The end is worth the sometimes-perilous journey.

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STRANGE SWEET SONG

Boarding school drama and paranormal romance collide in this promising debut.

Sing da Navelli, daughter of a world-famous conductor and the late, legendary soprano Barbara da Navelli, arrives at the prestigious Dunhammond Conservatory determined to find recognition for her own talent. Surrounding the conservatory is a dark forest, shrouded in mystery and rumored home of the Felix, a fantastical beast whose tears become wishes. Sing is drawn to the forest and to the off-putting yet strangely attractive Nathan Daysmoor, an apprentice at the conservatory. The main narrative revolves around campus life and rehearsals for the Autumn Festival. The opera Angelique is the centerpiece of the festival, and Sing’s dreams are crushed when she is cast as the understudy to the title role. Rule weaves parallel narratives through the novel, following Nathan’s back story and the motivations of the Felix as she collides with humanity. Sing herself begins as a largely unlikable and shallow character but will grow on readers who have the patience to slog through the slow first half of the novel. Uneven pacing, underdeveloped secondary characters and a bloated main narrative put too much focus on teenage cattiness, while the Felix mythology and Sing’s relationship with Nathan are more interesting and original. Although not perfect, the second half is a compelling read.

The end is worth the sometimes-perilous journey. (Fantasy. 13-17)

Pub Date: March 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-250-04816-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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Bound to be popular.

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES

From the Ember in the Ashes series , Vol. 1

A suddenly trendy trope—conflict and romance between members of conquering and enslaved races—enlivened by fantasy elements loosely drawn from Arabic tradition (another trend!).

In an original, well-constructed fantasy world (barring some lazy naming), the Scholars have lived under Martial rule for 500 years, downtrodden and in many cases enslaved. Scholar Laia has spent a lifetime hiding her connection to the Resistance—her parents were its leaders—but when her grandparents are killed and her brother’s captured by Masks, the eerie, silver-faced elite soldiers of the Martial Empire, Laia must go undercover as a slave to the terrifying Commandant of Blackcliff Military Academy, where Martials are trained for battle. Meanwhile, Elias, the Commandant’s not-at-all-beloved son, wants to run away from Blackcliff, until he is named an Aspirant for the throne by the mysterious red-eyed Augurs. Predictably, action, intrigue, bloodshed and some pounding pulses follow; there’s betrayal and a potential love triangle or two as well. Sometimes-lackluster prose and a slight overreliance on certain kinds of sexual violence as a threat only slightly diminish the appeal created by familiar (but not predictable) characters and a truly engaging if not fully fleshed-out fantasy world.

Bound to be popular. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

Pub Date: April 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59514-803-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Razorbill/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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