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  • Gravenwood: The Conjurer Fellstone Book Two

    by Marjory Kaptanoglu

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: At its start, the second volume of Kaptanoglu's Conjurer Fellstone trilogy might throw off readers who haven't recently finished the series' first book, as the story opens in media res, and Kaptanoglu's re-introductions of her characters and storylines come on the fly. But once readers catch up -- around the time friends Ash and Calder bust up the surprise wedding of Lady Tessa  -- the storytelling is clear and exciting. Kaptanoglu is adept at structuring a multi-perspective narrative with compelling end-of-chapter hooks that keep readers reading. She plots shrewdly, nesting quests within quests and mysteries within mysteries, keeping the story exciting while still finding time to lay bare the hearts of her heroes. She's especially good at setting up puzzles whose solutions, once sprung on the readers, prove delightful.

    Prose/Style: Kaptanoglu's prose is crisp and purposeful, charged with feeling, and always attuned to what will engage readers in each moment. Occasionally, though, her descriptions could be more clear or detailed. For example, when Ash and Calder enter a crypt to steal a powerful magic item, the novel focuses on the dialogue between the heroes at the expense of atmosphere or tension.

    Originality: As a fantasy of quests and intrigue and battles of dynastic succession, Gravenwood is situated within quite familiar territory. Kaptanoglu, though, imbues the familiar with fresh urgency. Her inventions are unique and resonant, such as the mother whose use of a magic amulet has left her tragically believing that she is a bird. While fantastical, that situation gets treated here with an aching emotional realism. Kaptanoglu takes great care, when creating her inventive wonders, to connect them to both real human feeling and to the weird essence and logic of folklore.

    Character Development: While a twisty adventure narrative and a succession of daring escapes keeps the story moving along, Gravenwood’s hallmark is the strong, intimate bonds between its unlikely trio of heroes. The plot turns on Lady Tessa losing her throne, but the book's heart is in the heroes' efforts to restore the mind of her enchanted mother. Tessa's anguish at her (apparent) failure to save a dying man is moving, as is her and gravedigger Ash's dedication to each other, a love that both understand doesn't quite fit into their lives.

  • Blind Journey

    by Donald Burge

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Donald Burge's Blind Journey is a crisp, exciting, thoughtful historical adventure novel that follows a blind, nameless  goatherd and his brother Zizi from their raided desert village to Damascus and then Jerusalem. The boys face desert cats, imprisonment by nomadic bands, and dehydration, situations that Burge dramatizes with suspense and a refreshing realism -- the boys are brave, but they're not action heroes. As the boys flee raiders, they discover purpose in a rumor they've heard: that a prophet in Jerusalem can restore sight to the blind. Burge offers tantalizing glimpses of people and events familiar from the Gospels, but the story's heart is always on its protagonists, who must make their own way, using their own faculties, through a world long lost to us. Burge also shrewdly avoids charges of "ableism" by demonstrating throughout his story that the protagonist's blindness is a difference rather than a wound to be healed.

    Prose/Style: Burge excels at clear, engaging action and convincing, revealing dialogue. That's crucial, because the novel's narrator is blind and cannot describe what his world looks like, so its revealed to us through the other senses. Often, Burge finds possibilities in the lack of physical description; at times, though, the prose becomes thin, with just dialogue and brusque statements of action. The prose in the opening chapter is not especially inviting, and there accounts of the protagonist's actions are often cluttered with extra clauses and phrases. The prose will grow leaner in later chapters, and the narrator will increasingly confide to the reader in compelling direct address, which greatly enriches the storytelling.

    Originality: Historical fiction set against the backdrop of the crucifixion of Jesus is not especially new. But Burge invests the material with vigor, heart, and wisdom, and the author wisely avoids letting divine intervention solve his characters' problems. The novel's suspense, in many ways, centers on whether the boys will meet the prophet -- and whether this is the kind of book in which miracles occur. That's unique and fascinating.

