Book review: Julia Defiant, by Catherine Egan

Egan, Catherine.  Julia Defiant. (Witch’s Child series, #2) Alfred A. Knopf, 2017.  ISBN 978-0-553-53335-4.  $17.99.  445 pages.  Ages 14 and up.  Q8P8

The second in the Witch’s Child series.  This book expanded on the story line of Julia’s talents and the mystery of her apparent value to others in power.  The setting changes to an Asian feel as Julia and her friends try to find the magician who cursed the little boy Julia betrayed in book 1. A new character is introduced – Julia finds a sneak thief who seems to be as talented as she is at going unnoticed without her ability to disappear.  Together they try to find the magician and in doing so move further along toward solving Julia’s own mystery.

Verdict:  A great second novel in the series. It kept me engrossed.

October 2017 review by Terri Lippert.

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Book review: Julia Vanishes, by Catherine Egan

Egan, Catherine.  Julia Vanishes. (Witch’s Child series, #1) Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.  ISBN 978-0-553-52484-0.  $17.99.  375 pages.  Ages 14 and up.  Q8P8

A new spin on witches in a 19th century setting.  These witches have to write their spells for them to work.  Needless to say, all forms of writing and tools of writing have been banned.  Can you imagine?  I cannot, but thankfully Catherine Egan did.  Julia, the main character, is the child of a witch, yet isn’t a witch.  Julia has her own special ability to move between planes of existence and this ability makes her dearly sought after by the most powerful beings of all.  Julia finds herself friends and allies with her would be victims (she’s a thief) and finds herself on a journey of self-discovery to save a little boy she betrayed.

Verdict:  A great new twist on witches and their powers!  A fast-paced, fun to read book.  I look forward to the next book!

October 2017 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Mask of Shadows, by Linsey Miller

Miller, Linsey.  Mask of Shadows. “Advanced Reader’s Copy.” Sourcebooks Fire, 2017.  ISBN 978-1-4926-4749-2.  352 pages. Ages 14 and up.  Q7P8

A very fast paced medieval-ish fantasy novel with a heroine/hero!  She/he is gender fluid and while this confused me at first, the author does an excellent job at keeping the gender neutral. The nature of gender fluidity works extremely well for the part played in the novel.  Sal is a trained assassin for the queen and can assume any character needed to be successful at the job.  We experience Sal’s training and successes as an assassin.  Included is a nongraphic romance between two people who love each other not for how they look or their gender, but for who they are.

I give a quality 7 because of the slight confusion caused by the gender fluidity (I’m not sure this could have been achieved in a more understandable manner) and because I found myself flipping back in the book to confirm facts the story was based on, but not explained sufficiently for me to understand.  Love the art work on the cover!

Verdict:  An exciting fantasy novel with a non-gendered spin to stretch our minds and help us understand and accept their differences.

October 2017 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: The Black Witch, by Laurie Forest

Forest, Laurie. The Black Witch. Harlequin Teen, 2017. $19.99. ISBN 9780373212316. 601 pgs. Ages 13+. P8Q7.

I bought and read this book because of the extremely negative reviews I read on goodreads.com. Various reviewers trashed the book, noting racist, homophobic, and sexist themes. I found these criticisms to be very off base and simplistic. In fact, by the time I finished the book, I wondered if those reviewers had finished the book.

The novel is set in a conflicted society with a complicated history, mythology, political and social structure. Various races and ethnic groups are discriminated against (even enslaved), and the Gardnerians are the ruling class. Elloren Gardner, the granddaughter of the infamous Black Witch, was raised by her uncle, who sheltered her from the harsh realities of their culture and history. Elloren’s uncle ostensibly sends her to university to study apothecary arts- the reality is that he is trying to save her from being wand-fasted (having a marriage arranged for her). At university, the naïve Elloren is immediately brought face to face with people she always thought were dangerous and inferior. Through much of the book (about the first three quarters), Elloren is a very unpleasant person. Her attitudes are racist, and she behaves like a privileged snob. However, she begins to see that the Gardnerian attitudes towards outsiders are wrong, and that she doesn’t want to be that kind of person. In fact, she becomes outraged and wants to change the situation. As Elloren clumsily navigates these moral issues, tries to understand why people think she will be the next Black Witch, and maneuvers to avoid being married off by her evil aunt, she falls in with a group of progressive, open-minded, diverse people. I think the discussions in this book about racism and homophobia, as well as the frightening political changes happening in the society, are extremely timely and pertinent to American readers. It was good to see Elloren’s attitudes change as she developed as a character, though it seemed like it took a very long time for her to get there. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

