Book Review: Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake

three-dark-crownsTitle: Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
ISBN: 9780062385437
Pages: 416
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Source: Publisher

Summary

As long as anyone can remember, the Queen of Fennbirn has been one of three sisters, triplets born to the reigning queen. To prevent them from bonding to one another, the sisters are separated at a young age and each is trained to be powerful in a certain type of magic…so she can kill her two sisters and claim the throne. The time is coming when the three sisters must battle one another—but only one of them, Mirabella, shows any aptitude for the magic she represents. Her sisters Katharine and Arsinoe must discover ways to protect their own lives and still claim the crown. But only one of the three can survive. Who will it be?

Review

The summary of Three Dark Crowns might sound complicated, and indeed, Kendare Blake has built a complicated fantasy world with its own rules and norms. But that doesn’t mean this book is difficult to read. Blake starts the novel off with a simple story—that of Katharine—and as the novel jumps narration between the sisters, the intricacies of the world are built in the reader’s head. It’s incredibly well done, providing connections to each of the three girls (and making sure the reader is emotionally invested in all of them) while also gradually building the world around them.

Who will you root for in Three Dark Crowns? It’s clear from the beginning that only one—Katharine, Mirabella, or Arsinoe—can survive. More than that, and perhaps worse than that, though, the victor will only survive by becoming a murderer and dispatching her two sisters. This has been instilled in each girl since she was a child, but that doesn’t mean the reader has to find it palatable—I found myself hoping, somehow, that they would find another way out. It’s such a wild premise, yet it works so well for the novel.

I’ve been so impressed with YA fantasy novels lately, and Three Dark Crowns is no exception. It drew me in completely and I raced through the novel in one sitting. This is the first in a series, so if you’re the type who waits until all books are out before diving into series, then keep that in mind. But I thought this novel stood on its own two feet well; it asked a lot of provocative questions, and answered many of them, but still left readers open and eager for the sequel(s). I absolutely will be ready to read the sequel as soon as it’s available!

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Book Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger – Rae Carson

walk-on-earth-a-strangerTitle: Walk on Earth a Stranger
Author: Rae Carson
ISBN: 9780062242914
Pages: 448
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Genre: Historical Fiction, Teen/YA
Source: Review Copy

Summary

Leah is a 15-year-old living in Georgia in the 1800s, and though the gold rush is coming to an end, Leah’s unique ability means that she has an advantage over others looking for gold: She can sense when gold is near. Her family makes every effort to keep her ability under wraps, but when tragedy strikes, and Leah is faced with being used as a pawn in her uncle’s schemes, she chooses instead to disguise herself as a boy and make her way to California, to build a new life for herself.

Review

I absolutely loved Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy; it was unique and incredibly written, with vivid world building, gripping storytelling, and an unconventionally wonderful main character. I knew I’d follow wherever Carson led, even if it was into a time period I’m not very interested in reading about. I trusted Carson’s ability as a storyteller, and I’m so glad I did: I was impressed and intrigued by Walk on Earth a Stranger at every turn.

Leah is a strong main character in Walk on Earth a Stranger; she is used to relying on herself and is fiercely independent, yet she also shows a vulnerability that is rare in main characters in YA novels. It’s so difficult to write a strong, confident character who still exhibits self-doubt and vulnerability, yet Carson excels at doing so. She’s a character you’ll root for, one who is insanely capable and deserves the chance to determine her own fate.

Carson does an excellent job discussing the dangers inherent in a cross-country trip in Walk on Earth a Stranger. Leah faces many challenges on her journey, not the least of which is keeping her identity under wraps. Despite the fact this is our world, and not a fantasy one like in Carson’s previous trilogy, there is still a lot of world building to be done, a huge and elaborate stage to be set. The details are vivid and the reader really gets a sense of what it must have been like to experience this sort of journey during the early 1800s.

If you haven’t read Rae Carson’s novels yet, Walk on Earth a Stranger is the first in a trilogy (though it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger—it stands as its own story) and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re a person who waits until all installments are out before reading a series, though (and I can’t blame you there), then you should absolutely pick up her previous, completed trilogy. Either way, Carson is a novelist you should keep an eye out for; I certainly will pick up and devour anything she writes.

Other books by Rae Carson:

The Bitter Kingdom
The Crown of Embers

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Book Review: Nightfall – Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinski

nightfallTitle: Nightfall
Author: Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinski
ISBN: 9780399175800
Pages: 368
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Publisher: GP Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: Teen/YA, Fantasy
Source: Publisher

Summary:

On the island, Marin has never experienced night. But now the dark is coming, as it does every twenty-eight years, and it will remain dark for twenty-eight years. As the islanders prepare to flee their island—after all, only death awaits those who are left behind—Marin and her brother, Kana, realize that Line, their friend, is nowhere to be found. Marin and Kana go looking for Line, but when they are left behind by the boats, will they survive the horrors that their island’s night will bring?