    Character Development: The narrator is a strong, stirring creation, a young man who has developed courage and skill despite having essentially been outcast in his village. The boys triumph over their trials but only at great cost. The book's climax is no battle or glimpse of divinity; it's the protagonist discovering how his years as a goatherd have given him a skill that can secure him his place in the world -- and do some good.

    Blurb: This thoughtful and exciting historical novel seamlessly weaves the daring desert-crossing journey of a blind goatherd and his brother with readers' knowledge of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The adventure is crisply written, always exciting, and richly evocative of desert life and ancient ways of thinking. The suspense lies in the fascinating question of whether this brutally realistic novel will or will not build to an encounter with the "Hebrew prophet" the boys have heard can restore sight to the blind.

  • The Paris Affair

    by Susanne Dunlap

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: In two earlier novels, Theresa Schurman, the Viennese violinist/sleuth who passes herself off as a man for the chance to play music professionally, has solved mysteries in the age of Haydn and Mozart. Now, at age 18, she's dispatched to Paris by Emperor Joseph II to observe and suss out a potential court conspiracy against Marie Antoinette. Schurman's undercover adventures in pre-revolutionary Paris encompass a stay in a marvelously described brothel, visits to balls and salons, a night in the Bastille, and a potential romance with the violin virtuoso the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the best swordsman in Paris. The settings and situations are enchanting and varied; Dunlap is adept at on-the-fly description and at lacing intrigue with romance. This novel's central mystery, though, takes quite a number of chapters to come into focus, and the stakes feel low for Theresa throughout the novel's first half.

    Prose/Style: Dunlap proves an arresting tour guide through this rich milieu, summoning up the past without slowing down the storytelling. Author and protagonist alike boast an epigrammatic wit. The touch is light, but the scenery and chatter are sumptuous.

    Originality: There's much that's delightful in Dunlap's evocation of court life and dressmaking in late 18th-century Paris. The author’s eye for compelling detail and ear for memorable dialogue keep "The Paris Affair" fresher than its somewhat generic title promises. The mystery itself, ultimately, proves less engaging than the characters and revelations that Theresa encounters as she chases down the truth. Theresa's musings about music, or the power of fine lace, or her eavesdropping on the dishing of a pair of seamstresses, are the heart of the novel's appeal.

    Character Development: Theresa stands as a fascinating protagonist, a woman whose nimble navigation of society's expectations and several burgeoning romances are exciting and inspiring, even more so than the sleuthing that drives the novel's plot. The people she encounters are likewise memorable, complex, and surprising, especially the chevalier.

    Blurb: This sparkling historical mystery conjures up the salons, fashion, and gossip of Marie Antoinette's Paris, with a winning emphasis on the power of music and the roles that society allowed women.

  • Metal Mouth: Lightning Can Strike Twice

    by Jaimie Engle

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Engle's Metal Mouth ties a compelling romance to an unpredictable mystery and finds in both thoughtful contemporary resonance. After getting struck by lightning, teen Mahlorie begins hearing the thoughts of a boy named Dyson in her head, and Dyson likewise hears hers. As the two grow intimate, Mahlorie considers urgent questions about whether she could love someone she hasn't seen or who might not be conventionally attractive. Also strong are the hints at a scientific explanation (involving metal braces!) for the teenagers' connection and the suggestions that it might actually be supernatural. The climax of the book's first section is rushed and abrupt, and readers will wonder why Mahlorie doesn't search for information about Dyson online much earlier than she does, but Metal Mouth overall stands as a sharply plotted pleasure.

    Prose/Style: The chatter of Engle's teen characters is buoyant and appealing. Her descriptions are brisk and clear, and she deftly charts Mahlorie's consciousness, keeping the flow of thought strong and memorable. Engle's prose, like the protagonist, has the spark of electricity to it, and the author excels at the surprising joke or the on-the-fly observation that invites readers to linger. Once in a while, though, in scenes of action, that flow of thought gushes too quickly, and readers don't always receive a clear image of what's physically happening in Mahlorie's world, as in the scene involving a swamp and an alligator.

