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Jan 23 2019

The chaos of now by Erin Lange

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Faber and Faber, 2018. ISBN: 9780571317479.
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Themes: Suicide, Bullying, Cyberbullying, Schools, Power, Monitoring. A disturbing opening page will ensure young adults read to the last page, so incensed at the suicide that they will want to see the bullies brought to justice. That Jordan was being bullied was not a secret, but his response shocked the school into placing cybermonitors on the computing system to stop such things happening again. Eli is amazed at this response by the school; all done without consultation or getting to the main problem. Lip service is given to making people aware, having anti bullying signs around the school and a gratuitous memorial service for Jordan after 12 months has elapsed. It makes Eli sick, but he has problems of his own with his father bringing home a woman to live in the house, and a nasty run in with one of the school bullies, Malcolm.
A computer nerd, Eli is a coder, one of a small group of people for whom the binary system is a language he can speak without fear, able to hack into the school's computer system with ease, at one stage hacking into the local police system, with disastrous consequences. Two other geeks seek him out. They were friends of Jordan and had planned to enter and win a computer hacking competition which would bring them to the attention of corporations and the possibility of work in an area they know well. With Jordan gone, Eli is their next choice. But they are not just interested in winning a competition. They want to heap revenge upon those students who bullied Jordan, and they use their computer skills to achieve this.
This is an up to the minute look at the skills of the millenials, able to use computers for their own ends, stretching the notions of morality confining earlier users of technology, seeing possibilities and uses beyond those proposed by their teachers. This is a most unsettling look at the problem of cyber bullying, where the skills of those perpetrators outstrip those of the monitors and Eli and his friends represent those who are willing to use their skills to bring down those who would bully. But have they turned into bullies themselves? In posting some of the videos they illegally access online, exposing one as a drug cheat, another as a racist another dressing in his mother's clothes for a video, the question arises about who is bullying who? Eli at first sees himself as exposing wrong, but in doing this he becomes a vigilante, one who is outside the law, taking the law into his own hands.
The line between right and wrong, black and white becomes very blurred and makes for a read which will make people think about the consequences of cyber bullying and how to deal with it. Readers will want to know how Eli comes out of this, after all he and the others have committed criminal acts.
Fran Knight




Jan 23 2019

A honeybee heart has five openings by Helen Jukes

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Simon and Schuster, 2018. ISBN: 9781471167713.
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Highly recommended. Subtitled A year of keeping bees, Helen Jukes' book is a mix of memoir and research project. Set in Oxford, England, it tells of her decision following her move into a shared house with her friend Becky, to set up a beehive down the bottom of the garden. Jukes had previously learnt about beekeeping from her bee-enthusiast friend Luke who has hives set up all around London. Now Jukes has just started a new job which was turning out to be very stressful, and it is while she is attempting to destress in the garden that the idea occurs to her that she has the perfect spot to set up her own beehive. That thought sets in train Jukes' research into bees, because she doesn't just want a hive, she wants to learn absolutely everything she can about bees. Her curiosity has her researching ancient texts about bees, hive designs and the art of beekeeping; she joins the Oxfordshire Natural Beekeeping Group; and she visits the entomologist archives of Oxford's natural history museum. She follows up all sorts of interesting questions such as whether you can 'know' all your bees, whether they are changed by being watched, and whether they sense your mood.
The book isn't just a research project though, in the process we learn about Jukes herself, her unusual mix of friends, and her struggles with how to manage her job and whether she should stick at it or not. And interestingly many of the questions she unravels about bees are reflected in the nuances of what is happening in her own life. In caring for bees, she is also learning about relationships and sense of community. Maybe that is something that happens if you become seriously involved in beekeeping - you can't keep at a distance, there is a deeper connection that develops. We can all learn from bees.
There have been some excellent books in recent years about bees and beekeeping: the fictional The history of bees by Maja Lunde (2017) and the non-fiction The honey factory by Jurgen Tautz and Diedrich Steen (2018). With her absorbing and original approach, Jukes provides yet another perspective on their fascinating world.
Helen Eddy




