YA Recommendations Roundup: Summer/Fall 2015

I’m going to start recommending my favorite 2016 books next week, so I thought I’d post a roundup of what I’ve recommended at Coven Book Club since June (when I posted my Winter/Spring 2015 roundup post.)

21569527If you haven’t read the first book in Mary E. Pearson’s trilogy, The Kiss of Deception, do so ASAP and you’ll likely be devouring The Heart of Betrayal just a few days later. This series is addictive, and this second book in the trilogy did not suffer from a sophomore slump and is equally good, if not better, than the first book. I want the third book so badly. GIMME NOW.

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In Lair of Dreams, the Diviners must catch a serial killer who is causing a deadly sleeping sickness. After Evie’s frightening showdown with the serial killer that took place in Libba Bray’s The Diviners (2012), she’s become a celebrity Diviner. The world now knows her special talent: she can “read” objects and discern people’s pasts (and their secrets). But despite fame and fortune, her troubles aren’t over. (Read Allison’s recommendation of The Diviners audiobook here.)

23346358The Accident Season, by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, is literary horror at its best: magical realism and eloquent, imaginative prose amplify the horror narratives and play to our most primal fears. Seventeen-year-old Cara’s family is cursed. Every October (The Accident Season), Cara, her mother, her sister Alice, and her step-brother Sam find that no matter how many precautions they take, “[b]ones break, skin tears, bruises bloom,” and sometimes family members (her father and uncle) die. (Read my full recommendation here and Allison’s recommendation here.)

19364719Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, edited by April Genevieve Tucholke: I loved this anthology of scary stories by many of my favorite YA authors (Nova Ren Suma, Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, and more). This collection pays homage to classic horror films and literature, urban legends, fairy tales, and myths; yet these stories are original and disturbing in their own right. (Read my full recommendation here.)


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What I like most about Kate Elliott’s Court of Fives–pitched as “Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games meets Little Women” —is its strong heroine, Jes, who fights for freedom and justice in a very classist, racist, and sexist society that resembles Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt. As the daughters of a Patron father and a Commoner mother who are forbidden from marrying, Jes and her three sisters struggle to fit in with the Imperial Patrons. Jes, especially, doesn’t want to obey the rules and she secretly trains for an elite athletic competition, The Fives. When her family is torn asunder, winning fame and fortune through The Fives becomes of the utmost importance….Even if she is falling in love with a competitor?

23569428Eleanor Herman’s Legacy of Kings (Blood of Gods and Royals #1) reimagines the early years of the reign of Alexander the Great, Macedonia’s sixteen-year-old heir, through multiple POV characters. Tangled up in Alexander’s web are Katerina, who’s determined to kill Alexander’s mother; Katerina’s lover, Jacob; and Alexander’s betrothed Persian princess, Zofia.  

17564519Rae Carson’s Walk on Earth a Stranger, the first book in the Gold Seer trilogy, offers a fresh perspective on the Gold Rush narrative. Fifteen-year-old Leah is a brave, resourceful heroine who, masquerading as a boy, runs away to California after a terrible tragedy compromises her freedom. (Read my full recommendation here.)

23719270Like Walk on Earth a Stranger, Erin Bowman’s Vengeance Road  features a tough, gender-bending heroine; this time, in Gold Rush Arizona (1877). Like Leah, eighteen-year-old Kate (a Mexican-American) disguises herself as a boy (Nate) and heads further west, after a tragedy leaves her parentless. (Read my full recommendation here.)

11516221Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules is set in a near-post-apocalyptic future. After environmental disasters and devastating wars almost wiped out humanity, an Artificial Intelligence, called Talis, achieves world domination and world peace by forcing all of its territories’ rulers to exchange hostages. A child from each territory (usually the ruler’s son or daughter) must be held hostage at one of Talis’s schools (called Preceptures), governed by A.I. agents, until he or she turns eighteen, to be harmed or even killed if his or her country incites conflict. (Read my full recommendation here.)

24397041Like The Scorpion Rules, Mercedes Lackey’s Hunter (Hunter #1) depicts a treacherous, post-disaster future. The barriers between our world and the Otherworld have opened (called the Diseray), mythical monsters roam the earth, destroying cities, and humanity’s survival depends on the Hunters, a group of magically-gifted, monster-fighting teens. (Read my full recommendation here.)

20734002I can see why Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers is being called “Night Circus meets Romeo and Juliet,” but it is not another Night Circus. This star-crossed romance between the daughter and son of two rival families of traveling performers (white-scaled “mermaids” vs. black-feathered tree-walkers) is inventive, magical, poetic, and multicultural. (Read my full recommendation here.)

