Friday, August 7, 2015

YA Novels Focusing on Parental Abuse: Emmy and Oliver, Everything, Everything, and Awake

Young adult novelists frequently find a way to minimize the main character's parents so that the YA characters can take credit for dealing with their own coming-of-age problems.  However, my recommendations this month focus on books where the parental roles are paramount, because parental abuse causes the conflict in the story. Emmy and Oliver by  Robin Benway (Audrey, Wait!) explores the problems involved when a boy, who was kidnapped by his father, is returned to his mother and her new family after being away for ten years.  Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon involves a teenage girl who has been diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease (SCID) by her physician mother who keeps her imprisoned in their hermetically sealed home, only allowing her to have contact with her and a nurse. Awake by Natasha Preston (The Cellar) introduces Scarlett Garner who manages to escape after being offered up as a cult sacrifice by her parents.

Emmy and Oliver, next-door-neighbors and best friends, are torn apart at age seven when his father kidnaps him. As a result,  Emmy's parents become extremely overprotective, so she hides elements of her life like surfing and a desire to go way for college, which would horrify them. Over the ten years they are apart, she obsesses over Oliver's disappearance, fantasizing about his return.  Meanwhile, he has been living with his father in NYC, unaware that his father, who tells him his mother abandoned him, is actually on the run. When he is fingerprinted on a school field trip, the authorities find him and return him to his mother and her new husband and twin girls.As he struggles to fit into his new family and come to terms with his father's betrayal, Emmy tries to find a way back to their childhood relationship.   Rather than focusing only on the teen romance, the author examines the effects of the abduction and return on not only Oliver and Emmy, but also his mother and family, Emmy's parents and his other childhood friends.  No matter how desperately the people involved would like things to return "normal," they must come to the realization that nothing will ever be the same.

Everything Everything focuses on Maddy, who has "Bubble Baby Disease" and has lived for years inside a sterile environment, having contact only with her physician mother and her nurse Carla.  Then Olly, a gorgeous boy with smooth parkour's moves, arrives next door and everything changes.  After flirting through the windows of their neighboring bedrooms, they connect via email and begin a secret relationship. Finally Carla, who realizes something's up, allows Olly to visit.  As they fall in love, Olly and Maddy struggle to find a way to be together. His abusive alcoholic father and her obsessively overprotective mother are seemingly insurmountable roadblocks to romance.Spot art, emails, instant messaging and medical charts, as well as Maddy's "Spoiler Alert" blog about the books she reads, make this a unique read, but it is the sympathetically quirky characters, that make this story so compelling.

In Awake, Scarlett Garner does not remember the first four years of her life, until a car accident triggers strange dreams about the past. Her adoptive parents are very evasive and try to explain away her visions of a burning building and a girl named Evelyn. At the same time she falls for Noah, a new student at her school, who unbeknownst to her, has been sent by a cult called Eternal Life to abduct her so she can be sacrificed for their eternal salvation.  The story is told in alternating chapters from Scarlett and Noah's perspectives, so the reader knows his true motivations long before Scarlett. Against his better judgement Noah falls in love with Scarlett, complicating his desire to follow the cult's orders. Unwisely agreeing to take a weekend trip with Noah, Scarlett ends up the cult's prisoner, where her biological parents greet her with open arms and unfinished business.  As her memories become clearer, she realizes that escape is her only hope for staying alive. The story is filled with suspense and romance, as the reader wonders what will happen when she discovers Noah's betrayal and whose side he will ultimately take.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Romantic YA Reads for Summer

