The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

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In a time when young women are expected to act like proper ladies and aspire only to an advantageous marriage, Faith wants to be a scientist. Fascinated by the natural world, Faith takes pleasure in accompanying her father to fossil digs, even though she is not taken seriously because of her gender. When a scandal breaks in the scientific world involving Faith’s father, her family flees to a remote island. There, secrets about her father’s past begin to come to light, and Faith discovers that he may have brought an even bigger, more dangerous secret with him to the island. Using her deductive reasoning skills, Faith must uncover the truth of what’s happening on the island — before she gets sucked into its mysteries.

I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed this book. It’s historical fiction, but it’s completely accessible and a super fast paced read. I especially love how this book tackles women’s rights, women in STEM, and fake news — all wrapped up in a murder mystery! You will definitely be eager to find out how the story ends. Characters are entertaining and well-rounded, and I liked that the author gave particular depth to the character of Faith’s mother. If you like historical fiction, mysteries, STEM, or are just looking for a good read, give this one a try. Worth it!

*Costa Book of the Year, 2015

Rating: 4.5/5

 

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron

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Every twelve years, Nadia’s world forgets. They lose the memories of their past, their families — even of who they are. To remember, members of Nadia’s society must write down their lives in books. Whatever is written in their books is true. But Nadia knows that some things written down are lies. And she knows because Nadia doesn’t forget. When the rest of her world scrambles to rebuild their fractured lives, Nadia remembers everything that happened before the Forgetting. She knows that her real father altered his book to start a new family. And she knows that her mother is losing her mind because of his betrayal. Somehow, Nadia must discover the truth behind the Forgetting, before her remaining family is ripped apart forever.

If you’re a fan of DivergentThe TestingHunger Games, or any other YA Dystopia, this one is a solid pick for you. Personally, I found it to be slower-paced than I usually like my novels, but its premise is a good one. The author does a good job of examining human nature and posing questions about it. What would you do, if you knew everyone was just going to forget? It’s an interesting thought that could lead to a heavy discussion. If you can get through the parts that drag, the ending is a good one.

Rating: 3/5

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

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Unaware that she is gifted with magic, Tea raises her brother from the dead during his funeral. Tea discovers that she is a bone witch, one who controls the dark magic. Though they use their abilities to banish monsters, bone witches are often reviled by the kingdoms they protect. Under her new tutor, Tea must learn how to harness and hone her power while playing the political games that come with it. She must learn quickly, though, because dark forces are culminating which will require all the strength she can gather.

This book starts slowly, but really, really picks up. All characters are entertaining and strong, especially the cranky old woman who runs Tea’s boardinghouse. Fox, Tea’s zombie brother, also brings a lot of humor to the story. The structure of the novel is unique; Tea’s story relating to her training is told in flashback form, with a present-tense story-line hinting at what’s to come — and it’s big. The end of the book leaves a TON of questions that I’m desperate to know, so you’ll definitely be reaching for the sequel. Add this to your TBR for an awesome new fantasy/supernatural series.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oaks

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In this twist on the classic Alice in Wonderland, Oaks examines the origins of Wonderland’s villain, the Queen of Hearts. Dinah, just a princess, is caught in the web of court life. Her father, the reigning King of Hearts, is volatile and often swayed by his wavering favor and the opinion of his venomous advisers. Her brother, considered mad and obsessed with hat making, is confined to his rooms. Though Dinah is expected to ascend to the throne and rule beside her father, the king treats her as though she is worthless. When the king brings in a long-lost, illegitimate daughter, Dinah knows she has a rival. As the situation continues to escalate, Dinah must figure out who she can trust in the court, as well as a way to keep her head.

I recently read and loved Heartless by Marissa Meyer. As great as that book is, Queen of Hearts is better. It’s a darker read, which is maybe why I like it more, and it takes a unique spin on the Wonderland characters. The mad hatter, for example is Dinah’s brother, a young boy with a mental illness (maybe autism) who loves to make hats. Cheshire, instead of being a disappearing cat, is a conniving adviser with a sly smile. Aside from these creative twists, the plot is also riveting, and I love that Dinah is not a beautiful young princess who needs to be rescued. I’m definitely reaching for the sequel! If you like fractured fairy tales or retellings, don’t miss this one!

Rating: 5/5 

 

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

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At twenty-third in line to the throne, Freya may technically be part of the court, but doesn’t feel it worthwhile to invest much energy into her court life. Instead, Freya prefers to conduct science experiments aimed at inventing a device that will make her independently wealthy. When she is invited to the King’s birthday party, Freya reluctantly attends, but ends up sneaking out in order to finish and experiment. In her absence, someone poisons the king’s cake and nearly everyone at the party is killed. So many, in fact, that Freya is next in line to be queen. Completely unprepared to rule, Freya finds herself the center of a decimated court, surrounded by those who suspect her of the murder. Freya must find the true murderer before she loses her new throne and her life.

Wow! This is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. The premise itself is fascinating — basically an entire court dies leaving one obscure relation as queen? Yes, please. I also loved how much Freya was obsessed with science and finding her own way in the world. So many female heroines (even when they’re strong!) stand around waiting for a prince, convinced they’re not worth anything. Not Freya! The story also features excellent female friendships and a healthy romantic relationship. If you’re looking for a fantasy standalone (rare, I know), don’t miss this!

Rating: 5/5

Court of Fives by Kate Elliot

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Though Jessamy’s mother is of “common” birth, Jessamy and her sisters are raised as ladies. Ladies are expected to remain pleasant and demure until they marry. Jessamy hates the life of a lady. Instead, she wants to run the Fives — and obstacle course on which both high-born patrons and commoners can win glory through victory. But, as a lady, Jessamy is not allowed to run the Fives and must do so in secret. When the hierarchy of the court shifts and Jessamy’s family finds itself in a precarious position, her father must make an impossible choice. The fallout from his choice changes Jessamy’s life forever, and she must use the Fives to save her family at any cost.

While the world-building in this book is truly remarkable, the plot itself is kind of boring. I think the problem is that the author tries to incorporate too much into this one story. There are two major plot-lines, both of which are exciting, good plots. But including both in this book gave me a bit too much to keep up with. The ending is great, though, and gives an excellent set-up for the second book. There are also very relevant undertones of racial/class/gender discrimination that could be tied to events of today.

*Lonestar, 2017 

Rating: 2.5/5

 

The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine

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Elli is selected to be the next Valatia, the queen of her land who holds an extraordinary amount of power. She must use this power to defend her people against enemy threats. Elli cannot become Valatia, however, until the reigning queen is consumed by her magic and is destroyed. When the queen does die, her magic does not enter Elli. A powerless and therefore useless Valatia, Elli flees the kingdom and hides in the outlands. Here, the lawless barbarians she believes reside in the mountains turn out to be more than the criminals she imagined. Elli must gain their trust in order to find out why the Valatia’s magic did not enter her and save her kingdom from ruin.

File this book under “good, not great”. Based on its premise, I was really excited about it, but the plot can be slow, especially in the beginning. When it does pick up, there’s plenty of action and adventure — even some twists I didn’t expect. I also liked the inclusion of an LGBT love interest. If you’re looking for a new fantasy series with a strong female lead, definitely try this one. Just be ready to hang in for the slow parts.

Rating: 3/5