Romanov by Nadine Brandes

40590407._SY475_I have always been fascinted by the Romanov family, especially the controversy surrounding Anastasia Romanov and if she survived or not.  Okay, Rasputin was another character in the Romanov family history that was equally was intriguing but not quite as much as the beautiful Anastasia.  So, when this book fell into my hands, I HAD to read it and I’m so glad I did!  The author did an excellent job in carrying on the controversy of Anastasia’s survival in a unique way that weaves fantasy and romance around it as well.  Excellent book!!  And here’s my vlog review on it!



Add these to your TBR list NOW!

First of all, I remember the first time I saw those three letters in email conversations and always wondered, “What does TBR mean?”  So I asked 🙂  And if you, like me, don’t know what it is, here’s the answer –  “To Be Read.”  We ALL have that list, be it by our bedside, our coffee table, or our desk (hey, even the dining room table or your device!)  and I wanted to share a few titles I’ve recently read that should be on that list!

grim loveliesGrim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd.  2018, HMH Books for Young Readers

Modern day Paris is filled with witches, goblins, Pretties, and beasties.  But these witches wear Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Prada.  Ruled by the Royal Court, they have been given designated parts of Paris, including the humans (Pretties) living in them.  Mada Vittora is the most powerful and influential of the witches and she has made beasties to serve her, including Anouk her servant, Cricket the thief, Luc the apothecary, Beau the chauffeur and  Hunter Black, the mercenary.

But after one evening spent with the royals, Mada Vittora is found dead, and the beasties only have 48 hours until they turn back to their original forms.  But news of the death gets out through scryboards, crows, and the Haute (magical community), and Viggo, Mada Vittora’s boy, is set on revenge.  The only thing left for the beasties to do is seek asylum and help from Vittora’s enemy, Mada Zola.  But can she be trusted?  She is a witch…

This is a beautiful, dark, and fantastical book that creates a Paris that is dangerous, alluring, and grim.  The main character, Anouk, juxtaposes the setting with her purity and naivete, which the reader sees slowly dissolves as reality sets in.  The author left nothing and everything to the imagination from the spells cast to the tongues the witches use to cast the spells, to the history of the Haute and more.  Read this NOW, or at least put it at the top of your TBR pile!  Highly recommended for JH/HS

new kid

New Kid by Jerry Craft. 2019, Harper Collins

There is nothing Jordan loves more than drawing.  What he wants is to go to an art school, but his parents decide he needs to go to an Riverdale Academy Day School, which is a far cry from his Washington Heights neighborhood.  His first day there as a sixth grader, Jordan sees that he’s one of very few students of color and feels more out of place that ever.  He wants out.

But his parents tell him that time and patience can change things and so he must stick out the bus rides that have five stops before he gets to school, the bully who won’t stop bothering him, the teacher who seems biased, and trying to understand why pink shorts are so cool.

Eventually,  Jordan finds himself enjoying his new school and friends, but now doesn’t know where he fits in – is he Washington Heights Jordan or Riverdale Day School Jordan?

Jerry Craft does an amazing job presenting, in graphic novel format, a struggle that many kids find themselves in.  This is such a perfect book for junior high (and high school!) not only for its content and graphic novel popularity, but also in the characters, which are highly relatable.  Highly recommended for JH/HS.




shadow stateShadow State by Elyse Brayden.  2018, MacMillan.  

Brynn Caldwell is  an excellent student.  She excels in academics, paticularly science, which isn’t so unusual because her mother is a top science in a major pharmaceutical company and her father sits on the National Symphony Orchestra, a genius in his own right. But all it took was one bad semester….

Brynn suffered from acute depression and her grades, and friends, and her boyfriend abandoned her.  She is also having unusual flashbacks of being tied up in a room, a man’s voice…something she swears she’s never experienced before.

And now, her mother is being feted at a gala for creating a breakthrough medication, Cortexia, that allows soldiers coming back  from war with PTSD, to deal with their symptoms better through altering memories, feelings and emotions in a suggestive state.  But someone is out to sabotage the company and the drug, and it all involves Brynn…

Fast-paced YA action thriller at its best!  The premise for the novel lends itself to a mystery, although readers may be able to piece together the clues, but it still has an explosive ending.  Highly recommended for HS.


soul keepersThe Soul Keepers by Devon Taylor.  2018, Swoon Reads.

Rhett just watched himself die.  At first he was in a state of shock and confusion, but then Basil Winthrop shows up and tells him the Harbinger is about to pick them up and not to dawdle.

And what is the Harbinger?  It is a massive sea vessel that contains the souls of the dead that need to be ferried as well as place to protect them.  The crew members, known as syllektors, are VERY aware of psychons, who eat souls to stay alive.  The most dangerous missions are when Rhett and his small group of crewmates must collect souls, and possibly run into these monsters.

But Rhett is different, he was told by Urcena, the most dangerous leader of the psychons, that he is the Twice-Born Son.  And she wants him to find his power.  Once he does, she will come for it and him.  And the battle for the protection of souls begins.

This fantasy relies heavily on good vs. evil, but the best thing about it are that these aren’t angels and demons.  There is no heaven or hell.  There is the Harbinger and there is nothing.  The author did an amazing job of creating a world based on age old theme of good v. evil in such a fantastic, phantasmagoric way.  Recommended for HS.

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


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.