By Natasha Hayden
March 5, 2015
This month we are blogging about some of the latest and best of what we’ve been reading, which is right up my alley. I review just about everything I read on my blog natashasshelf.blogspot.com, though I am behind by about three books. Of the last five books I’ve read, I’ve rated four of them four or five stars. They’ve been so good lately I’ve just kept reading without reviewing, so some of these reviews are making their first appearance here before my blog. I think my reading thus far this year has been varied enough (though, admittedly, still mostly young adult fiction) that there ought to be something below that appeals to you.
A.D. 30, by Ted Dekker
Ted Dekker is my favorite author, and fortunately for me, he churns out about two books a year. His latest, A.D. 30, is a bit different than the thrillers he normally writes. It’s a blend of historical fiction, with dialog from Jesus taken directly out of the Bible, and suspenseful drama, with a female protagonist straight out of Dekker’s imagination. Taken from my blog, here’s the description:
“A.D. 30 takes us on Maviah’s journey from the depths of the Arabian desert to the palaces of kings and eventually into the presence of another kind of king, Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth. Maviah is the illegitimate daughter of an Arabian ruler. She’s a former slave brought back to her father’s household but still looked down upon. She is nothing, but when her father’s wife dies and his alliances fall apart, she may be the only one who can help her people. She just has to go to Palestine and convince King Herod of the Jews of her worth. Accompanied by trusted servants, one of whom she grows to love, she sets out to do the impossible: become a queen. Only an Arabic tribe that wants her dead, two dangerous kings, the past, and her own grievances stand in her way.”
This is obviously more than Biblical drama. Maviah meets Jesus, but that is only part of her story. In the midst of suffering and political intrigue, she discovers who she is meant to be. It’s a story that’s highly entertaining and deeply meaningful. I will always recommend Ted Dekker. (Published October 2014)
Storm Siren, by Mary Weber
I read a lot of young adult fiction, most of it not Christian, though I am one. I figure, a good story is a good story. And many of the Christian stories I used to read were more concerned about getting a message across than about telling a good story. Perhaps they have gotten better over time, but I don’t read them much now. It certainly surprises and delights me to find an agenda-free story written or published by the Christian community for the secular market. Ted Dekker does this sometimes (though he always has an agenda; I’d just argue his stories are good enough to make his agenda appealing). But now and then, I come across others, like Veronica Roth (who wrote Divergent) and Mary Weber, author of Storm Siren.
From my Storm Siren review on my blog: “Nym is a slave, sold from owner to owner because of her unusual looks, looks that mark her as an impossible and dangerous magical being. In Faelen, they kill her kind at birth, but perhaps because she is female (when all the others are male), she escaped that fate, and now no one knows what to do with her except pass her along before she kills them all. Nym doesn’t want to kill, but she can’t control her powers. When her emotions rage, she ends up calling forth storms and lightning from the sky until everyone around her is dead. But her fifteenth owner is delighted with her powers and offers Nym the chance to use them to fight in the war. Nym really doesn’t have any other options, and when she meets the first person who has ever been able to keep her powers at bay, her training begins.”
This one wound toward an exciting, game-changing end that has me eagerly anticipating the sequel. The characters, including Nym’s love interest and others with unique powers, as well as the dark world full of political intrigue and danger they are enmeshed in, make this a fun, light (compared to high fantasy) young adult fantasy read. (Published August 2014. Sequel, Siren’s Fury, to be published June 2015)
Fairest, by Marissa Meyer
This book could almost be a standalone. It is the fourth book of a young adult series (The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer) I love and preorder yearly. (I rarely stick with a series enough to pay money for it, spoiled as I am with free advance reader copies.) This one is a break in the overarching story of the series and tells the villain’s story instead.
