Burn by Patrick Ness

In Patrick Ness‘s fascinating alternate historical fiction, dragons and humans co-exist in an uneasy truce, each side mostly keeping to themselves, until an ancient prophecy threatens to ignite an age old war.

It’s 1957, three years into the Cold War between the United States and Russia. Sixteen year old Sarah Dewhurst and her father Gerald struggle to keep their family farm in Washington state afloat after the death of her mother from cancer. Their lives are made even harder by Deputy Kelby, a racist police officer who harasses Sarah constantly for having a white father and a black mother, and for her friendship with Jason Inagawa, whose family farms nearby and whose mother died in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. But things really come to a head when Sarah’s father hires a dragon to help them with the farm work. The dragon is carrying secret meant only for Sarah that involves an apocalyptic prediction, a swiftly approaching assassin, an FBI investigation and the launching of a Russian satellite. Confused? So is Sarah, but the situation becomes clear pretty quick in this rocket-paced, utterly inventive novel. And just when you think you have a grasp on what’s happening, Ness flips the story again, in the most pleasurably shocking way possible. I “burned”through it in a few days flat, and you will too!

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

This prequel to the super popular Hunger Games Trilogy reveals the diabolical origins of Panem president Coriolanus Snow, and how he evolves into the tyrannical despot we love to hate. (Note: this post assumes pre-knowledge of the Hunger Games books and/or movies. If you have no clue what those are, click here) Coriolanus Snow was once just an eighteen year old boy, desperate to keep his genteel poverty a secret. The Snows were a powerful family before the war. But now with both his parents dead, and the unpaid taxes on the family’s penthouse building up, he needs a miracle to keep himself, his cousin and grandmother alive. Enter Lucy Gray, a sly and talented tribute from District 12. The government has decided to assign promising Academy students as mentors to the tributes of the 10th Hunger Games, and Coriolanus is tasked with guiding Lucy. Since she is small and young, he doesn’t have high hopes for her at first. But as the two of them start to strategize, he begins to admire, and then fall for her beautiful singing voice and strong will to live. He even convinces the powers that be to add betting privileges, along with food and water pledges to the bare-bones Game structure in order to help Lucy survive longer. Is it possible for Coriolanus to win the Games and Lucy too? Perhaps, but devotees of the series know it won’t be easy. There is no room for love or mercy in the brutal Capitol of Panem, where the snakes don’t just come in reptile form! While this tome was a bit too bleak for me during our current crisis, fans will likely be gratified by the grimly satisfying ending.

Bloom by Kenneth Oppel

It happens quickly. One spring day, everything in Anaya’s hometown of Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, is fine. The next, jagged, coarse black grasses start growing everywhere, choking out the all the local vegetation and emitting a poisonous pollen that makes people sneeze and cough. Anaya’s father, a botanist with the Ministry of Agriculture, suspects the terrible plants may be biologically engineered weapons. But if so, who unleashed them? Because it’s not just Salt Spring Island that’s infected, it’s the entire globe. All across the world the black grass is growing and morphing, turning into killer lilies that shoot bullet-like seeds, and buried flesh-eating pods that lurk beneath the soil, ready to open and swallow down unsuspecting souls in a single gulp. Anaya’s dad believes he knows a way to destroy the killer grass. But he has to travel to a remote island in order to create the antidote. Meanwhile, Anaya and her friends Petra and Seth have discovered that the bizarre plants don’t seem to make them sick the way they make everyone else. In fact, they seem impervious to the grasses’ deadly pollen and acid sap. And suddenly the Canadian military is very interested in their surprise immunity. What does it all mean? Where did the killer grass come from? Why are three random Canadian teenagers immune to this global terror? And can Anaya’s dad find the cure before being eaten alive? While some of these questions are answered, many more are raised in this jaw-dropping, bio-horror series opener by master of suspense Kenneth Oppel. For those of you who prefer to immerse yourself in books that reflect our current situation instead of escape it, this page-turning, fast-paced pandemic thriller is for you. I flew through it, gasped at the cliff-hanging ending, and then rejoiced when I saw that I only had to wait until this fall to see what happens next. Run, don’t walk to your nearest e-reader or local library website to give this Bloom a sniff (just don’t get too close!)