When it comes to romantic teen reads, Sarah Dessen seems to be a genre in and of herself. So many books are marketed for "fans of Sarah Dessen" or as Sarah Dessen type reads.  Readers can always count on her for sympathetic characters, witty dialogue and  exploration of compelling teen issues.  Well, Sarah Dessen, who has slowed down considerably since becoming a mom,  has published a new book!  This month I will be recommending Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, as well as other romantic reads that are similar in tone. In  Saint Anything  Sydney, whose older brother has been sent to jail for a drunk driving accident, struggles to deal with the family dysfunction that follows. Adi Alsaid (Let's Get Lost) has just come out with a new novel called Never, Always, Sometimes, which is about Dave and Julia, best friends who take their relationship to the next level.  Kasie West's The Fill-In Boyfriend explores the repercussions when high school senior Gia is dumped by her college boyfriend in the parking lot at prom and randomly asks a stranger, who witnesses her humiliation, to pose as her date. Lara Avery's A Million Miles Away focuses on identical twin Kelsey, whose sister Michelle dies in a car accident.  When Kelsey tries to break the news to Michelle's boyfriend in Afghanistan, he mistakes her for Michelle and she can't bring herself to tell him the truth.

Saint Anything introduces 16-year-old Sydney whose brother Peyton has always been the focus of the family's attention and has everything going for him; however, he seems bent on self-destruction. Finally, after injuring another teen in a drunk driving accident, Peyton lands in jail.  Sydney, who has always lived in his shadow at the private school they attend, decides to transfer to public school for a fresh start. After her first day at the new school, she stops by a pizza parlor where she meets fellow students Layla and Mac, whose father owns the shop.  Layla immediately sweeps Sydney into her world and Mac becomes Sydney's secret crush.  In their mother, she discovers a person she can talk to who will listen, unlike her own mother whose entire focus is on Peyton and his incarceration. Sydney's family is a dysfunctional mess, with her mom constantly meddling in Peyton's life and her father immersing himself in work.  Layla and Mac's family also has its problems, with their sister struggling with drug problems and their mother battling MS, but instead of being torn apart, their family has drawn closer.  The contrast between the two families and Sydney's problems with unwanted attention from one of Peyton's friends add tension to the story.  Although Sydney becomes romantically involved with Mac, her friendship with Layla is really the heart of the narrative. Dessen fans will not be disappointed.

Never, Always, Sometimes is a refreshing new offering from the author of Let's Get Lost, which was one of my favorite reads last year.  As freshmen, best friends Dave and Julia agreed to avoid high school cliches and made a "Never" list, including #10 Never date your best friend.  But as "senioritis" hits, they decide to break ALL the rules.  Little does Julia know that Dave has been in love with her since freshman year and is filled with trepidation about #10.  To complicate matters Dave has just starting seeing sporty, popular Gretchen, whom he really likes, and artistic impetuous Julia seems to be jealous. As they break one rule after another, Dave and Julia begin to realize that by skipping the cliches they were missing out on a lot of the fun of high school.  Their banter-filled relationship contains many poignant moments, keeping readers in suspense as to whether romantic love will blossom between the two.

The Fill-In Boyfriend takes the familiar tale of a shallow girl who finds depth through adversity and creates a sweet romantic read filled with witty dialogue and cringe worthy humor.  Gia Montgomery is a self absorbed high school senior who is constantly seeking social media approval.  She arrives at prom with Bradley, the college boyfriend she has been bragging about, but her friends have never met.  Disgusted by her superficial worries about showing him off, he breaks up with her in the prom parking lot.  This is witnessed by Hayden, whom Gia quickly enlists as a "fill-in Bradley." Hayden performs admirably and then disappears.  But Gia finds herself fantasizing about a real relationship with him.  Luckily, his sister Bec, a new student in Gia's history class, asks her to return the favor and pose as Hayden's new girlfriend to make his ex jealous.  Predictably, Gia and Hayden feel a mutual attraction, but trouble ensues when the truth comes out. Although Gia is at first annoyingly self-centered, her journey to self-discovery through her relationship with Hayden and his family is an enjoyable ride.

