Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
A very unusual teen fantasy novel introduces Seraphina, 16 and very musical, who is assistant to the court music master in the kingdom of Goredd. Seraphina has an enormous secret; her late mother was a dragon and music instructor Orma is her uncle. Seraphina is also plagued by visions of other unusual people, and Orma trains her to organize them in a virtual garden. Dragons are emotionless and fierce, gifted in science and mathematics and can take the shape of a human to interact with them in Goredd, but half-dragons are against their code. Forty years ago, humans and dragons signed a peace treaty, but there now there is unrest. While helping the music master with a state funeral and preparing for the celebration of the treaty, Seraphina draws unwanted attention to herself. She gives harpsichord lessons to Princess Griselda, and is befriended by Griselda’s cousin Kiggs, who is trying to protect the royal family and keep the peace with the dragons. This book is hard to describe, but really caught and held my interest. A sequel, Shadow Scale, is to be published in March.
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.