Winter 2016 YA Wrap-up

Now that it’s officially spring, it’s a perfect time to post a roundup of the winter releases I’ve recommended:

JANUARY RELEASES

Nicola, Allison, and I enjoyed Truthwitch, by Susan Dennard, immensely. (Read our discussion post here.)

Passenger, by Alexandra Bracken: Passenger brilliantly brings together teenagers Etta, a present-day New Yorker and prodigy violinist, and Nicholas, a biracial seafarer in colonial America. After Etta’s violin competition goes horribly wrong, she finds herself transported to an unfamiliar time and place. She is aboard a colonial ship, as Nicholas’s passenger. (Read my full recommendation here.)

Sword and Verse, by Kathy Macmillan: Sixteen-year-old Raisa is an orphan and a slave at the royal palace of Quilara. Ten years ago, the Quilarite king’s forces raided her homeland of Arnath, killing her parents and capturing her. In Arnath, Raisa’s father taught her to read and write, training her to take his place as the Learned One. But in Quilara, she must keep her literacy secret, since the Arnathim, the lowest class, are forbidden from reading and writing. (Literacy among the Arnathim is punishable by death.) Raisa’s status improves, however, after the royal tutor is executed for treason, and Raisa is chosen as the tutor-in-training for the Crown Prince, Mati. (Read my full recommendation here.)

The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman: If you’ve read Eon (2008) and Eona (2011), then you know how hard it’s been to wait FIVE YEARS for Alison Goodman’s next book! The Dark Days Club, the first book in her new historical fantasy series, set in Regency London and starring aristocratic Lady Helen as a reluctant demon-hunter, is worth the long wait. (Read my full recommendation here.)

FEBRUARY RELEASES

Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys: Did you know that the worst disaster in maritime history occurred seventy-one years ago? On January 30, 1945, nine thousand people, mostly civilians, more than half of them children, died during the sinking of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff, as they attempted to escape the Russian invasion of East Prussia. Yet this tragedy has been largely forgotten…until now. In Salt to the Sea, Ruta Sepetys, the acclaimed author of Between Shades of Gray (2011) and Out of the Easy (2013), brings to light and humanizes this tragedy. (Read my full recommendation here.)

Glass Sword, by Victoria Aveyard: Red Queen was one of my favorite books of 2015, so while I was very excited to finally get my hands on its sequel, Glass Sword, I was afraid that it would not live up to the awesomeness of its predecessor. Fortunately, what I love most about Red Queen–its rich world-building, dynamic characters, high-stakes adventure and romance, and plot twists and turns that never lose their punch (even after multiple reads)–continues in Glass Sword, but with an even more elaborate and expansive setting, cast of characters, and storyline. (Read my full recommendation here.)

Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers: Attention Throne of Glass fans, there’s a new female assassin in YA fantasy! Like Celaena Sardothien, Oleander “Lea” Saldana, the seventeen-year-old heroine of Sarah Ahiers’s Assassin’s Heart (the first book in a planned duology), is a kick-ass, mask-wearing, revenge-seeking assassin. But the similarities between Maas’s and Ahiers’s series end here. (Read my full recommendation here.)

Blackhearts, by Nicole Castroman: Blackhearts is a smart, creative debut that imagines Edward “Teach” Drummond’s life…before he became Blackbeard! Blackhearts is not a pirate story, though. It’s a love story, told in alternating perspectives. Before “Teach” was a fearsome pirate, terrorizing the Caribbean from aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge, another Queen Anne stole his heart–his father’s maid–in 1697 Bristol, England, when he returned home after a year at sea. (Read my full recommendation here.)

The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig: This debut is a fun, smart, unique, magical, diverse, and intricately plotted historical fantasy that explores complex issues of family, friendship, trust, identity, and belonging. Sixteen-year-old Nix has traveled on her father’s ship, The Temptation, across many time periods and places, both real and imagined. As long as she and her father have a map of a place and time, they can go there. Which is wonderfully adventurous, except for one problem. Her father is determined to find the map that will take him back to 1868 Honolulu, before Nix’s mother died in childbirth. But won’t his return to the past and desire to save the woman he loves eliminate Nix’s very existence? (Read my full recommendation here.)

MARCH RELEASES

Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton: It’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with Amani, a heroine whose tongue is as sharp as her shooting, and Jin, the mysterious and handsome foreign fugitive who helps her escape an oppressive life. They’re as fierce as their world: the sultanate dessert nation of Miraji, where Old West meets Middle Eastern mythology and mythical beasts, including djinn, still exist in more remote and wild areas. Determined to battle oppression and embrace her own powers, Amani is one of my favorite new heroines in YA fantasy. (Read my full recommendation here.)