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I effortlessly fell in love with Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything. Told through diary entries, instant messages, emails, vignettes, charts, illustrations, and more, Yoon’s debut is an imaginative, heartwarming love story about a girl and a boy whose relationship is doomed from the beginning, but that doesn’t stop them from being romantic, funny, hopeful, and adventurous. (Read my full recommendation here.)

22811807Mackenzi Lee’s This Monstrous Thing is an alternative historical fantasy set in 1818, Geneva, that brilliantly reimagines Frankenstein with a steampunk twist. Alasdair Finch is a Shadow Boy, an illegal mechanic who supplies humans with clockwork parts. Two years ago, he secretly brought his brother back from the dead, but Oliver is more monster than man. (Read my recommendation here.)

24376529Mindy McGinnis’s A Madness So Discreet is not as gory as American Horror Story: Asylum, but it does paint a horrific picture of what it’s like for an innocent young woman to be trapped in Boston’s Wayburne Lunatic Asylum in the 19th century. Grace has escaped one hell–an abusive father–for another–the asylum’s dark cellars, where she has no hope of surviving (at least with her brain intact). But she’s saved by a doctor who appreciates her genius and relocates her to an ethical asylum in Ohio. Together they try to catch a killer who preys on young women.

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The first book in a planned trilogy, Illuminae is co-authored by Amie Kaufman (The Starbound Trilogy) and Jay Kristoff (the Lotus War series). Its storyline goes something like this. It’s 2575 A.D. and two interstellar megacorporations are at war. When BeiTech discovers its competitor is running an illegal mining operation, called the Kerenza colony, on a small, isolated planet, it attacks with brutal force. (Read my recommendation here.)

23846013The Rose Society (The Young Elites #2) brings Adelina Amouteru’s villainy to a whole new level. For those of you who don’t know, this series is set in a fantasy world in which some of the malfettos (“marked” survivors of a deadly blood fever) have special powers and are called The Young Elites. As a malfetto, Adelina is vulnerable and victimized until she discovers she’s an Elite, gifted with powers of illusion that feed off of her fear and fury. Adelina is a perfect villain. Motivated by revenge and destruction, not compassion, love and heroism, she’d rather be everyone’s adversary than risk being anyone’s victim. (Read my full recommendation here.)

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Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf, the first book in a duology, reimagines what could have happened if the United States had stayed isolationist and the Axis Powers had won World War II. It’s 1956, and the Third Reich and Imperial Japan have conquered much of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Each spring, to celebrate their joint victory, they host the Axis Tour: a motorcycle race, in which ten Hitler Youth members and ten citizens of Greater East Asia ride from Berlin to Tokyo. The protagonist, Yael, wants desperately to win. The award? A dance with Hitler at the Victor’s Ball. A chance to kill him. (Read my full recommendation here.)

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction (and occasionally middle grade and adult). She thanks Edelweiss, NetGalley, the Boulder Book Store, and publishers for providing her with ARCs and DRCs for review purposes. Please follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.


Ghostly Bones and Accidents Abound

1594440623346358Whew. The online world has been abuzz again about who’s reading YA, MG (middle-grade) and who it’s being written for. This is something that Nicola, Alyssa and I have been discussing quite a bit, both privately and in upcoming features here. As the popularity of the YA genre grows, particularly in fantasy and paranormal genres, we’ve noticed a trend of “blurry lines” that often create spaces where adult content makes its way into YA books, and is perhaps not totally appropriate for YA audiences.

We come now to a strange divide in publishing that is consistently confusing. What is the difference between a book about young people and one for young people? Oftentimes, very little, in my opinion. However, I do find that as I read more and more children’s literature there are books that differentiate themselves in these categories. I often write here about YA that I think adults will like, but today I’d like to recommend two delightfully creepy books that adults may enjoy, but that are very clearly written with a middle grade and young adult audience in mind.

Doll Bones, by Holly Black

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends forever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity.

I loved this book for the sheer fact that I remember this moment in my own childhood so clearly, and you probably do too, the moment the magic started to disappear. It got harder to make pretend happen seamlessly and without embarrassment, and the real world got all too real. Some of us reacted by leaving our childish ways behind and others of us reacted by pretending harder, to try to make the magic stay.

Doll Bones addresses this sad moment so very well, while keeping the door open to the possibility that real spookiness does exist and that there are things beyond our knowing. The real world and that of the haunted doll combine deliciously to create that liminal space between what is known and what isn’t. You’ll change your mind a half dozen times about whether or not Poppy is fabricating her story.

The Accident Season, by Moïra Fowley-Doyle. (Psst… Remember when Alyssa rec’d this one?)

