Aide-mémoire for my job as readers' advisor: Bookmark summaries of the books I've read as a high school teacher librarian

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

15839976New York: Del Rey, 2014 (382 pages)

Darrow is a Red, living below the surface of Mars, mining precious resources for the Society. The Society needs the reds, because their hard work mining helium-3 is going to make Mars habitable someday. Darrow’s a helldiver, the most dangerous of the mining jobs, and he’s astoundingly good at it. His team, Lambda, is going to win the Laurel for the quota thanks to his hard work. When the Laurel goes to team Gamma , the blow is crushing; Darrow’s team was looking forward to the increased rations. In an attempt to cheer him up, Darrow’s wife Eo takes him to the surface, a secret garden that know one knows about. There she tries to convince Darrow that their work is slavery, and that they need to break the chains. Darrow doesn’t see the point, not until he and Eo are caught for their trespass, and the ArchGovernor Augustus himself attends their trial. Eo is hung, but before she swings, she sings a song of rebellion. Darrow is next, but instead of dying, he is rescusitated and given the chance to seek vengeance on the Golds, the Society’s godlike, cruel leaders. He is recruited into the rebellion, led by the mysterious Ares. His job is to join the ranks of Golds and infiltrate the system like a virus. His sorrow at Eo’s loss makes him willing, but he becomes a true devotee when he understand’s the Society’s ultimate deception: Mars has been habitable, and inhabited on the surface for a long, long time. The Reds who slave under its surface are slaves indeed, working under the delusion that they are pioneers on a new frontier. Darrow undergoes a brutal physical change and training to make him fit to pass as a Gold. He not only passes, but does so with flying colors, giving him a candidacy in the Institute, a proving grounds for the most elite Golds. Darrow enters under the house of Mars, and quickly learns that the schooling is of the hard knocks variety. It consists of a game between the houses, and the winner is the house that stands at the end. Through his skill as a strategist and a survivor, Darrow is able, with the help of both true and fair weather friends, to not only conquer to win, but conquer the game. And the benefit he reaps? A place as a lancer in the ArchGovernor Augustus’ household.

Finished 10/13/16

Tags: violence, combat, war, race inequality, rebellion, fantasy, science fiction


The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

30116958New York: Amulet Books, 2017 (310 pages)

Genie Lo is busy minding her own business (grades, college admissions, extracurriculars, friends) when she sees what looks like a mugging taking place. She throws her backpack at the assailants, then runs. Too bad all her textbooks and the earrings her father gave her are lost now. But guess who shows up in homeroom? It’s the guy that was getting mugged, and he’s brought her backpack and some unwelcome attention. Quentin, the new guy, keeps following Genie around, showing up unexpectedly. As Genie’s frustration mounts, so does the weirdness. Quentin reveals himself to be none other than the infamous Sun Wukong–Monkey King from Chinese folklore. And Genie just so happens to be just the person he wants. But so does every other escaped demon from Diyu. Genie already found life’s hardships a bit unfair–her estranged parents hate each other, her college admissions agency appointments are going absolutely nowhere despite her continued attempts to expand her portfolio. And to top it all off, Genie is freakishly tall. Up until now, Genie has blamed her height on a genetic abnormality, but Quentin, the gods in the pantheon and the demon hordes see her as something else– the reincarnated-as-a-human legendary Ruyi Jingu Bang, the weapon that almost conquered the gods. When she and Quentin go up against a group of demon lions, they need help. They get it from the Bodhisattva Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy and Erlang Shen, nephew of the Jade Emperor and master of torrents. Apparently, there was a jailbreak and 108 demons are on the loose. The Jade Emperor has decreed that 2 champions will clean up the mess, and you can guess which two champions he means. Guanyin gives Quentin a demon detector (Genie’s earrings from her dad), and Erlang Shen tells Genie it’s time she learns how to use her powers. Then the two are on their own. But the demons don’t seem to be acting “normal.” Instead of honing in on Genie and Quentin, they seem to be placed strategically. Little do they know that it’s all part of a bigger plan, one that involves using Genie to finally defeat the gods and put a new Emperor on heaven’s throne.