The King of Crows by Libba Bray

CONCLUDING-BOOK-IN-A-SERIES-SPOILER ALERT! This is the LAST book in the Diviner series, if you have not read books 1, 2 & 3 STOP NOW and go treat yourself. If you are prepared to wade into the multi-layered plot of book 4, then carry on!

The Diviners have overcome great odds to come together in order to defeat the slippery and scary King of Crows. But they are losing their mojo and their mentors. Uncle Will has been murdered by the terrifying Shadow Men, and Sister Walker’s been arrested. Having discovered slick businessman Jake Marlow is keeping the door between the living and the dead open with his terrible Eye gadget, fueled by Diviner energy (poor Sam!) Evie, Henry, Jericho, Ling, Memphis, Isiah and Theta decide to confront him at Sarah Snow’s memorial in Times Square and make him see that the Eye spells nothing but destruction. But before they can, Jake Marlow places a bounty on their heads, and now everyone is looking for the Diviners. They scatter with a hasty plan to meet up in Bountiful Nebraska, where a girl named Sarah Beth has appeared in a vision to Isiah, asking for the Diviner’s help. On their far-flung, split-up travels to Bountiful, Ling and Jericho follow a band of all-female barnstormers; Evie, Theta, Sam and Isiah join the circus; while Memphis and Henry get stuck in a flood along the Mississippi River. And always at their heels: the dead. The hungry, angry ghosts who do the King of Crows’ bidding. Who will win the final showdown between the army of dead and the army of Diviners? Only this crackerjack of a conclusion can tell, and does, in great epic sweeps of twentieth century American history and folklore. Action-packed and utterly decadent, this last volume satisfies on all accounts, and was well worth the wait. I’ll say no more, and leave it up to you to enjoy!

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Adolescence isn’t fun for anyone. But it’s particularly awful for the girls of Garner County, a rural community that seems vaguely colonial or dystopian. Sixteen year old girls are sent away from home and forced to endure the “Grace Year,” twelve months of living rough in the wilderness with little access to fresh food, water or bedding. In addition, they must also avoid the Poachers, a shadowy group of disenfranchised men whose favorite activity is to hunt down Grace Year girls, dismember them and sell their appendages on the black market. Supposedly their teenage bodies “emit a powerful aphrodisiac,” and are therefore highly prized as “medicine” by the lovelorn and love scorned. Families willingly send their daughters out into certain danger because they believe that the fear and deprivation ensures the girls will “release” their “magic,” returning docile and ready to marry. But Tierney’s not having it. A tomboy who’s been indulged by her father and scolded by her mother, she’s hurtling head on into the Grace Year, determined to understand its secrets and take away its power. But what she quickly comes to see is that within the boundaries of the Grace Year, the usual rules don’t apply. Not only are friends enemies, and enemies friends, but Tierney discovers there are powerful factions who are deeply invested in maintaining the violent Grace Year tradition, not matter what the cost. And Tierney’s life may very well be the price.

This complex, haunting novel pays lovely homage to The Handmaid’s Tale, Lord of the Flies, The Lottery and A Clockwork Orange while still managing to be it’s own truly original beast. And beastly it is, with poachers waiting to pounce and gory death lurking behind every tree trunk. But it also overflows with fascinating flower lore, forbidden love and fierce feminism. I finished this one in a lather, dying to know Tierney’s fate. Startling truths come to light in nearly every chapter, and the final one’s a shocker! Kim Liggett ties up each plot twist in a neat, if bloody bow, and I found the conclusion exceedingly satisfying. Devotees of Holly Black, Kelly Link and Libba Bray will want to snatch up The Grace Year when it comes to a library or bookstore in September 2019.

New York Times YA Crossover Fantasy

Dear Teen Peeps,

Some of you may have noticed that I did not post to RR AT ALL the whole month of January. No, it wasn’t because I was hibernating or binging Russian Doll while the slush piled up and the temperatures flip-flopped. It was because I was working on this tidy round up of some of the latest YA fantasy for the New York Times. Bickering gods, assassin nuns, passionate freedom fighters and aristocratic spies await within the pages of these epic alternate histories! We call it “crossover” because these books have appeal for both teen AND adult reader. So take a peek at the reviews and let me know–do you think these titles fit the bill? All four fantastical tales can be snatched up NOW at your local library or bookstore.

