In which I give you the bikini-clad skinny about four sequels as well as three brand-spanking-new books. Let the waves wash in, let the sunscreen shimmer, let sand get between the pages and your toes!
Note: If you haven't read the previous books for the ones that are sequels, watch out for spoilers below.
Underworld by Meg Cabot
Paranormal romance, continued. Underworld is one of those Hades-Persephone variations. At this point, in Book 2, Pierce Oliviera has already been to hell, and hunky, brooding John Hayden—AKA Death—wants her to stay there. But her malevolent nemesis is after her hapless cousin now, and she really wants to help him. John reluctantly takes her back on an inter-dimensional road trip to her hometown of Isla Huesos, with a few of his colorful shipmate dead buddies as backup. Everyone in Isla Huesos thinks Pierce is dead, plus she is unclear on the whole "Don't eat the food in hell" concept. Then again, she is clearly pretty happy to be in John's clutches, though he worries what she will think of his scarred past (from his human days). It's kind of like the Scooby Gang, only their home base is the underworld and everyone wears black or gray. Whatever Cabot writes, even death-based paranormal, there's a cheeriness and good humor that I find rather charming. Read Abandon first, though.
First line: "Pierce keeps having the most terrible nightmares." My mom used to say this to all the doctors we saw right after the accident.
The Calling by Kelley Armstrong
In The Gathering, Book 1 of the Darkness Rising trilogy, Maya Delaney found out the meaning of her paw-print birthmark: she's a skin-walker. And she's just one of several unusual teens who's been raised deliberately in the same small town under the auspices of a mysterious corporation. After a forest fire, they are evacuated, but it soon becomes clear they're being kidnapped. They manage to escape, and then the book is all about them being chased through the forest while finding out each other's secrets. Oh, and of course we need to know who the mole is. There's nothing particularly amazing here, but Armstrong knows her stuff, and The Gathering is a well-told tale. These books, like Armstrong's previous YA trilogy, Darkest Powers, are loosely linked to Armstrong's paranormal series for adults. And by the way, I like this line from the book jacket bio about Kelley's childhood writing: "If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers' dismay." Oh, and we do have the requisite bad boy love interest, just in case you were wondering!
First line: I don't know who was more anxious—Daniel or Kenjii—but they weren't making this emergency helicopter evacuation any easier.
Flora's Fury by Ysabeau S. Wilce
Ysabeau Wilce is one of the finest world builders working in YA fantasy fiction today. I was intrigued by Book 1, Flora Segunda, which felt pretty MG to me and was just off the wall in a lot of great ways. I liked Book 2, Flora's Dare, though I realized at that point that Wilce is actually writing YA. Now Book 3 introduces a new journey companion and sort of love interest for our girl Flora: a werebear named Tharyn. Meanwhile, childhood friend and previous sort of love interest, Udo, is in the doghouse as far as Flora is concerned. So is Buck, especially when Flora figures out the other secret she's been keeping from her adopted daughter/stepdaughter. But then, Flora is on a quest to find her birthmother, Tiny Doom, who may not be dead, after all. And always Flora must be on the lookout for treachery from the Birdies, whose cute nickname doesn't even to begin to touch on how scary these Aztec conquerors are with their death magic. I mentioned love interests, but there's only a touch of romance in the book, and it turns out to be based on false premises for reasons too complicated to explain here. Mostly, this is just weird-cool, darkly swashbuckling fantasy adventure. I recommend you read all three books and catch up with Flora Fyrdraaca. Flora is occasionally irritating (pig-headed and selfish!), but she's also such a fresh character compared to the same old same old in children's fantasy that I think you'll enjoy these books very much.
First line: [Statement of Intent; Magickal Working No. 9] Dear Mamma/Butcher/Brakespeare/Azota/Tiny Doom: Everyone thinks the Birdies killed you, sacrificed you to one of their gods, whose priests ate your body while he ate your soul. [Ed. note: Not sure how to do cross-outs, which is what is really in the address line above.]
Invisible Sun by David MacInnis Gill
Young mercenary Durango survived some pretty wild stuff in Book 1, Black Hole Sun. Now he's going to learn some hard life lessons when he counts on his youthful invincibility to save him and his kinda girlfriend/loyal lieutenant Vienne from a whole new kind of enemy: humans. Corrupt, warlord/mafioso-type humans, naturally. Sure, Durango has his AI, Mimi, to help him, and Vienne is the ultimate warrior, but even that might not be enough in the decaying Mars colonies. Durango does get taken home to meet the equivalent of Vienne's family (think Buddhist shrine with martial arts), saves some refugees, and tries to find out the truth about his late father's experiments. But everything blows up in his face (often literally), and Durango mishandles things right and left. I really like Gill's ruthless take on Book 2. It reminds me a little of what Megan Whalen Turner puts supposedly invincible thief Gen through in her own Book 2. Not very many writers have the guts to go this far in making life hard for their heroes, frankly.
