Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Teen Amani lives with her aunt, uncle, and numerous cousins, helping to run the family store in Dustwalk. Amani sneaks out one night to win money in a sharpshooting contest. The next day she hides fellow sharpshooter Jin from the Sultan’s army. A train ride to the capital city ends abruptly, sending Amani, who is disguised as a boy, and handsome Jin on the run in the desert, which is full of danger and adventure. Amani reluctantly gets involved in a rebellion against the sultan, and meets people with various magical powers, half human and half djinni. Amani finds that she can’t tell a lie, and has to make choices about where her loyalty lies. This is a fun fantasy adventure that mixes elements of westerns with Arabian Nights.
The Season by Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephen Dyer
College student Megan would rather play soccer than be a debutante, but her mother wants nothing else, so Megan and her twin sister make their debut in Dallas. It doesn’t help that Megan shows up at the first dance with a black eye, and that a couple of the carefully vetted escorts needed another background check. Funny, vibrant, and entertaining, I enjoyed watching Megan learn how to get her priorities straight. This would make a good romantic comedy film.
These are a few of the advance reading copies I brought back from BookExpo America in Chicago last month, and shared with my book discussion groups. A few books will be prizes in the children’s summer reading program. I met several authors, got a preview of big books for fall, and attended two programs. Some of the authors I talked with include Brandon Mull, Candice Millard, Robert Hicks, and Mary Robinette Kowal. I enjoyed a panel discussion of What’s New in Young Adult, moderated by author Veronica Roth. Five authors of teen fiction, Lauren Oliver, Alyson Noel, Kendare Blake, and Melissa de la Cruz, along with Roth, talked about the writing process, what inspires and challenges them, and how their new books are going to be a little different. Veronica Roth, who I didn’t expect to be funny, is coming out with a science fiction book next January, Carve the Mark.
After meeting more authors, it was time for Book Group Speed Dating, sponsored by ReadingGroupGuides.com. I was assigned a round table, with dozens of advance reading copies on the table. Several publishers’ reps took turns spending 5-10 minutes telling the people at my table about their new and forthcoming books that they think will be great for book discussion groups. Afterwards, we could take the books that interested us, which I later shared with the library’s book groups. I have a lengthy handout listing all of the books, and several ideas for future book discussion titles. One expected highlight of my day at McCormick Place: I got to meet Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi, who was signing posters for a forthcoming children’s book.
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The last Discworld book from a beloved author is one to savor. The magical barrier keeping the elves out of the Discworld grows dangerously thin with the passing of powerful witch Granny Weatherwax. Young Tiffany Aching, witch and healer, is left Granny’s cottage and becomes the unofficial head of the witches. Swamped by work, Tiffany prefers her bedroom on her parents’ sheep farm, complete with her mother’s cooking and her father’s advice, but must take care of Granny Weatherwax’s people as well as her own. Finally she takes a most unlikely apprentice, Geoffrey, who wants to be a witch and has a calming influence, along with a very smart goat. The fierce, tiny Nac MacFeegle clan, along with the other witches help Tiffany defend the Discworld from the elves, aided by a group of older men organized by Geoffrey, and the deposed Queen of the elves. Fast-paced, enjoyable, and with plenty of adventure, this is a book about loss, duty, and hope.
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.