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Half Bad & Half Wild by Sally Green

An unconventional treatment of witches, not to mention having a main character who seems mentally ill, that gives off an unmistakeably British sense of character, emotion, and humor.

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220px-Half_Bad_book_cover Half Bad

Born into a family of White Witches with his famously murderous Black Witch father hanging over his head and a predominantly oppressive White Witch society, Nathan is alienated and outcast, a lower piece of humanity as designated by his blood. As the only product of Half Black – Half White that there is in the world (called Half Code), Nathan is tarred and feathered as “half bad”. His stepfather was murdered, his mother was put to death for giving birth to him, his older half-sister hates him, and other White Witches are warned to stay away from him, but instead most of them abuse him. There are very few people in Nathan’s life who genuinely love him – his younger half-sister and half-brother and his grandmother. As Nathan gets older, the Council of White Witches gets more and more concerned about Nathan, submitting him to trial after trial until they can prove he is one or the other – White or Black Witch. As they get more and more frustrated at Nathan’s omission to label himself, they take him into custody, giving him over to a stoic tutor Celia who, at their order, keeps him in a cage and beats him regularly. They also want Nathan because he could be a great asset, the key to finding and killing his infamous father Marcus. As Nathan nears 17, the age when witches are given three gifts and must take their family’s blood to come into their full heritage of powers, the pressure increases for Nathan. But no one, except perhaps his sweet love Annalise, understands that Nathan doesn’t want to kill like his father. He just wants to escape, but with the freedom to be himself, even if he doesn’t know quite what that means yet.

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20814989 Half Wild

At the conclusion of the last book, Nathan was in a bad predicament. To save Annalise from death at the hands of Mercury, his great-aunt, he must retrieve the Fairborn (his family knife) from the Hunters, the police force of the Council of White Witches, and then he will be under contract to Mercury for a year, for whatever services she might require, probably killing his father. However, escaping from the Hunters with Gabriel, his new friend, and Rose, Mercury’s assistant, has gotten Rose killed, Gabriel missing, and Nathan severely wounded, though he was visited by his father Marcus and given his three gifts. Just as he was returning to Mercury, the Hunters attack and Mercury wants Marcus’s head or heart or Annalise will shortly die.

Now, with a short time to save Annalise, Nathan still has to find Gabriel and elude the Hunters, all the while struggling with managing his new Gift, which seems to be very similar to his father’s as he becomes some sort of animal, and his new status as an official Black Witch. He must trust new allies in Van and Nesbitt, other Black Witches, to help him find and kill Mercury to save Annalise with a promise that he will join a new alliance of all types of witches to bring down the Council of White Witches. But they want Nathan’s help for a specific reason, so he can bring Marcus into the alliance. With the prophecy that Nathan will kill Marcus hanging over his head, Nathan is understandably conflicted. Their new relationship brings about a better understanding of his father’s past, Nathan’s difficult powers, and his own conflict of identity. While Nathan might have been very much a feared underdog before, he’s coming into his own now, and he struggles with believing he is worthy of love and friendship after having been abused for so long. Be prepared for a surprising ending…

This is such a disturbing, almost unbalanced series as it follows Nathan’s traumatic upbringing and coming-of-age and yet it gives great contrast between love and hate, acceptance and prejudice, and actions versus attitudes. While the narrative seems to struggle as Nathan’s voice is hard to fully embrace, especially when he is an animal, the story itself is unforgettable and horrifying. I don’t know how someone could be unsympathetic to Nathan and the cruelty he experiences. He is not a victim, however, and despite his horrid circumstances, he overcomes them and is still this person who is capable of both great harm and great good. In this, I find, is the comparison between Nathan and Harry Potter, as Harry too had to struggle with his motives and consequences of his actions. Also, this is a rather unforgiving treatment of witches and their conflict, and that makes it both intriguing and disappointing as there are only two sides–White being “good” and yet terribly prejudiced and Machiavellian, and Black being “bad” and typically murderous or prone to causing harm. As we see in the second book, however, this is only the case in Great Britain as other regions do not have the same war of Black vs. White. Instead, they keep to themselves mostly. One of my favorite characters in this series is Gabriel. I just love Gabriel. Let’s see if I can reason it out by talking about the others. While I am on the fence about Annalise still, Nathan both horrifies me and gets my sympathy, Nesbitt is too crass and possibly stupid though dangerous, and Van is too strong and unapproachable (though awe-inspiring). Gabriel is the most open, caring, loyal friend who is also so true to his nature as a Black Witch. He sort of brings out the best in everyone. Maybe that’s why he’s my favorite. I will say, that while this series got a lot of publicity within the last two years, I don’t think it’s quite as good as everyone was gushing about. I am most compelled to read book 3, Half Lost, assumed to be coming out in 2016, especially to see what a fantastic job Sally Green does with developing Nathan’s journey and identity.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2015 in Fantasy, Young Adult/Teen

