‘A Shadow Bright and Burning’ by Jessica Cluess

a-shadow-bright-and-burning-cluessAn evocative and exhilarating read, Jessica Cluess’ first novel in her Kingdom on Fire series, A Shadow Bright and Burning is nearly impossible to put down. A young adult fantasy novel that addresses coming of age themes, feminist mentality, and issues inherent in discrimination and exclusion, A Shadow Bright and Burning is a book full of riveting content both on the surface of its plot and in the deeper realms of its layered meanings.

Henrietta Howel is a young orphan who finds that she might be the first female sorcerer in over 100 years, but can she live up to the expectations set for her? Living in Victorian England, Henrietta and her band of soon to be commended sorcerers are doing their best to fend off the seven Ancients, a group of demons released from Hell by a magician some years ago. Magicians after all are all bad: deceitful, evil, uncontrollable. Or are they?

Some people in the book say the same things about women, especially those women with magical powers. Henrietta is thrown into the world of sorcery with no training, and now she has to prove herself not only as a sorcerer, but as the lone female in a male dominated world. Coming up against issues many teenage, non-sorcerer women come up against, like love, lust, and sexuality, Cluess does a fantastic job of painting Henrietta as a strong-willed but conflicted female character.

The quintessential young adult fantasy novel, A Shadow Bright and Burning has all the right elements: an orphaned girl, multiple love interests, and a world in dire need of saving. But Cluess also brings so much more to the Kingdom on Fire series: she brings lessons of acceptance, empowerment, and loyalty.

Slated for released on September 20, 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers, A Shadow Bright and Burning is available for preorder at your local bookstore.

Read more young adult fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘One Half from the East’ by Nadia Hashimi

one-half-from-the-east-hashimiA book so compelling you could read it in a single sitting, One Half from the East tells a story much larger than the characters involved. Nadia Hashimi’s second novel follows Obayda, a ten-year-old bacha posh, or a girl dressed as a boy, living in Afghanistan. Obayda’s family turns her into Obayd to bring the family honor and with the magical hope that in doing so, their next child will be a boy.

Obayd must navigate school, people, and the world around her without her dresses, her long hair or sisters, and most of all without the confidence she had in being who she was. Along the way though, Obayd learns how to survive as a boy, how to live as a boy, doing the things she was never allowed to do as a girl. She meets another bacha posh who shows her how to fit into her new skin, and soon enough, Obayd does not want to be Obayda again. But that is the tradition of bacha posh – a young girl is turned into a boy only to bring luck and fortune to the family, not to be a boy forever.

Obayd and her friend know that the time is coming for each of them to return to their old ways of life, but now they are stuck in the middle. They are not quite girls and not quite boys, and they fear the return to a life with less freedoms, one that they don’t identify with any more: the life of a girl.

In One Half from the East, Nadia Hashimi not only exposes readers to what life in Afghanistan is like for women especially, but she also brings to light larger, worldwide questions of gender and identity. At one point in the novel, Obayda wonders what makes a girl, a girl. Her and her sisters muse whether it has to do with the length of a person’s hair, the clothes the person wears, or with how the person acts.

Obayda simply wants to be a boy, but Hashimi also questions this desire. Does Obayda want to be a boy to bring honor to her family, is it to have the freedoms she would otherwise not have? In the end, Hashimi starkly points out that learned behavior can easily become associated with “boy” and “girl,” and yet the society surrounding that culture takes those behaviors as inherent. Boys play soccer. Girls sew dresses. But a girl can just as easily learn to play soccer, and a boy can just as easily learn to sew. So what is the “boy” thing to do, and what is the “girl” thing to do?

Hashimi wrote One Half from the East as a middle grade novel for grades three to seven, but the novel is by no means strictly a children’s novel. The book is a culturally eye opening work of art that is just as moving and heartbreaking for any aged reader.

One Half from the East will be released by HarperCollins on September 6, 2016. Preorder a copy from your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Peter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers’ by Brandon T. Snider

peter-powers-and-his-not-so-super-powers-sniderPeter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers is your classic middle grade superhero chapter book. It’s funny, it’s quirky, it has good moral lessons, and it’s just plain fun.

Peter is the middle child in a family of four, and not just an ordinary family of four, but a family of superheroes. Mocked by his siblings for his seemingly inane power – the ability to make ice cubes from his fingertips – Peter is pretty down in the dumps when we first meet him. He is looking for a way to prove himself, and his live-in grandfather, an ex-superhero himself, provides the perfect answer: Peter must defeat a supervillain.

So what does Peter do? He goes out in search of a supervillain. Captain Tornado is the targeted supervillain, and Peter, though not confident, is bold enough to confront Captain Tornado face to face. But what will happen? How will Peter stop Captain Tornado with just ice cubes? Oh, and what about getting the whole act by his superhero parents, who are bound to show up on the scene?

