Bravely

by Maggie Stiefvater
First sentence: “This is a story about two gods and a girl”
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Content: There is some violence, a pretty intense fire scene, and a small amount of romance. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I will admit that when I heard Maggie was going to write a book set in the world of Brave, that takes place after the movie, I was a bit skeptical. I mean Disney is a huge corporation, and corporate fiction isn’t always, well, good.

This book takes some time after the movie, and Dun Broch has gotten stagnant. When, on a Christmas Eve, merida captures the god of change and ruin, Feradach, at her house, she knows something bad is about to happen She makes a bargain with him and the Cailleach (the goddess of renewal): give her a year to get her family to change, and prove that they are worthy to be spared.

I shouldn’t have doubted: The journey Maggie takes readers on is amazing. Fllowing the seasons, as Merica and her family visit three other neighboring kingdoms, is full of heartbreak, laughter, and yes, change. Maggie explores the need for change, and the difference between natural, renewing change, and the destructive change that humans bring. Merida ries so hard to make Feradach into the “bad guy”, but he’s not. There is a balance to all things, and maggie explores that as well. Brave is one of my favorite movies, and to have a book that is set in this world and is so compelling and complex makes my heart sing.

I will read anything Maggie writes and I will proabably love it. So, I’m biased, but truthfully: this really is a great book.

Aurora’s End

by aie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
First sentence: “I am rarely surprised.”
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Others in the series: Aurora Rising, Aurora Burning
Content: There is some mild swearing, illusions to sex, and a lot more f-bombs than in the previous two books. They’re still in the YA section (grades 6-8) though maybe they should get moved?

Things I loved about the book:

The tagline on the cover. It really is about time. And Kaufman and Kristoff play with it so well.

The way all the pieces fit together, and the characters learned and grew and it just worked.

The fact that a bawled for the last s00 pages or so. They made me care about these characters and their fates and man, it was all just so satisfying.

I can’t wait to see what these two do together next They just create pure gold.

The Last Cuentista

by Donna Barba Higuera
First sentence: “
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Content: There are some intense moments and suggestions of killing. It’s in the YA section (but will be moved to the Newbery section, since it won the Newbery medal on Monday) of the bookstore.

Petra wants to be a storyteller like Lita, her grandmother. But the world is ending, and her family is one of the few that found a space on the departing ships because they are scientists. She is put in stasis, which kind of goes wrong, and when she wakes up 380 years later the world has gone sideways. A group called the Collective has taken over the ship, and it’s nothing like Petra — who can still remember Earth — was expecting.

What she found is a ship full of “shrimp” people, who eat this nutritious “biomass” block every day, who have tonics who alter their moods, and who don’t question the word of the Chancellor. All diversity, all difference, all remnants of Earth life have been erased.

In many ways, this is the same old story: diversity is what makes us strong; the acts that get us to sameness are despicable. Butt his adds a layer. Petra is a storyteller, a person who loves to tell the stories that she grew up with. And stories, more than anything else, are what connect us to our past. I loved that Higuera emphasized the importance of stories in addition to knowledge.

There was so much to love. It’s a brilliant world Higuera created, one that I would love to know more about. And she knows how to ramp up the tension. I was quite anxious several times in the story, not knowing how it was going to go. The stakes were real without being harsh. You do have to suspend your disbelief a bunch – can a 13-year-old who has been in stasis for 380 years really do this? – but other than that, it’s an incredible book.

I’m glad I read it.

Graceling

by Kristin Cashore, illustrated by Gareth Hinds
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Content: There is some violence and an implied sex scene. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Graceling, if I had to choose, is one of my favorite books of all time. So, I’m glad it exists in graphic novel form if only to draw in more readers to the world that Cashore has built. And I admit that I’ve been meaning to reread these before reading Winterkeep (I’ve been putting it off), and reading the graphic novel gave me a reason to read it without having to actually read it.

On the one hand, it was wonderful to be back in Katsa’s world, to see the story that Cashore built, follow its twists and turns. And Hinds’s illustrations are pretty great; I loved the way he illustrated the fights, and how he imagined Cashore’s world.