VERDICT: I thought this was a reasonably well written first book, a respectable YA fantasy story, an interesting magical world setting, and a strong effort to make readers think about racism and discrimination of all types.

September 2017 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi

Mafi, Tahereh. Furthermore. Dutton’s Children Books, 2016. 401 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-101-99476-4. Gr. 4+. Q8 P8

Life for Alice is horrible. Her world is full of color and magic, but Alice has neither color nor magic. She thinks that her mother hates her and the students of her school do too. The date where all the students in her class must show their talents to the city is fast approaching. This is a very important event that establishes what your job will be in the future. This is another problem for Alice because along with no magic she has no talent. The day of the ceremony, Alice is prepared but she fails, truly fails. When Oliver asks her to go on a journey to find her father she jumps at the chance. They go through doors that lead them to other places that are steeped in magic, have different rules, and other trap doors to fall through. Each place, some vibrant with life, others in the clouds and some with just very difficult beings but through it all they get closer to finding her father.

Verdict: A story that at times felt like Alice in Wonderland. Though all of this I and hopefully other readers will come to realize, as Alice did, that being yourself and being different is okay.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Wonder Woman: Warbringer, by Leigh Bardugo

Bardugo, Leigh. Wonder Woman: Warbringer. (DC Icons series) “Advance Reader’s Copy.” Random House, release date August 29, 2017. $18.99. ISBN 9780399549731. [384 pages.] Ages 14+. P8Q7

Veteran YA fantasy author Leigh Bardugo takes on the Wonder Woman saga from the point of view of an 18-year-old, bullied Amazon princess curious about the world outside her secluded and protected island home.  When Princess Diana ducks out of an important race to rescue shipwrecked Alia Keralis, she breaches the island’s protections and faces exile, taking on the quest to avert the doom carried by the Warbringer—Alia, a descendent of Helen of Troy.  Combining Greek mythology with modern technology and teen snarkiness, Bardugo succeeds in making Wonder Woman a believable teenager.

Verdict:  Recommended for young adult collections in high school and public libraries.

May 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Duskfall, by Christopher Husberg

Husberg, Christopher.  Duskfall.  (Chaos Queen Quintet, book 1.)  Titan Books,  2016.  $14.95.   ISBN 978-1-783-299-157.  560 pages.  Ages.  Q8P8

I was hooked with “Book One of the Chaos Queen Quintet” on the cover.  I love fantasy and apparently Queens creating chaos.  The main storyline is of the heroine, Winter, and her newly discovered ability to move objects with her mind and the people who are after her because of this ability.  Or, is it the story of Knot, the man who has become her husband, but remembers nothing of his life before he was rescued by her people and has the skills of ten different people with no knowledge of learning them.  Add to their storylines two sisters, one of whom is a priestess and the other the leader of a heretical rebellion of the same religion, who are driven to translate a long lost scripture, which may prove the heretic is correct and a child vampire drawn to helping Knot without knowing why; and you have a trio of paths drawn together.  The author is able to separate and conjoin all three paths simultaneously while making each one individual and highly complex (Winter is a Tiellan and her people are severely oppressed by humans) in addition to creating a believable world with its own prejudices and governmental instability.  Not to mention we are 560 pages in and the Chaos Queen has only been vaguely alluded to!  Last, but not least, the characters aren’t generic hero/heroine, but all have their own character flaws which make them so much more realistic.  For example, Winter has a substance abuse problem the author is able to describe that makes me feel as though he’s had an addiction. I’m still hooked and can’t wait for the next book. Review from Advance Reader’s Copy.

Verdict:  Highly detailed unique fantasy novel for young adults.

June 2017 review by Terri Lippert.