West by Edith Pattou


A full FIFTEEN YEARS (!) after the publication of her romantic fantasy EAST, author Edith Pattou has written a swoony sequel (aptly entitled WEST, natch) in which Rose hits the road again looking for her lost love. (Spoiler alert: this is a true sequel. If you haven’t read EAST, head over here or your nearest library and check it out before reading further.) Three years have passed since Rose married her enchanted white bear, now a handsome gent named Charles. They have a tiny, smart baby named Winn, and are entirely, deliriously happy. Cue the storm clouds. Happiness never made a good story better, so Rose’s old nemesis, the Troll Queen (who was supposed to be dead, but as we know from every Bond movie EVER, villains always get one more life) has pulled herself together and is orchestrating the end of the world from her newly formed ice castle. But first she must assuage her broken heart by busting Rose’s. In short order, Charles is lost at sea and Winn is kidnapped, both acts the result of the Troll Queen’s black magic. Once again, Rose must travel to the four corners of the earth to rescue her baby, retrieve her lost love and also save the world from Aagnorak (Trollish for “apocalypse,” and probably a creative take on this word.) CAN SHE DO IT? All signs point towards yes, as this sequel is just as comforting, approachable and gently told as it’s predecessor. If this old world is getting you down and you need a soft pillow of escapism, you could do much worse than curl up with EAST and WEST and have yourself a nice little fantasy-fest. For all those white bears out there and the girls who love them, this one’s for you. 😉

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland


Jane McKeene, daughter of a white woman and a black man, is learning the fine art of zombie killing at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls in Baltimore County. Ever since the dead rose up at the Battle of Gettysburg, the States quit fighting each other and began fighting the revenants. The government then created “combat schools,” where black and brown-skinned teens are taught etiquette and sword play in order to become dutiful “Attendants” for wealthy white families and protect them from zombie attacks.  Jane is thisclose to graduating with honors and returning to her beloved home in Kentucky, when she and her arch frenemy Kate Deveraux are forced to take on a “special assignment” in the wild, uncivilized western frontier. There they learn that the fragile national peace wrought by the bloody efforts of their peers and comrades is in serious jeopardy, and that zombies are actually the last things they should be afraid of. With all of this going on, Jane has absolutely no business falling for two boys who couldn’t be more different. But the heart wants what the heart wants, as they say, and if Jane survives the rapidly amassing zombie herd, she’ll have decide which boy (if any) gets her still-beating ticker. If I sound cagey or mysterious, that’s because it’s almost impossible to write about this compulsively readable alternate history series opener without giving away the secrets at its core. Ireland spins a page turning tale, while also weaving in lots of subtle and not so subtle allusions to our country’s past and present problems with race, power and corruption. Wielding her fictional pen like a critical sword, Ireland scrutinizes and excoriates the real fake science intended to dehumanize black people, the real boarding schools that were set up to “civilize” Native American children, and how Reconstruction morphed into Jim Crow after the Civil War. Readers who come for the zombies will stay for the sharp social commentary and gleeful skewering of stereotypes. Dread Nation is KILLER.

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl


Near the end of Beatrice’s senior year at posh boarding school Darrow-Harker, her talented, funny boyfriend Jim was found floating facedown in the local reservoir. Ultimately ruled a suicide, the tragic death and devastating aftermath busted up Beatrice and her tribe of besties: cunning Whitley, brainy Martha, cavalier Kipling and master hacker Cannon. Without Jim, they all drifted apart freshman year of college. Now, over a year later, Whitley has called them all back for a birthday bash at her family’s posh mansion. Against her better judgement, Beatrice decides to go, even though she knows it’s bound to stir up old memories and open new wounds. But she can’t help herself. Maybe together they can finally figure out what really happened to Jim that last night. EXCEPT…(and no spoilers here, this all happens in the first 50 pages and is mentioned on the back cover) they drink too much, get in a terrible car accident and die. THE END? Not quite. Turns out they have all landed in a bizarre time loop called the Neverworld Wake, stuck between life and death. Only one of them is allowed back into the land of the breathing, but how can they make that impossible decision? While they argue and flounder, living the same day over and over, Beatrice sees a chance to discover what really happened to Jim once and for all. But she just might have to die in order to finally know the truth. FRIENDS, this wild book is a offbeat, out-of-the-box mind bender that surprised and delighted me at every turn of the twisty plot. It’s both sci-fi and a mystery, a romantic tragedy and a tragic romance. Perhaps that’s to be expected from the author of the peculiar Special Topics in Calamity Physics, but I couldn’t finish that book despite my best efforts, while this one=MIND BLOWN. If you are looking for something fresh to shake up your reading routine, YOU’RE WELCOME.  (And if you’re so inclined, please come back and tell me what you thought about it in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.)