But I think the graphic novel diluted some of the impact of the novel (or maybe it’s just because I know what’s going to happen). It didn’t have the same punch that the novel did. I didn’t feel the same connection for the characters, the same dread. Maybe, though, it’ll inspire people to pick up the books. Or maybe Hinds will illustrate the other ones. Either way, I’m glad I got a chance to visit the world again.

Cinderella is Dead

by Kalynn Bayron
First sentence: “Cinderella has been dead for two hundred years.”
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Content: There are illusions to domestic abuse. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

In the kingdom of Lille, the story of Cinderella is not just a fairy tale, it’s fact. It’s the book by which every young woman is to live their life. Serve their family. Prepare for the ball, which happens every fall, where they are to be Chosen by one of the eligible men in the kingdom, and then live out their lives happily ever after. There are problems with this, of course: there are rules — curfews, limits on autonomy — that work to keep women and girls in line. Our main character, Sophia, isn’t interested in being chosen — she’s in love with another girl, which is strictly forbidden — and doesn’t want any part of the ball. Unfortunately, that’s not allowed. But, at the ball, she can’t take any more, so she runs off — which is a crime. She hides out in the woods, finds Cinderella’s mausoleum, and meets one of Cinderella’s only living descendants, and discovers the story that everyone in Lille is told is actually built upon a lie.

On the one hand, I’m always down for a new telling of a fairy tale. I adore retellings, and this one does have a unique spin. I liked that Sophia, in the end, was able to begin to fix the country — with help of course — and find her own version of happiness. What didn’t sit right with me was the way she got there. I didn’t like that all the men (except for the gay one) were complete assholes on one level or another. I get that you’re drilling down the misogynistic rules, but “not all men”? It sounds bad saying that, but that’s what I felt reading it. I also felt like Bayron felt she needed to have Sophia be gay because to have her in a hetero relationship would be Bad for the Message. (I just didn’t feel like this book was Queer in the way books written by LGBTQ+ authors are.) It’s not a bad book, but in the end, I didn’t love it.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

by Nahoko Uehashi
translated by Cathy Hirano
First sentence: “At the moment the royal procession reached the Yamakage Bridge, Balsa’s destiny took an unexpected turn.”
Sadly, it’s out of print.
Content: There’s some fighting and the main character is 30. It’s in the teen section of the library.

Balsa is a warrior woman, who is a bodyguard for hire. She saved the life of the Second Crown Prince — he had fallen into a river — which lead her to her most recent job: guarding his life because the prince — Chagun — is carrying the water demon egg inside of him. His life is in danger, partly because his father, the Mikado, is supposed to have descended from the gods, and having a son with a demon egg inside of him isn’t the best thing for public morale. And there’s also the Rarunga — the egg eater — who will do everything it can to stop the egg from hatching.

Okay, that sounds really weird, doesn’t it?

Honestly, though, it worked. It’s a good little fantasy, ripe with adventure and fighting, mysticism, a bit of friendship-turned-romance (but just a small bit), and a crazy old lady. It was kind of like reading a novelization of a manga; not terribly linear with the storytelling, but entertaining nonetheless. Not sure I would have ever picked this up without the class I’m taking (and because this was one of a very few on the reading list; not many works in translation for kids are in my local library) but I’m not sorry that I read it. It was fun, in the end.

Six Crimson Cranes

by Elizabeth Lim
First sentence: “The bottom of the lake tasted like mud, salt, and regret.”
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Content: There is some violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Shiori is the only Princess of the Kiata kingdom, the youngest of seven children of the Emperor. She’s basically a good kid, except she has a secret: she is magic. Which is a big deal in a world where magic has been banned. Oh, and she does NOT want to marry the person she is betrothed to. But when she discovers a secret about her stepmother, her six brothers are turned into cranes and Shiori is cursed: for every sound she utters, one of her brothers will die. She is then sent to the farthest reaches of the kingdom, and she has to find her brothers as well as her way back home. Along the way, help comes from the unlikeliest of sources: the same betrothed she was trying so hard to avoid marrying.