 

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Quick Reads for Teen/Tween Girls

Disclaimer: Not exclusively for girls by any means, but these will draw more readership and appeal for girls.

22571275 All Fall Down (Embassy Row #1) by Ally Carter

After three years’ absence, Grace Blakely is coming back to live with her grandfather, the U.S. ambassador to Adria, on Embassy Row. The last few years have left her searching for her mother’s killer, a man with a scarred face, in every person. Upon arriving back in Adria, Grace can’t help but notice the tiny details that remind her of her mother, and the girl that left Adria couldn’t be more different than the girl that returned. Grace’s old friends find her distant, and Grace makes new friends who accept the half-wild, manic daredevil that she is now. On her crusade to find her mother’s murderer, Grace experiences a transforming journey for herself as well as coming closer to finding justice for her mother, but since this is Embassy Row, one undiplomatic move could mean an international incident, possibly even war.

If you’re used to Ally’s other novels, this one is more intense and exposes the traumas of PTSD.

Personally, I didn’t like this one as much as I have some of her other books…perhaps the confusion of the PTSD was hard as a reader to follow the action and that may draw away from it’s appeal for teens.
22465605  Miss Mayhem (Rebel Belle #2) by Rachel Hawkins

In this second book of the Rebel Belle series, Harper Price is balancing her romance with David and her duties as David’s Paladin, not to mention working alongside her ex, Ryan, who is David’s Mage. At the end of the last book, Harper’s best friend Bee had been taken by the Ephors, a mystical group who wanted to kill David. However, as Harper and Ryan manage to secretly block the terrifying visions of a more powerful David, David is lured to a meeting with Alexander, the spokesperson of the Ephors, who surprises them all with another challenge. Harper is not a true Paladin yet, as she must complete the Peirasmos, a month long ordeal to come into her potential, but if she fails, she dies and it is her best friend Bee who is her reluctant Paladin backup. Harper tries to keep everything together, but things are just too complicated. Ultimately, the strain of the Paladin/Oracle relationship breaks David and Harper’s romance. Harper’s involvement causes a meltdown for Ryan and his girlfriend Mary Beth. Bee struggles to overcome the forgetting spell Ryan had placed on everyone when she went missing. David discovers how he will change and is burdened by the knowledge. All of this occurs as Harper and Bee compete in a prestigious pageant and attempt to responsibly fulfill their duties for school. Despite Harper’s relentlessly hopeful ‘can do’ attitude, she is utterly blind to the possibility that she can’t control everything.

Though I was mildly intrigued by Rebel Belle, this second one becomes rather annoyingly complex in character relationships and is bogged down by the jargon and drama-inducing fluff conversation. Fans of the series will like it, probably middle grade girls, but older or more advanced readers won’t be drawn in as easily. I really may have to convince myself to read more, though I liked her other series.

