Winter 2016 Historical Fiction: Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

Did you know that the worst disaster in maritime history occurred seventy-one years ago this month? 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. Originally built for leisure cruising, the ship was grand in size (two hundred and eight meters long, fifty-six meters high), with a capacity of 1,463 passengers, and was only eight years old when it was destroyed by three torpedoes launched from Soviet submarine S-13. Nine thousand dead–a much larger death toll than the Titanic and Lusitania combined–and yet this tragedy has been largely forgotten…until now.


In Salt to the Sea (February), Ruta Sepetys brings to light and humanizes this tragedy. If you’ve read Between Shades of Gray (2011) and Out of the Easy (2013), you know Sepetys writes remarkable historical fiction. But sometimes even well-crafted historical fiction can be a bit boring if it relies too heavily on research and doesn’t include well-developed, relatable characters.

What makes Salt to the Sea a page-turner is that it is told in the alternating voices of two young men and two young women whose lives converge during this horrific time. The diverse cast of narrators–a Lithuanian nurse, Joana, a pregnant Polish girl, Emilia (who must hide her nationality from the Germans), a Prussian forger, Florian, and a German soldier, Alfred–have distinct personalities and backgrounds (as well as secrets that haunt them).

Salt to the Sea is more than a depressing WWII story about the plight of refugees. It is about our ability to love and remain hopeful even during times of extreme suffering and cruelty. It is about our need for books that personalize history. As Sepetys states in her author’s note:


Stories of war are often read and discussed worldwide by readers whose nations stood on opposite sides during battle. History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past….When the survivors are gone we must not let the truth disappear with them. Please, give them a voice. 

Alyssa devoured this book in one day during a not-so-major blizzard on January 23, 2016. (Only six inches of snow in Witch City, USA.) She thanks Edelweiss and the publisher for providing her with a digital review copy of Salt to the Sea for review purposes. Please note that any quotes are based on an uncorrected text and may have changed upon publication.



Winter 2016 YA Fantasy Debut: Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton


They said that the only folks who belonged in Deadshot after dark were the ones who were up to no good. I wasn’t up to no good. Then again, I wasn’t exactly up to no bad either.

All it took was this first paragraph of Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands (March) to know I was in for a bold, riveting adventure. Perhaps my coffee was laced with Djinni blood to grant me such an enticing read?

In the opening scene, the heroine, Amani Al’Hiza, has stolen her uncle’s wide-brimmed hat and horse and fled her small, back-country town of Dustwalk. (“If it were possible to die of boredom, everyone in Dustwalk would be corpses in the sand.”) With a scarf covering her face up to her eyes so she doesn’t “seem like a girl,” Amani enters Deadshot’s “alive and kicking” pistol pit, where she hands over her life’s savings to participate in a shooting contest. Orphaned and at the mercy of her tyrannical uncle, she’s desperate to win enough money to get her out of the Last County for good–far away from her uncle’s claim that she needs a husband to “finally beat some sense into her.” (And by “a husband,” he means himself!)

I won’t tell you what happens next on Amani’s quest to “get out or die trying.” What I will say is that it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with a heroine whose tongue is as sharp as her shooting, and Jin, the mysterious and handsome foreign fugitive who becomes her partner in crime. Amani and Jin are 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 wild and remote areas.

Determined to battle oppression and embrace her own powers, Amani is one of my favorite new heroines in YA fantasy. Rebel of the Sands is perfect for fans of last year’s best YA fantasy novels featuring comparable heroines, such as An Ember in the AshesThe Wrath and the Dawn, and Red Queen, along with many of this year’s YA fantasy, such as Kathy MacMillan’s Sword and Verse, Sarah Fine’s The Impostor Queen, Kathryn Purdie’s Burning Glass, Amy Tintera’s Ruined, and Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game. And, yes, this is one of those rare instances when you really should judge a book by its cover!

Alyssa recommends new and forthcoming releases in (mostly) young adult fiction at Coven Book Club and its sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss and the publisher for providing her with a digital review copy of Rebel of the Sands for review purposes. Please note that the quotes are based on an uncorrected text and may change upon publication.

Winter 2016 YA Fantasy Debut: Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers

21421609Attention 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.