Finished 8/17

Tags: Chinese folklore, adventure, action, friendship, humor, light romance, loyalty, trust

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

26156203New York: Balzer & Bray, 2016 (416 pages)

Vika is an enchanter, raised and trained by her father in the forest. She can’t wait until the Tsar calls her to the capitol to become the Royal enchanter. But Vika doesn’t realize that there is another enchanter to contend with, a young man, Nikolai, who has grown up in the court, best friends to Pasha, the heir to the throne. Due to outside threats to Russian peace, the Tsar has determined to begin the Crown’s game, which will mean that each enchanter must outdo the other, and one will perish in order to contain the magic of Russia into one vessel instead of two. While Pasha knows that Vika is one of the enchanters, he has no idea that Nikolai is the other until it is almost too late. For who would have guessed that the magic inside them would draw the enchanters to one another? Each enchanter is given three attempts to outdo the other, and each attempt is more elaborate than the last.  Pasha is falling for Vika, and so is Nikolai; the triangle is fraught with tension, suspicion and yearning.

Finished 2016

Tags: romance, historical fantasy, magic, sorcery, enchantment, friendship, trust

Tokyo Ghoul, Vol. 2 by Sui Ishida

51i-76vk2b7lSan Francisco: VIZ Media, 2016 (208 pages)

Ken Kaneki has started working in Anteiku, the ghoul/human coffee shop owned by ghoul Mr. Yoshimura. He’s also starting to learn how to eat without gagging and throwing up in order to hang out with his full-human friends, specifically his best friend, Hide. Hide thinks that he and Ken were in a terrible car accident, that the other person in the crash, Nishiki Nishio, is still recovering from wounds sustained, and that Touka, the cute coffee shop worker, came to the rescue. If Hide were to find out the truth, that Nishio is the ghoul who almost ate him, Touka tells Kaneki that she will have to kill Hide. In the meantime, Kaneki is getting used to being a half-ghoul. He meets other ghouls at the coffee shop, including Renji Yomo, who takes Ken on a body hunt to collect human meat “humanely” from a nearby suicide site. He also meets mother and daughter, Mrs. Fueguchi and Hinami, a young girl that Kaneki gives some reading tips to. Unfortunately, all is not calm in the 20th ward. Anti-ghoul investigators (doves) have zoned in on ghoul activity in the 20th, thanks to Rize’s grisly attacks (see vol. 1). Mr. Yoshimura thinks it’s time that Ken got a mask, one that will keep him from being recognized by the investigators. Mr. Yoshimura tasks Touka to take Kenaki to visit the ghoul maskmaker, Uta. And the time is right. The doves are on the prowl. Mr. Fueguchi lost his life to them, and the investigators Koutarou Amon and weird Kureo Mado are on the alert for Fueguchi’s wife and child. When Mrs. Fueguchi returns to the gravesite to bury his mask, the doves zone in. Kaneki is alerted to the investigators closing in, and goes to see if he can help, but it’s too late for Mrs. Fueguchi. Hinami escapes, thanks to Ken, who takes her back to Anteiku. Ken realizes that he needs to learn more about his own powers of defense; he blames himself for Mrs. Fueguchi’s death. Ken asks Touka to help him tap into his ghoul kakugan (aspect) and kagune (ghoul claws). Uta finishes Ken’s mask, which is ghoulish to say the least. Now that he has the mask, he will hopefully be better able to slip undetected between his human existence and his ghoul existence. Touka takes her revenge on the investigators wearing a rabbit costume to hide her identity and kills one of them, but Mado rips into her with his quinque, ghoul claws that he has removed from dead ghouls and repurposed as weapons for his own use against ghouls. She barely escapes with her life.

Finished 8/17

Tags: friendship, loyalty, survival, violence, manga

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

29283884New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2017 (501 pages)