Into the Dim, by Janet B. Taylor: You don’t want to miss Into the Dim‘s time-traveling adventure, thrilling romance, and historical richness. After her mom disappears and is presumed dead, Hope Walton travels to Scotland to stay with her mom’s family, whom she’s never met. When she discovers their secret–they are time travelers–she journeys to 12th century England, where she encounters Eleanor of Aquitaine, Thomas Becket, and her mom (alive). Now she has three days to bring her mom back to the present, or they’ll be trapped in the 12th century forever! (Read my full recommendation here.)

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction (and occasionally middle grade and adult). She thanks Edelweiss, the publishers, and the Boulder Book Store for providing her with digital review copies for review purposes only.

 


Coven Read: Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch

21414439Well, we said we’d discuss Truthwitch in January and now it’s February. What can we say? Life happens. Still! It’s Truthwitch Tuesday and we’re ready to talk Witchlands with you.

Remember, ahead lie spoilers. If you haven’t read Truthwitch yet, don’t read on! 

Allison: One of the things that I really loved about Truthwitch is that it felt familiar and fresh at the same time. The alter-verse aspect of the Witchlands and its correlations to our ideas about Europe evoke a similar feel to Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse and there’s a certain element of Dennard’s magical framework that calls Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass to mind.

Nicola: I loved the European feel to the world! A lot of high fantasy settings are vaguely pre-industrial/feudal European, but the Witchlands feels more historical European than ‘Standard Mediaeval Fantasy Setting’. While I love reading about fantasy worlds that are based on other world cultures, as a European reader I do have a soft spot for a well-constructed European-esque world, and the Witchlands hits the spot (though I wouldn’t complain if future books expanded the world into Middle Eastern or African AUs!). I particularly liked Veñaza City; I visited Venice last year and fell in love with the city, so it’s no surprise I appreciated seeing a fantasy version of it in the Witchlands.

Alyssa: I’m not sure if you two saw this youtube video in which Susan Dennard explains that the Witchlands are loosely based on Imperial Europe. Her fascination with the small republics that were able to stay independent during centuries of war between the Venetian, Austrian-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires greatly inspired her writing this series. I love that her alternate Imperial Europe includes witcheries–which significantly influence political and social structures.

Allison: Yeah, the idea that magic influences everything from the personal to the political (and global, in the case of the Cahr Awen) makes a lot of sense to me — of course if there are people with all this immense power running around, it’s going to shape everything about the world. I’m enjoyed the fact that magic wasn’t just a feature of Dennard’s worldbuilding, but the force that defines it. It’s also a very cool idea that magic is “real” in that there are actual threads connecting people, emotions and interpersonal interactions.

Nicola: What did you think of the whole Threadsister/Thread-family thing? Personally, I loved the focus on Safi and Iseult’s platonic friendship; so often in YA the most significant relationship for the protagonist is romantic, which I love, but it’s so nice to see a strong non-romantic relationship.

Allison: It’s probably no surprise that I love the idea of Safi and Iseult’s relationship being the primary focus. I like that Dennard didn’t hold back about it being the primary relationship either. I love the idea that they are more than friends, that there’s a “more than friends” that isn’t romantic. I think it’s so normalized to see stories where two men have a strong homosocial relationship, but not so much with women. It’s one of my favorite things about the book. I love the idea that Thread-family is built in so many different kinds of ways– anger, love, compassion, just basic human stuff. It’s a really cool idea that there’s a tangible way to understand how we’re bound together.

Alyssa: I love this concept too! As you both point out, romance is the dominant relationship in most YA (and fiction in general). And in fantasy, in particular, there’s the tradition of bromances having centerstage. So what makes Truthwitch special and very refreshing is that the Threadsisters’ friendship is the most important relationship. I also really like that Merik and Kullen are Threadbrothers, making male friendship important too.

Nicola: I don’t know if either of you ever read Something Strange and Deadly (if not, you should!), but in that series, the idea of a ‘found’ family is treated as a valuable and precious thing. Eleanor loves her mother and brother, but there are complexities to those relationships that aren’t found in the Spirit-Hunters’ unwavering support for each other. I have no doubt that if the Spirit-Hunters lived in the Witchlands they’d be bound by the same Threads that link Safi and Iseult, Merik and Kullen. It’s interesting to see how Dennard follows on the same theme in Truthwitch but adds a magical component to it.

Alyssa: I love that Dennard created the phrase Mhe verujta, which means in Nomatsi “trust me as if my soul were yours,” and how valuable this concept is for romantic love (Heart-Threads) as well as non-romantic love.  