Jan 21 2019

The forgotten beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

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Fantasy Masterworks. Orion, 2017. ISBN: 9781616962777.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Winner of the inaugural World Fantasy Award 1975. In my quest to read some of the award winning books that I have missed over the years, I was very fortunate to pick up this outstanding story by Patricia A. McKillop. First published in 1974, the fact that it is still in print after so many years is a testament to its lyrical writing and timeless story.
Sybel is a young wizard who needs only her magical animals, Gules the Lyon, Gyld the dragon who yearns for gold, Cyrin the boar who is a master of riddles, Ter the fierce falcon and Moriah, Lady of the Night. When she is given a baby, Tamlorn, to care for, she becomes embroiled in the politics of the kingdom and the world of revenge.
It was a joy to become immersed in Sybel's world which is vividly imagined in a sparse 208 pages, unlike many of the fantasy books written today which often are over long. Memories of McKillip's dangerous world, her fantastic beasts and the love story between her and Coren and the awful taint of captivity and revenge will stay with the reader long after finishing this book.
Readers who enjoy stories by Juliet Marillier and Robin McKinley will be thrilled to discover another author whose tales delve into fantasy worlds. I will be pursuing other books written by McKillip, who also won a World Fantasy award for Ombria in shadow, which I have put on my to-read list.
Pat Pledger




Jan 21 2019

Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt

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Ill. by Chris Mould. Orion Children's Books, 2018. ISBN: 9781510104556.
(Age: 8-10 ) Recommended. Themes: Fantasy. Opening a strange box is the starting point of this amazing adventure for Jake Green as it contains a severed finger, summoning the Grim Reaper which takes him into the Eternal Void, a place to be avoided.  In this place he must run for his life, but finds he can communicate with the other inhabitants: the ghosts. In this appalling place, Jake teams up with several other creatures, Cora who uses a hockey stick for protection, Stiffley the undertaker and Zorro the ghost fox, all of whom, like Jake are searching for the Embassy of the Dead, a place where they will find refuge.
In the background of this tale, in the only too real world, Jake's life is being torn apart with his parent's decision to split, bringing to an end all that Jake knows. It is an issue he must deal with. Mabbitt, the author of the Mabel Jones series for slightly younger readers, lives in England and enjoys wandering through graveyards, which seems to me where he gets his great ideas. Full of humour and adventure, this story is full of laugh out loud lines, the strangest situations anyone can get themselves into and a nod to the lives of modern children, alluding to some of the things they must deal with.
The illustrations by Chris Mould add to the zany adventures of Jake Green.
Fran Knight




Jan 21 2019

Dolls of war by Shirley Parenteau

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Candlewick Press, 2017. ISBN: 9780763690694.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: World War Two, Japan, Dolls, Prejudice, Museums. In 1941, eleven-year-old Macy James lives near the Oregon coast with her father, the director of a small museum. Miss Tokyo, one of fifty-eight exquisite friendship dolls given to America by Japan in 1926 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_friendship_dolls) is part of the museum's collection. This doll represents more than the place of her mother's birth; it links Macy to her mother who has recently died. It is a doll they spoke of together often, Mrs James wanting to take Macy to Japan to meet the people she grew up with and it was her dearest wish that she meet the maker of the doll, Miss Tokyo. When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, many of Macy's neighbours demand that Miss Tokyo be destroyed. From Macy's friend, Lily who thinks it should be put away to those who want it destroyed, Macy has to stand firm.
She decides to hide this doll which reminds her of her mother, and keep it hidden until people's discomfort with the doll dies down. But as the war progresses, Macy begins to have persistent doubts about her actions, and begins to think that perhaps her neighbours were right in their push to destroy the doll.
An engrossing story of conflicting loyalties, of prejudice and judging people, this is one of a trilogy called Friendship Dolls, the first two being Ship of Dolls (2018) and Dolls of Hope (2016). The story of these dolls can be found in the Wikipedia site above, which details what happened to the 58 dolls sent to the USA. The background of the story is riveting, bringing up small details of life lived during the war for many people, and of the prejudice shown to people who have been friends and neighbours for years.
Fran Knight




