A sizzling romance cannot compensate for the blind spots.



From the Continent series , Vol. 1

Grief-stricken and stranded far from home, a sheltered young woman must rebuild her life and reconsider all she believes to be true.

Apprentice cartographer Vaela Sun thinks she’s the luckiest teen in the Spire when her parents announce they have obtained coveted tickets for a family heli-plane tour over the Continent. Peopled by the warring Xoe and Aven’ei, this icy, remote land has long been cut off from the Four Nations who regard its inhabitants as little more than curiosities. When their heli-plane crashes in the wilderness, blonde, fair-skinned Vaela is the sole survivor. Rescued by Noro, a bronze-skinned, black-haired Aven’ei assassin with whom she soon falls in love, Vaela makes a new life for herself on the Continent, learning to survive without the aid of servants and even taking a job shoveling manure. Coming from a technologically advanced land where peace and prosperity are taken for granted and various ethnicities intermarry without prejudice, Vaela struggles to understand the values of her new homeland. Her gradual awakening hews closely to the well-worn trope of the young Westerner who achieves self-actualization through experiencing the seemingly simple pleasures of the developing world. While apparently attempting to critique poverty tourism and indifference toward the struggles of developing countries and indigenous peoples, the novel falls short in never probing the responsibility developed nations bear for contributing to these problems in the first place. The resolution similarly deprives the people of the Continent of agency.

A sizzling romance cannot compensate for the blind spots. (Fantasy. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-335-47493-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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


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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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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