Sharon Reads: Splintered by A.G. Howard

Splintered by A.G. Howard is a young adult novel that blends a girl’s search for herself, redemption for her mother, and the Alice in Wonderland story. Alyssa Gardner is said to share a curse of madness with her mother. This is because they are descendants of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The curse has put her mother in a psychiatric facility with declining health, and Alyssa now shares some of the symptoms.  Alyssa comes to believe that Wonderland is real, and that she must fix her ancestor’s mistakes in order to free herself and her mother from the curse. Alyssa will face betrayal, tests of affection and memory, and her own belief in herself as she works to save her mother. Will she find love as she searches for the truth, or will she get lost in the dark and twisted world she only knows from childhood dreams.

Splintered is much more than a retelling of Lewis Carroll’s stories about Wonderland. It is an emotionally deep look at a girl lost in her efforts to turn away from a part of herself she wants to ignore. Alyssa has channeled all that she wants to ignore about herself into her art and skating, to things that her best friend, Jeb, and her father understand and support. She worries for her mother, and that she will end up just like her. Even teens with parents that seem perfectly normal to outsiders often have these fears. The family curse, and Alyssa’s discovery of its root origin, and he efforts to free her family are tightly woven with a mentor from Alyssa’s childhood dreams. Jeb’s accidental journey to join Alyssa could be a blessing or a curse, cementing their friendship to something more or destroying them both. Morpheus could be her greatest ally, a treacherous foe, out for only himself, or possibly all of the above. The journey through a Wonderland we might recognize from Carroll’s tales, is twisted and darker than expected, as are the characters we met. The character development and the story itself are fast paced, often take unexpected turns, and were perfectly explored.

I highly recommend Splintered to readers that want something that shakes up the preconceived notions we have about classic stories, and the worlds they involve. Readers that enjoy deep looks at the emotional state and development of characters facing huge problems on top of the normal stresses of school, social life, and family will also find great value in this book. The world of Wonderland is not rehashed, rather it goes beyond anything that readers might expect, as do the characters that enter its borders. the sequel, Unhinged, is scheduled for release in January of 2014. I gave this book a full 5 stars on Goodreads.

This review was previously published on Sharon the Librarian.

Sharon Reads: Weather Witch by Shannon Delany

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Weather Witch

Weather Witch by Shannon Delany is a young to new adult novel with a bit of a steam punk feel. In the New World rank is everything, and being deemed to carry some sort of magic is the worst curse of all. Jordan is from one of the highest ranked families in society, and she is celebrating her seventeenth birthday, a moment when she should have been clear of any suspicion of magic and ready to start planning marriage and her future. However, a back alley dealing leads to Jordan testing positive as a witch. She, and her family, lose rank and all respect in the society as Jordan is whisked away to be tested further and ‘made’ into a usable source of power. But the Maker is having trouble doing changing Jordan. Meanwhile, Jordan’s friend and romantic interest Rowen seems to be the only one of rank that has not given up on her and does everything he can to save her, while an escaped witch works to bring down the man and culture that made him an outcast.

Weather Witch is a more complicated story than I expected when I picked up the book, in a good way. I expected the standard fare of young adult finds out they are ‘special’ and both good and bad happen because of it. While there is a certain aspect of this here – Jordan is considered special –  there is also deep world building and several related story lines running through the book as well. We get to see into the heart and personal life of the Maker, who without that insight would have simply been the bad guy. We get to see into the psyche of a good number of side characters as well. At times it felt like it would soon become overwhelming, for me it never crossed that line, rather it made me curious to see how everything would come together. I was not disappointed, well maybe in a couple twists but only because I liked the characters that I knew would no longer appear after certain moments. I could understand others getting confused by the voice changes and the incremental world building, but it really worked for me. I really enjoyed getting inside the head of Rowen, Jordan, the Maker, and even some servants to see the whole picture, rather than the limited perspective a single character might offer. I do not want to talk about the plot more, or give away any good stuff, because I found the book to be a surprising journey and would hate to ruin that for anyone.

I would recommend Weather Witch to readers that enjoy steam punk, coming of age tales, historical fiction, science fiction or fantasy, and simply reading something that feels fresh and new.l I think that young adults and adults would both enjoy the book, while the majority of main characters are of the teen set, the setting and political factions will keep everyone interested and turning the pages. Frankly, the only thing that really bothered me about the book was an ending that was obviously a set up for a sequel, and the knowledge that Stormbringer will not be released until January of 2014. I would give Weather Witch 4 stars.

This review was originally published on Sharon the Librarian.

