Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson

Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson is an original take on the villain Cruella De Vil that is set in London. Johnson does an incredible job making the reader interested and intrigued by the character and what happens to her along the way as well as how people treat her makes the reader feel empathy for the main character.

Something Johnson did extremely well was flashbacks, as she made sure there was no confusion when the rader was supposed to be reading a flashback as it was marked by a simple symbol that marked both the start and the end of a flashback or when something different was happening than what was previously stated.

As someone who typically doesn’t enjoy ending with open interpretation and Johnson added just enough freedom for the reader to visualize what may happen in the while still providing enough closure for the reader to feel as if that is the end of the book and feel as if the book has a closed ending while still leaving room for speculation.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Let me preface this review by saying that this is not a YA book. However, as an older teen, I think that it is a perfect book for someone transitioning out of YA, as I myself am. It must also be said that it has trigger warnings for violence and sexual assault. If these statements do not exclude you from potential readership, please do read this book. The Power by Naomi Alderman is epic, terrifying, unflinchingly honest and utterly brilliant. I am of the firm opinion that it should be read by everyone.
Let’s rewind a little. The premise is simple: one day, girls and young women start exhibiting the strange new ability to generate shocks like electric eels. These girls are able to wake up the same power in older women (there is a scientific explanation for this, so the book falls firmly into sci-fi rather than fantasy). Suddenly, with women holding an inherent biological advantage over men, the balance of power in the world shifts. It starts slow, a woman winning an important election in America, a new branch of religion with the Holy Mother at its center growing in popularity from South Carolina. It spreads and strengthens from there. Revolutions are built off of women banding together to use their newfound power to change the world they live in. But what starts off as a fight for equality, for autonomy, soon tips too far.
The Power follows four point of view characters, Margot, an American politician; Roxy, the illegitimate daughter of a British crime boss; Allie, a foster care kid turned religious leader who hears a voice a la Joan of Arc; and Tunde, an aspiring photojournalist who captures one of the first scrap of footage of the power being used. Together, the four protagonists— I hesitate to call any of them heroes— let the reader follow the slow progression of different parts of society as the world changes. The characters themselves have amazing development— although admittedly not always for the better. While some of the characters develop into what you might call heroes, others continue past that, and change from victims to heroes to oppressors. The hard part is that you care about all of them, even as you are horrified by their actions, and herein lies Alderman’s strength: she writes about humanity. She writes flawed, complicated, scarred characters that you care about because they feel inherently real, even if sometimes you can’t like them as people. But she also understands the relationships between those people, the different dynamics in groups and cultures and as a result, her book feels terrifyingly plausible.
If that wasn’t enough, it is also an excellent novel. The Power is often compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but I would argue that Alderman’s book is superior, for the simple reason that it is more easily readable. I personally think that Handmaid’s Tale, while an important book and a fascinating culture study, wasn’t written in a way that people could read it easily, especially those who don’t read very much. The plot was meandering, the main character was complacent, and her understanding of the world was negligible. While I understand while Atwood chose to write it as she did, I was simply not invested in the story other than academically. The Power, however had an engaging plot, captivating characters, and an excellent study of the world we live in today.

The Guinevere Deception by Kierstan White

Kierstan White has done it again. She never fails to write a book that doesn’t have you completely indulged. Her usage of old myths and folktales with a twist, has readers diving into a world that is all too familiar, yet refreshing as well. The Guinevere Deception is nothing less, being a continuation of the Arthurian legends after King Arthur defeats the Dark Queen.
Princess Guinevere has come to marry the charismatic, savior of Camelot, King Arthur. However, she’s not there to play wife, but protect him from the dark magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, and from those who want to see his idyllic city fail – a plan conjured by the great wizard Merlin, who has been banished from Camelot.
However, Guinevere isn’t who everyone thinks of her to be. She’s a changeling, a girl/ witch who has given up everything – even her name, her true identity – to protect Camelot. She has to play the role of Queen, navigating her way through court, and be the woman everyone expects her to be – look pretty and gossip around with all the other ladies. While that sounds fun, she has some bigger problems – such as “how do you use magic to protect the King?” in a city that has banished and eradicated any form of magic. The only other person who knows her true identity and the reason for her arrival is her husband, King Arthur. Throughout her stay in the castle, and everyday a step closer to figuring out who the enemy is, Guinevere ends up forming allies, allies that steer the plot forward. Each character we are introduced to have secrets of their own, intensifying the suspense and the plot.
Filled with magic – good and evil; strong females – who’ve got the beauty and the brains; kings and knights – who are all loyally swoon-worthy; and a battle in which the enemy is the person you’d least expect. This book doesn’t leave any stone unturned, leaving you feeling restless for the next book, and asking one question…When is the next book going to be published???


