A Fanfarade for YA Fantasy!

I’ve been fast and furiously reading a ton of YA novels, and there are two very distinct fantasy novels that have passed through my hands.  Here’s a short review of two of them:

34275232The Hazelwood by Melissa Albert  Flatiron Books, 2018

Alice is used to her quirky life with her mom.  Constantly moving, she has never really created roots.  But then her mother stops moving and finally Alice can take a breath, even though she must share her breathing room with a new family.

Alice never really knew anyone in her family, but she knows of them, especially her famous grandmother, who lives at the Hazelwood and is world famous for the only book she wrote: Tales from the Hinterland.  And now, Alice will need that book in order to find and rescue her mother….

This book isn’t any old and ordinary fairy tale book.  The tales spun in them are dark, brooding and dangerous, with the main characters in each tale more than likely to do harm than grant wishes.  She enlists the help of Ellery, a friend from school, to track down not only this dark and dangerous book, but to find the Hazelwood…

Only to find herself alone in the Hinterlands, coming face to face with the nightmare terrors the book describes….rescue or escape is now a possibility, not a fact…

Some may call this fantasy, while others may call it magical realism.  Whatever genre or sub-genre you call it, it’s still a great read that can definitely cross over beyond teens to adults.  Albert weaves a provocative tale that splits the real world the characters live in with the equally real world the others make a home. If your readers enjoyed Ransom Riggs Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, they will definitely enjoy this! Recommended for 9-12 grades.



Furyborn by Claire Legrand Sourcefire Books, 2018

Welcome to the world of Avitas, where wars for power and dominance take place.  Humans have finally, after years of bloody battle against angels, thwarted them behind powerful magic.  But that magic is slowly disintegrating….

Rielle has lived in the kingdom of Celdaria all of her life.  An appointed outcast by her father, she can be a threat to others with the power she possesses.  But harnessing fire is the only one that she is aware of.  It isn’t until assassins try to kill Celdaria’s prince, that her other latent powers come to the surface.  Now she must pass seven tests against her powers to be crowned queen, or die trying to establish the power she possessed.

A thousand years later, angels have begun to escape.  They invade human form and are now propelling their Undying Empire across the Great Ocean to Ventera, where Eliana lives.  Known as the Dread of Orline, Eliana lives for the hunt…and the kill. When girls and women in her town and nearby start to unpredictably vanish, Eliana’s focus is now to find her mother, with the help of a rebel leader, who remains mysterious and infuriating.

But what she and Simon uncover is far beyond her reckoning or imagination….

What a powerful first book in a series for this author!  She takes angels and makes them devils and the reader gets caught up in the magic of two different times in the same fantastical world.  Each chapter is told alternately by both strong female characters and soon the reader understands just how intricate and closely threaded Rielle and Eliana are.  Two queens, one prophecy.  This is an amazing fantasy for high school readers due to intimate relationships between the characters.  Recommended 9-12 grades.

BONUS:  Two different book trailers featuring both characters were created by the publisher.  This trailer describes the sun queen  while this second trailer describes the blood queen



A Heapin’ Helping of Non-Fiction

Living out in the country, there were a few fun things to do during the summer and one of them was to read.  We had all sorts of books, but I remember in particular a biography of the Red Baron, (Manfred von Richthofen, not the pizza) and became intrigued with non-fiction.

My love for non-fiction has never been quenched and I still read it and love it.  But what has changed in the format of non-fiction.  It’s more narrative and comes in hardcopy or graphic novel.  It comes as stand alones or in series.  It’s also disguised as great fiction too!

So here’s a list of non-fiction you should dive into this summer….so worth it (and you’ll learn a lot in the process!)