The accident season has been part of seventeen-year-old Cara’s life for as long as she can remember. Towards the end of October, foreshadowed by the deaths of many relatives before them, Cara’s family becomes inexplicably accident-prone. They banish knives to locked drawers, cover sharp table edges with padding, switch off electrical items – but injuries follow wherever they go, and the accident season becomes an ever-growing obsession and fear. But why are they so cursed? And how can they break free?

The Accident Season blew me away with how magnificently adolescent it is. Before you decide that’s an insult, let me say that I think that all too often in YA we see the same flat protagonist: awkward smart teen who mostly does the right thing, but feels ostracized. The protagonist’s are often the eyes that observe the “cool kids” or the “bad kids” doing things, but aren’t always apart of the action. But that’s not really who most of us are or were as teenagers. Mostly, I think we all felt weird and awkward and some of us pushed the limits of “the rules” more than others.

I love that the core group of friends in this book smoke and drink and feel weird, but also have those precious moments of belonging, to one another, to the world, to their parents that we feel so acutely when we’re seventeen. They’re not stereotypes of “good kids” or “bad kids,” they’re just kids doing what pretty much everyone does when they’re seventeen, break the rules, fool around, fall in love and poke their noses in haunted houses.

The cause of the accident season, what’s ghostly and what’s simply the past haunting the characters gets wound together so tightly that even when you think it’s unwound, you see it’s not and I think that’s a perfect metaphor for what being human is. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts or supernatural goings-on, life is profoundly strange and coincidence weaves a spell of its own. Part of what makes The Accident Season so powerful is that it mixes up the way memory works when it comes to abuse, tragedy and deep sadness with what very well might be real ghosts. Fowley-Doyle avoids revealing the “truth” about the accident season, even when many truths about the past are uncovered. I actually found this to be the most realistic aspect of the the book; horrible things happen sometimes and not being able to sort out why is one of life’s great mysteries.

For me, the best thing about these books is that they understand the way fear affects us as children. I remember reading somewhere that Neil Gaiman says that when children read Coraline they read an adventure and when adults read it they read horror. I think this is perfectly appropriate to both Doll Bones and The Accident Season in that both books are directed at audiences who haven’t given over to fearing fear quite yet. They’re scary, but not terrifying, and they’re the exact kinds of books I would have read cover to cover multiple times when I was appropriately aged for them.

Do I think you’ll like them as an adult? Sure, you’ll probably enjoy your ghostly read, but I think that some of the true magic that both Black and Fowley-Doyle weave into these books will be lost on you a bit because they weren’t written for adult readers. Of course, if you’re a bit more in-tune with your inner child/teenager, you might get more out of them than the average adult.

You should be so lucky. But if you aren’t and you know some younger folks who love a good ghost story, pass Doll Bones and The Accident Season on.

Allison Carr Waechter is planning to read ghost stories and witchy novels until well past Halloween, so get settled in for some wickedly scary recommendations.

 


Summer Favorites: July/August Releases

A couple of months ago I shared with you my summer and fall TBR lists (May/June, July/August, September, and October), as well as my favorite January – June releases. Since it’s mid-summer, here’s a roundup of my favorite July and August releases (of what I’ve read so far).

MY FAVORITES

21569527The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2), by Mary E. Pearson: If you haven’t read the first book in this trilogy, The Kiss of Deception, do so ASAP and you’ll likely be devouring The Heart of Betrayal just a few days later. This series is addictive, and this second book in the trilogy did not suffer from a sophomore slump and is equally good, if not better, than the first book. (Stay tuned for a discussion post about this series in the near future.)

16060716Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2), by Libba Bray: I’m currently reading this sequel to The Diviners, which I loved. After Evie’s frightening showdown with the serial killer that took place in The Diviners, she’s become a celebrity Diviner. The world now knows her special talent: she can “read” objects and discern people’s pasts (and their secrets). But despite fame and fortune, her troubles aren’t over. Another serial killer is causing a deadly sleeping sickness, whom the Diviners must catch in the dreamworld.

23346358The Accident Season, by Moira Fowley-Doyle: If you liked Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap and Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us, I think you’ll enjoy The Accident Season. It is literary horror at its best: magical realism and eloquent, imaginative prose amplify the horror narratives and play to our most primal fears. Seventeen-year-old Cara’s family is cursed. Every October (The Accident Season), Cara, her mother, her sister Alice, and her step-brother Sam find that no matter how many precautions they take, “[b]ones break, skin tears, bruises bloom,” and sometimes family members (her father and uncle) die. Bone Gap and The Accident Season do not have similar plots, but, like Finn in Bone Gap, Cara grapples with confusing romance, violence, dark secrets, and uncertainty about what is real versus imagined. And, like The Walls Around Us, The Accident Season is a ghost story. Cara is haunted by a missing classmate only she remembers, who keeps showing up in her family photos. The Accident Season isn’t classic-horror scary, but its lyrical prose and original, creepy narrative will haunt you for a long time to come. (Read my full recommendation here.)