I’ve seen Lim’s work around; one of the teens in the teen review group at the store really liked her Spin the Dawn. And I have to admit: Lim has a way with fairy tales. It’s a grand fantasy, with dragons and magic and villains and double crossing, but it’s also, at its heart, a fairy tale, where the main character has growth and learns her lessons and all ends up happily ever after (mostly). Lim was able to keep me turning pages, pulling me in with her storytelling. It wasn’t heavy-handed, and I was genuinely surprised at the twists and turns it took (though I did suspect a few things, but I think we were supposed to). It was a really good story, and one where I am curious to see where it goes from here.

Maybe I’ll even go back and read her other duology, too.

Stormbreak

by Natalie C. Parker
First sentence: “The fire crawling through Lir’s veins had started hours ago and was only getting worse.”
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Others in the series: Seafire, Steel Tide
Content: There is a lot of violence, some graphic, and some off-screen implied sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Steel Tide, obviously.

Caldonia has defeated the evil overlord Alric, though her arch nemesis, Lir, has gotten away. She has opened her city to Bullets if they want to detox from their drug, Silt. She is doing well, all things considered. But, Lir is not letting it go, and attacks Caldonia’s city setting her on the run, again. She needs to end this once and for all, reclaim the Bullet Seas, stop the reign of terror. But will her plan work?

There really isn’t much to say about this book that hasn’t been said about the series as a whole. It’s got a ton of action, and Caldonia is making tough choices for her crew and fleet. It’s amazing seeing a woman command the role of commander so fully and so easily; she has a crisis of conscience now and again, but she never doubts that she is the one in charge. And her crew and followers support her. It’s incredible to read.

Parker is great a writing action, as well. The battle scenes are packed and the whole book kept interesting in continuing reading. I enjoyed that it wasn’t just Caldonia who got character arcs, but rather that her whole crew felt real.

It’s really a good series.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “The weather has begun to turn, allowing cold wind to swoop down fro the moutnains and sneak under the lather and fur of my jacket.”
Support your local independent bookstore: Buy it there!
Others in the series: A Curse So Dark and Lonely, A Heart So Fierce and Broken
Content: There are two sex scenes, both off-screen. And there is a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Things look bleak for our characters: Grey is in Syhl Shallow, trying to convince them that he’s not going to turn traitor and kill the armies when they march on Emberfall. Lia Mara is trying to find a balance between having her people respect but not fear her, and still maintain control. Rhen feels increasingly like he’s pinned into a corner by Lilith, the enchantress who initially cursed him. And Harper’s just trying to forgive Rhen (or at least move past) for imprisoning and beating Grey. As the two countries head toward war, everything looks like it’s going to come crashing down around everyone.

This was a really good conclusion to a series that started out as a Beauty and the Beast retelling. It became something much more: a treatise on violence and when it’s warranted, and the choices that we make because we feel we have to or are forced to. I did enjoy spending time with the characters, and while I didn’t necessarily find it swoon-worthy, it was fun. Which is all you need, sometimes.

It’s a good, solid series, and now that all three are out, there’s reason not to read them.

Igniting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers
First sentence “Maraud awoke to the sound of retching — a retching so violent his own stomach clenched into a fist and tried to punch its way out of his throat.”
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Others in the series: Grave Mercy, Dark TriumphMortal Heart, Courting Darkness
Content: There is a lot of violence and abuse. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore.

I am thinking that LaFevers needed to write this duology because, while Mortal Heart ended on a positive note, there were many threads left hanging open. And it’s just nice to tie everything up.

Picking up where Courting Darkness left off, this one is more political intrigue (beause Genevieve has the ear of the French King and is trying to sway him away from being advised by his sister, the regent), machinations (Sybella vs. her horrible brother), love (which is always quite satisfying) and war (Sybella, Genevieve, Beast, and Maurad manage to spectacularly put down a rebellion).

At this point, it’s safe to say that if you liked the rest of the series, you will like this one. It’s a bit overlong, and I was truly losing patience with the king who was petulant and super dense, but I suppose LaFevers needed to keep it a little bit historically accurate.

In the end, though, it tied up all the loose ends and gave everyone if not a happy, then a hopeful, ending.