An ambitious premise that does not live up to previous entries in complexity and depth.

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SONG OF THE CRIMSON FLOWER

The return to the kingdoms of Feng Lu relies heavily on the richly detailed East Asian worldbuilding.

Eight prosperous years after Empress Jade and Lord Koichi completed their quest to defeat the evil Empress Xifeng, a terrifying bloodpox outbreak and the illegal trade of forbidden black spice has left the kingdom on the brink of war. Bao is a gentle-spirited orphan and a physician’s apprentice whose heartbreak over Lan, the royal minister’s marriageable daughter, drives him to seek out a river witch. The witch turns out to be his vengeful aunt, who curses Bao with blood magic—casting a spell that traps him in his beloved flute. Lan deeply regrets her harsh words to Bao and vows to help him break the curse. A sincere declaration of love before the next full moon will break the spell, so the two embark on an epic journey to find answers. Lan and Bao’s story is a stand-alone tale, but fans of the Rise of the Empress duology will appreciate the entourage meeting up once again with Commander Wei, Wren, Jade, and Koichi. In this latest quest, characters are literally and figuratively transparent, and mentions of the long-dead Xifeng’s rise to villainy only makes readers long for more intriguing characters. Unfortunately, this companion title is weak in character development and engaging dialogue.

An ambitious premise that does not live up to previous entries in complexity and depth. (Fantasy adventure. 12-16)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3835-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else.

ALL THIS TIME

A modern-day fairy tale about two teenagers suffering from loss who find healing in one another.

Despite the ups and downs in their relationship, Kyle and Kimberly have always made up, and Kyle looks forward to attending college together after graduation. But on the night they should be celebrating, Kimberly confesses that she has committed to a different college and breaks up with him. As they argue, their car crashes, and Kyle later wakes up in the hospital and learns that Kimberly is dead. In his grief, Kyle blames himself for her death. He struggles to leave his bed most days, ignores calls from his and Kimberly’s best friend, Sam, and has visions of Kimberly and life before the accident. One day, while visiting Kimberly’s grave, he meets Marley, a girl who likes telling stories and is mourning the death of her twin sister. Predictably, their natural affinity for one another evolves into romance. It is unfortunate that Kyle essentially moves from one romantic relationship to another on his journey to better understanding himself and his co-dependence on those closest to him, although his gradual development into a more considerate person redeems him. The pacing remains even until the critical plot disruption, resulting in the rest of the story feeling disjointed and rushed. All characters are White.

For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-6634-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue.

THE BETROTHED

From the Betrothed series , Vol. 1

In an imagined setting evoking medieval England, King Jameson of Coroa pursues Hollis Brite.

The independent teenager makes Jameson laugh, but she lacks the education and demeanor people expect in a queen. Her friend Delia Grace has more knowledge of history and languages but is shunned due to her illegitimate birth. Hollis gets caught up in a whirl of social activity, especially following an Isolten royal visit. There has been bad blood between the two countries, not fully explained here, and when an exiled Isolten family also comes to court, Jameson generously allows them to stay. Hollis relies on the family to teach her about Isolten customs and secretly falls in love with Silas, the oldest son, even though a relationship with him would mean relinquishing Jameson and the throne. When Hollis learns of political machinations that will affect her future in ways that she abhors, she faces a difficult decision. Romance readers will enjoy the usual descriptions of dresses, jewelry, young love, and discreet kisses, although many characters remain cardboard figures. While the violent climax may be upsetting, the book ends on a hopeful note. Themes related to immigration and young women’s taking charge of their lives don’t quite lift this awkwardly written volume above other royal romances. There are prejudicial references to Romani people, and whiteness is situated as the norm.

Skip this uninspired entry into the world of medieval love and court intrigue. (Historical romance. 13-16)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-229163-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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