17134589 The Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall

Avery West has spent her whole life moving from place to place with her mother, and her mom has just told her they’ll be moving again because of the mysterious “mandate”, which Avery thinks is some sort of military decree. Normally, she’s always against making friends, joining clubs, etc. because the pain of leaving is inevitable. However, since it’s basically her last two days there and it conveniently happens to be junior year prom, something Avery doesn’t much care about, she decides to live a little and go, just this once, nevermind that her mom said no as she’s going out of town for a bit. Jack, her new boy crush who invited her, is there, as is a mysterious new older boy, Stellan. Suddenly Avery’s unconventional but fairly normal life turns upside down.

Jack and Stellan belong to two families of the Circle of Twelve, a secret elite group of families who basically run the world, though they’re opposed by the Order, another secret society who doesn’t believe in their purpose. Avery, who has never known her father, suddenly is somehow part of one of these families and must submit to their wishes, flying halfway across the world to Paris and then to Istanbul in a serious of crazy adventures. But her life is in great danger, as she could be part of a secret prophecy and either the families will use her for their own gain or the Order will have her assassinated. You won’t want to miss every bit of the twists and turns that this book reveals and make sure you suspend your belief, otherwise you’ll be sure there’s a secret family living in the Louvre and the next President was set up by his/her family ties…

Out of all three of these books, this last is undoubtedly my favorite. I am absolutely on board to read book 2! Despite the premise that sounds outlandish (I know, my little summary just couldn’t do it justice and I didn’t even include how many possible spoilers and intricate plot revelations), Maggie Hall seems to pull it all off! The love triangle seems unintended and yet believable while Avery herself is instantly likeable to teens as she is so normal but determined to survive and come out on top despite the impossible odds. Forgive my caricatures, but Avery is a compellingly untrained heroine with Jack as the forbidden classic boy-next-door and Stellan as the chip-on-his-shoulder mysterious bad boy, and she needs all of them to work together if they are going to survive both the power of the Circle and the murderous intent of the Order. The one thing that I don’t like about this book is that it draws into the “just another girl in a pretty dress” vibe that is trending with YA right now, and this book clearly is more than that. Teenage fans of The Da Vinci Code and fans of Ally Carter will absolutely love this book, and any new readers who love action thrillers, royal/court intrigue, or “Chosen One” novels will be hard pressed not to feverishly read.

 

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Pretty Crooked trilogy by Elisa Ludwig

9780062066077 Pretty Crooked

Willa Fox has just moved to a dream town and sent to a fantastically rich school. There, she manages to befriend the Glitterati, a trio of very rich girls who dictate the highest social status. To even some of the score when a few of the scholarship girls are mercilessly targeted by the Glitterati, Willa recruits Tre, a reformed juvenile delinquent, to teach her a few criminal skills and begins stealing from the rich to give a little more back to those less fortunate, a more junior and modern day Robin Hood. When she gets caught, though, she finds she’s bitten off more than she can chew because not only is she facing social ostracism, but her mom is behaving weirdly too and suddenly disappears.

13146824 Pretty Sly

Willa must face the consequences of her actions despite having a missing mother. However, she can’t just abandon her mom. Breaking her parole, she and her friend, Aidan, set off to find Willa’s mom. With the help of the social media Sly Fox fan club, currently trending, led by their friends Tre and Cherise, Willa and Aidan have cash and make sympathetic young friends everywhere. They also add more crimes to their already long list, and discover just why Willa’s mom is running and who is out to get her. In finding her mom, Willa comes to discover many truths about herself and her past, and this is just enough to put her in a lot of danger.

22584503 Pretty Wanted

Willa is now on the run from the police and the FBI, having eluded capture after making a deal for her (former “mother” now revealed to be) sister’s faked death and her new life in Mexico. After finding out her real mom was murdered and that her murderers are still after her and her sister, Leslie, Willa is determined to find out more about her real mom’s life, especially since Willa’s got a one way ticket to juvie if she’s captured. She and Aidan have made it to St. Louis, the last place her family lived and where her real mom was murdered. There she and Aiden, eventually joined by Tre, must follow a trail long cold: discovering a diary, a covered up accident, a robbery, and the secret to her own paternity. But discovering the truth doesn’t mean much when she and Aiden are confronted with death. What will become of the Sly Fox and her friends with determined killers on their tail?