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black


Lots of people have had bad childhoods, but Jude’s takes the cake: when she was seven years old, a green skinned stranger with big teeth showed up at her front door, murdered her parents and then kidnapped her, her twin sister Taryn and older sister Vivi. Turns out the stranger was her human mom’s jilted fairy husband Madoc, who came to retrieve his true child, Vivi, and ended up taking all three sisters back to his castle. Now a teen, Jude lives a weird sort of half life as a human in the land of Faerie. She is never fully accepted by the Folk, but far too steeped in the ways of the Fay to ever live happily in the mortal world. She spends her days training to be a knight and trying to escape the unwelcome attentions of Cardan, a spoiled fairy prince who finds Jude’s very existence offensive. But when a massive betrayal goes down in the royal family, Jude is given the impossible choice to either cut and run, or stay and fight for her place in Faerie. Holly Black deftly handles a huge cast of characters, all of whom Jude must carefully evaluate to decide if they are for or against her. Because if she trusts the wrong person, she may end up paying for for it with her life. Full of intrigue, romance, politics, and enchanting descriptions of fairy food, clothes and weapons, this sumptuous tome will delight both fans of fairies and mud bound mortals. The first book in a planned series, The Cruel Prince left me desperately wishing I could conjure up the sequel!

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray


SPOILER ALERT! THIS IS THE THIRD BOOK IN A SUPERLATIVE SERIES. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THIS ONE AND THIS ONE, STOP NOW AND COME BACK WHEN YOU HAVE! THANK YOU!!

Now that THAT’S out of the way, let’s talk turkey, my equally obsessed Diviner fan peeps! The voluminous third volume of Libba Bray’s 1920’s fantasy/horror epic pulls together the disparate threads of the first two books while setting the stage for a sumptuous conclusion. Here, our intrepid Diviners begin formal training to sharpen their spooky skills for a showdown with the King of Crows (aka the man in the stovepipe hat) who finally introduces himself and reveals that he is mostly responsible for letting all those murderous ghosts into New York City. (I say mostly because, well, it’s complicated. You’ll see.)

Drawing strength from finally coming together, the united Diviners force Uncle Will and Sister Walker to reveal what they know about the mysterious Project Buffalo and the role of the US government, and… are immediately sorry they did. Because in this instance, knowing the truth not only doesn’t set them free but just might get them killed. And individually, they are wrestling with personal demons that are every bit as scary as the supernatural baddies they do battle with. Evie, Sam and Jericho are trapped in an impossible love triangle, Theta’s ugly past comes home to haunt her (and how!), Mabel is forced to decide between peaceful activism or rebellious violence, Memphis has his trust broken by two of the most important people in his life, Ling struggles with her sexuality and Henry hides a broken heart beneath his carefree swagger. Meanwhile, the Shadow Men are knocking off anyone and everyone who knows anything about Project Buffalo, Blind Bill is NOT who he seems, someone dear dies and someone we THOUGHT was dead may actually be alive. In addition, there are roller coaster romances, sexy encounters, ghosts with teeth and secret assassins with piano wire. And of course, Bray also manages to make some timely, thought provoking parallels between the 1920’s and the emotionally fraught, oppressive, deceptive time we’re living in now. I mean, come on. It really doesn’t get any bigger, better or more badass than this. Get all caught up and then grab this latest volume toot sweet!

Spill Zone Vol. 1 by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland



Addison Merrit is used to taking risks. Ever since the toxic Spill transformed her hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York into a mutant wasteland three years ago, Addison’s been taking her life in her hands to take illegal photographs of the Spill Zone. She only rides her motorbike in after dark, and the photos make enough money on the black market to keep her and her little sister Lexa together after their parents disappeared in the Zone. But the local authorities are starting to ask dangerous questions, Lexa’s stopped speaking, and her photo dealer has betrayed her. So when an enigmatic underground art collector offers her a cool million to take one last ride into the heart of the Spill Zone and drop off a mysterious package, she reluctantly agrees. But what she doesn’t know is that she just may have become an unknowing operative for the North Koreans, who have has Spill Zone issues of their own and are looking for answers. Full of wicked cool mutant monsters and out-of-this-world action, this freaky, fast paced graphic novel will please the pants off sci-fi and horror readers alike.