    Originality: Readers may guess at some of the surprises that Engle has in store, but certainly not all of them. Other familiar YA novels take on some similar elements involving comas, car accidents, and possible supernatural connections, but Engle imbues the material with new life, heart, and inventiveness. The author is especially good at seizing the comic possibilities of trying to get through a family dinner or math class when the voice of a teenage boy is talking away inside the protagonist's head.

    Character Development: Protagonist Mahlorie is an appealingly independent spirit with strong opinions and the good sense to know that she doesn't actually need a makeover. Her best friend Shai and creepy cousin Phillip both are well-defined presences, and Mahlorie's mother, a romance novelist, is an amusing (though static) creation. The novel's mystery structure, unfortunately, keeps Dyson from fully flowering as a character, as the plot's integrity depends upon him not revealing too much about himself to the young woman whose brain his mind has touched.

    Blurb: Jaimie Engle's Metal Mouth is a wry and wise romantic heartbreaker touched with mystery, lightning, and shivery hints of the supernatural. 

  • The Lake Never Tells

    by Alex Tully

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Tully’s story centers on a slow-burning mystery that takes many pages to really get going and ultimately involves more lengthy monologues about adult disappointment, infidelity, and local history than readers might expect from a YA novel. But the book’s heart is in the tangled relationship between its three point-of-view characters, Zoe, Parker, and Ethan, which proves so arresting from the start that, by the time the dead body turns up, readers might have forgotten the book is a mystery at all. Tully is adept at playing her POVs against each other, structuring the chapters in interesting ways. The mystery plot is engaging, but most of its significant action occurs in the past – Tully’s leads get told what happened. Instead, what’s most compelling here are those leads’ hearts and secrets, which we discover along with them, as they observe (sometimes spy on!) and get to know each other.

    Prose/Style: Tully tells her story with clarity and confidence. The descriptions are quick and precise; her dialogue is memorable; and her characters’ observations about class and their milieu feel both insightful but also true to their youthful ages. Zoe’s perspective starts as the novel’s most interesting, especially as she rages against her mother, faces small humiliations at a new job, and seems to have no idea how much attention she’s paid by the men and boys around her.

    Originality: Tully’s milieu, characters, and twists are singular. The motives behind the mystery are less fresh, as is a late-book twist right out of Dickens’ work, but overall The Lake Never Tells stands out in the field of YA novels. The pleasure in Tully's story comes from meeting her tender, damaged, funny trio of young heroes as they solve a summer mystery and discover each other's hearts.

    Character Development: Tully’s three point-of-view characters are each unique, convincing, compelling creations, and they’re more fascinating, in the end, than the mystery in which they get embroiled. Each is a logical product of their upbringing, and each is capable of surprising themselves – and readers. If the adults around them seem less well rounded, well, isn’t that what the world feels like for young people?

  • Plot: Phillip, the new kid in school in Harwood's coming-of-age novel, faces realistic and relatable student and teen problems. The only thing that's going well for him is his English class, where he reads Ender's Game and discovers an outlet for his frustrations in the teacher's daily "jam sessions," free writing exercises that jump off from a creative prompt. Harwood's novel makes the everyday dramatic and urgent. Here, Phillip's fear of disappointing his mother, or his worry about what will happen when a suspended bully returns to school, prove gripping.

    Prose/Style: Harwood's prose is clear and unadorned, offering little in the way of description. Instead, it's highly sensitive to Phillip's feelings as he bumbles through his school days and slowly discovers who his friends are. The kids' dialogue is sometimes flat, lacking the inventive weirdness of actual child-chatter, but the adults' speech is ideal: authority figures who soothingly help point Phillip (and possibly young readers) toward strategies for handling anxiety. Some passages of action falter, and more rigorous proofreading would standardize distractingly inconsistent product names. For most of the book, though, the prose persuasively connects Phillip's feelings to the scenes around him.