Monty (Henry Montague), Lord Disley, is all set to go on his much-anticipated Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend and secret crush, Percy. Away from his stern and heavy-handed father, Monty imagines that he’ll be able to live it up in the year abroad (drink and dice and women/men aplenty), and may even get a chance to get in with Percy before Percy goes to Holland for law school. But Monty’s father has other plans, plans that include an undesirable bear-leader (chaperone) and Monty’s 15-year old sister Felicity, who will be dropped off at finishing school along the way. Not only will Monty and Percy’s plans of debauchery come to naught, the bear-leader has been instructed to keep Monty and Percy from vice of every kind. To make matters that much worse, they will be visiting Monty’s father’s friends in hopes that Monty’s experience will help him to take over the running of the estate in due time. There’s not much Monty can do– his father has threatened to disown him if he hears of any low behavior–and Monty knows what his father’s threats and his fists can do. So the party sets sail, and the boys endure the lack of fun with bad grace. Then, all hell breaks loose in France. Percy and Monty get out from the chaperone’s thumb for a night of drinking, and deep in their cups, they exchange a passionate kiss that ends with a seeming rejection. Later, at Versailles palace Monty meets and puts down the Duke of Bourbon, then goes off with a flirtatious French lady to spite Percy, ends up in the Duke of Bourbon’s chambers, steals a box with dials on in to spite the Duke, then plays a card game that includes the removal of clothing for the player with the losing hand. Things are getting steamy, when the Duke and his men come in. Monty’s mad dash to get away ends with a nude display in front of the party’s guests, and embarassment for his friends and his name. Unsurprisingly, the bearleader is incensed, and Monty is put on a tighter leash. The group escapes the social suicide that is Paris to head south to Marseilles, but a few days out of town, their carriage is attacked by highwaymen. Monty, Percy and Felicity run away into the woods and make it to Marseilles; there, Monty recognizes the voice of one of the highwaymen. They have been pursued to Marseilles! And the highwayman is none other than the Duke of Bourbon, who has chased them to recover his stolen box. In the stress of the situation, Felicity and Monty discover that Percy has epilepsy–he won’t be going to law school at the end of the year. Instead, he is to enter a sanatorium (asylum). His epileptic fit allows Monty and Felicity to make a friend of an apothecary, who then sets them toward Barcelona, to the house of Mateu Robles, a famous apothecary known for his efforts to find a panacea, or cure all. Of course, Monty is interested in the panacea for Percy, but they all agree that the box should be returned to Mateu, as it belongs to him. When the trio reach Barcelona, they meet Mateu’s son and daughter, Dante and Helena, who inform them that Mateu is dead, but that his panacea was created–within their mother, who did not recover from the experiment and was buried, neither dead nor alive, in a crypt. Then, to their consternation, they discover that Mateu is not dead, but imprisoned for denying support to the house of Bourbon. Dante and Helena are trying to get their father out of prison, but the only way to do that is to get the Duke the box, which holds the key to the buried panacea. The trio, with Dante, hatch a plan to infiltrate the prison in order to get the box combination from Mateu. Monty gets the combination, opens the box, and finds the key, which he stashes in Percy’s violin case. Helena comes in, sees the open box, and fights for the key, drugging Monty in the process. Percy comes to the rescue and the trio is on the run again, this time for Venice– actually, a sinking island nearby, where the panacea is buried. On the way, they are captured by pirates, who wind up rescuing the trio from the French Navy. In Venice, Percy and Monty finally get a chance to get out and enjoy themselves and their budding romance, but things cool way down when Percy realizes that Monty is tied firmly to his wealth and estate. There will be no running away together. Later that night, Monty goes out to drown his sorrows in drink, and meets up with the pirate captain, Scipio. They are captured together by the duke’s men, and brought before him. Helena accompanies the Duke in order to lead him to the crypt on the sinking island, and in order to make sure that her father is subsequently freed. Monty is held hostage for the key. The duke allows Scipio to go in order to tell Percy and Felicity to meet the group at the sinking island. Monty’s group makes it there, and must wade through the encroaching waters to get to the opening of the crypt where the panacea lies encased in the alive/dead body of Helena’s mother. The crypt is at the bottom of a deep, narrow stairwell. Percy and Felicity arrive with the key, and the tomb is opened. Helena retrieves her mother’s heart, but then throws it into the nearest lampstand. The Duke lets his gun go off right near Monty’s face in an effort to get to the panacea before it turns to ash. The gunshot undermines the already unstable crypt, and everyone rushes to the steps to escape except the Duke, who is crushed by the collapsing structure. Monty fares worse than the others; the gunshot blasted off most of his ear. Felicity is offered the position of ship’s surgeon with the pirates who hope to become privateers with Percy’s uncle’s help, and Percy and Monty decide to go their own way, devil take the estate and the position.