Pitched as The Godfather meets Romeo and Juliet, Ahiers’s debut takes place in a unique, imaginative world–reminiscent of Renaissance Italy–that’s very different from Throne of Glass‘s setting. In the kingdom of Lovero, nine Families are allowed to commit murder as a way to worship Safraella, the goddess of death and resurrection. The most powerful Families–the Saldanas and the Da Vias–are bitter enemies, yet Lea Saldana and Val Da Vias are in a secret relationship. Lea and Val understand, however, that Family loyalty always has precedence over everything else…even love. But Lea still doesn’t expect to be betrayed by Val.

In a surprise attack, the Da Vias murder Lea’s Family, leaving her the only surviving Saldana besides her estranged uncle Marcello. How will she escape the rival Families (the Da Vias, especially) who want to kill her and the murderous angry ghosts that exist in the dead plains and surrounding countries (such as Rennes), beyond the protection of Lovero’s walls? Will Lea find her exiled uncle and convince him to return to Lovero to help her avenge their Family?

High-stakes adventure and romance, along with heart-wrenching guilt, betrayal, and retaliation, make Assassin’s Heart a great choice for Throne of Glass fans.

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction (and occasionally middle grade and adult). She thanks Edelweiss and HarperCollins for providing her with a digital review copy of Assassin’s Heart, for review purposes only. Please follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.


Winter 2016 YA: Time-Traveling Adventures

There are many reasons I dread the coming of winter. (Last year’s New England snowpocalypse is at the top of my list.) But when I think about what’s soon to be published, the new year can’t come soon enough! (Bring on the blizzards, if it means more time to read!)

A few months ago, I posted my most-anticipated Winter 2016 releases by debut and already published authors, and so far every 2016 book I’ve read has been very good, if not excellent. Especially these time-traveling adventures I’m recommending to ease your winter blues: Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger, Heidi Heilig’s The Girl from Everywhere, Janet B. Taylor’s Into the Dim, and Nicole Castroman’s Blackhearts.


On the shelves in January, 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.

Etta’s realization that she is a time-traveler is just the tip of the iceberg, however. A ruling family of time-travelers whom Nicholas serves–the Ironwoods–are searching for an object they believe Etta’s mother stole years ago. The Ironwood patriarch, Grandfather, is holding Etta’s mom hostage, and he will free her only if Etta finds the missing object and brings it to him by a certain date.

As Etta and Nicholas travel across centuries and continents in search of this prized object, they fall in love. But their romance is very complicated, apart from the obvious reasons that they are from two very different eras. No easy answers exist to any of their dilemmas. How will they find the object and what should they do with it if they find it? Should they really hand it over to the Ironwoods? Will Nicholas return to the colonial era and Etta to present-day New York? Or will they be stuck in another time? Will they stay together? Will they both survive? And what if they ultimately have to choose different paths?

21979832Like Bracken’s Passenger, Heilig’s February debut, The Girl from Everywhere, is a smart, fun, creative, 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. Since her birth in Honolulu in 1868, she’s been to 21st century New York, mythic Scandinavia and Arabia, and many more places. 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?

Taylor’s Into the Dim (out in March) is another intelligently-crafted and intricately-plotted time-traveling adventure, with historical richness and thrilling romance.

After Hope’s mother disappears and is presumed dead in an earthquake, Hope travels to Scotland to stay with her maternal 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, but she’s at the mercy of a rival time-traveler.

Hope has three days to bring her mom back to the present, or they’ll be trapped in the 12th century forever! But that’s not all. The handsome mystery guy she saw in present-day Scotland shows up in 12th century England and he wants to help her…but can she trust him?

21936937Castroman’s Blackhearts (out in February) is not about time-traveling, but it WILL take you back in time. This smart, creative debut 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.

Fortunately, however, this book does not suffer from insta-love. Anne’s first impressions of Teach are far from favorable. She can not see Teach as anything more than an arrogant rich merchant’s son, betrothed to an equally insufferable high-society lady. But when they really get to know one another and can no longer deny their true feelings, will society’s standards and their own circumstances stop them from being together?

In a few months time, please remember this post. Grab a steaming mug of tea and a blanket (or a furry friend). Go to your favorite (warm) reading spot. With these time-traveling adventures on hand, you’ll forget you have the winter blues!