Brazen by Penelope Bagieu:  This is a great book that takes a unique approach to women in leadership roles.  Some you may have heard of, others perhaps not.  The author goes into details about women from history (Nzinga and Agnodice to name a few) to current (Betty Davis (the singer, not the actress) and Mae Jemison) to well-known names

(Peggy Gugenheim and Nellie Bly)If only all of the women

who kicked booty throughout history could have been added…


mary's monster

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge: While this is a

fictional account in novel in verse AND graphic

novel, this book is a must read.  Filled with beautiful images, that author takes the reader down a long, hard road along with Mary Shelley, who wanted to live a beautiful life in love but ended up being emotionally torn and pulled by the relationships she created.  Then along came her monster….




Devils highway


The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea:  I actually stumbled on this read through the Audiosync Summer reading series and boy, am I glad I did.  This is considered an adult non-fiction book, but definitely is on the forefront of current social issues in the US and one teens can enjoy.  The reader goes on a journey from Mexico to the US with a coyote, who smuggles over 20 men into the Arizona dessert…and where few come out alive.  The perspective is layered and the facts can be grim and difficult…altogether a fascinating read.



this is really


This is Really Happening by Erin Chack: This is an autobiography, but not just any autbiography.  This is one written by someone people may or may not know or follow, but who works for an online site most everyone has heard about:  Buzzfeed.  You have to be a unique writer to capture the attention of millions, and this is just what Erin has done.  She takes us through her life from before middle school to her life now and all of its ups and downs, from boyfriends to marriage, to cancer and friendship, all with that unique and humorous prose Buzzfeed is known for.  Short and sweet, a great read for teens and adults.


heart were young


Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner: I really should look up to see if Cornelia and her friend Emily are still alive, but I was sucked into their story of their escapades of the 1920s.  What is so unique about this book is that is was written over 76 years ago and details teenaged girls wanting the same independence, fun, and relationships teens want today.  Just another time period that can’t be “faked.”  You’re sitting front and center in this book to experience their lives unfold in very different but similar ways.  Great companion book to The Great Gatsby!

Get Over Your Fear of Fantasy by Jackie Son

Fantasy readsFor years, I have been an avid reader of realistic/ contemporary fiction. In fact, it’s pretty much all I read while growing up (save for the occasional historical fiction title that sneaked in or the classics I was given in high school English).

When we created genres for our library this year, I noticed that Realistic Fiction had met its match with Fantasy; shelf space is taking a nose dive. Not that I’m complaining, but I just couldn’t understand what the hype was all about.

I decided to go to the experts…teenagers. I am now in full-fangirl mode for fantasy. I recently realized (while stalking the shelves at Barnes and Noble) that there’s a reason I’ve historically stayed away from fantasy: have you SEEN the size of those books?! Not to mention that there are rows and rows of this genre (so many rows). It’s hard to know where to start… especially when the covers can look so similar (*insert a fierce protagonist on a dark cover, probably navy blue, hunter green, or black*). But change is good, and I’ve gotten into so many reading slumps, and I have found one of the best ways to break out of one is to break tradition. So, without further ado, here are my tips for diving into the wonderful world of fantasy!

1.) I Hear You:

If possible, try to get your hands on a physical copy AND the audiobook of your chosen title. If your school library doesn’t have Overdrive, your public library might. It’s definitely a more economical way to acquire audiobooks, but I’m also a fan of Audible (if it’s in your price range).

Here’s why: a lot of what happens at the beginning of a fantasy novel sets the reader up for: a.) world building and b.) a magic system. If you’ve never read fantasy and you start with a high-fantasy read, an audiobook can help (provided the narrator’s voice works for you) you get started. Hearing someone’s tone and inflection in those first few chapters gives you a baseline for the world, and it also clues you in to what might be important later.

2.) Split the Difference:

What I mean by this is…try a book that takes place in the real world and a different one. Think about it. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe start with the children leaving their city home for a countryside escape in the midst of WWII. Within no time, you’re in Narnia. Finding an entry point that’s in your comfort zone is what makes exploring fun.

3.) We’d Love to Double Date! 