Jan 18 2019

Shadow of the centaurs: an Ancient Greek mystery by Saviour Pirotta

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Ill. by Freya Hartas. Bloomsbury, 2018. ISBN: 9781472940254.
(Age: 8-12) Recommended. Themes: Ancient Greece, Mystery. Saviour Pirotta's fourth book in the Ancient Greek Mysteries series is a lively tale of mystery and celebration. In Shadow of the Centaurs the citizens of Athens are preparing for the festival of Anthesteria to honour Dionysus the god of wine and to celebrate the beginning of spring. Pirotta's attention to detail from clothing, architecture, food, daily life, even conversations about politics, class structure and religion bring the Ancient Greek world alive.
Told through young Nico's eyes, a free man who scribes for Master Ariston the travelling poet, he and his friend Thrax who is the poet's personal slave quickly become involved in a small mystery. Thrax's deductive powers and his careful observations have assisted in solving of other mysteries and he's asked by Master Zeno the gym master to unravel the problem of his stolen dog. When the boys visit his house, Thrax comments on the gruesome floor mosaic depicting a battle between soldiers and centaurs. When the boys return late at night to investigate why the little dog who always barks at strangers was stolen then returned, they discover a hidden secret under the mosaic floor. Soon they come upon a plot to assassinate Pericles the general of Athens and they become deeply embroiled in searching for the evil people behind this. Thrax mysteriously disappears, his cloak found supposedly torn by a lion and Nico even succumbs to an extreme bout of food poisoning. With the help of street urchins and other members of their secret Medusa League Thrax and Nico sneak into the festival at the Acropolis and perform one of their greatest feats.
Shadow of the Centaur is a wonderful historical representation of ancient Athens, filled with recognisable figures like Socrates and Pericles. Pirotta addresses the role of women in society, the structure of the classes and opens the reader's eyes to a new world. Readers who love historical mysteries will enjoy these junior novels and can quickly refer to the glossary and learn about everything from agoras - meeting places to tympanums - tambourines. What a valuable resource for teaching Upper Primary History researching the roles of key groups in Athenian society!
Rhyllis Bignell




Jan 18 2019

The Boy by Tami Hoag

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Broussard and Fourcade book 2. Trapeze, 2018. ISBN: 9781409169635.
(Age: Adult - senior secondary) Recommended. Themes: Mystery and suspense, Detectives, Death, Domestic violence, Children at risk, Bullying. As a fan of Tami Hoag, I grabbed The boy as soon as it arrived on my desk and found myself totally involved in the characters and even better for me, the murderer remained unknown right until the gripping conclusion. Hoag returned to Louisiana and her two detectives Broussard and Forcade in this story which can be read as a stand-alone. It opens with a horrifying scene of a woman covered in blood, fleeing for help for her son who has been attacked. Detective Nick Fourcade is first on the scene and finds Genevieve's 7 year old son, P.J., dead and no clues as to why he was killed and why his mother was allowed to run for help. Meanwhile Annie Broussard is with the grieving mother who cannot help her with the crime.
As the two investigate, each using their particular skills, Annie's understanding of the emotions of the people involved and Nick's dogged determination to find the murderer regardless of the cost, the question still remains - why was the only witness left alive? Then the boy's babysitter, thirteen-year-old Nora Florette, is discovered to be missing and the mystery deepens.
Hoag is a master at building up suspense and is also very clever in her portrayal of the main characters. The marriage between Annie and Nick survives through the problems of their work, Nick's temper about injustice and a boss who is not helpful. The difficulties of single mothers are highlighted, not only with Genevieve and her boy but with the relationship between the police chief, his fiancee and fiancee's teen son, and the problems with supervising her family that Nora Florette's mother has while her husband works far away.
This is a tense, dark, emotional murder mystery, which will leave many readers wanting to read more of Tami Hoag's stories.
Pat Pledger




