In the world of manga there are few titles more renowned — and more confusing — than that of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki. It’s a story told in multiple arcs that could be read as stand-alone stories, yet are all connected by the characters and events that take place. The origin of the adventure is called Phantom Blood, a story told in volumes 1-3. Phantom Blood is set in a roughly historical timeframe in a location more or less resembling England. We begin the tale by meeting our hero Jonathan Joestar (nicknamed JoJo), a schoolboy living a carefree life with his wealthy and kind-hearted father. Everything turns south for JoJo, however, when young Dio Brando claims rights to his father’s guardianship. Instead of the playmate and friend naïve JoJo had been hoping for, Dio is determined, for no apparent reason, to take away everything good in his life — his father’s love, his faithful dog, and even the first kiss from his sweetheart. Araki’s dialogue rings out strange and memorable even translated from its original Japanese as Dio triumphantly cries “You thought your first kiss would be JoJo, but it was me, Dio!”
Events quickly escalate from childhood squabbles. As they do, an ancient stone mask with a terrible curse to bear finds its way into Dio’s hands, turning his rivalry with JoJo from a man to man duel to a cataclysmic event involving torture chambers, Jack the Ripper, vampires, the zombie apocalypse, dismemberment, ancient sun magic, hair fights (what?) and, of course, exploding boats. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure never once fails to deliver on its titular promise — it is bizarre. Araki’s highly stylized and exaggerated illustration hails from what is now considered old-school manga — Phantom Blood may have been released as English language volumes in 2015, but its original serialization in Japan began in 1987. There’s a certain stiffness and ridiculousness to the overly muscled characters that does not always seem intentionally comedic. At the same time, each event taking place is so over the top it’s nothing but the most fitting style. Once you become acclimated to the universe, there’s an undeniable and surprising tenderness to the story and characters, and JoJo and Dio become almost self-aware in their roles of light and dark against each other.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is for any reader looking to pick up something different, something very, very different. It more than delivers.
Gotham Academy’s Olive Silverlock doesn’t pretend to be a slice of life protagonist. She’s a high school student at a gloomy Halloween-Castle-esque school in the heart of Gotham, dealing with hauntings, crocodiles in the pipework, mysterious and unwelcome cult meetings in the friendly campus mausoleum and, of course, semi-regular visits from Bruce Wayne himself. Authors Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher follow the creed of “start your story as late as possible” — although this is only volume one, Olive’s life is already in chaos as she deals with the outcome of her mysterious summer. Everyone seems to be whispering about what happened to her, and what it was that could be causing her to act so distant, even frightening. What connection does Olive’s new demeanor have to her mother, recently committed to Arkham Asylum? Will it strain her relationship with her boyfriend Kyle to the breaking point, or alienate his sister, chipper genius Maps? Don’t look for answers just yet, because the story’s just getting started.
Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy is teen experience expressed honestly and beautifully. With grounded yet fantastical writing and Karl Kerschl’s absorbing artwork, each page brings you fully into a wonderfully gothic and magical universe comparable to Narnia and Hogwarts. Kerschl’s environments especially should be commended, since he elevates each page to the style of classical painting with his detail, lighting and diverse color palettes.
It takes a certain kind of writing magic to transport readers so completely into the past, but that is exactly what Libba Bray does in Lair of Dreams, her latest installment of The Diviners series. With careful attention to detail she brings to life New York City during the Roaring 20s with all its slang, speakeasies and the social issues bubbling just beneath the glossy surface. From this setting Bray weaves a spine-tingling ghost story that will keep readers up late into the night.
The Diviners introduced us to Evie O'Neill, a young girl heading to New York City in search of parties and good times. Beneath her flapper façade she hides a special ability, and she soon finds herself drawn into a much stranger circle of friends chasing down a paranormal serial killer tormenting the city.
In this sequel, a strange “sleeping sickness” is striking citizens in Chinatown, killing more victims each night and reaching out into the city. This group of gifted teens must face the terrifying and unknown world of dreams to stop a new ghostly killer. This time, they are joined by Ling Chan, a dream walker who can communicate with the dead. Meanwhile, Sam, a fellow Diviner, and Evie have uncovered some strange clues about why they have these powers, and how much danger they may be in because of them.
This engrossing book has a little of everything including horror, humor and history in perfect measure.
Virginia Boecker was able to cross an item off her bucket list when she published her debut novel The Witch Hunter. As an English history buff, Boecker was spending time in London when she was inspired to write the novel. Though this story takes place in a very different world, where witches and other paranormal creatures are common place, the setting is reminiscent of old world England.
It’s 1558, in a place known as Anglia, where witches and other creatures are pitted against the monarchy for the right to live and practice their beliefs freely. The country is divided with many wanting to see witchcraft practiced openly. King Malcom and his grand inquisitor do all they can to eradicate witches and witchcraft by having a small and elite band of witch hunters that tracks and captures witches who are later burned alive.
By day, Elizabeth Grey is a servant in the kitchen. By night, she is one of the king’s most capable witch hunters. When she is caught with a collection of suspicious herbs, she is arrested as a witch. It’s while she sits rotting in a cell and awaiting her execution that she finds an unlikely ally who leads her to question her black and white world. Could it be that she has been manipulated by the very people she trusts the most, or is she simply being misled?
