An Ember in the Ashes is a deftly written debut novel by Sabaa Tahir, a promising new author not to be ignored. With alternating chapters, this teen novel skillfully intertwines the lives of two young people living in a martial society.
The book opens with Laia, a member of the colonized Scholar society. Though they’re called Scholars, these people have been beaten down and denied their heritage to the point that people are no longer even taught to read. When Laia’s home is invaded by law enforcement, her life is forever changed. She’s put on a path to go against her demure disposition and rally to save the only family she has left.
On the other end of this society, we follow Elias as he completes his training to become a “Mask.” Masks are the highest form of defense in the Serra community. They are both feared and revered. As a Mask, Elias is trained to be a graceful killing machine, a skill which disgusts him to the point that he contemplates desertion.
The setting and power struggles of this book are reminiscent of Game of Thrones while the trials that Elias faces are evocative of the Hunger Games or Divergent. Despite this book being suggestive of these other series, Tahir creates a unique and captivating read that is hard to put down.
Amy McCulloch is an editorial director for a children’s publisher, so while this is her debut as a novelist, she is no stranger to the writing process. It’s clear from this novel that she carefully constructed a young adult series that weaves together mysticism, intrigue and suspense.
The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is the first in McCulloch’s The Knots Duology. This introductory novel is set in a fantasy world where a person’s oath is their soul and the consequences of going back on your word have a devastating effect. It’s the very foundation of the world’s structure and is infused in every decision each character makes.
Raim, the protagonist, is from a nomadic tribe of goat herders and has been raised as a warrior apprentice since he was 7. He was just a baby when he was given an oath that he wears as a knot around his wrist — a reminder of a promise he cannot remember. It’s this oath, made long before his memories start, which holds a mystery that could unravel his well-planned future or be the answer that saves a kingdom.
This historical fantasy is a fast-paced whirlwind of a ride that will leave you eager for more. Its sequel The Shadow’s Curse, though already published in Canada and the UK, does not yet have a publication date for the US. After The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, you won’t be able to wait for its release.
My True Love Gave to Me is a collection of 12 holiday stories from young adult authors like Rainbow Rowell, Stephanie Perkins, Laini Taylor and David Levithan, among others. Each story is unique — some are realistic, romantic stories set at Christmas or New Year’s Eve celebrations, others are fantasy stories filled with elves or set in far-off lands. They’re all sure to put readers in the holiday mood!
Though each story is delightful, Stephanie Perkins’ “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” was my personal favorite. Perkins, who is also the editor of My True Love Gave to Me, brings holiday romance into readers’ lives with Marigold and North’s story. When Marigold buys a tree at North’s family Christmas tree lot, he agrees to help her carry the tree across the street to her apartment, not knowing the night of adventures this decision will bring. Other stories deal with lesser known holiday traditions, like Holly Black’s “Krampuslauf” about a group of teenagers who live in a town who have an annual celebration for “Saint Nick’s creepy buddy, the Krampus.” Gayle Forman’s “What the hell have you done, Sophie Roth?” follows Sophie, a freshman at a college in the middle of nowhere, who is sad to be away from her mother on the last night of Hanukkah. Other stories are totally fantastical, like Laini Taylor’s “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer,” set on the Isle of Feathers, where a girl named Neve must face the Advent traditions of her home.
Perkins did a wonderful job editing a diverse group of stories dealing with holiday traditions both real and imaginary. My True Love Gave to Me is a great holiday read, especially for those looking to find new teen authors to enjoy in the future. As an added bonus, make sure to pay close attention to the cover, as you can see the couples from each of the stories!
Lish McBride, author of the teen series Necromancer, has come out with a new young adult novel titled Firebug. This preternatural pleasure is equal parts Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and Firestarter by Stephen King. Start with a young girl who has the ability to create fire with her mind, and mix in a love triangle and a sinister paranormal mob. The result is a fast-paced romp that’s hard to put down.
After Ava’s mother is killed by the Coterie, an organization that governs paranormal citizens, Ava is forcibly enlisted as a hitwoman by the same organization. Her talents and affiliations have limited her circle of friends to her guardian, Cade, and her two partners, Ezra and Lock. When the leader of the Coterie, a vampire named Venus, threatens her last remaining family, Ava balks and starts a fight that just may be too big to win.
Morris Award-nominated McBride created a page-turner in this first installment of her new series. The combination of action, drama and witty banter is sure to leave you wanting more.
"Distinctive" is the word I would use to describe Scott Westerfeld’s previous books, and his latest young adult novel Afterworlds is no different. With alternating chapters and the combination of two genres, Afterworlds is a unique work of fiction.
As the book opens, Darcy has graduated high school and deferred college to pursue a writing career in New York. She has sold her debut novel and signs a book deal for $300,000. As an 18-year-old girl in New York City, Darcy is exploring what it means to be an independent adult, discovering her own sexuality and learning the art of book publishing.
In the alternate chapters, we see how Darcy’s life affects her writing. Lizzie, Darcy’s protagonist, is caught in a terrorist attack. The trauma forces her into the Afterworld – the place where people go when they die. While there, she meets a captivating young man who helps her evade the terrorists and return from the Afterworld unharmed. It’s after this traumatizing event that Lizzie finds she is able to walk in two worlds and is blessed and cursed with a macabre gift that she can’t just give back.
Half of this book is realistic fiction and coming of age story about an emerging writer. The other half is a paranormal romance. At times Afterworlds is similar to The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; other times it can be likened to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. This is a peculiar combination that mixes surprisingly well.
Stephanie Perkins, the author of Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door returns with her third and final novel in the series, Isla and the Happily Ever After. This heartwarming new romance follows Isla and Josh from their homes in New York City to their boarding school in Paris, as they look for their happily ever after.