This series was a fairly enjoyable wild ride (read?) born out of desiring justice and exposing the truth that transformed into a heart-stopping race to discover Willa’s real past as her life falls about her ears. From the original premise of a modern girl Robin Hood, it veered way off into a Veronica Mars-esque murder mystery, albeit not as addicting. Many of the background characters are very trope, and Willa seems more like 17 than her 15 years, especially once you consider her relationship with her “mom” and Aiden. My favorite character was Tre, who was both resourceful, funny, and a true friend. He really made the whole thing possible. I can’t say I much enjoyed how the book ended, that’s not to say it ended badly, but there was just a lot to process and a very short time to do so. I also really hated that Aidan ran off, while Willa took responsibility for her actions. Aidan never struck me as that guy who would run off looking like an escaped criminal but more like he would just continue flaunting his reputation as a rich man’s party boy son who does whatever he pleases. Not going to say much about how the mystery is solved, not to ruin this with any spoilers! I would give this series a 3 out of 5, and perfect for mystery-loving middle grades or high school freshmen. It’s likeable but doesn’t have the wow factor to appeal to older teen readers or adults. Finally, this is unimportant, but I still thought Corbin and Leslie should end up together, especially considering Leslie’s past and how that experience must have scarred her. I did really like the covers. The black and white photography is appealing.

 

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The Agency series by Y.S. Lee

In a historical fiction/mystery mash up, comes this engaging tale about an nontraditional young woman and her life as a secret agent in 1850s London.

new-Spy-cover-dec-09 A Spy in the House

As a twelve-year-old girl, orphaned Mary Lang was sentenced to die on the gallows for being a thief, but in a quick rescue mission, she was secretly saved by the young headmistresses of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, which takes in a few charity cases. In her five years of schooling, Mary is reborn as Mary Quinn and chooses to join the secret organization at the school, the Agency, also led by Miss Anne Treleaven and Miss Felicity Frame. In Mary’s first assignment, she is sent to be a companion to a young lady, Angelica Thorold, while also tasked with learning anything she can about the family and some mysterious disappearances of trade goods from India. Attempting to impress her superiors, Mary tries to snoop in Mr. Thorold’s office on her first night, and, upon hearing someone coming, gets shut in a wardrobe with a young man, Mr. James Easton, a gentleman engineer who has a contracting/building company with his elder brother George, who is also a lovesick admirer of Angelica. Despite this blunder, sharp-witted Mary manages to keep her cover and eventually make an ally in James. As she comes closer to discovering the secrets hidden the Thorold family, Mary also learns some unexpected things about her past.

Body-Walker The Body at the Tower

A bricklayer has fallen to his death in the new tower at Parliament, still under construction, and there is suspected foul play, as the building is decades behind schedule and costing far more than was originally estimated. In her second assignment, Mary, posing as a young boy, Mark Quinn, gains employment at the building site, only she comes off as a little too intelligent than she intended. Her first job carrying bricks for the bricklayers lands her into a spat with another  young man, Jenkins, and she is almost beaten to death, only the engineer steps in just as Jenkins is flogged within an inch of his life. To better make use of her talents, the engineer, Mr. Harkness sets her to being an aide to the engineer who is investigating the site and its awful schedule on behalf of the city, a man none other than James Easton, newly returned from India having battled with malaria and still somewhat ill. Together, “Mark” and James piece together the real story, full of blackmail, murder and greed, and in doing so, paint a large target on their backs.

Traitor-cover The Traitor in the Tunnel

On a highly secretive assignment within the Royal household of Queen Victoria at the newly built Buckingham Palace, Mary is pretending to be the head housemaid and discover who is behind a series of thefts. However, the case is turning out to be harder than usual because all vices used to obtain information are highly discouraged, such as gossip, drinking, and social interaction between the men and women. Just as Mary despairs of finding the culprit, her employers from the Agency have some news, Mr. James Easton’s company has been hired to renovate the tunnels beneath the Palace, bringing Mary’s secret identity into jeopardy. Wanting to remain on assignment, Mary convinces him to keep his silence, but their relationship continues to bring new challenges. Then, Prince Albert Edward returns home from school, and a shroud of confusion surrounds his arrival. Mary discovers he was involved in a series of events where one aristocrat ended up dead and a Chinese opium addict ready to swing for it, whose name is none other than Lang. Suddenly, Mary has too many personal conflicts in the case, and worst is yet to come, as someone is intending to commit regicide using the tunnels. Can Mary (and James) save the Queen, the Chinese man who might be her father, and still wrap up her case for the Agency?