A Million Miles Away explores the topic of dealing with a sibling's death through a compellingly unique story.  Twin sisters Kelsey and Michelle look identical, but their personalities are polar opposites.  Kelsey is the dance team captain with a steady boyfriend and Michelle is a free-spirited artist with a steady stream of flings, the latest being Peter, a soldier recently deployed to Afghanistan. When Michelle dies in a car accident, Kelsey tries to tell Peter about her death; but when she skypes with him, he mistakes her for Michelle and tells her getting back to her is what he is living for. Kelsey can't bring herself to tell him the truth.  As she continues the subterfuge, she finds comfort in impersonating Michelle and begins falling for Peter.  Wondering what will happen when Peter finds out the truth will keep readers turning the pages.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Boulder Barnes and Noble Summer Kick Off

Barnes and Noble in Boulder is hosting a Summer Reading Kickoff Saturday June 6th at 11 AM.  I will be doing teen summer reading book talks at the event.  Although some of the books will include realistic novels dealing with serious issues, a fair number of my suggestions will be "summer escape reads," which, of course, include new fantasy books.  Here are a few I will be recommending.  Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard introduces a world split into two factions depending on blood color. Silvers are elites whose blood gives them supernatural powers and Reds are born to service and conscription. Dove Arising by Karen Bao is set on the Moon, which has been populated after wars and pollution make the earth almost uninhabitable. Undertow by Michael Buckley focuses on a race of ocean dwelling warriors, who are half fish and half human, who show up on the beach in Coney Island. Finally, From a Distant Star by Karen McQuestion involves an extraterrestrial who crashes to earth just in time to save a boy dying from cancer.

Red Queen introduces Mare Barrow, a lower caste thief living in a world of elite Silver bloods with magical powers and Reds who are born to conscription.  When Mare is taken to serve in the Silver castle, she unwittingly displays powers of her own, and the royals claim her as a long lost silver princess and betroth her to their younger son.  As she becomes a royal insider, she still conspires to help the Scarlet Rebellion, whose goal is to dismantle the caste system and put an end to the wars waged by the Silver royalty. The problems in the story reflect many of today's social issues including political corruption, ethnic and class inequality, pollution, warfare, and the power of the media to manipulate the truth. Of course, there are potential love interests for Mare, but these take a back seat to the action at this point in the trilogy.  With the book already optioned for a movie, and two sequels on the way, this is a hot YA read!

Dove Arising, focuses on Phaet, a young moon colonist who hopes to become a bio-engineer, but finds herself volunteering for the military when her mother is quarantined and she and her siblings need a means of earning money.  If Phaet can finish at the top of her class, she will earn enough to keep her family out of the "Shelter," a filthy, poverty stricken district.  Learning all she can from Wes, a boy who excels in their training exercises, Phaet struggles to save her siblings, free her mom and find meaning in the military life she never wanted. Discoveries of corruption in the government and a budding romance between Phaet and Wes will entice readers to pick up the sequel when it's available.

In Undertow a race of ocean dwelling Alpha warriors complicate Lyric Walker's life when they arrive on the beach near her home in Coney Island. Her mother is actually an Alpha who arrived with an exploratory party, married Lyric's dad and is now blending as an earthling.  When six Alpha youth integrate her high school, Lyric is recruited to help Fathom, the Alpha crown prince, assimilate. Little did she know she would fall for him just as violence breaks out between the Alphas and the group of townspeople who resent their arrival. Sinister government plots, warring Alpha factions and forbidden attraction make this a page turner that will leave readers anxiously awaiting the sequel.