Isla has been in love with Josh from afar for ages, and when they bump into each other in New York City during the summer vacation before their senior year of high school, she hopes this is her chance with her crush. But when they return to the School of America in Paris, fondly known as SOAP, everything is just as it always has been. Josh is distant and secretive, and Isla feels awkward every time he’s around. She doesn’t give up hope, and when she discovers that Josh returns her feelings, she must learn how to deal with her new reality of happily ever after. Ultimately, Isla and the Happily Ever After is a book about knowing yourself as much as it is a romance.
Isla and the Happily Ever After is a romance that fans who have been reading Perkins for years will devour, and new fans will enjoy just as much. Having read Perkins’ other novels adds something extra to the reading experience, but Isla and the Happily Ever After can be read alone as well. Anna and St. Clair, and Lola and Cricket each have brief, yet wonderful appearances, but this novel is truly Isla and Josh’s story. With Perkins’ wonderful descriptions of New York and Paris, readers will feel like they’ve traveled the world with Isla.
Imagine willingly telling strangers on the Internet your deepest, darkest secrets and letting them give you an assignment that you have to complete to protect your secret — that’s what Tabitha decides to do in Corey Ann Haydu’s Life by Committee. Tabby feels like her life is falling apart after her best friends abandon her and she kisses someone else’s boyfriend, a boy that she’s been flirting with online for months. When she’s given a used copy of The Secret Garden filled with someone’s thoughts on the book and a website link handwritten in the back everything changes. Intrigued by the website, “Life by Committee,” and frustrated with how things are going in her life, Tabby decides to join the group, which requires members to provide one secret a week and then perform a task to keep the secret safe.
As Tabby joins the website, she’s pushed outside her comfort zone again and again by group members as she reveals more secrets. As time goes on, she begins pushing away her only remaining friend and her parents as she becomes wrapped up in the website and the assignments they give her. Only when the assignments begin to go too far does Tabby begin to question her choices.
Haydu’s Life by Committee is a strong second book after her memorable debut novel OCD Love Story. Again Haydu has written about a character who is flawed, and all the more interesting because of it. Tabby makes some cringe-worthy choices and many mistakes throughout Life by Committee, making her a realistic, relatable character. Readers who enjoy Haydu’s books can look forward to two new titles set to be released in 2015.
Former intelligence officer Amber Lough is trying her hand as an author of young adult fantasy with The Fire Wish. The backdrop for this book is the Middle East in a time full of mysticism and intrigue. The humans live in and around Baghdad while the jinni population inhabits a sprawling underground cavern.
The chapters of this novel alternate between two 16-year-old girls, Zayele and Najwa. Zayele’s father arranged for her to marry Kamal and become a princess of Baghdad, but the prospect of living this sheltered existence seems stifling to her free-spirited tendencies. In what seems like another world, Najwa is weighed down with responsibility and, while she is ready to rise to the occasion, she finds her abilities suppressed by the elders in her community. Both girls are caught in a war between the jinni and the humans. When the desperate Zayele makes an impulsive wish, it forever alters both of their lives and connects them in ways they never thought possible.
The Fire Wish is the first installment of Lough’s new series, and this dual perspective, fast paced fantasy contains everything from action and adventure to romance. Fans of Cinda Williams Chima’s The Demon King will surely find this book just as magical.
Jenny Han, author of the Summer series and coauthor of the Burn for Burn series, returns with the start of a new series, To All the Boys I've Loved Before. The main character, Lara Jean, and her sisters, Margot and Kitty, have always been incredibly close, taking care of one another since their mother passed away. The Song girls, as they call themselves to honor their mother's Korean heritage, run the household while their father, a doctor, is busy at work. As the novel begins, Lara Jean's happy, but sometimes boring life, gets turned upside down.
When Margot, the oldest of the Song girls heads off to college in Scotland, she breaks up with Josh, her boyfriend and the quintessential boy next door, who Lara Jean once secretly loved. Lara Jean wrote Josh a letter when he and Margot started dating so she could move on and stop loving him, a practice she's used with every boy she's loved before. She keeps the letters in a hat box, looking at them from time to time, but never sending them. One day, she finds the box and letters missing, and the boys she once loved start approaching her in school about the letters.
Lara Jean and Peter, one of the boys she loved in middle school, decide to pretend to date, so she can avoid awkwardness with Josh, and Peter can make his ex-girlfriend jealous. Readers will enjoy Lara Jean and Peter trying to keep up their dating charade, as she's forced to confront her feelings for all the boys and their feelings for her. To All the Boys I've Loved Before is a realistic, romantic teen book perfect for readers looking for a fun summer read! Be on the lookout for the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You.
The Geography of You and Me, the latest romance novel from teen author Jennifer E. Smith, is sure to capture the hearts of both teen and adult romance fans. The novel begins on a sweltering day in New York City when Lucy and Owen get trapped in an elevator in their apartment during a blackout. Lucy has lived in the apartment building with her jet-setting parents for years, and yet again finds herself alone as they travel the world. Owen, on the other hand, has just moved to the city because his dad took a job as the apartment building’s new superintendent. Though their paths have crossed before, it’s not until this fateful day that they truly meet.
After being rescued from the elevator, the two spend the night together talking about their lives. But when Lucy wakes up, Owen is gone. She looks for him for the next few days, but must quickly leave when her parents decide they want her to come visit them in London. After learning that her parents want the family to move away from New York, Lucy knows she has to find a way to contact Owen again. She decides on sending him a postcard, which he receives as she returns to New York to pack up the family apartment. Thus begins their long-distance relationship through a series of postcards, as she moves to London and Owen moves around the states with his father.
Readers are taken along on the journey of Lucy and Owen’s relationships — across continents, through scattered correspondence and the promise of the pair one day reuniting. Their relationship is hopeful and romantic.