Like Black Hole Sun, Invisible Sun has a lot of violence. It's pretty dark stuff with high guy appeal. Durango's adventures make Mad Max look like a Sunday drive through the Australian desert. if you want gut-wrenching sci-fi dystopian with a real dose of testosterone, read both these books and join me in waiting breathlessly for Book 3.
First line: Vienne points the gun, squeezes the trigger, and fires a live round square into my chest.
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
Go back to the lake again after all these years? It would have been hard for Taylor Edwards because of the friends she left behind even if it weren't for the real reason she's going now: her father is dying of cancer, and he wants to spend one last summer with his family in the place he was happiest. Some people might see Taylor's angst about her previous relationships with a best girlfriend and best boy friend as shallow compared to what's going on with her dad, but even her father makes it clear that he doesn't want his kids to just sit around the lake house staring tragically at him all summer. He wants to see them, sure, but he also wants them to have fun, get jobs, take tennis lessons, have sleepovers—ordinary things. Which would be fine if Taylor weren't trying so hard to avoid Henry and Lucy. The truth about what she did to them, when it comes out, isn't as bad as readers might expect. Kid stuff. But it feels that bad to all three of them, which is what it's like when things go wrong at age 12 or 13. No magic here, just good character development a la Sarah Dessen. The beachiest beach read of this batch, with an actual beach included! (Well, a lake beach, which I'm pretty sure counts.)
First line: I eased open my bedroom door to check that the hallway was empty.... It was nine a.m., we were leaving for the lake house in three hours, and I was running away.
Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
High concept with a capital H-C: Kali D'Angelo has superpowers, but she only has them every other day. Which means, of course, that if she makes enemies on her strong, demon and monster hunting days, they're likely to catch up with her on her wimpy, all-too-human days. This makes things worse when she learns that a girl at school has been targeted. She also happens to be a mean girl who has been out to get Kali. But Kali doesn't care. She has a mission to fulfill. If that means putting her own life on the line, whatever. When Kali is in power mode, she is ruthless and determined, fierce and risk taking to the point of foolhardiness. She's also significantly less human and practically indestructible. But now there's a conspiracy afoot, and Kali has leaped right into the middle of it. Protecting Bethany is only the beginning. We're definitely talking mad scientists and supernatural beings here. But we're also talking a nice little crew of Kali and her new friends, Skylar, Elliott, and (kind of) Bethany. Not to mention Zev, the voice that's now in Kali's head. Oh, and Kali's mother may not be dead after all. Which isn't nearly as nice as it sounds. I thought this book was quite good—it stood out from the paranormal pack because of its unusual premise, solid execution, a dimensional heroine, and nice little plot twists. If you're a fan of paranormal fiction with a hint of romance, try Every Other Day.
First line: The decision to make hellhounds an endangered species was beyond asinine, but I expected nothing less from a government that had bankrolled not one, but two, endowed chairs in preternatural biology (one of them my father's) at the University That Shall Not Be Named.
Cat Girl's Day Off by Kimberly Pauley
WHAT a fun book! Thanks to Charlotte of Charlotte's Library for recommending this one. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Cat (Natalie) lives in an ordinary world like ours except that some people are Talented, which means they have special powers. Her older sisters and parents have cool, important powers, but Cat's gift of talking to cats is so pointless she hides it from everyone at school, except her best friends Melly and Oscar. The three of them are pretty excited because a movie is going to be filmed at their school and they're signing up to be extras. Victoria Welling and Ty McKenzie are starring in the film, which has all three drooling. Well, Cat's less into this than the other two, but she goes along for the ride. Then she finds out from a video clip that something's wrong when a celebrity blogger's cat begs for help, accusing Easton West of being an imposter. The book gets increasingly madcap after this funky inciting incident: Cat and her two friends go after the blogger's cat so they can find out what's really going on. Other cats get involved. Easton West says she's going to eat a hot dog—and she's a vegetarian. Then there's Cat's crush on a boy named Ian. Slapstick and cat scratches abound in this goofy, adventurous, and thoroughly satisfying read. It's the kind of book that you want to see as a movie, but you're just so afraid Disney will get their hands on the rights and ruin things by making the cat voices sound stupid. By the way, this one's from Tu Books, so not only is Cat half Chinese, but the cover actually shows that. If you're only going to track down one of these YA reads, I'd say pick this one!
First line: [Easton West's Blog] Wednesday, September 2, 6:02 A.M.: La, la! You read that right, little poppets! Six frickin' o'clock in the morning!