The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Six of Crows was a brilliant heist-adventure set in an original world with compelling, 3 dimensional characters. Gilded Wolves is… not. I was excited when I picked up Gilded Wolves, it sounded interesting and unique and as an added bonus it has a gorgeous cover and an intriguing title! I was, sadly, disappointed. Gilded Wolves turned out to be a total rip off of Leigh Bardugo’s book, that, to make matters worse lacks the character and plot depth that sets Six of Crows apart.
While the world was interesting, the author didn’t take the time to develop it enough to give the reader an understanding of its culture and more importantly, although multiple main characters have magic, she neglects to tell us how it works or even the limits of what they can do. The characters too were somewhat lacking. Chokshi’s strategy seemed to be to simply dump their backstory in at some point without making it an organic thing or showing how it shapes the characters in the present and influences their actions. Lastly, the plot structure was unfortunately predictable: the group would be in danger, they’re about to die, the same two characters (who later develop a forced and rushed love interest) solve the problem using math and some random fact that one of them somehow knows.
Perhaps I am being overly harsh, but it is my opinion that if a book is that similar to another book (especially if it is marketed to the same demographic) then it has to be at least as good as the one it is ripping off. Gilded Wolves may be a good fit for younger readers who aren’t quite ready for Six of Crows, but I would not recommend it to people who have already read the aforementioned book, since as a fan of Leigh Bardugo’s book I found myself spending the entire time reading Gilded Wolves measuring it up to Six of Crows and finding it lacking.

Shiver by Maggie Steivater

Romeo & Juliet meets Twilight in the woods of New England.
Grace was saved from a wolf attack by one of its own when she was a child. After watching each other from a distance for years, she and the wolf are reunited when a local teen is attacked. Grace’s wolf is injured and appears as a human on her doorstep. Grace’s alienation from her parents sets the stage for this romantic mystery that will have besotted readers carrying the book everywhere, hoping to sneak in just one more chapter.
Readers who enjoy a little paranormal enhancement in their narratives will love this gripping spin on doomed love as told from different characters viewpoints. The characters are complex and relatable and it seems appropriate to root for the wolves who somehow seem to normally live among us.
Shiver is still one of the first books I think of when someone asks me for a book recommendation with adventure and romance. My daughter and I raced through the series together and have since devoured the rest of Maggie Stiefvater’s offerings. Shiver is the first of its Trilogy but Stiefvater has another series, The Raven Cycle, and stand alone titles, The Scorpio Races and All the Crooked Saints. The different series and stand alones are quite distinct in subject matter from each other but I loved them all!

An Enchantment of Raven by Margaret Rogerson

Have you ever read a book with such vivid imagery that when you close your eyes you can almost imagine you are inside its world? My favorite of those books is An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson. Enchantment is set in a lush world of magic and monsters that— in tandem with sweeping world building and compelling characters— makes for a brilliant book. I am not usually a fan of romance stories, but An Enchantment of Ravens drew me in and held on until the very last page.
At seventeen, Isobel is the best portrait artist in generations, and her reputation grows with every passing year. Since childhood, Isobel has painted for the Fair Folk, a powerful race that lusts after human craft.
Isobel is used to having creatures that could murder her in an instant sipping tea in her living room. But when she hears from one of her clients that the Autumn Prince— a powerful Fair One not seen in Whimsy for centuries— is coming to meet her, she’s shaken. But Rook (the Autumn Prince) is not what she expects from a Fair One, and certainly not what she’d expect from one of their princes. He’s nearly human. But just as they grows comfortable towards one another— fond, even, she makes a terrible mistake. Isobel paints human sorrow in his eyes, an unforgivable weakness among his kind. Furious, Rook spirits her off to the Autumn court to stand trial, setting off a whirlwind of adventures and a forbidden romance that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall follows the life of a senior girl in high school, Samantha Kingston. She and her three friends are some of the most popular girls in school. Samantha has it all, perfect boyfriend, three supporting best friends, everything any teenage girl could hope for. Everything was perfect until February 12th. Samantha and her three friends attend a party and make a drunken mistake, resulting in Samantha’s death. However, instead of going to heaven or hell or whatever, Samantha relives February 12th seven times. Through these seven repeats she uncovers secrets about her death She uncovers secrets about everything and everyone close to her. How much will she risk to save her own life?

The book started off rather slow and a little too cliche for my tastes. Oliver portrayed high school in a very stereotypical way and Samantha as a character was very unlikeable to start off. Her and her friends were catty and rude and I was sick and tired of hearing the character complain about trivial things such as spilt coffee. However, I am no quitter as a reader and so I pulled through. And boy, am I glad I did. The story started picking up, hitting its climax in the most amazing way. Samantha changed as a character and the reader could see clear as day the character development. She changed from a snotty teenage brat to a sophisticated human being who slowly uncovered the secret to life. The secret to really living life and not just gliding by it. Samantha began treating people differently and making new risks that popular Samantha Kingston would’ve never made in the first chapter.
The last two or so chapters kept me totally captivated, I was unable to set the book down. Flipping page after page new secrets were uncovered and Samantha turned into someone that the reader should aspire to be. Samantha was on a mission, a mission to not only save others but to also save herself. The ending to the story left me with a full feeling. I did feel like crying, if not more than just a tear or two.
Samantha Kingston was a one layered character that, personally, I did not connect to at all. She was unlikeable, and for good reason. However, Oliver used her writing skills to change the reader’s mind, and instead we fell in love with Samantha Kingston and her selflessness and her constant need to save herself. Because, in the end, Samantha really did save herself.
This was the first book I have ever read by Lauren Oliver and I think it was a good introduction into her writing. She uses a lot of metaphors and similes, which when you first start reading feels a little weird and out of place. However, adjusting yourself to her writing really helps you connect with Oliver’s characters and in turn makes you feel many new emotions. Personally, I really enjoyed her writing and I felt myself attracted to the way she described things in new ways, even trivial things.