Don’t fret if you start feeling a little overwhelmed (sometimes in the best way) with your fantasy read. Sometimes you just need a break. I recently started reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and this book… is an epic (literally) read and halfway through, I just needed a break! I picked up a book that (I thought) was completely different from TNotW, but you’d be surprised how fast you start to see parallels. I picked up The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, because what could be more antithetical to a high-fantasy read than a story about a glamorous Hollywood star from the 1950’s?!

Not. Much.

Both of these stories involve living legends whose life stories have remained elusive and borderline infamous over time. Their secrets would be lost, were it not for them telling their stories to a biographer (chronicler) throughout the entire book. The main characters are clever, cutthroat, unapologetic, and fiercely dedicated to telling the truth. I finished the latter title with a resurgence of excitement to dive back into Rothfuss’s opus.

4.) Safety in Numbers

The fantasy genre lends itself to series. It’s just the way it is; I don’t make the rules. And I can tell you this: if you spend that much time investing yourself into another world, with complex characters, and an incredible magic system (hello, Harry Potter), you will want more. Finding the right series and the right authors is almost another blog post entirely, but if you do your homework/ take a chance and find a series you enjoy, this will continuously challenge your conceptual, concrete limitations. Bottom line: the more time you spend in a variety of  worlds, the more comfortable you’ll be when you encounter a new one.

5.) The Kids Are Alright:

When I told my students that I was interested in trying fantasy, they were all-too eager to suggest titles. But, as anyone knows, you only get to make a first impression once. My students deliberated for days about my new TBR pile. They crafted only their favorites (“but nothing too crazy otherwise she’ll hate it”). They worked and worked on their list for me, and when it was all said and done, they not only had some of the best books I’ve read in a long time on the list, but they were excited to talk to me about it when I finished.

When I check out books to kids that I’ve really enjoyed, I make them promise to come talk to me about the book when they finish. This was some major role reversal… but I didn’t hate it. I came to work for a week D-Y-I-N-G to talk about The Raven Cycle with two of the girls who recommended it. Every day they’d rush into my office and I’d explode with, “I can’t even with Blue and Gansey! What is going to happen?!!!” They would grin and say, “I don’t know. Guess you’ll have to keep reading.” And then they’d skip off to calculus, proud of themselves for creating yet another fan.

It was so wonderfully frustrating. I was being book-talked to by seniors, but that has always been my dream. Talking to kids about books is one thing, talking with kids about books is another.

My students have loved creating TBR (to be read) piles for me, which is wonderful. It’s yielded student voice, collaboration, relationship building, book talking, gushing, “shipping” our very favorite characters, and hating the ones who are “literally THE WORST, Ms. Son”. But I think (for me) the best part has been how organic the whole experience has been, and it all stemmed just from me asking what they thought. There is value in being heard.

Don’t believe me? Ask them.

Summer Reading Challenge!

Ahhhhh….the sweet sense of freedom that summer provides is what makes this season such a popular one.  No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s….(did you finish the Pink Floyd’s iconic song?)

Another thing that happens is our reading habits change! FREEDOM!!  SO…instead of just giving another booklist with a bunch of titles, how about trying this list?  It has the freedom to read what you want (or even incorporate the “recommended reading” that happens) as well as making it a challenge to complete it.

But hey, whether you get to 10 or finish all twenty, here’s a lemonade salute for what you do accomplish!  It is summertime 🙂


 https://spark.adobe.com/page-embed.jsSummer Reading Challenge!

Great YA Books to Put in Your Library!

