or exciting as Divergent. There are so many characters that the author expects you to remember from the first book, and I didn’t. Tris feels guilty for an act she was compelled to take in the first book, and is still mourning some of her family. Her boyfriend Tobias wishes Tris wouldn’t be so reckless, frequently risking her life, but Tris doesn’t understand her own motivations. In this book, the Factionless are introduced, and are shown to be other than the powerless outsiders Tris expected. The factions are still alternately fighting, being controlled by simulations, and working together. It’s not uncommon for middle books of a trilogy to be the weakest, and I hope Allegiant is everything Roth’s fans are hoping for.
Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce
Tamora Pierce is a young adult fantasy writer known for her strong, usually female characters. This book follows after Street Magic, and is set before Melting Stones in the Circle Opens series. Briar Moss is a young plant mage, traveling with his mentor Rosethorn and his student Evvy, a stone mage. They are welcome in Gyongxe, which feels like a version of Tibet, where they meet the young god-king, and travel in the mountains. Rosethorn is invited to visit the Emperor Weishu in neighboring Yanjing, and tour his magnificent gardens. They quickly learn that he is cruel and greedy, and rescue one of his captives. Traveling with a caravan out of Yanjing, they learn that Gyongxe is to be attacked by Weishu’s armies, and feel compelled to help. Along the way, Evvy is captured and takes refuge with Luvo, a mountain deity. Rosethorn and Briar Moss are startled by small gods coming to life to protect their mountain home, and they learn how awful war can be, especially when they have to choose between using their powers to heal or helping win the battle. This is a darker book then many by the author, and I would suggest starting with Street Magic, or even earlier with the Magic Circle books.
Treecat Wars by David Weber and Jane Lindskold
On pioneer planet Sphinx, human settlers have recently encountered a six-legged species known as treecats. Developers planning to buy large tracts of forested land where the treecats live in family groups are hoping that the treecats are not declared sentient. As the reader quickly learns, they are not only sentient, they are empathic and telepathic, and can bond with humans. Their strong advocate, teen Stephanie Harrington, is away with treecat Lionheart for more training as a forest ranger, along with Karl, son of a recently discredited xenoanthropologist. Their friend Jessica, with treecat Valiant, and Anders, Stephanie’s boyfriend, are the only ones who can help when recent forest fires drive one clan of treecats out of their home territory and into the fringes of another clan’s territory, which reacts with unexpected violence. This is the third book featuring Stephanie and Lionheart, following A Beautiful Friendship and Fire Season. The series, written for teens, provides a fascinating look at another species that is very different from ours, as well as a coming-of-age story.
The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer
What happens after the world as we know it changes forever? According to author Susan Beth Pfeffer, love and family ties are still important, but life can be rather bleak. This is the story of Jon Evans and his extended family, four years after a meteor struck the Moon and moved it closer to Earth. His sister Miranda narrated the first book in the series, Life as We Knew It. Now it’s little brother Jon’s turn to grow up. Jon isn’t always likeable, as he is the privileged younger brother with better food, less work, and even filtered air on the bus that takes his soccer team to games. He lives with his stepmother Lisa and little brother Gabe in upper-class Sexton, rarely seeing the rest of his family, who live in working-class White Birch. His conflicted relationship with his sister Miranda and his guilt over the loss of a friend make Jon a realistic character. When a riot after a soccer game changes his life dramatically, he has some hard choices to make. Sarah, a doctor’s daughter, and Ruby, Lisa’s domestic worker, help open his mind to the injustices of life for those in White Birch.
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
I had so much fun reading this book. It’s a fantasy novel written for teens, set in an alternate America called the United Isles, as all the states and provinces are surrounded by water. Joel and Melody, both 16, are students at Armedius Academy in New Britannia (Virginia). Joel is fascinated by Rithmatic lore, but when his father, a chalkmaker died from a springwork train accident, Joel lost his best chance to be chosen as a Rithmatist. Rithmatists are trained at several academies in drawing geometric diagrams and figures in chalk, and fight two-dimensional duels in chalk when their drawings come to life. Melody comes from a family of talented Rithmatists, but must spend summer school tracing geometric diagrams for Professor Fitch. Joel gets assigned as the Professor’s research assistant, and both teens get involved in an investigation when Rithmatic students are kidnapped off campus. Is there a rogue Rithmatist, or have wild chalklings escaped the plains of Nebrask where Rithmatic graduates spend several years dueling them and protecting the rest of the United Isles?
Read and find out. A sequel is planned, now that the author has finished completing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time saga. This is a refreshing, unpredictable change of pace from doorstop size fantasy books, and I’m looking forward to reading the next adventure of the Rithmatists. Discover more on the author’s website.
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Cassie, 16, is a survivor. Her little brother Sammy, age 5, might be. Cassie’s two prized possession are a rifle and her brother’s teddy bear. She has lived through three attacks on Earth by an orbiting spaceship, and has survived the 4th wave so far. The 1st wave was a pulse that knocked out the power grid. The 2nd wave caused tsunamis, wiping out the coastal cities. The 3rd wave was plague. The 4th wave is worse; some humans now have alien minds. After her parents die, Cassie is alone, possibly the only real human left. Her goal is to reunite with her brother. She meets Evan Marshall, who takes care of her when she’s wounded. Distrustful, Cassie is stubbornly independent and resists his help. At a military camp, Cassie’s classmate Ben meets Sammy, now nicknamed Nugget, and befriends him. As Cassie, Evan, and even Ben try to rescue Sammy from the camp, the awful truth of the 5th wave becomes evident, and Cassie doesn’t know who to trust. Sequels are planned, and movie rights have been sold. 5 book trailers can be viewed on the author’s website. This is yet another dark, post-apocalyptic book written for teens, of which there are many, but the 5th Wave stands out for the exciting plot and the memorable characters, who manage to be likeable under the most trying circumstances.
Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson
I enjoyed listening to Hattie Ever After, although I’m not sure if I read Kirby Larson’s first book, Hattie Big Sky. Hattie is now 17, an orphan, and working at a boarding house in Great Falls, Montana. Her friend Perrilee wants her to move to Seattle, and her boyfriend Charlie, just back from World War I, wants to get married. But Hattie has a dream, and impulsively takes a job as seamstress to a vaudeville troupe that is heading to San Francisco. Hattie’s big dream is to be a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. She gets a job at the paper, but no writing is involved. Her entry-level job seems to pay pretty well, and she’s saving money to visit Perrilee. But then her new friend Ruby Danvers, who knew Hattie’s Uncle Chester, needs the money to visit her daughter. Ruby is quite friendly, but is not what she seems.
Hattie eventually gets some chances to write for the paper, beginning with a bet to get an assignment to cover a baseball game. A minor earthquake, an opera star who want to go flying and a visit from President Wilson provide some more opportunities. But Hattie has to decide just how important her dream is. San Francisco in 1919 comes to life, and Hattie is great company and often funny. I thought the narrator, Kirsten Potter, had a more mature voice than expected for a teenager, but was otherwise excellent. The author spent a lot of time with maps, online newspaper archives, and an old city directory to make San Francisco seem authentic. Now I need to listen to Hattie Big Sky, about her earlier adventures on a homestead in Montana.