    Originality: Harwood invests familiar character types with fresh power: spitball-blowing bullies; a fantasy-obsessed band of social outsiders; and a sensitive and observant English teacher. The embarrassments and minor disasters that Philip experiences in Jam Sessions aren't new, but through his eyes they feel fresh. Classroom scenes of Phillip and other students writing and sharing their own creative works based on a teacher's prompt are especially strong, as each kid's writing is unique and revealing of their personas. (That's true, also, of the instructor's sensitive responses.)

    Character Development: Phillip, his friends, his teachers, his mother, and even his bullies all feel alive on the page. These seem like real kids, in a convincing world, facing real problems that readers might learn from – but that aspect of the book never interferes with the narrative's momentum or excitement.

  • Dragon Brothers

    by Lara Lillibridge

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: L.B. Lillibridge's Dragon Brothers stands as an uncommonly wise and empathetic fantasy, an adventure story whose royal heroes prevail not through heroic violence but by listening, questioning, and daring to upend the inequitable caste system that rewards them but punishes others. That heartening narrative, though, doesn't surge along the way the best fantasy adventures might, and the story develops little narrative momentum or continuity from chapter to chapter. The continual capturing and rescuing of hostages between the novel's two castes, the Shaynen and the Klor, feels repetitive rather than like suspenseful escalations.

    Prose/Style: Lillibridge excels at dialogue scenes, at the stirrings of conscience inside her characters, and at the invention and depiction of magic. Sometimes her paragraphs run long and lose some focus, detailing action after action without fully emphasizing any particular one. She knows her characters' hearts and gets them onto the page, but Dragon Brothers doesn't always tap into those characters' desires and fears for storytelling momentum.

    Originality: "Dragon born" fantasy characters aren't new, of course, and stories of royal succession and rebellion in fantasy kingdoms have been familiar for centuries. But Lillibridge invests her fantasy with fresh, appealing characters, engaging moral dilemmas, and an inventive blend of science and magic. Especially welcome is the book's humanistic bent in an age of darker and darker fantasy books for younger readers. Flying, here, feels truly magical.

    Character Development: Lillibridge’s dragon brothers are humble, big-hearted, and immediately appealing, as are the dragon toddler Haia, the apprentice Laney, and the sympathetic outlaw Rory. The adults are somewhat less vividly drawn, but, encouragingly, prove capable of change when the young people argue against longstanding injustice.

  • Believe

    by Julie Mathison

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This accomplished, often insightful novel examines, with tenderness and empathy, the life of an unpopular middle school girl in the early 1980s. Facing bullies, loneliness, and the (somewhat mysterious) absence of her mother, Melanie finds herself suddenly close friends with a new girl, Sabrina, who encourages Melanie to stand up for herself and to audition for the school play. The scenes of Melanie flowering or facing grief over her mother's (apparent) decision to leave are rendered with skill and power, and the kids' playground rudeness and eventual softening is persuasive. Readers likely will have worked out the twists well before the novel reveals them, but Mathison seems more invested in their emotional underpinning than in creating surprise. Revelations are handled with sensitivity and heart, but the narrative’s sleight of hand also reduces the process of healing from grief to something of a magic trick.

    Prose/Style: Mathison writes clear, crisp, compelling prose that deftly guides readers to what matters in a scene and omits what doesn't. The dialogue is memorable and convincing, and Melanie's interior monologue is touching. The narrative twists, though, demand that the novel skim over details that readers otherwise would expect to be given, such as why Melanie's mother is gone, or how Sabrina fits in at school. These omissions stand out, drawing attention to the twists to come.

    Originality: YA stories of young people handling grief and becoming confident are familiar, as are novels and films in which a character turns out to be someone or something unexpected. Still, the story imbues these elements with fresh heart, humor, and vigor. The scenes of Melanie finding her way to befriend more popular girls are especially strong, filled with wisdom. The title, "Believe," suggests a much more generic novel than what Mathison has crafted.

    Character Development: The character of Melanie stands out as an inspired, convincing creation, a young person learning to become comfortable in her own skin. The trick of the plot demands that Sabrina not be as interesting, and also that Melanie never notice this fact. Melanie's parents also feel thin on the page, mostly to protect the integrity of the truth. Melanie's peers, though, are well drawn - even the bullies.