From a Distant Star opens with high school senior Emma anticipating her boyfriend Lucas's death from cancer.  When he makes a miraculous recovery at the same time a UFO lands on his family farm, she is overjoyed but suspicious.  The recovered Lucas is nothing like the boy she knows and loves.  When Emma and Lucas's brother realize an alien has possessed and healed Lucas's body, they struggle to come up with a solution to get the alien home so that Lucas can re-emerge. Then government agents arrive asking questions, and she decides she and Lucas must escape their watchful eyes and find a way to figure things out on their own. This cross between E.T. and Starman is a fun summer read by the author of the Edgewood series.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Colorado Teen Lit Conference recommendations: The Alex Crow, Masterminds, and Tesla's Attic

The Colorado Teen Literature Conference in April featured Andrew Smith, author of Printz Honor Book Grasshopper Jungle, as the keynote speaker.  Predictably his talk was funny and irreverent, yet revealing, in his honesty about his road to becoming a published author.  Smith, who is being called "the spiritual heir to Kurt Vonnegut," also spoke about his latest book, The Alex Crow. As with his first book, his latest is provocative and profane. The tale blends multiple story lines which include an adopted refugee, a schizophrenic bomber and 19th century explorers on a failed expedition. Other books highlighted at the conference that I would like to recommend include Gordon Korman's Masterminds, the first book in a new series about clones, and Eric Elfman and Neal Shusterman's Tesla's Attic, the first in a series about a boy who finds Nikola Tesla's last magical inventions in the attic of his new house.

The Alex Crow focuses on Ariel, a refugee from an unnamed country, who is adopted by an American family. Ariel and his adoptive brother Max are sent to the Merrie-Seymour camp for boys with technology addictions, solely because their dad works for the company and it's free. His adoptive dad works for the Alex Division which experiments with resurrecting extinct animals and creating biodrones (beings with surveillance chips in their heads).  The boys at the camp seem to be somehow involved with his research. Flashbacks chronicle Ariel's journey which includes periods of tagging along with soldiers in his war torn nation, as well as time spent among abusive teens in a refugee camp. Meanwhile, Lenny, a weird guy who hear voices which prompt him to do violent things, is transporting a truck load of bombs to the camp. Finally, chapters chronicling the story of the first scientists in the Alex division, who are exploring the Arctic in the 19th century and experimenting with "de-extinction," are interwoven.  When the story lines finally come together, they evoke an intriguing statement about society, extinction, and life itself.  This book is only recommended for mature high school readers.

Masterminds takes place in idyllic Serenity, New Mexico, population-185, where all the adults are employed, the children are well-behaved, and the community members are congenial.  However, when 13-year-old Eli and his buddy Randy try to leave town on a lark, Eli is paralyzed with pain and nausea. After Eli recuperates, he finds Randy is being sent away, the factory which employs most of the townsfolk is a sham, and their internet is sanitized, excluding anything unpleasant.Telling the tale from alternating points of view, Eli and his friends Tori, Hector, and Malik begin to investigate the sinister happenings in Serenity, unraveling a mystery that shows the whole town is a gigantic lie. The truth about the kids' parentage threatens their very lives.  Their attempted escape is action packed and lays the groundwork for the sequel.  Middle level readers will find this a real page turner.

Tesla's Attic, the first book in the Accerlerati Trilogy, introduces Nick who has moved with his younger brother and father to a Victorian house they inherited after their home burns down, killing his mother.  Wanting to move into the attic, Nick has a garage sale to get rid of all the junk stored up there.  But this is not ordinary junk. The reel-to reel player records what is said but plays back what the speaker is thinking.  The See 'n Say predicts the future and the wet-cell electrodes can reanimate dead insects.  Nick and his new friends Caitlin and Vincent investigate and discover the  objects are Nikola Tesla's last inventions that have magical properties. When mysterious men show up looking for the objects, the kids decide they have to get the objects back. The men are from a secret society of physicists, the Accerlerati, who want to stop the kids and use the objects for their own devious plans. Plausible scientific explanations for the fantastic happenings add to the fun of this gadget filled mystery. Middle level readers will look forward to the next installment of this fast paced series.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Historical Fiction: Catch Ya Later Traitor, The War that Saved My Life, and I'm Glad I Did

Reading historical fiction is my favorite way to learn history, but it is generally a tough sell with young readers. Colorado author Avi, who has been more successful than most in this field, has a new book Catch You Later, Traitor, which is about the Red Scare in the United States during the 1950s. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has written a lovely WWII story, The War that Saved My Life, about two British children who find love when they are evacuated from London and end up with a grieving recluse. Grammy award winning songwriter Cynthia Weil, fictionalizes elements from her past in her debut novel I'm Glad I Did. These well-researched new novels offer up delectable bites of history, filled with rich period detail, as well as suspense.

