Entertaining, but the writing could be stronger.

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FATHOMS BETWEEN

From the Star Crossed series

With star-crossed love a blight on her family, a young woman reluctantly works with Hades to break the curse in Book 3 of this fantasy series.

In Fathoms Below (2016) and Fathoms Above (2017), Holt told the story of Cather Stevens, an American high school cheerleader and the descendant of a long line of women with broken hearts. From the Greek god Hermes, she learned that Zeus’ long-ago curse on Thisbe to prevent her union to Pyramus has recurred many times in Cather’s family line. Cather married Peter Ganis—last living descendant of Pyramus—to end the curse. He has strong feelings for her, but she’s torn between Peter and Hermes. The curse won’t be fully broken until the 10 lost pieces of Thisbe’s soul that were scattered by Zeus are reunited within Cather. A clue points to Greece, where the newlyweds and Hermes find several soul pieces while dodging fearsome attacks by Zeus-sent killers. But when Peter is tricked and falls into a coma, Hermes must watch over him while Cather gathers pieces and looks for Peter’s cure. She has a shady ally in Hades, who agrees to help so he can get back at Zeus. As the two venture up mountains and under sea, facing gods and battling monsters, Cather recovers all except the last soul piece—but she may be a pawn in a larger game. The story will continue in the next planned volume, Fathoms Across. Holt ably combines romance and mythology with an emphasis on action. The gods and mythological creatures are well-conceived in both traditional and present-day manifestations; Hades, for example, fights cage matches on Earth. Although Holt does provide exposition, readers unfamiliar with the first two installments may find Cather’s deep feelings about Peter and Hermes somewhat abstract. A drawback is the abundance of annoyingly repetitive tics, such as the phrase “Trust me” and characters smirking or drawling. Also irritating is “quipped” used with ordinary remarks like “No” or “Wow.”

Entertaining, but the writing could be stronger.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-983497-28-5

Page Count: 344

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

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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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