Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review of The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

Forest, Laurie.  The Black Witch.  Harlequin Teen, 2017.

After their parents are killed, Elloren Gardner and her brothers move to a small town and live with their kind uncle, who serves as their guardian.  Their uncle does not want the siblings to become “wandfasted”, a type of ceremonial betrothal, until they have finished their studies.  Elloren looks just like her grandmother, Carnissa Gardner.  She has been told that she has no magic powers, unlike her famous grandmother, who was the prophesied Black Witch and had level five magic—the most powerful known.

Elloren’s political aunt, Vyvian Gardner, tells Elloren she will pay for her to attend the prestigious Verpax University and whisks her away to her spacious castle.   At a party given in her honor, Aunt Vyvian introduces Elloren to Lukas Gray, a handsome, eligible Gardnerian bachelor, because she wants Elloren to wandfast to him.  She refuses, so her aunt makes her life miserable at Verpax, forcing Elloren to live with two winged “demon” icarals, work in a kitchen where she is taunted by “low-class” Urisk servants and shunned by a mysterious, handsome Kelt.  Much to her horror, she is also forced to become lab partners with a male lupine in one of her classes.  There’s no way to avoid other races because Verpax accepts everyone!

Elloren is also bullied by the jealous Fallon Bane, who wants to wandfast to Lukas Gray, and is the person everyone believes might be the next prophesied Black Witch.  Elloren slowly begins to realize that everything she has been told about other races is veiled in lies, and Gardnerian history is not as she has been taught.  All races are looking for the next Black Witch and the coming of the new, powerful, evil icaral, both of which have been foretold.  As Elloren comes to trust her misfit roommates and classmates, she must ignore everything that she has learned about hate, judgment, and fear.

This recently released novel by Laurie Forest is the first in a new series by the same name.  This is Ms. Forest’s debut novel, and she has burst upon the scene amidst some controversy.  While some have heralded her novel, others have scorned it for its handling of prejudice and racism.  I happen to be among those who think it is a brilliant fantasy story.

The world-building in The Black Witch is lush and descriptive.  Verpax University is somewhat reminiscent of Hogwarts Academy.  The characters are well-developed, even down to the secondary characters.  After viewing Ms. Forest’s Pinterest page and her Twitter tweets, it is easy to see how much thought and research went into her characters' descriptions.  The prose and dialogue are beautiful and captivating.  I especially like the lupines and their blunt, literal outlook on life.

The main themes in the novel are prejudice, racism, xenophobia, and propaganda.  The different races in the book have been taught that all other races are evil, calculating, and inferior, and their race is the only one which is superior to all others.  Elloren, her friends, and her brothers learn slowly to ignore what they have been taught for many years and accept and befriend those different from them.  Although Elloren is not quick to realize that others’ views have influenced her opinions, there are more sequels to come so that she will be able to grow more in the future.  That she was able to work with others to bring about change was welcome and refreshing.

This novel is a real page turner!  I highly recommend it for middle school, high school, and public libraries and give it 5 out of 5 fleur de lis!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

More Mini-Reviews!

I'm BAAAACK!!!  I've been tied up with TAYSHAS and other commitments.  Here are some mini-reviews for some of the books that I nominated for new TAYSHAS 2017 list!

Hartzler, Aaron.  What We Saw.  HarperTeen, 2015.

Kate can't remember what happened at John's party; the night is a blur.  After she sees a disturbing picture of a passed-out Stacie hanging over a football player's shoulder, she realizes something must have happened after she left the party.  Then Stacie accuses four football players of rape, and the whole town goes crazy.  How far will people to to protect their friends and their sports heroes?

Aaron Hartzler's debut novel was inspired by true events from the Steubenville, Ohio rape case, which made national news in 2012. Written in first person point of view, the sensitive topics the book covers are relevant to today. The narrator struggles with discovering the truth and having the courage to stand up for the victim, amid peer pressure and cover-ups.  I recommend this book for high school and public libraries and give it five out of five fleur de lis! ON TAYSHAS LIST!

Quick, Matthew.  Every Exquisite Thing.  Little, Brown, 2016.

Nanette is a soccer player with a promising future and a straight-A student.  Then one day her favorite teacher gives her a copy of his favorite book, The Bubblegum Reaper, an out-of print novel, and she begins to rebel.  As Nanette becomes good friends with the reclusive author and begins a relationship with a troubled teen, she begins to abandon the things she thought mattered and tries to find herself and her place in the world.

Matthew Quick has the ability to see right into and understand the teenage mind. He offers insight into unconventional personalities--loners, rebels, and artsy-type kids. Nanette's first-person narrative is strong, emotional, and intelligent. She doesn't want to be who other people think she should be--she wants to make her own decisions and chart her own path--whatever that may turn out to be. This is a novel of self-discovery, coming of age, and some self-destruction.  I highly recommend it for high school and public libraries and give it five out of five fleur de lis!  ON TAYSHAS LIST!

Skye, Evelyn.  The Crown's Game.  Balzer + Bray, 2016.

The Russian Tsar needs a powerful enchanter to help him keep Russia safe from the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs.  Unaware of each other, both Vika and Nikolai have been training for years to become the Imperial Enchanter.  However, the Tsar can only have one enchanter, and so Vika and Nikolai must fight to the death in the Crown's Game!

This is Evelyn Skye's debut novel and the beginning of a new historical fantasy series. The world building is dense and beautiful, and the characters are extremely well-developed and multi-layered. The book is told in 3rd person in multiple viewpoints in an alternate 1800's Russia. The author has a degree in Russian history, which shows in her writing and research. The magic the enchanters use is stunning, and there is a plot twist at the end of nearly every chapter. This book has action, suspense, fabulous character back-stories, and more than one love triangle!  I highly recommend The Crown's Game for middle school, high school, and public libraries and give it five out of five fleur de lis!  ON TAYSHAS LIST!

Rollins, Danielle.  Burning.  Bloomsbury, 2016.

Brunesfield Correctional Facility is a juvenile detention home for girls. It is run-down, and the guards are cruel.  Angela only has a few months before she will be released and be able to go home to her little brother. Then ten-year-old Jessica shows up and Angela is assigned to help her adjust to life at the facility.  But Jessica is dangerous, and no one will talk about why she is there.  Brunesfield is no longer safe, and Angela and her friends need to escape before it's too late!

The setting for this novel is an old, broken-down female juvenile detention facility, which is both creepy and horrific. It even contains a segregation ward, for those girls which are deemed too crazy and dangerous to associate with other inmates. There is hostility between inmates, paranormal activity, and brutal authority figures. Many of the characters are minorities who are trying to cope with hard issues and secrets. This is a frightening, gritty read, which is suspenseful to the very end.  I recommend it for high school and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis! TAYSHAS nominated only.

Cook, Eileen.  With Malice.  HMH, 2016.

When Jill wakes up in the hospital, she can't recall anything that happened during the past six weeks.  She discovers that she is the center of a car accident Italy in which she is accused of murdering her best friend.  How can she clear her name if she can't remember what happened?!

Told through flashbacks, yearbook signings, police interviews, newspaper articles, tour applications, and other primary source material, this novel is a chilling mystery that will appeal to readers who love mystery and suspense. Twists, turns, and plot twists will keep the readers guessing until the very end. The author has done extensive research on brain injuries and how they affect memory loss. Will Jill be charged with murder and extradited to Italy? Will she be able to attend Yale and follow in the steps of her father and grandfather? This is a real page turner and has a shocking conclusion!  I recommend it for high school and public libraries and give it four out of five fleur de lis!  TAYSHAS nominated only.

More mini-reviews coming soon!