So I’ve got this list of 25 great fantasy series. I don’t change it terribly often and almost never for the first book in a projected longish series. I had to make an exception for The Ruin of Kings because I liked it that much. And not just me. Starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist. Rave reviews from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. And perhaps most surprising to me, Kirkus (whose reviewers tend toward the critical) gave it a starred review, writing: “The story begins in a jail cell with a young man named Kihrin being guarded by Talon, a beautiful and monstrous shape-shifting assassin. Kihrin, awaiting what will surely be his death, begins telling her his life story. Talon complements Kihrin’s tale with her own memories of the past few years, and, together, they weave a jaw-dropping, action-packed story of betrayal, greed, and grand-scale conspiracy. It all begins when Kihrin—a thief who has been raised in the slums by a compassionate blind musician—witnesses a horrific murder while robbing a house. The sudden target of a group of morally bankrupt, and terrifyingly powerful sorcerers, Kihrin finds himself on the run. During his flight, he discovers that he may be the son of a depraved prince—and that the necklace he wears around his neck may be much more than a sentimental object from his long-dead mother. While the comparisons to Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle will be unavoidable—in terms of story structure and general narrative content—the potential of this projected five-book saga may be even greater. Although a cast of well-developed characters and an impressively intricate storyline power this novel, it’s Lyons’ audacious worldbuilding that makes for such an unforgettable read. In a sprawling, magic-filled world populated by gods, dragons, krakens, witches, demons, ghosts, shape-shifters, zombies, and so much more, Lyons ties it all together seamlessly to create literary magic. Epic fantasy fans looking for a virtually un-put-down-able read should look no further.” I agree!
April is National Poetry Month, and in honor of the Bard, I’ve been going on a Shakespeare-inspired YA lit tour! You can check out the whole list I’ve gathered here (I haven’t read them all yet, but there’s a whole lot of April left!), but in the meantime, here are two fun, contemporary reads both set in one of my favorite fictional worlds – high school theater.
Megan Harper is pretty sure she’s the real life version of Rosaline, the girl Romeo loved before Juliet. Every guy she dates (and there have been more than a few) finds the perfect girl… right after he dates her. She can’t even really be mad, because, really, how can you get upset about true love? Anyway, Megan has a lot of other stuff going for her – like the fact that she’s a shoe-in for the Southern Oregon Theater Institute’s directing program when she goes to college next year, as long as she can check off that pesky acting requirement. Which should be no problem – next up for her high school’s theater department is Romeo and Juliet, and Megan’s got her eye on the role of Lady Montague. Easy peasy. Until she gets cast as Juliet.
Not only has Megan never acted before, but she’s cast opposite her ex-boyfriend, Tyler, who broke up with her for her best friend Madeleine (again, not mad, because they are nauseatingly perfect together). She doesn’t know anything about what it’s like to be anyone’s Juliet. And her drama department is taking R & J to the Shakespeare festival in Ashland this fall, where reps will be evaluating their performances – hers, and her good friend Tyler’s, who’s got his eye on Julliard and is sure his Mercutio monalogue will give him the edge he needs. No pressure. At all.
Enter a super cute stagehand, Will, and his aspiring playwright friend, Owen, plus more than a few changes at home, and cue the drama, comedy, and a very crooked path to true love. Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka’s debut novel is fun, flirty, vivacious, and full of so-bad-they’re-good Shakespearean puns – and also just happens to have a ton of heart. Fans of romantic comedies, don’t miss Always Never Yours!
When Claudia finds herself in the bathroom accidentally listening to the break-up of her private prep school’s It Couple, the last thing she wants to do is draw attention to herself (this is basically true all of the time, but especially so in this moment). She gets caught anyway (thanks, phone), and finds herself in Big Trouble with kind-of-scary-especially-when-newly-single Iris. Not a great start to senior year.
So, when Claudia and Iris end up as Brit Lit partners, it’s not an ideal situation. Especially when they totally bomb the assignment – due to a basic inability to work together (um, Iris). For a chance to earn extra credit, they can audition for the school play – a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This sounds great to Claudia – there is no possible way she’ll be cast – until she realizes that everyone who auditions who doesn’t get a part is assigned to the stage crew. Which is how she ends up in the costume department, and Iris lands the role of First Fairy, and they’re stuck together for the duration.
Still, it’s not all bad. Del, in charge of costume design, is pretty cool. Gideon Prewitt, funny, sweet, larger than life, new friend and maybe more, is playing Oberon. And it turns out that Claudia is actually pretty good at interpreting Shakespeare, which leads to some unexpected connections – including with Iris, who might not be quite as terrifying as everyone thinks.
Family and friendships, mistakes and misconception, love and a little Shakespeare all combine to make Foolish Hearts another winner on the YA shelves!
Quinn, her older brother Reed, her younger sister Fern, and their neighbor Dylan have always been inseparable. Quinn’s parents run The Hundreds, a summer camp in a cove on the Maine coast, and her summers have always been magical, full of campers, secret wishes hung from the kitchen ceiling, sunrise swims in the Atlantic, blueberries in December, possible sightings of Wessie, the local sea monster, and always, always, Dylan and Reed and Fern, together forever.
Until last summer, when something terrible happened, and Dylan died. Now Reed just grunts and stomps around, Fern drips venom with her eyes and her words and sneaks out to do who-knows-what at night, and Quinn is just… stopped. It’s her fault, what happened that night, and everyone knows who the real monster is, and it’s not Wessie.
Still, Quinn is trying to fix herself, even if she can’t fix what happened. When she finds the barn doors open one morning on the way to school, she’s lured inside, even though she knows what waits for her there. As soon as she sees the Chris-Craft, she knows what she has to do – she has to restore it. With the help of her Nana, best friend Hana, and new boy in town Alexander, who’s trying to figure out a way around his own sadness, Quinn begins to find a way forward for herself, and maybe even her family – if only she’s brave enough to face the deep blue beyond and all the monsters hidden there.
This has been on my teetering TBR pile since last year, but a little nudge from one of our teen volunteers with fabulous book taste moved it into first place for me this week, and ohmygoodness why didn’t I read this sooner?!?!! Also, I’m pretty sure my new retirement plan is moving to Maine and running an oh-so-slightly magical summer camp while hunting for sea monsters in my free time. Everything about this book was as delicious as a ripe blueberry in December. I want to hang out and play board games with Quinn’s family – her parents are fabulous, and I feel like I could get some great knitting tips from her Nana after a serious sanding session. The town of Winship is totally somewhere I’d love to bum around in one summer – all the oddities of a tourist town in winter, and you can just taste the ice cream and lobster right around the corner of spring. And The Hundreds – why, oh why, were none of my summer camp days ever spent in a remote cove with wishes and blueberries and wildflowers and a sea monster?! Also, Greek food. Lots and lots of delicious, homemade Greek food. If you love quirky characters, a story rich with friendship, family, and heart, and just a touch of magic, don’t miss Wild Blue Wonder!