Peter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers is a fun and fast paced read for people of all ages. While author Brandon T. Snider targets children ages 8-12, the book is also a great read for parents, teachers, or people who just love middle grade fiction. The themes and morals taught about self-acceptance, patience, and dealing with the annoying and frustrating aspects of life are pertinent for any child in middle school and any person who works with children period.

Peter Powers and His Not-So-Super Powers is slated for release by Hachette Book Group in October of 2016. You can preorder a copy at your local bookstore.

Read more young adult fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Brightwood’ by Tania Unsworth

9781616203306What does it mean to live fully? What does it mean to be crazy? Where do freewill, imagination, and the idea of taking chances come into play with each of these questions? Tania Unsworth probes into these inquires in her latest young adult fiction novel Brightwood.

Brightwood tells the story of Daisy Fitzjohn, a young girl living alone in a mansion with her mother. Daisy is not allowed to leave the mansion, and has never met any other human being besides her mother. Not that she doesn’t have friends like a rat named Tar and some animal and plant friends on the grounds of the property. But, Daisy still longs to know what life outside Brightwood Hall is like, despite the fact that she is most definitely scared of it.

Daisy’s yearning to go out into the world is put on hold though when her mother mysteriously disappears after heading out to the grocery store one Monday morning. Daisy is almost immediately suspicious because of the day of the week that her mother left: her mother is a rigid woman when it comes to schedules, and she only goes shopping on Wednesdays. But either way, Daisy is willing to give her mother the benefit of the doubt, at least at first. At least until a strange man shows up at the gates and lets himself in to Brightwood Hall. Now Daisy is really scared. But what is she more scared of: living on the grounds with a strange man wandering around who claims to want to help her, or leaving the only world she’s ever known to seek help?

Daisy is faced with these and many more hard questions as Brightwood progresses. All along the way, she confronts challenges of bravery and character. Daisy meets Frank, a (maybe) imaginary friend who appears in black and white and who helps guide Daisy with very strange and fantastical metaphors. Frank, a bit of a coward at times herself, helps Daisy to see that bravery isn’t easy and it doesn’t come naturally. Frank pushes Daisy to her limits, or perhaps Daisy pushes herself to her limits, depending on how you understand the story.

In the end Daisy must not only confront tasks that force her to show her courage, but she also comes up against challenges of morality. She must ask herself what the right thing to do is, and how she can “keep her shape,” as Tar demands she should.

Brightwood is a fast-paced, exhilarating novel that keeps readers on their toes: terrified, entranced, angered and in love with the characters Unsworth creates. As a Y.A. novel, Brightwood addresses important values for children ages 10 and up, and teaches these values in ways that are both subtle yet graspable.

Brightwood will be released by Algonquin Young Readers on September 27, 2016. You can preorder a copy at your local bookstore.

Read more young adult fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘The Nocturnals: The Ominous Eye’ by Tracey Hecht

the-nocturnals-the-ominous-eye-hechtThe Nocturnals: The Ominous Eye is the second in Tracey Hecht’s The Nocturnals middle grade series illustrated by Kate Liebman. The book follows three nocturnal friends: Dawn the fox, Bismark the sugar glider, and Tobin the pangolin, as they attempt to save their forest home from a threatening, yet seen beast.

Dawn, Bismark, and Tobin have formed a team called The Night Brigade, which is devoted to protecting the animals of the night from any terrors that might arise. So when a great earthquake of sorts is felt, and the forest animals feels threatened, the friends embark on a quest to solve the mystery of the mysterious quake and its source. Along the way they meet a new friend Polyphema, a tuatara who seems to know a bit about the beast, not to mention she has a third eye with which she claims she can see the future, past, and present. As they go, the friends incur the help of other animals in the forest in an attempt to trap the beast and end its horrors once and for all, but the mysteries keep mounting.

Not necessarily contiguous with the first book, The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions, Hecht writes a novel that can stand on its own and allows readers to jump right into the series and backtrack later. The characters are each unique, loveable and sometimes annoying in a way that the reader can’t help but be invested in them. Even the so called “bad guys” have an element of sympathy and understanding about them that teaches young readers to think critically about how they treat the people around them and what might be going on in those “bad guys” lives. Ideas of disability and difference also arise in the novel in a way that teaches acceptance. The Night Brigade accepts everyone for who they are, the Brigade is compassionate, forgiving, and brave, but they can also be scared too. Hecht does a great job of tying together themes and morals centering around acceptance, understanding, and friendship.

Published by Fabled Films Press, The Nocturnals: The Ominous Eye will be released on September 20, 2016. You can preorder a copy at your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.