19364719Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, edited by April Genevieve Tucholke: I loved this anthology of scary stories by many of my favorite YA authors (Nova Ren Suma, Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, and more). This collection pays homage to classic horror films and literature, urban legends, fairy tales, and myths; yet these stories are original and disturbing in their own right. (Read my full recommendation here.)

I ALSO RECOMMEND
18068907Court of Fives
 (Court of Fives #1), by Kate Elliot: What I like most about this epic fantasy adventure–pitched as “Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games meets Little Women” —is its strong heroine. She fights for freedom and justice in a very classist, racist, and sexist society that resembles Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt. As the daughters of a Patron father and a Commoner mother who are forbidden from marrying, Jes and her three sisters struggle to fit in with the Imperial Patrons. Jes, especially, doesn’t want to obey the rules and she secretly trains for an elite athletic competition, The Fives. When her family is torn asunder, winning fame and fortune through The Fives becomes of the utmost importance….Even if she is falling in love with a competitor?

23569428Legacy of Kings (Blood of Gods and Royals #1), by Eleanor Herman: This historical fantasy, the first in a planned trilogy, reimagines the early years of the reign of Alexander the Great through multiple POV characters. From Goodreads: Alexander, Macedonia’s sixteen-year-old heir, is on the brink of discovering his fated role in conquering the known world but finds himself drawn to newcomer Katerina, who must navigate the dark secrets of court life while hiding her own mission: kill the Queen. But Kat’s first love, Jacob, will go to unthinkable lengths to win her, even if it means competing for her heart with Hephaestion, a murderer sheltered by the prince. And far across the sea, Zofia, a Persian princess and Alexander’s unmet fiancée, wants to alter her destiny by seeking the famed and deadly Spirit Eaters. 

Alyssa Raymond thanks Edelweiss, NetGalley, the publishers, and the Boulder Book Store for providing her with digital review copies of these books for review purposes only, and her opinions are her own.


Literary Horror: The Accident Season, by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Yesterday Allison, Nicola and I recommended read-alikes for A Court of Thorns and Roses fans as part of our new “What Next? Wednesday” series. Since I love recommending similar books, this post compares recent and upcoming favorites.

Bone GapThe walls around us23346358If, like me, you loved the eerie beauty of Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap and Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us, I recommend you read Moira Fowley-Doyle’s The Accident Season when it comes out in mid-August. I consider all three books literary horror because their magical realism and eloquent, imaginative prose amplify the horror narratives and play to our most primal fears.

In case you need a reminder, Bone Gap is about a teenage boy, Finn, who was the only witness to the disappearance of his brother’s girlfriend, Roza. While the people of Bone Gap stop looking for her because they think she fled, Finn believes she was kidnapped and he must find her, but he can’t recall what her abductor looks like. (Roza’s narrative reveals that, in fact, a scary man–who’s both magical and realistic–has taken her.)

Also told in alternate voices, The Walls Around Us is a creepy supernatural novel about Juvie inmate Amber and Violet, a competitive dancer haunted by her best friend Orianna’s imprisonment and death in that same detention center. Amber is a ghost who keeps reliving a prison break, while Violet is tormented by memories of the murders that took place three years earlier, leading to Orianna’s arrest.

Like Bone Gap‘s small midwestern town “full of…gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever,”The Accident Season’s small Irish river town, with an enchanting run-down haunted house (an ideal venue for a Halloween party), is a perfect setting for a horror story. Seventeen-year-old Cara’s family is cursed. Every October (the accident season), Cara, her mother, her sister Alice, and her step-brother Sam find that no matter how many precautions they take, “[b]ones break, skin tears, bruises bloom,” and sometimes family members (her father and uncle!) die.

Bone Gap and The Accident Season do not have similar plots, but both books’ characters grapple with confusing romance, dark memories and secrets, violence, and uncertainty about what is real versus imagined. And, like The Walls Around UsThe Accident Season is a ghost story. Haunted by a missing classmate only she remembers (who keeps showing up in her family photos), Cara realizes the accident season is much more than a family curse.

These novels aren’t classic-horror scary, but their lyrical prose and original, creepy narratives will haunt you for a long time to come.

Alyssa Raymond is a regular contributor at Coven Book Club and its YA sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss, the publisher, and the Boulder Book Store for providing her with digital review copies of these titles for review purposes, and her opinions are her own. Please follow Spellbinding Books onTwitter and Tumblr.