Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Satisfying sequels: Dark Triumph, A Spark Unseen and The Dream Thieves

Satisfying sequels are hard to find in the world of trilogies and series.  The second book frequently seems to be a bridge to the next or final book and leaves readers frustrated that the denouement is a year away. Robin LaFever in her His Fair Assassins series has come up with a winning formula to solve this problem. Each of the books in the trilogy is about a different woman, who was fathered by Saint Mortain, the God of Death, and brought to a mysterious convent to be trained as an assassin.  Dark Triumph is the latest offering in the series. Although the stories overlap, each book stands on its own.  A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron continues The Dark Unwinding saga, which chronicles the story of Katharine Tulman, who in 1852 is sent to Stanwyne Keep, her uncle's estate, to have him declared insane. There she finds a clockwork factory which employs hundreds of people from the workhouse, and an uncle who is lovably eccentric. The sequel follows Katherine to Paris where she flees with her uncle after an attempted kidnapping.  The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater is the follow-up to The Raven Boys, which introduces Blue and her family of clairvoyants, as well as the Raven Boys, four prep school students who are searching for the ley line, which is a link to Glendower, a long dead Welsh king.  

The first book in the His Fair Assassins Trilogy is Grave Mercy, which I reviewed in May of 2012. It introduces seventeen-year-old Ismae who escapes her abusive father and an arranged marriage, finding sanctuary at the Convent of St. Mortain.  There she discovers she has special powers and is to serve as an assassin for the God of Death.  In her first assignment Ismae must protect the Duchess Anne of Brittany and kill the traitor in her court. Set in medieval France with historically accurate details, Grave Mercy combines political intrigue with romance and mystery. The sequel Dark Triumph focuses on Sybella, a minor character in the first book, whose mission requires her to return home to her earthly father D'Albret's cruelty and her half-brother's incestuous obsession with her.  There she covertly plans to thwart D'Albret's plot to capture Duchess Anne and frees her champion, the Beast of Waroch.  In doing so, Sybella is inadvertently knocked out and taken by Beast to Anne's hideout, where together they work to end D'Albret's reign of terror. Mortal Heart , which comes out in Spring 2014, follows Annith, a trained assassin, who rebels against the abbess's decision to make her a Seeress, forever sequestered in the convent.

The Dark Unwinding introduces Katharine Tulman, who is sent by her conniving aunt to investigate her uncle, who seems to be squandering away the family fortune. Her aunt wants her to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers an eccentric inventor of automatons and his devoted community of workers including his handsome apprentice Lane, whom she grows to love.  In A Spark Unseen Katherine thwarts a kidnapping attempt and spirits her uncle off to Paris, where she hopes to hide him and at the same time search for Lane, who left Stanwyne Keep to hunt Ben Aldridge, and is rumored to be dead. Her quest embroils her in a complicated maze of political intrigue involving the court of Napoleon III. Meanwhile she is also worrying about keeping one of Uncle Tully's inventions away from people who want to use it as a dangerous weapon. As with its predecessor A Spark Unseen is filled lots of action and plot twists that keep the reader guessing about whom Katherine can trust. The book will be released September 24, 2013. Although the ending wraps up all the plot lines completely, the author leaves herself a little wiggle room for another installment if she is up for it.

Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves is the second book in her Raven Cycle. In the first book, The Raven Boys, a great deal of time was spent introducing Gansey, Noah, Ronan and Adam and setting up the boys' quest to find the ley lines which will lead them to the Welsh King Glendower.  As the book closes, they have a mystical experience in the Cabeswater forest and their friend Blue continues to stress over the prophecy that she will kill her true love with her kiss.  As The Dream Thieves opens, Cabeswater has disappeared and The Gray Man, a new adult nemesis, has arrived in town searching for the Greywaren, which allows the owner to steal objects from dreams. Ronan's supernatural abilities and their connection to his family are the main focus of this installment, although the other boys and Blue continue to have struggles of their own. Fans of the series will love the fast pace and the intricate story lines that resolve themselves by the end of the book. Of course, the tantalizing hint about the next book is supplied in the epilogue. I'm not usually a fan of drawn out dream sequences in books, but Maggie Stiefvater's lyrical writing kept me feverishly turning pages in this outstanding sequel.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New Books with Embedded Research: Fallout, The Social Code, and Plague in the Mirror

 I recently attended the School Library Journal's virtual book show and got some great suggestions for the upcoming school year.  I read three books that fit into the embedded research unit that I outline in my book, What's New in Young Adult Novels? and Ideas for Classroom Use. Embedded research is information that is embedded so seamlessly into the story that it enriches the detail and realism in the story without seeming didactic.  Students might ask, "What is the difference between historical fiction and fiction with embedded research?" In answer to that question I would say that historical fiction has main characters, who actually existed in situations that really happened.  Stories with embedded research are about fictional characters in situations that really happened or involve accurate details about things that take place in the story. Todd Strasser's Fallout asks the question, "What would happen if a nuclear bomb was dropped and your family was the only one in the neighborhood with a bomb shelter? Sadie Hayes' The Social Code introduces twins who grew up in foster care and are now at Stanford University. They create a revolutionary computer app and are being courted by the biggest tycoons in Silicon Valley.  Deborah Noyes' Plague in the Mirror involves time travel back to 14th Century Florence where the Black Death is ravaging the countryside.

Todd Strasser grew up in the 1950s and experienced the Cold War first hand.  His family had a fallout shelter and he has parlayed some of his own experiences into a story about a twelve-year old-boy named Scott whose family is ridiculed for building and stocking a bomb shelter. Then the Cuban Missile Crisis occurs and his neighbors are singing a different tune. In Fallout the author suggests that a bomb is actually dropped and  neighbors force their way into the bomb shelter which was only provisioned for a family of four. Without enough food, water and air for all of them, tensions break out.  But the biggest question is if they can survive until the radioactivity outside abates, what will they find when they get out?

In The Social Code eighteen-year-old  scholarship students Adam and Amelia Dory find themselves out of sync with their privileged classmates at Stanford.  Then Amelia, who is happiest in a computer lab writing code, creates a computer program that allows users to control all their mechanical devices from their phones. Adam who longs for the privileged lifestyle enjoyed by those around them, talks her into creating a company and getting involved with a Silicon Valley mogul. However, their past comes back to haunt them in the cut throat, back stabbing world they have entered. The accurate portrayal of the computer programming culture make this a riveting read. This is the first book in the author's new "Start Up" series. The Next Big Thing, which continues to chronicle the lives of the Dory twins, will be available in November.

Plague in the Mirror weaves the horrors of the 14th century plague in Europe into the story of a young girl struggling with her parents' breakup. Hoping to escape the turmoil, May travels to Florence for a summer with her best friend Liam and his mother.  But once there, Christofana, a haunting doppelganger from the past, appears at the foot of May's bed and escorts her into the plague ridden Florence of 1347. There May meets Marco, an artist with whom she feels an immediate connection.  Christofana is hoping to trap May in the past so that she can take her place in the 21st Century. Meanwhile back in the present, Liam is intimating that he would like to be more than friends, which panics her.  When she tries to tell him about Christofana, he suggests that the stress of her parents' divorce may be sending her over the edge.  Is the time travel real or is it just a figment of her imagination? In a historical fantasy authors' panel at the trade show, Deborah Noyes discussed the extensive research she did, which is reflected in the story which is rich in detail about the Black Death, the Italian art world and life in the 14th Century.