  • Degrade

    by Mark Lingane

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: In Degrade, the reader is caught up in a politically complex, bleak futuristic world where danger seems to lurk around every corner. Understanding the nuances of this world may initially challenge younger readers, but the ride becomes much smoother and more intriguing as the narrative progresses and characters are made more tangible. 

    Prose/Style: The prose in Lingane’s often claustrophobic novel is tightly woven, highly descriptive, and evocative. 

    Originality: The storytelling in Degrade evokes a number of familiar tropes—a scorched dystopian world, an orphaned young protagonist, warring factions forced to compete for limited resources—but the author excels at crafting a vivid sense of atmosphere with characters (both human and creaturely), esoteric enough to linger in the minds of readers.

    Character Development: Arid is a scrappy, yet vulnerable young hero, who relies on his hard-earned instincts to survive. Lingane offers a generally distinctive cast of main and secondary characters, forged by their environments and respective roles. 

  • Between Wild and Ruin

    by Jennifer G. Edelson

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This first installment in Jennifer G. Edelson's Wild and Ruin series offers brisk, crisp, entertaining scenes of romance, and builds to a surprising, satisfying twist. The story moves slowly, though, and covers less ground than readers would expect in a novel that spans 400 pages. The finale, here, establishes an exciting premise for the series involving Pecos myth, the land of the dead, Watchers and True of Hearts, and an exciting cross-cultural romance. The journey to that exciting premise, though, is often slack and discursive, with the novel's suspense and supernatural elements overshadowed by the protagonist's being pursued by three viable romantic possibilities.

    Prose/Style: Line to line, Between Wild and Ruin is crisp, brisk, and appealing. Edelson pairs superb descriptions of nature and her characters with sharp, memorable dialogue. The exchanges between protagonist Ruby and her aunt Lydia have a pleasurable warmth and verve; Ruby's many scenes of flirtation with her three romantic candidates, meanwhile, are tense and tender, though they might stand out more individually if there were fewer of them.

    Originality: The story of a beautiful young woman courted by multiple young men with cosupernatural connections to ancient folklore is not new, of course. At times, especially before its last 100 pages, Between Wild and Ruin feels overly indebted to other supernatural romances, especially as characters like Leo and Angel make little impression beyond their looks and interest in Ruby. The Native American folklore that the story draws from, though, is fascinating, and the narrative becomes much fresher in the book's last quarter, when the (legitimately shocking!) truth of Leo's identity is revealed and Ruby dives fully into the story's fantastical elements.

    Character Development: The protagonist, Ruby, is "Attractive… Smart… Mouthy", as one of her paramours puts it. She's also not especially compelling over the course of the novel, as the plot finds her not driven by any particular motivation or desire. Instead, she juggles three men who pursue her for her beauty, while her friends complain that she acts "like being gorgeous is a curse." Ruby makes some interesting choices as the narrative goes on, once she discovers the truth about Leo, but readers will not know her heart until after spending hundreds of pages with her.

  • How the Deer Moon Hungers

    by Susan Wingate

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: Susan Wingate's How the Deer Moon Hungers examines, with admirable complexity and humanity, the process of grief, healing, and forgiveness following a tragic accident – and the tragedies that follow it. Teen MacKenzie finds herself institutionalized after her sister is killed by a drunk driver, and MacKenzie is caught with a friend's marijuana. Wingate cleverly structures this harrowing story to reflect the seven stages of grief, and the process of forgiveness, and her urgent, ambitious prose lays bare for readers MacKenzie's heart. That humanity and ambition, though, works against the narrative momentum when Wingate switches perspectives to MacKenzie's parents, to the drunk driver who killed MacKenzie's sister, or to the corrections officer who preys on young women. The book's first half, centered on the accident, also circles away from MacKenzie to show readers scenes of deputies questioning townspeople about the crash, examining in great detail the circumstances of a tragedy when readers will mostly be interested in its impact. One of the book's themes is the mind's difficulty in piecing together precisely what has happened in traumatic events, so these scenes have thematic justification, but they offer little suspense or insight, as they venture far from the heart of the story.