Finished 9/17

Tags: adventure, romance, LGBTQ, relationships, friendship, self-discovery, travel, historical fiction

Tokyo Ghoul, Vol. 1 by Sui Ishida

810eoa4xy2blSan Francisco: VIZ Media, 2015 (224 pages)

Ken Kaneki is your average college freshman in a not-so-average Tokyo, where the news broadcasts another mysterious manslaughter committed by a ghoul. Ken and best friend Hide Nagachika are hanging out at a cafe, where Ken’s girl interest likes to come to read. Hide, boisterous and outgoing, thinks that Touka Kirishima, one of the waitresses, must be the one, but it’s not. After thoroughly humiliating himself and Ken in front of Touka, the real girl, Rize Kamishiro, walks into the cafe and pulls out a book by one of Ken’s favorite authors. When she gets up to leave, she bumps into Ken’s book, which gives him the opportunity to get to know her. They make a date, which goes well. Not only do they share a taste for the same books, they also happen to share blood type. After the date, Rize asks Ken to walk her home; she’s frightened of a ghoul attack. Little does Ken realize that Rize is the ghoul. She is literally a man eater, the ghoul responsible for the grisly murders around town. As she plays with Ken, about ready to pounce and rip into him, a giant metal beam falls onto her from above. Rize had mortally injured Ken, but the doctors are able to harvest her organs to use to save Ken’s life. As he recovers from surgery, Ken notes that food is disgusting. He’s not hungry for anything at all. He watches a lot of news while he heals: the doctors who did the transplant did not seek approval from Rize’s family before they gave them to Ken and there is an inquest, and a noted expert on ghouls talks about how ghouls can’t stand any food but humans. As much as he’d like to think that he’s in the clear, Ken realizes that he’s accepted more than Rize’s organs. He is becoming a ghoul. The fear and fright keep him out of class and away from Hide. The hunger grows, and Ken tries to find food combinations that won’t make him sick. Stomach growling, he heads outside one night to get his mind off the hunger, when he sees Touka getting harrassed by a man in the street. When the man begins to harrass Ken as well, the man yanks Ken’s hood back, revealing the fact that one of Ken’s eyes is red, a ghoul’s eye. The man calls Ken a freak, then Touka takes charge and slices the man’s head in half. Touka is a ghoul! She offers Ken one of the man’s arms to eat, but Ken runs away. Touka doesn’t understand- she thinks he’s a full ghoul that can’t control his eye color. Ken despairs, thinking that the only way he can go back to normal is to remove the organs from himself. He builds up the courage, ready with a knife, but the knife doesn’t pierce his skin. The tip bends. He realizes the only person he can go to is Touka, but Touka is not sympathetic. Instead, Mr. Yoshimura, the owner of the cafe, Anteiku, where Ken and Hide come to hang out, lets Ken in and gives him a packet of human meat. After he leaves, Touka wants to know why Mr. Yoshimura helped Ken; Mr. Yoshimura reveals that Rize is the organ donor. Ken can’t bear to eat the human meat. He’s so hungry. Finally, he stumbles upon the fact that coffee isn’t so bad. He goes out to buy more and runs into another coffee buyer. On leaving the store, he smells something delicious, which happens to be another human kill. This time, Ken learns that there are ghoul territories. The ghoul feeding has trespassed on another ghoul’s territory. The second ghoul is the coffee buyer, who kills the first ghoul, then warns Ken off the kill. Ken is stupefied by the fact that he is enticed by the smell of human blood, and the coffee buying ghoul threatens Ken with violence. Then Touka comes to the rescue again. Apparently, Rize had the territory before she died. Touka and Coffee Buyer fight, and Touka wins. Touka offers Ken meat, but he refuses again. He won’t eat human meat. He won’t be a monster. This time, Touka has had enough, and tells Ken he’ll need to decide between being a human or a ghoul. He goes back to Hide, and tries to act normal, but he can’t eat. When Hide wants to go visit a new friend, Ken goes along. It turns out to be a guy called Nishiki Nishio, also known as Coffee Buyer. Nishio needs to go pick something up and Ken and Hide go along, but Nishio’s real mission is to get Hide to a place where Nishio can move in for the kill. Nishio knocks Hide out, and beats up Ken, taunting him with Hide’s fragile human state. According to Nishio, it’s too bad that Ken missed out. Nishio gets Hide when Ken must have been saving Hide for himself! But Ken tries to defend Hide. Nishio beats him senseless, but when Nishio goes over to Hide’s body to begin feeding, Ken lashes out with Rize’s kagune, which are ghoul weapons, claws that come out of a ghoul’s back. Nishio is defeated. Unfortunately, unleashing the kagune has forced Ken into a state where he can’t control his appetite for humans. Thankfully, Touka comes to the rescue one more time, and Ken wakes up the next morning at Anteiku. Mr. Yoshimura has seen to Hide’s wounds, and has fed Ken. But Ken is alone, even though Mr. Yoshimura and Touka have shown him kindness. He is neither ghoul nor human. Mr. Yoshimura offers Ken an opportunity to stay at Anteiku and learn the ways of the ghoul, and to brew a proper cup of coffee.