Yesterday, I had a workshop with YA librarians to share some great titles to add to their collection.  Here’s the pdf of the presentation along with a link to the ppt online 🙂  There are all STELLAR novels in all genres, including non-fiction!  Think about adding them as audiobooks and e-books too 🙂

ESC Region X booktalk April 2108ESC Region X booktalk April 2108

A Slice of Life: Great Realistic Fiction

I’ve been reading quite a bit and sometimes a quick review of great books from the same genres can help.  Here are a few recent ones that are excellent reads for young adults who enjoy reading realistic fiction:

Whole thing togetherThe Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares    2017, Delcorte Press

Sasha and Ray have never met, even though they live in the same house.  How can that be?  Ray’s mother and father’s ugly divorce left his mom with himself and his sisters, Emma (the oldest and most responsible); Mattie (the spoiled one); and Quinn (the calm middle child).  They live in the city, but always come back to the beach house every summer, every other weekend.  Ray’s father eventually remarried a woman who already had a daughter, Sasha.  And she and her family come to the beach house every summer, every other weekend.

Ray’s parents never, ever cross paths, although his sisters do spend time with both mom and dad.  Ray prefers the quiet life and stays with his mother, but on accidental meeting in the city with Sasha changes his entire perspective.  In the beach house both of them sleep between the same sheets, but never together.  They even work the same job every other week they’re there.  And even though they really don’t know each other, their lives are becoming more enmeshed…

Then comes the big news – Emma is getting married and wants both of her parents at a party her sisters are throwing for her.  She knows tensions and arguments always escalate with them, but for once, she’s hoping they’ll be civil.  One can always hope…

And at the end of the party, tragedy strikes is so many different ways, with one leaving the entire family reeling…  Words and actions regretted, time forever lost, and families torn apart.  Can what has become undone ever be put back together again?

This book is an excellent example of the reader connecting personally to so many of the characters.  Each one of the girls, Ray, and Sasha equally share the main character position where reader’s can read (or listen…excellent audiobook!) to their voices, experiences, and love for their family happen.  The beautiful setting lends itself to the plot of their lives.  You can’t help but begin reading this to experience it with them.  A step away from young adult lit to new adult lit, Brashares writes about a blended family with emotional detail that makes the novel all that more believable.  Excellent addition for grades 9-12.


All we can do is waitAll We Can Do is Wait by Richard Lawson            2018, Razorbill

Jason, Alexa, Scott, Skyler don’t know each other, but throughout the rest of this one day, their lives will intersect with both good and disastrous results.

Jason and Alexa come from a wealthy family in Boston.  While Jason is currently on his last boarding school admission (after going through quite a few already) his sister Alexa is getting ready to graduate from a prestigious one she’s attended for quite awhile.  That particular day, she goes to the office with some news and comes out with different news that alters her and her brother’s paths….

Scott is from a solid Irish family who has worked hard to get where they are.  One day, his life changes when he meets the girl he knows is his true love.  But with any relationship, it comes with bumpy roads.  His parents have plans for him to stay close to home and work in the business while Aimee, his girlfriend, is making plans to attend excellent schools to pursue her passion in theater.  Realizing his girlfriend will be leaving without, he tries his hardest to stay close, even to the point of smothering her.

Skyler lives with her older sister and her grandparents, who are currently visiting family in Cambodia.  Both sisters love each other, but sometimes Skyler hides things from Kate because she doesn’t want to hinder her sister’s life, full of college courses and a job.  But when one secret becomes too hard to hide, Kate steps in to protect and save her.  Now, Skyler’s protective sister has been taken from her and she feels a divide she thought she wanted but desperately wants back.

All of them are waiting in a hospital waiting room.  A bridge collapse has occurred and Jason and Alexa’s parents were on it.  So was Aimee and her friends, and Kate, coming back from work.  And as the teens wait, their conversations and actions create a comfort they’re searching for.  One by one they leave, but are they leaving someone they love behind?

An mazing book with details of each character’s lives that will leave the reader understanding not only more about what motivates them, but also what it was that altered their paths that day.  Coming from different life experiences and backgrounds, readers are sure to empathize with any or all of them, from the privileged to the working class, from a family of immigrants to even a surprise character that eventually gets caught up in the tragedy and story.  A beautiful story, all with different consequences.  Highly recommended for grades 9-12