    Prose/Style: Wingate writes crackling dialogue and is adept at immersing readers in her protagonists' flow of thought. Scenes of MacKenzie's pain, rage, and confusion pulse with power. The prose, though, too often bucks from the author's control, especially in moments of poetic description. There's no doubt that the author is a talented wordsmith, but readers will too often find themselves laboring to make sense of typos and imprecise prose.

    Originality: Wingate's scenario and treatment of it both stand as unique. Her dedication to the emotional lives of all her characters imbues the material with a rare humanity.

    Character Development: MacKenzie proves a rich, fascinating protagonist, especially as she fights to hold on to her core of self as she's brutalized or locked in solitary confinement. Her willingness to forgive and to recover the full truth of the day of the tragedy are both moving, engaging traits. The occasional chapters from other characters' perspectives also reveal fresh depths and surprises, even as the story of MacKenzie proves more compelling than those asides.

  • The Markings

    by Catherine Downen

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: The first novel in a projected series, Downen's The Markings establishes, by its end, many intriguing and exciting mysteries and relationships. The story concerns a "gifted" prisoner, Adaline, escaping a king's prison with her newly discovered "Force Lifter" powers. Along the way, Downen reveals startling secrets about false memories, secret lineages, and portents of the future glimpsed by Adaline's mother and set down in a journal. Adaline's discovery that many of her memories have been manipulated might prove more effective if the novel's opening chapters immersed readers in those memories. The novel eventually offers many inventive, exciting ideas, but the first third, which concerns just a few characters and a familiar escape plot, doesn't signal to readers the book's charm and ambitions.

    Prose/Style: For the most part, Downen's prose is admirably clear, meaning readers can visualize and understand exactly what is happening from moment to moment. It can also sometimes be flat and repetitious. Downen is adept at laying bare the hearts of her characters, and passages revealing the inner thoughts, fears, and hopes of protagonist Adaline are the novel's strongest.

    Originality: A dystopian adventure epic set in a ruined America is a familiar idea, and The Markings doesn't reveal its most unique and inspired twists for quite a few pages. But once readers are brought up to speed on the history, present, and promise of Downen's world, they're likely to be engaged. Touches like letting the characters explore an underground bunker filled with junk from the real world's present are inspired, as is the plot device of a locked journal filled with Adaline's mother's visions of the future.

    Character Development: Downen's cast distinguish themselves, as the novel goes on, as engaging, imperfect people capable of great courage and surprises. Especially touching is Adaline's grief and her disgust at herself for killing enemies. A twist involving Adaline's memories of her childhood with Cooper having been replaced with memories of Alexander is thought-provoking, and Downen expertly navigates the emotional fallout. The novel opens with lots of action and backstory, however, and moves too quickly at the start to give these characters a chance to reveal themselves.

  • I Know When You're Going To Die

    by Michael J. Bowler

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: Bowler's premise finds good-hearted, super-rich teenage Leonardo gifted or cursed by a dying homeless man with the power to see when someone is going to die just by looking into their eyes. When Leonardo learns that his best friend, J.C., will be murdered, Leonardo and friends entertainingly attempt to solve the murder preemptively, running afoul of bullies and a principal in the process and discovering some surprising truths about who they all are. The set-up is strong, though I Know When You're Going To Die works in surprisingly few variations on its supernatural hook, settling in as a murder mystery rather than a horror novel about what it's like to be burdened with terrible knowledge.

    Prose/Style: Bowler's prose is crisp, inviting, breezy, and propulsive, always moving his story forward and only occasionally getting bogged down in unnecessary detail, as in a scene set in a high school boiler room that offers more information about boilers than readers are likely to want. The dialogue among the trio of friends who power the narrative is likable and often amusing, if occasionally dated. Their frequent confrontations with a school bully named Chet, however, have a strained and repetitive quality, as the scenes play out those in teen stories for decades. In this case, the bully eventually is revealed to be performing his role to cover up his true self, but that doesn't make the earlier scenes more compelling the first time readers encounter them.

