An entertaining premise, effective voice, and underlying warmth make a strong start to this fantasy series.

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EMPTY THREAT

A NOVEL OF THE BLACK PAGES

From the Black Pages series , Vol. 1

When a young woman who can enter fictional worlds decides to change their plots, she faces fierce resistance in this debut contemporary novel.

“Sometimes I just want to shout the truth about me and what I’m capable of at the world,” says Elana Black, but she knows that’s a terrible idea. Who would believe that Elana can depart her current reality and step into novels, TV shows, movies, and even comic books? She can’t explain it herself: “There’s a lot that I don’t know. I don’t know most things.” In an old sitcom, Elana for the first time meets someone like herself, Paolo, who explains they’re not alone; they’re “travelers of a kind.” They can tap into the Knowing—learning people’s tales—and all worlds are real. Thinking of the suffering she’s read or seen, Elana is deeply unsettled, and after entering a favorite episode of the Doctor Who–like show Eternity Pilgrim, she prevents a minor character’s destruction. This success gives her a new sense of purpose: “I’ve decided to rewrite history as a full-time hobby.” But Elana has dangerous, angry foes who don’t want her to upset the balance of things and are willing to use her friends as pawns. Elana must learn more about herself and her abilities to stand up for the principle that every story matters. In this series opener, Bell (Warning Call, 2017) offers a nice twist on the portal fantasy, with Elana able to enter any kind of world that fiction can describe. It’s almost too soon that the tale turns to its complications, because the intriguing notion is worth more exploration. Elana is a sympathetic heroine with some challenges (social anxiety, a low-status bookstore clerk job) but a strong moral compass that points true. Friendship, too, is a theme of the novel, and Elana must learn to trust that she can rely on her circle. As she explains, with an appropriate fictional reference, she’s not a lone wolf, she’s “Buffy Summers, someone who needs a family.”

An entertaining premise, effective voice, and underlying warmth make a strong start to this fantasy series.

Pub Date: April 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5455-9482-7

Page Count: 292

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.

MALICE

This YA SF novel features a teen who must halt a virus that will kill two-thirds of humanity.

In Silver Oak, Maryland, Alice Sherman is a high school junior enjoying lunch near her campus basketball court. With her is Archie, her brother, a senior and science prodigy who likes equations more than his fellow students. Alice has been Archie’s one true friend since their mother left six years ago. Alice is about to catch up with Lalana Bunyasarn, her best friend, when a sudden “streak of electricity zaps through” her head. The agony intensifies until a Voice enters Alice’s mind, asking her, “Do you want this pain to stop?” The Voice then instructs her to go up to Bandit Sakda, a classmate playing basketball, and say that she loves him. Bandit is a beautiful Thai boy who’s talented and arrogant. Strangely, the Voice calls her Malice and says not to fall for him because “it’ll only make what you have to do later harder.” Eventually, Alice learns that the Voice belongs to someone from 10 years in the future who needs help saving humanity. A virus will be created by a person Alice knows that will wipe out two-thirds of the world population. Following the Voice’s directions can save everyone—except the person Alice is ordered to kill. Dunn’s (Star-Crossed, 2018, etc.) latest YA adventure offers increasingly tantalizing twists that gleam in succession like nested matryoshka dolls. Alice will charm readers with her quirks, especially her devotion to Chris Hemsworth of Marvel’s Avengers films. Tension builds as characters in the large cast, including crushworthy Zeke Cain and the brilliant Cristela Ruiz, become potential targets for Alice’s mission. Details about Thai culture add a splendid dimension to the narrative; for example, Bandit is pronounced “bun-dit” and means “one who is wise.” While the notion of a high school killer may not sit well with some, the author doesn’t use the device lightly. Her book takes a strong anti-bullying stance, doing so through an entertaining narrative that doesn’t resort to preaching. The author’s heart and craftiness make a sequel welcome.

Well-drawn characters and playful twists keep this thriller fully charged.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64063-412-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Familiar territory plumbed afresh; fantasy fans should be pleased.

A GIFT OF POISON

From the The Kingmakers' War series , Vol. 1

A girl who has been dismissed and distrusted for most of her life must prove herself in this quest novel.

Briand Varryda dresses like a boy and is the unwanted ward of her uncle. Denied education and often even food, she realizes that her only friends are her cousin Bran and, sometimes, the soldier Tibus. Briand can look after herself: She’s good with a knife and light on her feet. But this time, she’s in real trouble. Briand has cleaned out one soldier too many at the card game Dubbok. When Tibus saves her from vengeful pursuers, he has no choice but to then turn her over to Kael, steward of her uncle’s castle—who has a reputation for cruelty and who, with the help of Bran’s loathsome tutor, Nath, is conducting secret experiments involving young noblemen and poisonous snakes. Kael gives her one last chance. Briand tries to go straight; she attempts to do the right thing. But when she intervenes in one of Kael’s experiments, she gets more than she bargained for. By passing a test meant for Bran, Briand becomes a “dragonsayer,” with “the ability to speak to and sometimes control animals of magic, particularly dragons.” From despised guttersnipe, she has now risen to being the kingdom’s last hope against the usurper prince and his deadly Seekers—but that’s no reason for her companions to think any better of her. In this short novel, Ellison (With Tide and Tempest, 2014, etc.) takes fantasy tropes and makes them feel original. The same achievement can be seen in characterization. Briand and all the others are easily recognizable types but still seem unique. Briand, in particular, is somehow not the typical orphan who makes good. This is made possible by the author’s no-nonsense prose and pacing and some astute worldbuilding. The necessary background details (with the exception of some that find their way into speech) are foreshadowed rather than dumped. This allows Briand to forge her own path and for the story to grip and take hold. Although this is the first book in a series, the plot is largely self-contained. Readers will be left with closure but still wanting more.

Familiar territory plumbed afresh; fantasy fans should be pleased.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5028-7264-7

Page Count: 286

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2019

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