From the This Is Not the Jess Show series , Vol. 1

A thrilling and thought-provoking ride.

A teenager uncovers a secret that alters her entire reality.

It’s March 1998. Jess Flynn is thinking of college and longing to leave the confines of her small town. Her mother is overprotective; her sister, Sara, is receiving palliative care for an incurable disease; and Jess is falling for her best friend, Tyler, whom she’s been close to for 6 years. Every year the month of March brings Jess anxiety that something major is going to happen: Three years earlier, Sara received her diagnosis; the next year there was a tornado; and one year ago, Jess’ family’s home was burglarized. Now Jess is hyperaware of her surroundings, and she notices many things too strange to be ignored: far-off voices chanting outside, a mysterious flu spreading around town, and her closest friends keeping secrets. The strangest of all? Jess discovers that her dog has been replaced with a look-alike and her parents have no explanation. Jess decides to investigate, but she must tread cautiously because someone is watching her every move. Pop-culture references from the ’90s are paramount to the story’s façade, and the final plot twist packs a punch. This is a fun stand-alone, but the ending leaves room for readers to explore more of Jess’ world in the next series entry. The main cast is assumed White except for Jess’ friend Amber, who is cued as Black.

A thrilling and thought-provoking ride. (Speculative fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-68369-197-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020


From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023


From the Blood and Tea series , Vol. 1

Crowd-pleasing fun laced with political fire: a winner.

Bestselling author Faizal returns to the universe of We Hunt the Flame (2019) with a stand-alone duology opener.

Orphaned Arthie, brown-skinned with mauve hair, has created a criminal empire out of sheer pluck despite being Ceylani in Ettenia, where laws favor white people. She pulled legendary pistol Calibore from a stone plinth (though the prophecy that doing so would make her the nation’s leader turned out to be a hoax). She’s also built Spindrift, a teahouse-cum-bloodhouse, where she gathers secrets from wealthy humans and vampires, amassing power and security. Now Arthie has her sights set on vengeance—and the Ram, Ettenia’s masked monarch. When she and Jin, her brother-by-choice (who’s cued East Asian), are drawn into a heist, they assemble a diverse crew of immigrants whose roles riff on genre archetypes. The lush prose pulses with feeling as revelations are dropped and the tension ratchets up, keeping the pages turning as the motley gang plans to infiltrate a vampire society, retrieve a stolen ledger, and double-cross one of the Ram’s guards (who might be planning to double-cross them). Their ultimate goal: taking down the colonizing Ettenians and the exploitative East Jeevant Company. It’s all very exciting right up to the action-packed finale, which promises more conspiracy and (hopefully) justice to come. This compelling read offers interesting commentary on our society while feeling entirely real within the context of its own worldbuilding.

Crowd-pleasing fun laced with political fire: a winner. (map) (Fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2024

ISBN: 9780374389406

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2023

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