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 the publishers for providing her with digital copies of PassengerThe Girl from Everywhere, and Into the Dim, for review purposes. Please follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.

Winter 2016 Preview: YA Debuts

I’m so excited about 2016 books! I wanted to include here ALL of my most anticipated 2016 YA debut novels (by women writers), but that post was getting WAY TOO LONG (obviously), so I’ll spotlight next year’s debuts over a few months. Here are the winter releases I can’t wait to read and review. (Summaries are from Goodreads.)


22065067Sword and Verse, by Kathy MacMillan: Raisa was only a child when she was kidnapped and enslaved in Qilara. Forced to serve in the palace of the king, she’s endured hunger, abuse, and the harrowing fear of discovery: everyone knows she is Arnath, but not that Raisa is a Learned One, a part of an Arnath group educated in higher order symbols. In Qilara, this language is so fiercely protected that only the King, the Prince, and Tutors are allowed to know it. So when the current Tutor-in-training is executed for sharing the guarded language with slaves, and Raisa is chosen to replace her, Raisa knows that—although she may have a privileged position among slaves—any slip-up could mean death. That would be challenging enough, but training alongside Prince Mati could be her real undoing.

25467698The Love That Split the World, by Emily Henry: Natalie Cleary must risk her future and leap blindly into a vast unknown for the chance to build a new world with the boy she loves. Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right. That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau….

22811780The Mystery of Hollow Places, by Rebecca Podos: All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It’s the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist, she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when she was a baby, a woman who was always possessed by a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as troubled waters. When Imogene is seventeen, her father, now a famous author of medical mysteries, strikes out in the middle of the night and doesn’t come back. Neither Imogene’s stepmother nor the police know where he could’ve gone, but Imogene is convinced he’s looking for her mother. She decides to put to use the skills she’s gleaned from a lifetime of her father’s books to track down a woman she’s never known, in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she’s carried with her for her entire life.



Paper Wishes, by Lois Sepahban (Middle Grade): A moving debut novel about a girl whose family is relocated to a Japanese internment camp during World War II–and the dog she has to leave behind. Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family’s life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed.

The Night Parade, by Kathryn Tanquary (Middle Grade): The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother’s village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take an interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family’s ancestral shrine on a malicious dare. But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked… and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth – or say good-bye to the world of the living forever.

23197623Zero Day, by Jan Gangsei: Eight years ago, Addie Webster was the victim of the most notorious kidnapping case of the decade. Addie vanished—and her high-profile parents were forced to move on. Mark Webster is now president of the United States, fighting to keep the oval office after a tumultuous first term. Then, the unthinkable happens: the president’s daughter resurfaces. Addie is brought back into her family’s fold, but who is this sixteen-year-old girl with a quiet, burning intelligence now living in the White House?

2537716520734033My Second Life, by Faye Bird: A pacy pageturner that asks: Can you be held responsible now for something you did in a previous life? Fifteen-year-old Ana has a good life–she has friends and a boy she likes and a kind mother–but still, she’s haunted by her past; she knows that she lived once before as a girl named Emma, and she still misses her old family. When, by chance in her life now, Ana meets a woman she knew in her previous life, a terrifying memory flashes through her mind of a young girl drowning. Was Emma responsible? And should Ana pay the price?

Arrows, by Melissa Gorzelanczyk: A modern cupid story set in present-day Wisconsin combining the fantastical elements of Greek mythology with the contemporary drama of MTV’s Teen Mom. People don’t understand love. If they did, they’d get why dance prodigy Karma Clark just can’t say goodbye to her boyfriend, Danny. No matter what he says or does or how he hurts her, she can’t stay angry with him . . . and can’t stop loving him. But there’s a reason why Karma is helpless to break things off: she’s been shot with a love arrow. Aaryn, son of Cupid, was supposed to shoot both Karma and Danny but found out too late that the other arrow in his pack was useless. And with that, Karma’s life changed forever. One pregnancy confirmed. One ballet scholarship lost. And dream after dream tossed to the wind. A clueless Karma doesn’t know that her toxic relationship is Aaryn’s fault . . . but he’s going to get a chance to make things right. He’s here to convince Danny to man up and be there for Karma. But what if this god from Mount Olympus finds himself falling in love with a beautiful dancer from Wisconsin who can never love him in return?