The Lunar Chronicles are modern, sci-fi twists on fairy tales we know, taking place in a world where the moon is inhabited by Lunars with special powers and where humans on Earth are dying of a virus that doesn’t touch Lunars. Cinder is about a cyborg who gets to go to the ball (Cinderella). Scarlet is about a pilot who teams up with a man-wolf hybrid (Little Red Riding Hood). Cress is about a hacker who lives alone in a satellite in space and just longs to be rescued by the man of her dreams (Rapunzel). And Winter (coming in November 2015) will be about a beautiful princess whose evil stepmother, the queen of the moon, keeps her under careful guard (Snow White). Fairest, then, is about the rise of the queen of Luna and about the forces, some her own fault and others not, that turned her into the villain of the entire series. I enjoyed it very much, but of course, it wasn’t about the heroines who ultimately band together as the series progresses. Though each story focuses on a different leading lady, they all converge as well.
In Fairest, Levana is the younger princess of the Lunar people and, therefore, not the heir. But she is the one interested in politics while her queen sister is concerned only with her own pleasures. When a daughter is born to her sister, Levana is pushed even further down the line of those to inherit the crown. Scarred and ugly on the outside, Levana constantly uses her glamour to disguise her features. All she wants is to be beautiful and loved, and in the world she’s grown up in, the only way to get what she wants is to take it by force.
It is certainly an intriguing story. Complex villains are fascinating. But the heroines’ stories are just as good, and they’re more…well, happy. So, this one “only” gets four stars. (Published January 2015)
Firefight, by Brandon Sanderson
This author of high fantasy changes style and tone a bit for this young adult series that began with Steelheart, but his wit, humor, and vision for winding up a story toward a great end are all on full display. This book is the only one of the four here that I gave five stars to. The beginning didn’t reel me in immediately, despite having already secured my interest with the first book, but by Part 2 of 5, the game was changing, the stakes were rising, and I was hooked. By about the halfway mark, it began to get difficult to put the book down. My husband, Nick, and I rarely read the same stuff, but we both like Brandon Sanderson. Being a young adult fiction reader, I generally prefer quicker reads like this one. Nick has yet to convince me to read Sanderson’s 1000-page (and that’s just one book out of a whole series) high fantasy epics. And I have to chuckle a little bit as I say that since Firefight and the other books of this series are all about Epics.
(SPOILERS in this paragraph, if you have not read Steelheart) In Firefight, David is a Reckoner, a member of what used to be a highly secret group of Epic slayers, but now David has become a legend. All he wants is for the people to fight back against the super-powered Epics, humans who, one infamous day, gained powers and have used them to conquer and destroy the world. They are dangerous and nearly invincible, each with one carefully guarded weakness, the only thing that can possibly take them down. They are madmen, every last one of them. In this case, absolute power does really corrupt absolutely. David and his team are about to attempt to take down a very powerful Epic and her cohorts in what was once New York City and is now Babilar, a city covered by water where the citizens live relatively peaceful lives under the rule of Regalia. But the woman David loves works for Regalia, and even though his love is an Epic, David is willing to risk his life to prove she can be redeemed.
This was a great sequel. I liked the first one well enough, especially as it progressed (Nick and I both agree that Sanderson has the art of the ending down), but sequels are hard. How do you keep everything that made the first one good but turn it around enough so that it’s not just a copy of the first? Well, you could take notes from Sanderson. He introduces new places, switches out a few people, and changes up the protagonist’s motivations, but still keeps the same sense of humor and, really, even the same basic plot. This series is set up spectacularly for that. There’s always another cool Epic to fight in a world overrun by them, right? But Sanderson has the imagination to remake and redirect his story in such a way that everything is as exciting as the first time. Arguably, this second book is actually better than the first, and that takes serious talent! (Published January 2015)
The year’s barely begun, and I’ve certainly lucked out that four of the last five books I’ve read ended up being so good. If you check out my ratings on Goodreads, you’ll see that I most often give three-star ratings and will even occasionally dish out twos (so you’ll see I’m not someone who just gushes over everything she reads!). If you are intrigued by these latest favorites of mine and want to get other good recommendations, check out my blog. Also, stay tuned for more this month from the rest of our team at Children of the Wells!