A Whole New World
Young Adult / May 8, 2016

Twisted Tales #1. Author: Liz Braswell. Summary: What if Aladdin never used the lamp? When Jafar steals the lamp and begins maximizing his wishes for world domination, Aladdin and Jasmine are going to have to unite, bringing rich and poor, royalty and thieves, together to take down the tyrant enslaving their city. My Thoughts: Meh. The characters were flat and the story-line, despite all the promises, was predictable and didn’t explore any of the exciting possibilities. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this re-telling, it just lacks depth and tension. Content Review: Sexual content: Scantily clad dancing girls in parade. Some light kissing. Language: 3 d*** Violence: Monkey attacks a man with claws. A thief is roughly arrested and dragged away. One character shoves another of a balcony, killing him. Magician hurls a tame tiger across a room, smashing him into a wall. Character crushed by a falling column. One character stabbed. Magic twists a man’s head around until his neck snaps. Character knocked out with a blow to the head.  

Young Adult / May 1, 2016

The Witchlands #1. Author: Susan Dennard. Summary: Threadsisters Safiya and Iseult are in trouble, yet again. In attempting to hold up a thief on the road, they caught the wrong wagon and antagonized the wrong person. With a Bloodwitch on their trail they have to flee the city, for Safiya’s talent of truthwitchery is a dangerously rare secret, and there are men who would kill to possess her. Safiya flees to the Court, where her relatives should shelter her; but instead they use her in their plans, declare her betrothed to the emperor, and send her off again. The ship she and Iseult land on may help them escape the Bloodwitch, but Safiya and Iseult are still going to have to push their limits to survive the hot-tempered prince, the seafoxes, and the determined assassin who’s still on their trail. My Thoughts: This rich new fantasy weaves an intriguing world of diverse cultures on the brink of war and a magic/mythos system to be explored without a single info-dump, allowing things to come up naturally and trusting, for once, the reader’s capability of putting things together. There’re still many questions unanswered, but this is only the first book. I loved…

The Siren
Young Adult / May 1, 2016

Author: Kiera Cass. Summary: Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can’t resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again. Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude…until she meets Akinli. Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. Falling in love with a human breaks the Ocean’s rules. But for the first time in a lifetime of following the rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart. Sexual content: Girl wears revealing dress, a couple men stare at her in bar. Character is aware that a friend-siren has “affairs” with men on land. One kiss. Character reveals to another that she has a daughter, although she was never married. My Thoughts: A kind of cute romance story with an interesting character in the form of the Ocean, but it takes the trend of insta-love over the top. Kahlen has only…

The Screaming Staircase
Young Adult / May 1, 2016

Lockwood & Co #1. Author: Jonathan Stroud. Summary: Lucy Carlyle is a talented teen-agent seeking employment in London. She’s a ghost-killer, one of hundreds who protect the countryside. For fifty years now ghosts have been returning to kill the living, and only the young can sense them. The only agency Lucy can get into turns out to be a small, independent organization with only three agents, called Lockwood & Co. after its head. The agency is already struggling with lack of customers, and when a case goes disastrously wrong, they’re ready to take on anything to climb back up – even the most suspicious of cases. My Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this alternative-history murder mystery. The main character is an independent, intelligent heroine – always a plus – and her companions stand out in their own right. The alt-history is well done, grounding the story solidly in a believable place and time. I’ve seen some reviews complaining about the exposition, but for me the plot seemed fast-paced, with excellent tension. A lot of shivers, and I was careful not to read it too close to the evening. Content Review: Sexual content: None. Language: 10 hell, 4 bloody, 1 d*** Violence:…

Saint Anything
Young Adult / April 30, 2016

Author: Sarah Dessen. Summary: Sydney’s life is tumbling topsy-turvy as she has to move, adjust to a new school, and make new friends, all while dealing with the guilt and trauma left from her brother Peyton being arrested and jailed for hitting a child while drunk driving. The charismatic older one, Peyton has always been the focus of her family’s life – and even now he holds the spotlight of her parents’ attention. But for the first time, Sydney is looking away as she tries to make a life of her own. My Thoughts: Dessen certainly tackles an interesting and lesser known topic, as she considers what it’s like to be related to a juvenile delinquent. For the most part the story was well-written and interesting, with Sydney’s problems and friendships believable and moving, but at times the drama felt overdone. Not every coincidence has to be against the main character. Content Review: Sexual content: An older boy/girl couple are supposed to stay with a teen girl while her parents are away, but only the boy shows up, and makes romantic gestures. At a party, a character sees a girl and boy heading to the back of the house where…