Review:

When I first heard the premise of Nightfall, I immediately knew I wanted to read it. I loved the sense of mystery, the questions of what the night held. Fantasy has really taken root in mainstream YA in a way that it hasn’t in adult fiction, but I wish it would (and perhaps things are moving that way). I love the work involved in building an intricate, beautiful world, and the imagination required to fill in the gaps.
The mysteries in Nightfall are what dominate the storytelling. Halpern and Kujawinski tell a well-paced story; it’s easy to consume this novel in one sitting, as readers will be breathless to discover the answers behind what is happening. There is some vagueness that surrounds the novel. Even in the middle of it, the reader realizes that all questions cannot be answered; we are going to have to be satisfied with morsels, rather than an overall clear answer. This doesn’t hamper enjoyment, though; indeed, it enhances the stakes as Marin, Line, and Kana must find a way to survive.
The relationship between Marin, Line, and Kana is the heart of the book. Lina and Kana are best friends, while a relationship is developing between Marin and Line. That’s not at the center of the book, though; it’s frustrating in novels when the world is at stake, yet all the main characters can think about is relationships. Realistically, the relationship between the two gets put on the back burner as survival becomes the first and foremost goal.
This novel isn’t perfect; Nightfall moves much faster in the first half than the last. The ending is satisfying in terms of plot, but not necessarily so in terms of what it’s been building to. But it’s certainly enjoyable, and works well as a standalone fantasy thriller. The creep factor of this novel, especially the first half, is high, so if you enjoy a deliciously creepy read, this is one you should add to your list.

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Book Review: Written in the Stars – Aisha Saeed

written-in-the-starsTitle: Written in the Stars
Author: Aisha Saeed
ISBN: 9780399171703
Pages: 304
Release Date:
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Genre: Teen/YA, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Naila is a 17-year-old Pakistani American girl, living a life that may not be normal to outside eyes, but it’s normal to her. Her strict Muslim parents believe they know what’s best for her, not allowing her to socialize or date, but Naila has a secret–a boyfriend named Saif, who’s perfect for her. But when Naila’s parents find out about Saif, her life changes drastically, and Naila realizes just how powerless she is.

Review:

Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars is a novel I’ve been waiting on for a long time. Aisha and I have been Twitter friends since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and hers is one of the novels I’ve most been looking forward to for 2015. So that means there were some high expectations going in. I didn’t know anything about this novel except that the main character was a Pakistani Muslim American teenager who was a girl. That’s it. And oh, boy, I’m glad I didn’t know too much about the plot because I was completely hooked every second of the way, waiting to see what would happen next.

Let’s start with the main character, Naila. She’s smart, sweet, and tries to respect her parents’ wishes. She loves them and knows they want what’s best for her. She’s just not sure that, growing up in U.S., so different from where they were raised, they actually know what’s best for her. Naila doesn’t see anything wrong with dating a boy she’s serious about, but she also doesn’t want to go against her parents’ wishes. This turns Naila into a big ball of guilt, uncomfortable in her own skin, and unsure of who she is.

Things take a turn after Naila’s parents discover her secret relationship in Written in the Stars, and as you can imagine, it’s not a positive turn for Naila. There is so much packed into this book, so many twists and turns and emotional occurrences, but I don’t want to discuss specifics because of plot details. So instead, let me just say this: Saeed writes such an honest, moving main character. Anyone who grew up with strict parents, not just South Asians, will identify with Naila. Saeed speaks universal truths through the specifics of one character’s experience, and it’s incredibly emotional. It’s hard not to become wrapped up in Naila’s journey.

Written in the Stars deals with serious issues, but it’s also the story of one young woman trying to figure out where she belongs in the world. It deals heavily with the powerlessness of women, specifically in the Muslim world, but the underlying truths are broadly applicable. If you enjoy cultural stories, stories about strong women, or just emotional reads that will suck you in completely (if you’re like me, you love all three), then this is a book you shouldn’t miss.

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Book Review: Secret Keeper – Mitali Perkins

Title: Secret Keeper Author: Mitali Perkins ISBN: 9780440239550 Pages: 240 Release Date: April 27, 2010 Publisher: Ember Genre: Cultural Fiction (South Asian), Historical Fiction, YA Source: Personal Copy Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: It’s the 1970s in India, and Asha’s father has just lost his job. Hopeful that America might bring him better prospects, Asha’s […]

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Book Review: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel – Sara Farizan

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel cover

Title: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel Author: Sara Farizan ISBN: 9781616202842 Pages: 304 Release Date: October 7, 2014 Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers Genre: Cultural Fiction (Non South Asian), YA Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Leila seems like an ordinary Iranian American teenager. She attends school and generally keeps a low […]

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Book Review: Belzhar – Meg Wolitzer

Belzhar cover

Title: Belzhar Author: Meg Wolitzer ISBN: 9780525423058 Pages: 272 Release Date: September 30, 2014 Publisher: Dutton Juvenile Genre:  Teen/YA, Contemporary Fiction Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Jam Gallahue has not been able to recover from the death of her exchange student boyfriend, Reeve, so much so that she’s ended up at The Wooden Barn, […]

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Book Review: The Bitter Kingdom – Rae Carson

The Bitter Kingdom cover

Title: The Bitter Kingdom Author: Rae Carson ISBN: 9780062026545 Pages: 448 Release Date: August 27, 2013 Publisher: Greenwillow Books Genre: Teen/YA, Fantasy Source: The MindHut Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Elisa, the seventeen year old queen, is about to embark on her most dangerous mission yet: to save Hector, the captain of her guard, […]

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