Finished 9/17

Tags: manga, horror, gore, violence, suspense, fantasy, light romance

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

theleaversChapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2017 (335 pages)

Deming Guo lives in a tiny apartment in the Bronx with his mom Polly (Peilin), her boyfriend Leon, Leon’s sister Vivian and Vivian’s son Michael. Polly, Leon and Vivian are immigrants from Fuzhou, China. One day, Polly disappears. Deming thinks that she has moved to Florida like she wanted to, but Leon and Vivian give Deming no leads. After a few weeks, Leon moves back to China, and Deming is left with Vivian, who can barely care for herself and Michael, let alone Deming. So Deming is handed over to CPS, and is fostered by the Wilkinsons, Kay and Peter, who are interested in a foster-to-adopt situation. Living in Ridgeborough with the Wilkinsons is like living on another planet. Deming, now known as Daniel, is always waiting for the mother ship to take him back to his home planet. He makes a few friends: there’s Roland Fuentes, with whom Daniel shares a love of music; there’s Angel, another Chinese adoptee, who lives in Manhattan with Kay and Peter’s friends…. Schoolmates seem more like acquaintances than friends… So ten years pass. Daniel gets an email from Michael saying that he has information about Polly. Will Daniel respond? Life has taken a difficult turn for Daniel. He has been dropped from SUNY Potsdam, where he was slowly falling into bad habits–not going to class, and online gambling. Not only has he lost his spot at Potsdam, he’s also lost Angel, who lent him the money she was supposed to use to go to Nepal to give to Daniel, who gambles it all away. He’s moved in with Roland Fuentes, and they are in another band together. Maybe this time they’ll get a break. But Peter and Kay want Daniel to finish college, this time closer to home at Carlough, where they are both professors. Daniel is noncommital. He’d rather live in NYC; however, after Daniel screws up the latest gig with Roland, he decides to contact Michael. From Michael, Daniel learns that Vivian has word of his mom through Leon. Daniel calls Leon, and the pieces start falling into place about Polly. She is in China, and has been for years. She had been deported. Daniel finally gets in contact with her, but she seems to have moved on. She’s willing to talk, but is keeping the secret of having a grown son from her husband, Yong. Daniel is angry, hurt, and frustrated by the brief glimpses into Polly’s life. She reveals that she tried to find Daniel, but it’s hard to believe someone who barely has time to talk. After another failed attempt to please Kay and Peter (summer classes at Carlough with okay grades followed by a gambling binge), the Wilkinsons kick Daniel out. He takes his winnings and buys a plane ticket to Fuzhou, where he meets up with Leon, who helps him locate Polly. Finally, Daniel (Deming) is reunited with his mom. And she tells him her story: She was taken from her work by ICE, and was unable to contact him for 14 months because she was taken to an illegal immigrant holding station in Texas called Ardsleyville. They took her phone, which had all of her numbers programmed into it, and she couldn’t remember Leon’s cell number. Her single call was wasted on wrong numbers. After fourteen months of deprivation and despair, Polly was deported to China. In that time, Leon had moved, and Vivian had given up Deming to CPS. Polly tried and tried to find Deming, but when she finally learned that Deming had been adopted, she gave up. There was no way to contact him, to find him, and she had no way to save up money for another trip to the U.S., nor could she even go back, thanks to the deportation. So she made a new life for herself, even though her nights were haunted by dreams of Ardsleyville, and her thoughts always traveled back to Deming. She got a job as an English teacher, and married Yong, a manufacturing executive. It’s hard for Deming to take in–this news that his mother hadn’t voluntarily abandoned him, that she had searched for him. All the people he loved as a child, those he thought had left him, have found him again. Now Deming needs to find himself. He stays in Fuzhou and teaches English for a while, then heads back to the states to reconnect with Peter and Kay, and to work on his own music. He moves in with Michael, to a place in Harlem. He stays in touch with his mom via video chat. Polly and Deming know that it’s okay to leave each other now, because they will never lose each other again.

