This zany adventure flaunts a heart of gold and a plucky heroine.

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THE CHRONICLES OF THE VIRAGO

In this debut middle-grade fantasy, a girl must protect her newborn twin siblings from evil forces.

Twelve-year-old Makenna Grace Gold of the Los Angeles area can’t wait for school tomorrow. She’s trying to fall asleep but is excited about the Science Fair, where she’ll present homemade sugar crystals. Just as Makenna drifts off, a trio of fairies appears in her bedroom: cousins Bree and Dee Delphine and “Marigold Frith, Fairy Prelate.” They’ve come to initiate Makenna as The Virago, Warrior of Warriors. From braids of light and hope, they summon the Ancient Weapon, which looks like a sword as it bonds with Makenna. The girl wakes, assuming that she’s dreaming, and the fairies explain that her new brother and sister will be born tomorrow. They are hope incarnate, and Makenna must protect them against villainous forces, namely Sir Seaton, war profiteer and head of Natasi Industries. He sends his beautiful but deadly associates, Ms. Chevious and Ms. Creante, from their London headquarters to collect the twins. Luckily, Makenna can focus the power of the Ancient Weapon as she chooses, and she does so through her new lowrider skateboard. In his novel, Bialys introduces a spunky protagonist who’s fun to root for as she deals with rival classmate (and skating champ) Heather Stern; the twins’ creepy nanny, Ms. Revel; and, later, reptilian demons. Aside from the fairies, Makenna gets help from Fluffy, a talking worm, and Stephen Levine, a dreamy Canadian transfer student. The author reveals that some characters aren’t who they initially appear to be, which should keep middle-grade audiences alert. He also educates as he connects the Virago legacy to King Arthur, the monarch’s sword Excalibur, and the story of David, who felled Goliath with a slingshot. The notion that children can change the world by channeling their passion through an object has broad appeal in reality and further potential as a narrative device. The finale featuring an actual Highway to Hell should amuse anyone who’s driven in Los Angeles. The overall likability of this series opener should secure readership for the sequel.

This zany adventure flaunts a heart of gold and a plucky heroine.

Pub Date: March 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-06098-8

Page Count: 124

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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