Berserker by Emmy Laybourne


In a small village in Norway in 1883, Hanne and her three siblings live a hardscrabble life. Their hopeless father drinks away what little money he makes from butchering, and their mother left long ago. There is no time for school, play or friendships. It is up to Hanne, and her brothers Steig and Knut, to keep the family farm afloat and care for their frail youngest sister Sissel. All of this would be difficult enough, but Hanne’s family also carries the burden of being Nytteson, descendants of ancient Vikings who are each blessed (or damned) with a special power. Knut is a stout Oar-Breaker, a strongman who can lift and carry many times his own weight. Steig is a Storm-Rend who can control the temperature and winds. And Hanne is a Berserker, a fearless warrior whose senses and physical strength become so heightened when anyone in her family is threatened that she can effortlessly kill grown men with her bare hands. And that is exactly what happens when a group of angry village men come to collect on her father’s gambling debt. Horrified at what she has done, Hanne flees and books passage to America with her brothers and sister in hopes of finding a distant Berserker cousin who may be able to train her to tame her deadly gift. On their way out West, they meet Owen Bennett, a kind young cowboy who offers to be their wilderness guide, and things finally begin to look up for the cursed family. But what they don’t know is that they are being pursued by the law in both countries, and by a mysterious scholar who holds the key to both their prosperity and their DOOM. Folks, I don’t mean to overstate my love here, but this shockingly original book is a full-on UNICORN. This singularly unique reading experience combines super-cool settings, real history and and jaw-dropping action sequences in a way that that is as rare as a pearl in an oyster and just as perfect. I have really enjoyed the author’s other books, but this is some next-level stuff. Darn you, Emmy Laybourne! You have spoiled the rest of my summer reading stack! You’ll be able to take this one-of-a-kind read for a spin yourself when it comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you October 2017.

Thornhill by Pam Smy


Two eerie tales intertwine in this gorgeously illustrated gem. Mary’s story unfolds through the pages of her diary, dated the spring and summer of 1982. An orphan, Mary lives with several other girls and their caretakers at the Thornhill Institute, where she is terrorized by another girl so malicious that she won’t even write her name in her journal. Mary avoids her tormentor by escaping to her room, where she reads voraciously and makes jointed dolls out of cloth and clay. But when the bullying crosses over into cruelty, Mary finally stands up for herself, with tragic results. Meanwhile, Ella’s story, told entirely in pictures and set in 2017, presents her move into a new house, where her bedroom window gives her a direct view into the overgrown back garden of the old, condemned Thornhill Institute. After seeing the figure of a girl in the trees, Ella sneaks over the barbed wire wall to try and find her. Instead, she finds a series of broken dolls, that slowly lead her to an attic room in crumbling Thornhill where she uncovers the terrible secret of what happened to Mary all those years ago. This creepy-cool take on a traditional ghost story will give you chills even on the hottest days of summer, and is perfect for fans of Brian Selznik and Shaun Tan. Coming to a library or bookstore near you August 2017.

The Girl In Between by Sarah Carroll


An unnamed girl in an anonymous city tells the story of her and her Ma, a homeless addict who tries to stay clean for her daughter but never quite succeeds. The girl and Ma move from tent to alley to abandoned building, constantly dodging the frightening Authorities in their official yellow vests. They are finally able to make a home in the overgrown and forgotten Castle, an old abandoned mill on the edge of the city. There, they set up a stopgap bedroom, ramshackle living room and even a makeshift kitchen. The girl feels safe, even though Ma says she must never go outside in case she is seen by the Authorities. So she spends her days reading school books Ma has brought home, spying on faraway apartments with her old binoculars and talking to the Caretaker, an old man who has also made his home in the shadow of the Castle. Then the ghost shows up, a mysterious presence that reminds the girl of the one terrible night Ma left her alone before they came to the mill.  Haunted by her own bleak memories, the girl must find a way to remember what happened that night so she can save Ma and herself from the ghost and their own grim futures. This  eerie, gritty debut blends suspense, survival and magical realism into a satisfyingly spooky stew that will keep readers guessing until the very last page. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you June 2017.