Finished 8/17

Tags: abandonment, addiction, deportation, family, friendship, immigration, love, self-discovery

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

27284765New York: Random House, 2016 (404 pages).

Henrietta “Nettie” Howel works at the Brimthorn School for Girls as an instructor. When Master Agrippa, one of the great sorcerers of the Order comes to the school to investigate the fires by testing all the pupils, Nettie is terrified that he’ll detect her secret–she has the power to create fire. But a woman with power must be a witch, and witches and magicians are detested and anathematized by society for their involvement in releasing the 7 ancients (terrible beings of awful power for destruction) and their familiars onto the world. The witch Mary Willoughby and magician Howard Mickelmas are responsible for the greatest terror that the world has known. Nettie knows of their power first hand: her parents were lost as a result of the devastation, and her best friend Rook has dreadful scars over his chest from Korozoth, the Shadow and Fog. Rook is an “unclean,” but thanks to Nettie’s ministrations with a medicinal salve, he is able to function. Unfortunately, Nettie’s magical power comes out at the most inopportune moment–Korozoth wants Rook, and sends his familiars to take him up, so Nettie does the only thing she knows will release him and unleashes her fire upon them, sending them away. Agrippa has seen her, and she knows her life is probably over, but the master believes that Nettie is a sorceress, not a witch. The sorcerers are tasked with keeping the ancients at bay.  Some, like Master Palehook, create wards like giant force fields to protect cities like London. Others pool their powers to add to the wards and battle against the ancients’ attacks. Nettie is moved to London to train with a cohort of sorcerers her age. Even better, Rook has been placed with her; he works as a groom, but at least she doesn’t need to worry about his care since he’s so close! On entering London, the group encounters a tricky magician who seems to know her face. But Agrippa warns the man off.  Even though magicians received a pardon, they are never to be trusted, and the worst of the bunch, Mickelmas, is still out there somewhere. Then Nettie meets the sorcerers. While Julian Magnus, the handsome flirt, takes an immediate interest in Nettie, Lord George Blackwood (patron of the Brimthorn School for Girls) keeps his distance. Training begins with a test to see the strength of her powers, but Nettie has problems emptying herself as Master Agrippa suggests. Her powers are absurdly dampened by the mental exercise; in anger, she allows them to wash over her, and her body is consumed in a sheath of flame. All are awestruck by the sight, and Nettie is gratified to see that she is finally being taken seriously. She gets her sorceress’ stave, which stores her power, magically adapting itself to her with an ivy vine insignia along its length. Perhaps, like Agrippa hopes, Nettie is the sorceress from the prophecy that will end the terror of the Ancients! Lessons begin in earnest, but Nettie seems unteachable. The power she exhibited at her test seem to have dissolved. That is, until Nettie sees the grifting magician again, who calls himself Jenkins Hargrove. Not only is he somehow tied up in Lord Blackwood’s affairs, he seems to know more about Nettie than she’s comfortable with. He claims that she’s no sorceress, but a magician, and that he knew her father, also a magician. That is why she can’t work her magic. Sorcerers empty themselves to call the magic to them, but magicians fill themselves. Nettie is horrified at first, but the more she fails as a sorceress, the more that she wants to prove herself. Hargrove assists her to learn magic the way her body needs to learn it. She is soon able to assist the other sorcerers and go on rounds to set the wards that keep London protected from the ancients. Hiding her tutoring by Hargrove from Agrippa and the other sorcerers is taking a toll, but worse is to come: Rook is no longer taking medicine to stave off the pain from his scars. He’s embracing the shadows and finding immense power himself. Then Nettie is physically assaulted by her own peers! Master Palehook must be behind it. Even though he controls the wards over parts of the city, his brand of sorcery has always seemed at odds with the ideals of the others. And the pressure mounts. How will she get her commendation from the queen if she can’t perform, if she can’t tamp down her emotions? It doesn’t help that Magnus is a horrible tease, and only sees her as a petticoat worth rumpling. Nor does it help when she starts having dreams about the skinless man, R’hlem, one of the ancients. Then Blackwood reveals that Hargrove, who has seemingly disappeared, is none other than Mickelmas.  Blackwood has been paying him off to keep a family secret–Blackwood’s father had a part to play in unleashing the ancients, too. Nettie is shocked.  She has been learning her power from the worst and most dangerous magician in the world. She must prove that her allegiance is to the queen! She can’t give up her hopes to help her country.  It is time for the commendation ball, where Nettie will receive the queen’s blessing.  The demonstration of her powers goes extremely well, until Master Palehook reveals Nettie to be nothing more than a magician. And Hargrove/Mickelmas, dragged in from some recent torture, corroborates the evidence that Nettie is not only a magician, but is working against the crown and the sorcerers. Agrippa, instead of supporting her, admits to having been taken in by Nettie’s wiles. She is imprisoned and sentenced to death, but Magnus helps her to escape and takes her home to where the other sorcerers, her friends, are waiting. The joy is short-lived; Palehook has taken Rook, and the city wards are failing. Korzoroth and his minions are getting into the city. According to Mickelmas, Palehook will use Rook’s soul to fortify the city, just as he has been doing since Mickelmas helped the sorcerer find a means to use the unclean to set wards. But Palehook has developed a taste for the unclean. His power to create the wards is great, but Mickelmas reveals that he could be protecting the entire city. Instead, he has been siphoning off power for himself. With help from the boys, Nettie defeats Palehook, but Korzoroth is wreaking havoc, and is calling to Rook. Nettie knows that the only way she can save her friend is by defeating the ancient. But R’hlem, the skinless man, wants her to join him. Nettie somehow escapes from R’hlem and burns Korzoroth from the inside out. Rook is saved, but the darkness within him has grown. Nettie swears to help him, to free him, but she doesn’t know how. Thankfully, her defeat of Korzoroth earns her the queen’s commendation. Mickelmas has gifted her with his magician’s box, and Blackwood has invited her and Rook to his home to await orders from the queen. It certainly seems like a nice way to spend the calm before the next storm. This series continues with A Poison Dark and Drowning (to be released September 2017).