    Originality: The wealthy L.A. setting and sunny noir tone of I Know You're Going to Die suggests the TV series Veronica Mars, and the characterizations, especially of the bullies, echo many other teen entertainment narratives. The friendships feel fresh and vital, though, and this story's particular twists are its own.

    Character Development: Despite the horrific promise of its premise, the novel quickly settles into a teen mystery story, devoting few pages or scenes to the experience of walking through life with the ability to glimpse the truth of people's mortality. Leonardo is presented as so deep-down decent that he's never tempted to misuse this power out of spite, which makes him a somewhat flat protagonist. Meanwhile, Leonardo's pitiless thoughts about his mother's work as a Hollywood executive, her plastic surgery, and his belief that she only enrolled him in gymnastics to "have something to brag about" feel surprisingly sour in a book that's otherwise committed to empathy.

  • Bobby Ether and the Jade Academy

    by R. Scott Boyer

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: Bobby Ether and the Jade Academy is a fast-paced adventure with many twists that will keep readers intrigued and hooked. While there are a number of subplots, the author offers a consistent and authentic message about the importance of community and fighting for the greater good of all.

    Prose/Style: The prose is pulsing with positive, high levels of energy and moves seamlessly throughout the narrative.

    Originality: At the heart of this novel is the perennial battle between good and evil. What sets it apart is a deeper spiritual message about removing oneself from distractions in order to cultivate the tools to be aligned to one’s higher purpose.

    Character Development: Overall, the characters are memorably engaging. They tend to fall within the paradigm of either “good” or “bad," with Cassandra being the most complex. Jinx is the most engaging figure of all, and it is beautiful to witness how he blossoms in his friendship with Bobby.

  • Plot: Portals that transport people over geographical distances and tapestries that enable time-travel are just some of the delights that await readers in this sumptuous fantasy novel. At its heart is a story about a young girl who is the long-awaited Dawnstar that will save the world from the dark forces of Dragath. Aurora's personal quest is to step into and believe in her capabilities, and the reader navigates that thrilling journey with her.

    Prose/Style: The Return of the Dragon Queen is well-written and flows seamlessly from chapter to chapter. Oomerbhoy skillfully creates the suspense needed to keep readers engaged throughout an eventful and lengthy narrative.

    Originality: This novel contains a diverse cast of imaginary creatures such as hamadryads, fae, witches, and Drakaar. Numerous elements of the book seem to be drawn from classic fantasy novels by Tolkien and Rowling, but here they are combined into a uniquely charming story.

    Character Development: While the chief protagonist Aurora is an engaging and sincere young queen who carves out her own path, she can be a frustrating to follow because of her constant guilt. Conversely, her love interest Rafe stands out as one of the most memorable characters, a compassionate prince who cares about the wellbeing of people in general, not just those in his kingdom. He is the archetypal hero whose unquenchable love and loyalty to Aurora proves endearing. Along with Rafe, Abraxas the dragon is particularly alluring. 

  • Gidjie and the Wolves

    by Tashia Hart

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: Hart offers a fresh and compelling storyline that offers lively imagery. While the individual stories within each chapter shine, the collective narrative may benefit from a greater sense of wholeness and harmony.

    Prose/Style: The prose is capably written and immersive, although passages are at times overly detailed and clunky. Hart is often inconsistent in style, resulting in a reading experience that is not always smooth or organic.

    Originality: Through the incorporation of alluring illustrations, the reader is brought into a world filled with magical creatures. The worldbuilding, while compelling and imaginative, doesn't always directly benefit the storyline. By drawing on Anishinaabe culture, the author provides a novel layer to the work, and one that may invite readers to research further.

    Character Development: Hart integrates characters from Anishinaabe culture with ease and care. Gidjie is lovable, curious, and offers vivid insight into the world around her. While other characters sometimes blend together, and certain elements are underexplained - Gidjie is absolutely special and wholly memorable.