51wgh9NZLrL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ Rivals in the City

Mary and James have finally partnered up, both personally as they are engaged, and occupationally as they’ve formed a detective agency together following the fallout of the Agency’s two heads, Miss Treleaven and Miss Frame. Now, Miss Treleaven has a favor to ask. Will Mary consider working for the Agency one last time, to find and capture the tricky murderess Mrs. Thorold, who is sure to visit her dying and incarcerated husband and newly returned daughter? Accepting the higher stakes, Mary knows she and James will be in mortal danger, because Mrs. Thorold has already tried to kill them before, and not to mention, she will probably be plotting another deadly scheme. Can Mary and James find Mrs. Thorold before she escapes or worse, kills again, or is their future together over before it can even start?

I especially loved James and Mary in this series. The intrigue, the settings, all very engaging. If you want a read-a-like, check out The Dark Unwinding and A Spark Unseen, blog post that will be coming in a few weeks!

Note: Clean/gentle read!

 

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Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Boys, 3) by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue-Lily-Lily-Blue Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Continuing the Raven Boys cycle, Maura Sargent, Blue’s mother, has gone missing, looking for Blue’s long-lost father, buried underground in a cave along the ley line, leaving behind the mess of her new former assassin boyfriend Mr. Gray. Meanwhile Adam is learning how to be a wizard from Persephone and help Cabeswater. In trying to scry or find out more information about Maura, Persephone and Calla can only tell them that there are three sleepers buried underground. One they should wake, one they may wake, and one they should not. Though Blue and the Raven Boys (Gansey, Adam, Noah, and Ronan) attempt to try and go into a cave to find Maura, Gansey’s severe allergy to bees hampers their exploration. Luckily, Gansey’s friend Dr. Malory, complete with Dog, has come for a visit to try and study their ley line and see if he can offer any assistance. When they finally deduce where another cave entrance is, they meet a local man, Jesse, and learn of the “curse” on his cave, discovering within its depths a semi-entranced girl, found to be none other than Glendower’s illegitimate daughter, Gwenllian, who is half-mad and full little nuggets of truth wrapped deep in riddles. As they get closer to discovering Maura and the sleepers, a new danger is revealed in Henrietta in the form of Mr. Gray’s former employer, Greenmantle, who has taken the vacant position of Master of Latin at Aglonby Academy, and who is also intent upon finding his target, the Graywaren, and seeking revenge upon Mr. Gray. While Greenmantle, helped by some goons and his sharp yet secretive and glamorous wife Piper, learns more about Maura and her disappearance, he also discovers more about the caves and mysteries along the ley line. The final chapters bring death, magic, surprise, and a resolution before leaving you desperately waiting for the final installment The Raven King, delayed until March 2016.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve finished this, but I am still half in love with this series! I was crying, laughing, and (as I was listening to the audiobook, which is fabulous by the way) dying to keep reading when I needed to work. My favorite new character was Malory, who as an older British gentleman with a dry wit, made me laugh aloud continuously. I find myself just as entranced and annoyed with Gwenllian as Blue seems to be, and (!!!) I didn’t even cover how Blue and Gansey’s relationship changes in this third book! Which brings me to one of the things I am most impressed with in this series, how Maggie manages to make each character (because honestly, there are many main characters here) dynamic as they change throughout each book and overarc into the series as a whole. It is positively spellbinding, delightful, and deliciously dirty (literal dirt and strong language dirty only), and really is a treat for older teen readers and adults alike.

 
 

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