 Catch You Later Traitor introduces Pete Collison, a seventh grader in Brooklyn 1951, who becomes an outcast when his father is suspected of being a Communist sympathizer.  Even his best friend Kat is forbidden from associating with him and an FBI agent is trying to get him to divulge family secrets.  Pete, a fan of hard-boiled detective stories, decides to take matters into his own hands to find out about his father's past and discover who would inform on him.  There are several elements to the book that are historically significant, one being the information about the Red Scare.  Another subplot involves the Dodgers' and Giants' rivalry and their famous playoff game.  Pete's hero, Sam Spade, was created by Dashiell Hammet, who was jailed for refusing to testify against communist friends.  Throughout the book there are digressions where Pete mentally rewrites mundane observations with hard-boiled hyperbole.  This element of the book could be a wonderful teaching tool for a mystery unit and really ramps up the suspense.

The War that Saved My Life by the author of Jefferson's Sons takes place in London during WWII. Ada, who was born with a clubfoot, has been imprisoned by her abusive mother in their one room apartment her whole life.  She longs for the freedom enjoyed by her younger brother Jamie, but her mother, who is embarrassed by Ada's disability hides her away. When the British government decides children should be evacuated from London, Ada sneaks out to accompany Jamie to the countryside where they are taken in by Susan Smith, a grieving recluse. Ada flourishes in this new environment where not only is she allowed outside, but she also teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, searches for German spies and discovers what it's like to be loved.  Although at first Susan is not sure she wants the responsibility, she learns to loves the children who give her a reason to get on with her life after a devastating loss. But will the kids' vindictive mother turn up and reclaim them, returning Ada to a life of emotional and physical abuse?

Cynthia Weil and her husband, who wrote alongside Carole King at the Brill Building, are known for writing such songs as "On Broadway," and "You've Lost that Loving Feeling" among others.  Having recently seen the musical Beautiful based on King's life, I couldn't wait to read Weil's  I'm Glad I Did, which, although not specifically autobiographical, incorporates a lot of Weil's insider knowledge about the songwriting business in the 60's. The summer of 1963 in NYC finds aspiring songwriter JJ Green accepting an internship in the Brill Building at Good Music Publishing.  Her parents, who want her to become a lawyer, have agreed she can pursue a songwriting career if she gets a song published by summer's end.  Enter Luke Silver, a boy with instant connection to her music and Dulcie Brown, a fabulous, but troubled, black singer who is now a Brill Building custodian.  Dulcie has just the right voice for JJ's music and Luke's lyrics, but before they can record their song, Dulcie is murdered. JJ and Luke, determined to find the culprit, discover shocking revelations about her music industry mogul uncle and Luke's father, who was his former partner, as well a the music industry itself.  Weil's eye for 60s detail and incorporation of historical figures such as Medgar Evers and Bob Dylan, make this romantic murder mystery something special.  Although the first two books are fine for middle level readers, I'm Glad I Did is more appropriate high school readers and adults.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Realistic Fiction: Mosquitoland, My Heart and Other Black Holes, The Unlikely Hero of Room 13b, and Every Last Word

With readers experiencing dystopian novel genre fatigue and YA films such as The Fault in Our Stars doing well at the box office, there is a new enthusiasm for realistic young adult novels with quirky main characters.  This year's most popular Sundance Film Festival film, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, based on a YA novel by Jesse Andrews, won both the grand jury and the audience award. The Duff, another YA film, based on a novel by Kody Keplinger, is a box office hit as well. This month I would like to recommend several new realistic YA novels that may soon be making it to the silver screen. Mosquitoland by David Arnold chronicles a teen's odyssey from Mississippi to Cleveland and the odd assortment of characters she meets along the way.  My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga tells the story of two teens who meet on a suicide website.  The Unlikely Hero Of Room 13B by Teresa Toten introduces Adam Spencer Ross, a teen plagued by OCD, who finds himself trying protect those his loves. Finally, Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, also explores the life of an OCD suffer who is trying to cope.