22449806The Year We Fell Apart, by Emily Martin: In the tradition of Sarah Dessen, this powerful debut novel is a compelling portrait of a young girl coping with her mother’s cancer as she figures out how to learn from—and fix—her past. Few things come as naturally to Harper as epic mistakes. In the past year she was kicked off the swim team, earned a reputation as Carson High’s easiest hook-up, and officially become the black sheep of her family. But her worst mistake was destroying her relationship with her best friend, Declan. Now, after two semesters of silence, Declan is home from boarding school for the summer. Everything about him is different—he’s taller, stronger…more handsome. Harper has changed, too, especially in the wake of her mom’s cancer diagnosis. While Declan wants nothing to do with Harper, he’s still Declan, her Declan, and the only person she wants to talk to about what’s really going on. But he’s also the one person she’s lost the right to seek comfort from.

23480844Firsts, by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn: Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself. Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy–so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed. When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process.

22663629Shallow Graves, by Kali Wallace: Breezy remembers leaving the party, the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to the face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain the necklace of bruises around her neck. She also can’t explain the man lying at her grave, dead from her touch. Returning home seems impossible. Her parents and sisters have clearly grieved and struggled to move on, and Breezy can’t begin to answer their inevitable questions. Her heartbeat comes and goes, she doesn’t need to eat or drink, she can see the inky memories of murderers, and she can somehow pull on this dark guilt to kill them. Haunted by the happy memories from her life and disgusted by the half-dead creature she’s become, Breezy embarks on a reckless quest to find answers and a dangerous healing magic…but the cure is as dark and terrible as the disease.

2194559024529123Underwater, by Melissa Reichardt: Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive—first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then, herself. But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school. When it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside.

This Is Where it Ends
, by Marieke Nijkamp: 10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve. 10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class. 10:03. The auditorium doors won’t open. 10:05. Someone starts shooting. Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.


21979832The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig: Sixteen-year-old Nix has sailed across the globe and through centuries aboard her time-traveling father’s ship. But when he gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. The Girl from Nix’s life began in Honolulu in 1868. Since then she has traveled to mythic Scandinavia, a land from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, modern-day New York City, and many more places both real and imagined. As long as he has a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place, any time. But now he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, before Nix’s mother died in childbirth. Nix’s life—her entire existence—is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years. If Nix helps her father reunite with the love of his life, it will cost her her own.

21936937Blackhearts, by Nicole Castroman: Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything. This is their story. Edward “Teach” Drummond, son of one of Bristol’s richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There’s just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back. Following her parents’ deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to Curaçao—where her mother was born—when she’s stuck in England?

24790901The Abyss Surrounds Us, by Emily Skrutskie: For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water. There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea. But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop.

21421609Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers: In the kingdom of Lovero, nine rival Families of assassins lawfully kill people for a price. As a highly skilled member of one of these powerful clans, seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana has always trusted in the strength of her Family. Until she awakens to find them murdered and her home in flames. The Da Vias, the Saldanas’ biggest enemy, must be responsible—and Lea should have seen it coming. But her secret relationship with the Da Vias’ son, Val, has clouded her otherwise killer instinct—and given the Da Vias more reason than ever to take her Family down. Racked with guilt and shattered over Val’s probable betrayal, Lea sets out to even the score, with her heart set on retaliation and only one thought clear in her mind: make the Da Vias pay.

21843165Revenge and the Wild, by Michelle Modesto: The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it’s perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter of local inventor Nigel Butler. Westie was only a child when she lost her arm and her family to cannibals on the wagon trail. Nine years later, Westie may seem fearsome with her foul-mouthed tough exterior and the powerful mechanical arm built for her by Nigel, but the memory of her past still haunts her. She’s determined to make the killers pay for their crimes—and there’s nothing to stop her except her own reckless ways. But Westie’s search ceases when a wealthy family comes to town looking to invest in Nigel’s latest invention, a machine that can harvest magic from gold—which Rogue City desperately needs as the magic wards that surround the city start to fail. There’s only one problem: the investors look exactly like the family who murdered Westie’s kin. With the help of Nigel’s handsome but scarred young assistant, Alistair, Westie sets out to prove their guilt. But if she’s not careful, her desire for revenge could cost her the family she has now.