Finished 7/17

Tags: adventure, light romance, magic, magicians, strong female lead, suspense, witches

Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine

30956356New York: Berkley, 2017 (382 pages)

Jess and his cohort of library rebels have been taken captive by burners in Garda-besieged Philadelphia in this 3rd installment of Caine’s Great Library series. In order to keep themselves alive and their group intact, they must prove their individual worth. It’s easy for Thomas Schreiber, inventor extraordinaire, whose printing press plans threaten the Great Library’s stranglehold on information, and who spent time in prison as a result. And it’s easy for Morgan Hault, the obscurist (one who provides the alchemical process that transfers text to library “blanks” and mans the translation chambers that can move books and people from one place to another, among many other things). Her kind are rare these days, and the Great Library wants to see her safely locked away in the Iron Tower of Alexandria where she will stay until she dies. The rest of the group can be easily disposed of. The heads of the Great Library, the Archivist Magister and his right hand, the Artifex Magnus, have been trying to get rid of Jess, Glain, Dario, and Khalila ever since they helped Thomas and Morgan escape. Scholar Wolfe, their teacher, and High Garda (Library military) Captain Santi, Wolfe’s beloved, have been on the executor’s list for even longer. While in Philadelphia, Jess and crew are witness to another perspective. Little did any of them realize how much they’d be able to empathize with the burners, whose grievance with the Great Library translates to self-immolation and terrorism. Thomas and Jess work on a printing press with the meager scraps at hand, while Khalila and Dario prove their worth by helping to translate the books they smuggled from the Iron Tower’s Black Archives (books and manuscripts the Great Library deemed worth censoring from public use). Morgan helps boost the harvest with her obscurist powers, and Wolfe and Glain watch over Santi, who was badly burned by Greek fire in a High Garda attack on Philadelphia. The group realizes that it must also find a way out of the city, for they recognize that once their usefulness is through, they will be sold off or killed. Unfortunately, this happens sooner than expected. Morgan’s obscurist power is tainted when she overextends herself, resulting in the rotting failure of the town’s harvest. The hungry, besieged people have had enough of the unwelcome visitors, and Jess’ group must accelerate its plans to escape. At the same time, the Archivist Magister and Artifex Magnus have decided that Philadelphia must burn. The group and some few of the city survivors make it out alive, but Philadelphia is flattened in the attack. Jess and friends make their way to England, where they enter a new kind of prison under the wily and self-serving “protection” of Calum Brightwell, Jess’ father. This time, Jess realizes that there is only one way to escape, and that is to play along. The cost for his friends will be revealed in book 4 of the Great Library series.

(finished 8/2/17)

Tags: alternate reality, danger, friendship, light romance, love, war

Blog at

Up ↑