After several reviewers mentioned Mosquitoland as a "must read,"  I took a leap and was not disappointed by the oddball road trip story narrated by a wacky heroine in episodic chapters interspersed with flashbacks and letters addressed to the mysterious Isabel. Fifteen-year-old  Mim, whose parents divorced, moves with her father and step-mom from Cleveland to Mississippi, aka Mosquitoland. When she finds out her mother is sick, Mim steals money, hops a Greyhound bus and begins a thousand mile adventure to see her mom.  Along the way she meets a variety of offbeat characters, including Beck, an older boy on whom she has a crush, and Walt, a homeless boy with Down's syndrome, who end up accompanying her on her quest. As the truth is gradually revealed about her mother's illness, the identity of Isabel and Mim's fragile mental health, the reader is endlessly entertained by Mim's humorous musing and reflections on the life lessons she is learning.

In My Heart and Other Black Holes, 16-year-old physics nerd Aysel meets good-looking athletic Roman on a suicide website.  Haunted and ostracized because her father brutally killed one of her classmates in his convenience store, Aysel decides she can't go on.  She enters into a suicide pact with Roman, who is guilt ridden over his sister's drowning death a year earlier.  Together they plan their date with death, but as they get to know one another, Aysel thinks there might be a reason to reconsider their plans. She decides "he is no long the person I want to die with; he's the person I want to be alive with."  These two depressed teens' journey is filled with poignant realizations, as Aysel struggles to convince Roman to take a chance on healing through a future together. The author, who was impacted by a friend's suicide, includes a note urging teens with suicidal thoughts to seek help from a list of suicide hotlines and prevention websites, which is provided.

Adam Spencer Ross, The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, is plagued by OCD.  He joins a support group where he meets and falls for Robyn Plummer.  Each member of the group must assume the role of a superhero, and Adam, who is constantly striving to protect his loved ones, decides as Batman, he can save Robyn.  As he struggles to overcome his ritualistic counting habits that derail his life,  he attempts to navigate the complexities of hiding his mother's hoarding habits, placating his half-brother who also has obsessive tendencies, and wooing Robyn, who may or may not need his help. Adam is smart, funny and sensitive, yet perceptive enough to realize the first person he needs to save may just be himself.  Winner of the 2013 Governor General's Award for Children't Literature in Canada, this book can be enjoyed by mature middle level and high school readers.

Although it won't be published until June 15th, I would like to also recommend another book focusing on a teen with OCD, Every Last Word.  Samantha McAllister masterfully hides her purely obsessional OCD, which is manifested by a stream of dark thoughts that she can't stop. Her friends in the popular mean girls group would turn on her if they knew about her problems.  Then Sam meets Caroline, who introduces her to the Poet's Corner, a tight-knit group of misfits who hide out at lunch and share their poetry and music.  Sam is particularly drawn to a guitar player whom she and her friends bullied mercilessly when they were in elementary school.  Gone is his stuttering that made him an outcast, and she finds herself falling in love with him.  But now she must choose between her new friends and her lifelong attachment to the popular girls, whose friendships are quickly becoming a toxic element in her life.  The beautifully drawn characters and the poetry and music they share, as well as the surprising reveal near the end of the story, will keep readers eagerly turning the pages as they follow Sam's journey toward self-acceptance.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