AllisonMhe verujta got me right in the feels, because I think we all want to feel that way with someone, whether it’s non-romantic love or romantic love. Dennard has a knack for exploring non-romantic relationships in a way that I really appreciate. That the bond between Thread family is more than other relationships was especially powerful because I do think in most fiction that romantic and familial relationships are portrayed as the most influential and powerful. It’s especially intriguing to me in Truthwitch that she decided to make these bonds tangible (and visible to Threadwitches).

Nicola: Yeah, I really liked that there’s a palpable quality to these relationships in the Witchlands; it contrasts the way that fantasy in particular often focusses on shared blood or marital alliances. The concept of Threads is one of my favourite parts of the worldbuilding, not just in the way they represent relationships but also in the paradoxical way that Threadwitches are constantly barraged by other people’s emotions yet expected to suppress their own. I’m excited to see more of the Threads in the next book!

Allison: Me too. It’s cool to think about how the Threads will play into the larger idea of the Origin Wells and the Cahr Awen. I saw the reveal about Safi and Iseult being the Cahr Awen coming, but I’m really interested in how the narrative itself played out. Dennard has managed to fit quite a lot of complex worldbuilding into one novel, especially given the ensemble narrative, which I thought added a lot to my understanding of the Witchlands, overall.

Nicola: I really liked the ensemble narrative. They’re hard to pull off, but each character’s motivation, and the resulting tension and conflict, felt so real and important to me. Merik clashes with Safi over Iseult’s safety because he’s trying to save his people, while Safi cares most about her Threadsister, and even though I favoured saving Iseult I could completely appreciate both of their perspectives. Aeduan’s probably the POV character for whom we get the least sense of underlying motivation, but there’s still some indication of family loyalty (or perhaps fear) that drives him to pursue Safi.

Alyssa: Yes, I like the ensemble narrative too and I think it works well overall in Truthwitch. I also like that we don’t know Aeduan as well as the other POV characters. He remains a bit of a mystery in terms of his motivation and loyalty. He’s a “bad boy” who may be “good”–especially if he fall in love with Iseult. I really enjoyed his complex feelings towards Iseult because of his “life-debt” and his confusion when it comes to trust and loyalty. Will he follow through on his sworn duty to protect the Cahr Awen or will he try to capture the Truthwitch for his father?

Allison: I found Aeduan incredibly intriguing. I feel like we got a pretty good sense of who some of the other characters are, but not as much with him. I think we’ll see much more of him in the next book. I thought the end was brilliant, by the way. It was one of those endings that blew the story open entirely. I’m really excited to see what happens next. I get the impression that we’re going to see a whole new side to Safi and that really excites me.

Alyssa: Yes, Aeduan is intriguing. I love that his witchery makes him very vulnerable and yet it’s such a powerful witchery. The Monastery protects him from a world that wants to kill him because he is a Bloodwitch; yet, he did not choose that life and is not a true believer in the Cahr Awen. He seems to be the most complex and conflicted character in this series. Which is why I’m really curious to find out what he does in the next books.

I look forward to seeing more of Vaness and the Empire of Martok, too, in Windwitch. And Safi. She really embraces her powers at the end of Truthwitch when she realizes that she “can do anything.” She demonstrates such bravery and strength when she gives herself over to Vaness in exchange for a trade agreement that benefits Merik and Nubrevna. I wonder how she and Vaness will get along in the next book. How will their relationship develop? Will they become friends? How will her time with Vaness and in Martok change her and her relations with Iseult and Merik? The ending definitely left me wanting to know more.

Nicola: Yes! The ending was everything the ending of a first book in a series should be. It wrapped up some storylines and opened up some others. I don’t even really count it as a cliffhanger, because it’s a natural resolution to the core conflict that drives the book (maybe not the resolution we expected, but not one we didn’t expect, either), and I expect it will form a major part of the conflict in the second book, rather than being something that gets resolved quickly in chapter 1. I’m so excited to see the fallout for Safi and Vaness, Iseult and Merik.

Allison: Needless to say, we’re looking forward to finding out what happens next in Windwitch, set to publish in 2017. Thanks for joining us today and let us know what you thought of Truthwitch in the comments or on Facebook!

In book magic and mayhem,

Allison, Alyssa and Nicola



Announcing a Holiday Hiatus and New Coven Read

Hello all,

It’s been a fantastic year here at Coven Book Club! We’ve enjoyed sharing our recommendations with you immensely. We’ll be taking a monthlong hiatus from December 11- January 11 to spend time with our families and catch up on our monstrous TBR piles! But when we come back, refreshed and raring to go, we’re going to kick things off with a witchy bang and discuss Susan Dennard’s highly anticipated Truthwitch: 

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

 

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well. Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

 

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

 

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Witchy best friends and an epic adventure? Count us in. For the next few weeks you can depend on our regular recommendations, but update your TBR with Truthwitch, if you haven’t already and make lots of notes in the margins. We’ll talk about the book during the last week in January, so if you need to wait on your turn at the library, no worries — and don’t write in library books (the library witches in the coven will kill me if I don’t remind you!).