After the Woods, by Kim Savage: One year ago, two best friends, Liv and Julia, were attacked in the woods by a paroled predator. In an attempt to save Liv, Julia was left behind while Liv escaped. After spending three days in the woods trying to escape her abductor, Julia was rescued. She only remembers what happened in the woods in terrifying flashbacks. Now, on the eve of the anniversary of the attack, a body is found in the woods. This discovery rips open fresh wounds between the two girls as the truth about Liv’s role in the kidnapping is revealed.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses, by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock: Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger. Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This unforgettable book is about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed.

25613939The Word for Yes, by Claire Needell: A moving look at date rape and its aftermath, at the love and conflicts among sisters and friends, and how these relationships can hold us together—and tear us apart….The gap between the Russell sisters—Jan, Erika, and Melanie—widens as each day passes. Then, at a party full of blurred lines and blurred memories, everything changes. Starting that night, where there should be words, there is only angry, scared silence. (Summary from Edelweiss.)


23677316Burning Glass, by Kathryn Purdie: Sonya was born with the rare gift to feel what those around her feel—both physically and emotionally—a gift she’s kept hidden from the empire for seventeen long years. After a reckless mistake wipes out all the other girls with similar abilities, Sonya is hauled off to the palace and forced to serve the emperor as his sovereign Auraseer. Tasked with sensing the intentions of would-be assassins, Sonya is under constant pressure to protect the emperor. One mistake, one small failure, will cost her own life and the lives of the few people left in the world who still trust her. But Sonya’s power is untamed and reckless, her feelings easily usurped, and she sometimes can’t decipher when other people’s impulses end and her own begin. In a palace full of warring emotions and looming darkness, Sonya fears that the biggest danger to the empire may be herself. As she struggles to wrangle her abilities, Sonya seeks refuge in her tenuous alliances with the volatile Emperor Valko and his idealistic younger brother, Anton, the crown prince. But when threats of revolution pit the two brothers against each other, Sonya must choose which brother to trust—and which to betray.

24934065Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton: She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands. Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from. Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him…or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

25810644A Fierce and Subtle Poison, by Samantha Mabry: Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl–Isabel, the one the senoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill. Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic. When letters from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing in his room the same day his new girlfriend disappears, Lucas turns to Isabel for answers–and finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world. But time is running out for the girl filled with poison, and the more entangled Lucas becomes with Isabel, the less certain he is of escaping with his own life.

25898435Beyond the Red, by Ava Jae: Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule. Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him. When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.

23272028A Study in Charlotte, by Brittany Cavallaro: The last thing sixteen-year-old Jamie Watson–writer and great-great-grandson of the John Watson–wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s enigmatic, fiercely independent great-great-granddaughter, who’s inherited not just his genius but also his vices, volatile temperament, and expertly hidden vulnerability. Charlotte has been the object of his fascination for as long as he can remember–but from the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. Then a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Holmes stories, and Jamie and Charlotte become the prime suspects. Convinced they’re being framed, they must race against the police to conduct their own investigation. As danger mounts, it becomes clear that nowhere is safe and the only people they can trust are each other. 

25897792Into the Dim, by Janet B. Taylor: “Seventy-two hours, then we have to be back at the clearing. Sunrise on the third day.” Being “the homeschooled girl,” in a small town, Hope Walton’s crippling phobias and photographic memory don’t help her fit in with her adoptive dad’s perfectly blonde Southern family. But when her mother is killed in a natural disaster thousands of miles from home, Hope’s secluded world crumbles. After an aunt she’s never met invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic. She’s a member of a secret society of time travelers, and is actually trapped in the twelfth century in the age of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Now Hope must conquer her numerous fears and travel back in time to help rescue her mother before she’s lost for good. Along the way, she’ll discover more family secrets, and a mysterious boy who could be vital to setting her mother free…or the key to Hope’s undoing.