2015 Blue Spruce Award winner and more

Cinder, the first book in Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, won this year's Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award.  This re-imagining of the Cinderella story set in a futuristic dystopian world introduces Cinder, a cyborg who is a gifted mechanic on a plague ridden planet which is under attack by  ruthless aliens led by Queen Levana.  When Cinder is called in to work on one of Prince Kai's droids, her life becomes intertwined with his, and she finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle and a forbidden romance. The sequel, Scarlet, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, introduces new characters, Scarlet and Wolf, to the tale and Cress, a retelling of Rapunzel, adds Cress and Thorn to the mix.  In January Fairest, a prequel that tells Queen Levana's story was released and the final book Winter will come out in November 2015.   If you haven't already enjoyed this series, you have some entertaining reading ahead.

The 2016 Blue Spruce nominees include three new fantasy series that I would highly recommend.  Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes paints a complex world where three kingdoms are vying for power, as Hawks known as Watchers survey the conflict from above. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch introduces Primoria, a world where the kingdom of Spring has defeated Winter and enslaved all but eight of the surviving Winterians. Those eight are hoping to regain the slain Winterian Queen's magic locket and restore her son to the throne. In The Winner's Curse Marie Rutkoski crafts a world of aristocrats and slaves, where a general's daughter falls in love with a slave with royal heritage.

In Falling Kingdoms three kingdoms, Auranos, Paelsia and Limeros, are struggling for supremacy. A prophecy foretells the birth of a powerful sorceress, ancient legend tells of a ring that provides mastery over the Kindred, four elemental crystals that give their owners god-like power, and Hawks oversee the struggles, hoping to find the Kindred and reclaim power for themselves. Cleo, an Auranian princess who sister is dying, travels to a dangerous land looking for magic to cure her. Jonas, a Paelsian rebel who brother was killed by Cleo's fiance, leads the people's revolution in that land  and is looking for revenge.  Prince Magnus and his sister Lucia live in Limeros where people are plotting to overthrow Cleo's father, who temporarily is in control. War is on the horizon and these four young people are caught in the middle of it.  A quest to find the Kindred, as well as the sorceress who can control all the elements ensues.  As the book draws to a close there are many tantalizing questions left unanswered. Rebel Spring and Gathering Darkness, the next two books in the six book series are available.  Fans of complex fantasy series will want to read all six.

Snow Like Ashes finds Meira, an orphan who is a Winterian warrior-in-training, in hiding with six other warriors and Prince Mather, the heir to the throne. Meira is in love with Mather, but is deemed unworthy to be his queen. Sixteen years prior to the opening of the book, King Angra of the kingdom of Spring defeated the kingdom of Winter, enslaved its people and stole the Royal Conduit, a locket used by Winter's female ruler to magically aid her country. Meira is able to reclaim half the locket from its hiding place (the other half is around King Angra's neck) but leads Spring scouts back to the Winterian camp. The refugees must flee to the kingdom of Cordell where Meira meets the delightful Prince Theron and discovers she has been betrothed to him in exchange for Cordell's help in killing King Angra.  There is a dramatic twist at the end that is both believable and unpredictable and will leave readers clamoring for the sequel Ice Like Fire which is due in 2015.

The Winner's Curse is the first book in the Winner's Trilogy. When Kestrel, the daughter of an Valorian general, buys Arin, a handsome Herrani slave, at an auction, she is not quite sure what motivated her to do so.  She soon finds that Arin is cultured, musically gifted, and involved in plotting a Herrani uprising. As they spend more and more time together, they cannot deny their mutual attraction. Tables turn when the Herranis take over the city and Kestrel becomes Arin's prisoner. She uses her skills as a military strategist and gambler in a risky plot to free herself and negotiate peace. The satisfying ending allows this book to be read as a stand alone; however, unfinished elements of the love story will entice readers to pick up The Winner's Crime which comes out in March 2015.

To read about the rest of the 2016 Blue Spruce nominees go to