All the xoxoxoxo’s, witches,

Allison


Freaky Friday: Zombies

We’ve noticed that the zombie fiction genre is largely populated by authors who are men, so for this month’s Freaky Friday, we wanted to recommend some lady authored books for lovers of the undead. From post-apocalyptic zombie fare to steampunk+zombies to vampires vs. zombies, we think this selection is a fresh take on what the zombie genre can look like. So if you’re looking for a little zombie action this weekend, this list is for you!

Susan Dennard’9859436s Something Strange and Deadly trilogy is set in an alternate version of the 1870s where zombies are common enough that the Philadelphia train station has a Dead alarm. Usually it’s only the odd corpse going walkabout, but occasionally, as is the case now, they will be raised and controlled by a necromancer. And they have Eleanor Fitt’s brother. With nowhere else to turn, she goes to the enigmatic Spirit-Hunters for assistance. Eleanor spends much of the first book caught between mundane Philadelphia life and her search for her brother. Although the city knows the Dead are rising and the Spirit-Hunters have been called in for aid, it is otherwise much like 1876 Philadelphia in the real world, and young ladies do not go off cavorting with strangers and chasing after necromancers. Over the course of the trilogy, Eleanor becomes less concerned with such appearances and more concerned with the Spirit-Hunters and the Dead. It is, in this way, a quintessentially YA novel; the core of Eleanor’s character development is in learning whom she is and refusing to submit to pointless, harmful expectations. It may be within the context of developing the skills to fight the undead in 19th-century society, but it is nevertheless an experience many of us recognise and are familiar with. With action, romance, supernatural armies and steampunk technology, there’s something for everyone in this series.

– Recommended by Nicola (this post originally appeared on our sister site, Spellbinding Books)

Blood of Eden15803761, Julie Kagawa. The premise of Julie Kagawa’s Blood of Eden series is so outlandish, I wondered if it could work, but it’s truly so much fun. When a viral infection creates ravaging hordes of zombies, vampires take over the world, locking humans in walled cities to feed on. Crazy, right? Somehow it works, largely because Kagawa’s protagonist Allison Sekemoto is so stubborn and emotionally complex. Her terrible choice between life as a vampire or succumbing to the infection that will turn her into a “rabid” takes her on a rollicking emotional journey, as well as a kickass adventure. Kagawa’s worldbuilding is strangely believable for a novel that throws two traditionally distinct genres together, resulting in a scary-fun mashup that fans of vampires and zombies alike will enjoy.

The Forest of Hand3432478s and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan. Some have compared The Forest of Hands and Teeth to the film The Village, and I see the root of that comparison — it’s got a similar aesthetic, I suppose. Given the zombies in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, the similarities end pretty quickly. The protagonist, Mary, lives in a fenced village surrounded by “The Unconsecrated” (zombies). The village is ruled by The Sisterhood, a group of nuns committed to protecting the villagers from the zombie invasion. The Sisterhood has its secrets though, and as Mary uncovers them, her personal safety is at risk. When the fence is breached all bets are off and the adventure begins. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a fast-paced read and is a standalone novel, but there are also a set of short stories that flesh out the world both before and after the timeline in the novel takes place. Ryan’s book plays with typical zombie-narrative tropes, but the end result is something a bit different in its eeriness. The quiet moments are somehow as frightening as the terrifying escape from the breached village. Though the book is technically dystopian (set in landscapes spanning the US and Canada), this is a fresh take on what a zombie-ridden dystopia might look like.

– Recommended by Allison

7094569Feed by Mira Grant. Set after the zombie apocalypse when humans have figured out how to live with the undead, brother-sister blog writers are picked to follow the campaign of a presidential candidate. This book is full of politics, gore, betrayal and fast-paced action scenes. My library coworkers and I went crazy over this series a few years ago and it was difficult not to tell spoilers as we moved through the books. We highly recommend them to our students as well for their poli sci reading assignment. You’ll quickly become attached to the blog team and this book will leave you dying for more.

– Recommended by Abby

Thanks so much for following along! Next month’s Freaky Friday will cover non-fiction genres sure to scare, from cults to natural disasters, we’re gonna get real with you about the scary stuff. Have a fantastic weekend!

– Coven Book Club

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