25667026Stone Field, by Christy Lenzi: In a small town on the brink of the Civil War, Catrina finds a man making strange patterns in her family’s sorghum crop. He’s mad with fever, naked, and strikingly beautiful. He has no memory of who he is or what he’s done before Catrina found him in Stone Field. But that doesn’t bother Catrina because she doesn’t like thinking about the things she’s done before either. Catrina and Stonefield fall passionately, dangerously, in love. All they want is to live with each other, in harmony with the land and away from Cat’s protective brother, the new fanatical preacher, and the neighbors who are scandalized by their relationship. But Stonefield can’t escape the truth about who he is, and the conflict tearing apart the country demands that everyone take a side before the bloodbath reaches their doorstep. Inspired by Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Stone Field is a passionate and atmospheric story of how violence and vengeance pervert the human spirit, and how hatred can be transcended by love.

18629735The First Time She Drowned, by Kerry Kletter: Cassie O’Malley has spent her whole life trying to keep her head above water—literally and metaphorically. It’s been two-and-a-half years since her mother dumped Cassie in a mental institution against her will for something Cassie claims she didn’t do. Now, at eighteen, Cassie enrolls in college, ready to reclaim her life and enter the world on her own terms. But as she struggles to find her way forward, the startling truths she uncovers about her own family narrative make it impossible to cut the tethers of a tumultuous past. And when the unhealthy mother-daughter relationship that defined Cassie’s childhood and adolescence threatens to pull her under once again, Cassie must decide: whose version of history is the truth? And more important, whose life must she save?

22864430The Girl Who Fell, by Shannon M. Parker: In this dark kissing book, high school senior Zephyr Doyle is swept off her feet—and into an intense relationship—by the new boy in school. Zephyr is focused. Focused on leading her team to the field hockey state championship and leaving her small town for her dream school, Boston College. But love has a way of changing things. Enter the new boy in school: the hockey team’s starting goaltender, Alec. He’s cute, charming, and most important, Alec doesn’t judge Zephyr. He understands her fears and insecurities—he even shares them. Soon, their relationship becomes something bigger than Zephyr, something she can’t control, something she doesn’t want to control. Zephyr swears it must be love. Because love is powerful, and overwhelming, and…terrifying? But love shouldn’t make you abandon your dreams, or push your friends away. And love shouldn’t make you feel guilty—or worse, ashamed. So when Zephyr finally begins to see Alec for who he really is, she knows it’s time to take back control of her life. If she waits any longer, it may be too late.

22055480Save Me, Kurt Cobain, by Jenny Manzer: What if you discovered that Kurt Cobain was not only alive, but might be your real father? This nuanced and bittersweet YA debut will keep you guessing until the end. Nico Cavan has been adrift since her mother vanished when she was four—maternal abandonment isn’t exactly something you can just get over. Staying invisible at school is how she copes—that and listening to alt music and summoning spirits on the Ouija board with her best friend and coconspirator in sarcasm, Obe. But when a chance discovery opens a window onto her mom’s wild past, it sparks an idea in her brain that takes hold and won’t let go. On a ferry departing Seattle, Nico encounters a slight blond guy with piercing blue eyes wearing a hooded jacket. Something in her heart tells her that this feeling she has might actually be the truth, so she follows him to a remote cabin in the Pacific Northwest. When she is stranded there by a winter storm, fear and darkness collide, and the only one who can save Nico might just be herself.

23546634The Way I Used to Be, by Amber Smith: In the tradition of Speak, this extraordinary debut novel shares the unforgettable story of a young woman as she struggles to find strength in the aftermath of an assault. Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes….Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.

25708587The Leaving Season, by Cat Jordan: Middie Daniels calls it the Leaving Season: the time of year when everyone graduates high school, packs up their brand-new suitcases, and leaves home for the first time. This year Middie’s boyfriend Nate is the one leaving. Nate, who’s so perfect that she can barely believe it….But when a tragedy strikes, Middie’s whole world is set spinning. No one seems to understand just how lost she is… except for Nate’s slacker best friend Lee. Middie and Lee have never gotten along. But with the ground ripped out from under her, Middie is finding that up is down—and that Lee Ryan might be just what she needs to find her footing once more.

What are your most anticipated winter 2016 debuts? Or winter 2016 releases by already published authors? Here’s my winter 2016 preview that features non-debut authors.

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in (mostly) young adult fiction at Coven Book Club and its sister site Spellbinding BooksShe thanks Edelweiss, NetGalley, the publishers, and the Boulder Book Store for providing her with galleys of these books for review purposes. Please chat with her on Twitter about books!