This young adult novel is a wicked mashup of genres, from romance to adventure, with a healthy dose of historical paranormal fiction to tie it all together. If this is your magical brew, look to Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes for another gripping historical paranormal fantasy with a strong female protagonist, who also has a tendency to challenge authority.
Bestselling author Kady Cross has a new young adult novel Sisters of Blood and Spirit. The dynamic combination of action, adventure and a dash of romance, make this paranormal pleasure hard to put down.
Lark is not your normal teenager. When her twin sister Wren was still born their relationship didn’t end there. Wren became an almost constant companion to her sister. As a child, people around town just thought she was talking to an imaginary friend. As a young adult, she simply appeared to be crazy. The stress of outside pressures and the desire to be with her sister so overwhelmed her that Lark attempted suicide. The failed attempt left Lark with special abilities beyond just the capacity to see ghosts.
When Lark’s classmates decided to take a preternatural excursion to a local haunted asylum, they got more than they bargained for. It’s because of Lark’s reputation that they sought her out to help rid themselves of a ghostly hitchhiker with a penchant for razor blades. Lark’s loner disposition leaves her reluctant to help, but Wren has different plans.
Cross’ novel melds the Scooby gang feel of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the otherworldly feel of the Supernatural series. Its character-driven dual narrative makes for a fast-paced romp that will keep you turning the page. If you dig Kady Cross’ unique style, you can also find her under the pen names Kate Locke, Kate Cross or Kathryn Smith.
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.
Victoria Laurie doesn’t just write about mediums. In addition to being a New York Times bestselling author, Laurie does psychic readings as well. One of her new novels, When, hits close to home with a story about a girl who sees the date someone is going to die, just by looking at them.
It’s unfortunate that Maddie didn’t understand what those numbers were in time to let her father know. She is now being raised by her mother who has become a severe alcoholic after her husband’s murder. In order to help support the family, Maddie’s mother sets up appointments where she can do readings for people who want to know when they or a family member will pass away.
While doing a reading, Maddie has to give a client sad news, and is met with skepticism and disregard. In an effort to help her client’s child, she calls to repeat her plea to keep her son close on his death date. When the boy goes missing, Maddie comes under scrutiny as the prime suspect, and rumors about her involvement run rampant through her school, making her life miserable.
Laurie has created a fast-paced thriller that is hard to put down. When is a character driven novel sure to entice not only young adults, but anyone looking for a page-turner in the same vein as The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.
Meg Wolitzer received the attention of most of the top ten books lists of 2013 with her stand-out novel, The Interestings, which tells the story of a group of adults who befriended each other at an arts camp decades before. Now she is getting into the Young Adult literature game with her new novel Belzhar.
Jam Gallahue thought her life was perfect: She was very much in love with her handsome British exchange student, Reeve Maxfield. When Reeve dies suddenly, Jam is thrown into an emotional tailspin and is sent to The Wooden Barn, a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, yet highly intelligent teens.” At The Wooden Barn, Jam is surprised to be enrolled into a class called Special Topics in English. She’s even more surprised when there are only five students in the class.
The teacher, Mrs. Quennell, has hand-selected each of these five students to participate in the class because they’ve experienced a deep trauma: There’s Casey, bound to a wheelchair; Griffin, who is carrying a horrible secret; Mark, suffering from his parents’ divorce; Sierra, whose brother has gone missing; and, of course, Jam. The class is to study the work of Sylvia Plath for the entire semester. She gives each student a red leather journal and requires them to write in it twice a week. Jam is especially hesitant to write her feelings, but when she does, strange things start happening. Reeve appears and things are better than ever between them, but Jam knows their time is limited. Is she really able to connect with him again on the other side?
As each of the characters in Special Topics reclaim the part of the lives they are missing through the mysterious red journals, they meet in secret to try to get answers about traveling to the place they call Belzhar: What happens when the journal runs out of pages, and what happens if they never want to leave?
The obvious choice to pair with this novel is Silvia Plath’s classic The Bell Jar. The influence of Plath’s work is on every page, even beyond the group discussions of her work in the Special Topics class. Fans of Plath will be excited that a new generation of readers, through this novel, can discover her genius for the first time. Perfect for teens experiencing a tough break up or adults who remember those adolescent pangs, Belzhar speaks to the part of our hearts that have trouble letting go.
The third book in Jessica Spotswood’s The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Sisters’ Fate, wraps up the Cahill sisters’ story. Cate, Maura and Tess are three very powerful witches living in an alternate America in which anyone suspected of being a witch is locked away in an asylum, or worse, sentenced to death. The Brotherhood who control the country has continued life in the Puritan tradition, oppressing women and blaming witches for the country’s problems.
In Born Wicked and Star Cursed, Cate tried to protect her sisters from the Brotherhood and other witches who are jealous of their powers, but now because of the betrayal of one sister and the burgeoning power of another, Cate is conflicted about how to proceed. Cate eventually begins to work with a group of people resisting the Brotherhood, attending secret meetings and planning ways to change life in the country. When a fever begins to ravage New London and the witches are blamed, change becomes essential to preventing the deaths of witches and humans alike, bringing Cate and the other witches to make extreme choices.
At turns a nail-biting, action-packed story and family story about sisters who just happen to be witches, Sisters’ Fate is a satisfying conclusion to Spotswood’s series. Spotswood does a wonderful job creating flawed, interesting characters who fight for what they know is right until the very end.