Young Adult / April 30, 2016

Author: Grace Tiffany. Summary: Ariel is a dream escaped from a dying man’s mind. She’s ruled her island alone for centuries, trapped within the Bermuda Triangle. The first human who lands on the island refuses to help her escape the Triangle, and indeed Ariel ends up trapped. It is centuries more before a man and his daughter land on the island, and Ariel is freed. Now she has her chance all over again, with a human to strengthen her again. My Thoughts: Tiffany made some interesting choices in writing this book. For starters, our female Ariel is an inhuman character – she’s the protagonist, and yet unrelatable for us, for she has no understanding of love or death, no ability to work or capability for loyalty and affection. Secondly, as a sprite representative of imagination or art, she is static. Where almost every protagonist will have a character arc, Ariel has no redemption story. She is what she is, what in the fae would be soulless, and there can be no progress or regression. I can’t say right now whether I agree with Tiffany’s metaphors or her representation of imagination/art in Ariel, but Ariel is certainly an interesting reimagining of…

Anna and the Swallow Man
Young Adult / April 30, 2016

Author: Gavriel Savit. Summary: Anna Lania lives in Krakow in 1939, and she’s only seven years old. She doesn’t understand what’s happening, or why her father is gone. But she does understand that a little girl needs a father, so when the Swallow Man goes past she’s ready to follow him. The Swallow Man is an enigma, but he’s in danger, like her father, and he is a speaker of many languages – like her father. He may be reluctant to take on a little girl at first, but she’s a very intelligent child, and there’s nowhere else for her to go. Together, Anna and the Swallow Man will travel for leagues, slipping between the cracks and corners of war. My Thoughts: Anna and the Swallow Man opens in the perspective of a precocious seven-year old girl. Through the story, she will grow and mature, but right now she’s just a little kid lost in a world gone mad. There’s a lot of reading between the lines to be done, because of the view point, and even then it’s confusing in several places. The writing is beautiful, the characters and dynamic compelling. On the one hand we have the girl,…

Up to this Pointe
Young Adult / April 23, 2016

Author: Jennifer Longo. Summary: Harper has been training with her best friend for most of her seventeen years for one day. The day they’ll audition for the San Francisco ballet and be accepted. She’s starved, sacrificed, and worked herself to the bone for this. When things start to fall apart a few weeks before, Harper keeps going… she just has to get past The Day. Now she’s in Antarctica, trying to figure out what went wrong, why it went wrong, and most importantly, what she’s going to do about it. My Thoughts: This was a disappointing read for me. First of all, the characters weren’t engaging. I never quite connected with the main character; this may be because her solution to failure is running away to Antarctica. Her best friend is underdeveloped: she seems the perfect dancer, simply to offset Harper. She’s the best dancer at the studio, has a fast metabolism that lets her eat whatever she wants, doesn’t have to work as hard as Harper, etc. The first love interest was actually kind of sweet, being a genuinely nice guy. The second – I won’t spoil it for you, but we have no explanation for certain things, leaving…

The Forbidden Wish
Young Adult / April 23, 2016

Author: Jessica Khoury. Summary: Zahra, jinni of the lamp and prisoner of old, is released from her lamp for the first time in centuries when Aladdin finds it. Haunted by the death of the only friend she ever had, Zahra must try to keep herself from growing too attached to Aladdin as she waits for him to choose his wishes… especially when the jinni king offers her freedom in return for help rescuing his son from the humans. But as the two go through trial and hardship together, hiding Zahra from the flautists who would imprison her and moving Aladdin into place to start a revolution, Zahra begins to realize she has failed in the worst way possible. And her king is coming to exact his payment. Zahra must make her decision, give her alliance and risk her life for one side or the other, once and for all. My Thoughts: A fluffy, rather middling retelling of the story of the lamp. It is set in a desert/kingdom type, but not Arabia; it is clearly a new world by the author. This actually seemed a good choice. Had Khoury gone ahead and set it in Arabia the potential for failure…

Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature
Young Adult / April 22, 2016

Author: Robin Brande. Summary: Mena’s starting highschool at the worst time of her life. Her old friends all hate her and even her parents are distant and cold – she tried to do the right thing, but everything went wrong and she doesn’t know how to recover from the effects. Things begin looking up in biology class, when she is assigned to a completely capable and rather engaging partner, but some of her old friends from church are in the same class – and when the syllabus moves onto evolution, they’re not going to stand for it. Caught up in her partner’s enthusiasm for their science project, Mena is dragged into an ever deepening whirlpool of lies with her parents so that she can go to his house and work on their project. She must struggle to balance all her old beliefs and the new teaching that sounds so convincing, separate her life cleanly between home and school without slipping up, and walk the gauntlet of her classmates’ hate. My Thoughts: Written in the first-person voice of a teenage girl journaling, the writing was convincing and realistic, if occasionally grating. Mena as a character was also believable and relatable, a…