Female Role Models in Fantasy

I am a fan of books from a wide variety of genres, for a wide variety of age groups. However, there is one common thread in the books I feel the most passionate about, and that is well-written characters. When I find a book with a strong protagonist that I can actually like and yet also believe in as real, I am thrilled. Sometimes finding one of these characters that just happens to be female, and one I would want to hold up to my daughter or nieces as a role model, is very hard. A teen or young female character who does not act as a victim even if the situation might make others feel like one. They act and do everything they can to make their life, and the lives of others, better. Thankfully, I have read fantasy for a long time, and have found a few. Here are the authors, and some of their noteworthy books that you can recommend to the young girls and young adults in your life.

[Cover]1) Tamora Pierce is my go-to recommendation for everyone that walks into the library and is looking for a fantasy book.  Alanna: The First Adventure  is the first book in the first series, Song of the Lioness, by Pierce. Alanna is a young girl that poses as her twin brother to become a knight and deals with the issues of bullying and personal strength. There are currently nine series by Pierce, two of which are geared for young adults, while the rest are for children, and she is still actively writing in at least one of them. My favorite series starters from Pierce are Alanna: The First AdventureFirst Test (Protector of the Small), Trickster’s Choice (Daughter of the Lioness), and Terrier (Beka Cooper).

[Cover]2) Robin McKinley has written a number of books that take classic stories, or plots that are reminiscent of them, and give them a solid twist. One of my favorites, The Hero and The Crown is about Aerin, who has the guidance of the wizard Luthe and the help of the blue sword to secure her birthright  as the daughter of the Damarian king and a witchwoman of the mysterious, demon-haunted North. The Blue Sword, Beauty, Chalice, Spindle’s End, Pegasus, and Sunshine are other books I would recommend from McKinley.

[Cover]3) Cornelia Funke is the author of the Inkworld series, which begins with Inkheart. You might recognize the shared title from the movie which was released in 2008.  In Inkheart, twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can “read” fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service. The sequels Inkspell and Inkdeath are equally good reads. For younger readers, I recommend Funke’s Igraine the BraveThe Princess Knight, and the Ghosthunter’s series which begins with Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost!.

[Cover]4) Patricia C. Wrede is the author of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles quartet, which begins with Dealing with Dragons in which Cimorene is everything a princess is expected not to be. She is headstrong, tomboyish, and smart. But most of all she is bored, so bored that she runs away to live with a dragon and in the process finds the family and excitement she’s been looking for. Other books that I would recommend by Wrede are Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Thirteenth Child, Mairelon the Magician, and Shadow Magic– all of which begin their own series.

Other authors that tend to offer up strong female children, teens, and adults as main characters in fantasy include: Libba Bray, Kristin Cashore, Cassandra Clare, Robin LaFevers, Maria V. Snyder, Garth Nix, Holly Black, Lilith St. Crow, Rachel Vincent, Elizabeth Moon, Kristen Britain, Edith Nesbitt, Dianna Wynne Jones, Patricia A. McKillip, and Sharon Shinn.

I know I left some great authors out, some are on the tip of my tongue even as I type this. Do you have a favorite fantasy book or author with strong female characters?

Book Review: The City’s Son by Tom Pollock

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The City’s Son

The City’s Son by Tom Pollock is an urban fantasy novel which marks the debut of the author. The book is suitable for young adults and adults.

Beth Bradley is a rebel, and a girl great with a can of spray paint. She spend her fee time tagging the city, while her friend Pen scrawls poetry to accompany it. Beth’s father is lost in grief over his late wife, and Pen is trapped by the expectations and demands of others. After a daring evening an apparent betrayal separates the friends and sends them both out into a world born of the very essence of London. They have very different paths, and different dreams. Beth meets Urchin, the prince of the streets who opens her eyes to the layers of the world around her. The city and all of its components are alive, and there is a major battle brewing. Reach, a source of death and destruction, is trying to rise, and the city’s creature are abuzz with rumors that Urchin’s Goddess and mother might be returning to fight the final battle. But when the battle is over, who will have won and what will the final price be?

The City’s Son is a original and engaging read. Beth is a risk taker, and is so used to making her own decisions that she does no bow to the voices of those who expect her to. A prince, his people, and their expectations can not withstand her will. She is a strong girl, but still carries a vulnerability that makes her feel real. The collection of the city’s creatures were imaginative an believable. I could easily see some of those statues coming to life, of reflections in skyscrapers taking on a life of their own. The mix of imagination and absolute reality come together perfectly. I will admit to looking at light bulbs, telephone wires, and bricks in a different way since finishing the book.

I highly recommend The City’s Son to teens and adults that like urban fantasy novels that carry with it a fresh perspective of the world, and yourself. There is just as much exploration into what Beth, Pen, and others want as there is the physical world around them.  The story is unique, with a skill in building a world that exists along side our own that reminds me of Neil Gaiman and Holly Black’s work. The introduction to a society that very well could be real, but since we are so good at ignoring what we do not want to see I doubt we would ever notice it. If you are looking for something fun, adventurous, and different then this is a must read!

A version of this review was previously posted on Sharon the Librarian.