Overall, as a fellow reader, I would say pull through. Pull through the first two or three chapters because it gets better. It gets much much better and if you start the book and don’t finish you will surely regret it. I promise.
If you enjoyed the following books I think you will enjoy Before I Fall:
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Victor Frankenstein, right? You know he creates a monster and brings it to life. With the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein being this year, Kiersten White has written a spinoff novel focusing on Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor’s childhood friend. With her new book, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, Kiersten White brings a thrilling and twisted new perspective of the classic tale.
Elizabeth’s mother died in childbirth and she was left with an abusive caregiver who made it known that Elizabeth was a burden. Yearning for a better life, Elizabeth was happy to keep Victor calm and happy in exchange for the new home the Frankenstein’s offer in exchange for help in controlling Victor. Her youth is spent keeping him— and herself, safe, even when she doesn’t know the whole story. When Victor set off to pursue his studies he left Elizabeth behind, and she soon grew concerned about how secure her place in the Frankenstein household was with Victor gone. But when Elizabeth set out to find Victor and bring him home she had no idea what she was getting herself into.

Exclusive Interview with Lisa Jensen!

  1. Fairytale retellings have become very popular in recent years, particularly in YA literature; what do you think makes these stories so compelling?

    Like all folklore, fairy tales have been passed down between the generations for centuries. The details of each story may evolve in the telling over time, but the essence of each tale persists — a poor girl goes to the ball and wins a prince; a beauty falls in love with a scary beast. These tales are in our blood!

    But as readers, we also respond differently as we ourselves evolve out of childhood and into adulthood. There are infinite new ways to look at these classic stories, which is what writers find so irresistible. And fortunately, it seems like readers are just as eager to come along for the ride!

    You’ve written a couple adult books as well as having been a film critic and a columnist, what made you decide to make Beast a YA novel?

    Beast was originally written as an adult novel. But an editor at Candlewick, the fabulous Kaylan Adair, fell in love with the book and bought it for her YA line. We had some tweaking to do over the long editing process, but I think it’s a stronger book now. My original take on the story also had to evolve in subtle ways as I began to view it from a YA perspective.

    Your book tackles some important issues (e.g. sexual assault), what do you think the responsibility of authors (particularly of YA and children’s books) is to talk about these controversial topics?

    In Beast, I wanted to focus on the profound effect of assault on my heroine, as she grapples with feelings of shame, despair, and finally, rage. (That’s the “Revenge” part of the story.) She has to learn that she’s not responsible for what was done to her, and that it also lies within her power to seize control of her own life again and grow stronger. That’s the journey she is on, just as Beast is on a journey to find his place in a human world. They both must tap into their inner humanity.

    What advice would you give to aspiring authors about writing and publishing their stories?

    Read everything you can! Especially by authors you love! (Although, back when I was an occasional book reviewer for the SF Chronicle, I found it was almost as useful to learn what not to do from books that I didn’t think worked!) Write all the time, even if it’s just in your own private journal that no one will ever see, to teach yourself to shape language. Then write the story that’s in your heart — nobody else can tell that story in the same way as you. And Never. Ever. Give. Up!

    Some authors have said that they write the books they needed when they were kids, do you feel this is true of yours?

    No, I wrote this book for the person I am now — someone who loves Beauty and the Beast, but thinks the noble Beast deserves to be the hero of the story, not the prince!

    Do you have any plans for future books?


The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen

Megan Bannen’s debut novel, The Bird and the Blade is a rich and poignant story of love, loss, and the bloody struggle for power within a fractured Mongol Empire during the 13th century.
Jinghua lost everything on the day the Mongols invaded her home and slaughtered her people. Now she’s a slave in the house of one of the most powerful warlords of their time: Timur Khan, lord of the Kipchak. But when the Kipchak Khanate is invaded and its army destroyed Jinghua must follow Timur and his son Khalaf as they escape their conquered kingdom if she is to have any chance of returning to her own home.
But when Khalaf enters a deadly game to win the hand of a powerful princess, everything changes. Turandokht is treacherous, beautiful, and heir to the Mongol Empire. The man who weds her will be the next Great Khan, the catch? He must first solve three impossible riddles, or die trying. Soon Jinghua is forced to make an impossible choice: betray the boy she has grown to love, or give him up to the princess who would rather be his death than his bride.