Jan 18 2019

The extraordinary life of Michelle Obama by Sheila Kanani

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Ill. by Sarah Walsh. Penguin Random House, 2019. ISBN: 9780241372739.
(Age: 8+) Michelle La Vaughn Robinson, the descendant of a slave, was raised in a small apartment in Chicago. At the age of forty-four she became the First Lady of the United States. Sheila Kanani's biography explains why being the President's wife was only one of the reasons why Michelle Obama's life has been extraordinary.
The chronological narrative emphasises how Michelle has overcome economic and social challenges with determination and education. She used her position as First Lady to promote healthy eating, and campaigned for improvements in education, housing, and conditions for veterans. While the author emphasises Michelle's self-belief, she also acknowledges her competitive nature, and the difficulties she has faced. These difficulties have included racism, economic inequality, her father's multiple sclerosis, and the demands of balancing motherhood with her legal career and her husband's political ambitions. Kanani has also noted Michelle's gratitude for the encouragement she received from a caring family, and from lecturers who recognised her potential. These insights into the sources of Michelle's insecurities as well as her strength of character increase the book's credibility as a short but well-rounded biography. The author's writing style, choice of vocabulary and provision of definitions in text boxes, demonstrate that she is mindful of the needs of her young audience. A brief overview of the United States system of government is helpful for non-American readers, while monochrome drawings, a timeline and an index facilitate an understanding of the text. A list of sources for quotations helps to reveal the author's research process.
Michelle Obama's life demonstrates how a supposedly ordinary upbringing can foster a desire to achieve extraordinary goals. Readers can learn from Sheila Kanani's biography not only what the former First Lady has achieved, but also how she has used her education and influence to help others.
Elizabeth Bor




Jan 17 2019

Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

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Walker, 2018. ISBN 9781406386851.
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Themes: Droughts. Survival. California. Climate change. What would happen if suddenly there was no water in your house - nothing to drink, nothing to wash with or cook with, let alone use on the garden? This is what the collaboration between Neal and Jarrod Shusterman explores as the people in California find that their taps have been turned off. When Alyssa's parents go missing on a mission to get water for their family, Alyssa and her little brother Garrett find themselves teaming up with their neighbour Kelton, the son of people who have prepared for Doomsday. They go on a dangerous quest to find water to keep themselves alive. Along the way they pick up others in an equally dire situation and discover just how people react when their lives are on the line.
This a frightening scenario that readers who are familiar with droughts and fights about water allocations will immediately identify with as it seems like a very real possibility in our world where water is a precious commodity and greed often overrides the needs of everyone. The duo describe in detail what could happen in a disaster when the taps are turned off. It is all too easy to imagine the chaos that the Tap-Out would cause, the way that neighbours would turn on each other, the slowness of officials to respond and how some people would take advantage of what is happening in a time of crisis as well as those who would help others.
The suspense is built up as the small group face danger as they venture on the road to find water and each person's character, strengths and weaknesses are brought to light as they face difficult decisions and events.
Fans of Neal Shusterman will find this collaboration as riveting as his other books as will people who enjoy the challenge of speculative fiction. It would make for lively and uncomfortable discussion as a class novel or literature circle book (A discussion guide is available from the publisher).
Pat Pledger




Jan 16 2019

The assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

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Candlewick Press, 2018. ISBN 9780763698225.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: Fantasy, Power, Politics, War, Propaganda. What a treat to read a unique tale told by two outstanding people, National Book award winner M.T.Anderson and Newbery Honoree Eugene Yelchin. The historian elf Brangwain Spurge is catapulted into the goblin territory on a quest to give their lord a gift, while at the same time secretly spying on the kingdom. His host, the archivist goblin Werfel is chosen to look after Brangwain. While both should have a lot in common, they have no understanding of each other's culture and soon they are thrown into chaos that could cause a war between the goblin and elf kingdom.
Yelchin's witty illustrations bring to life the elf Brangwain. The reader is introduced to him at the very beginning of the book, as he is thrown into the goblin kingdom. He is shown as a fearful but determined character, believing that he is on a peace mission. Then a letter from Lord Ysoret Clivers, of The Order of the Clean Hand, brings the reader a different interpretation of Brangwain and his mission. Meanwhile when he arrives in the goblin kingdom, the narrative of the goblin Werfel also shows a different view to the illustrations and the reader is tossed back and forward between a hilarious and critical social commentary and fabulous drawings that highlight what is going on and how easily the truth can be distorted.
Younger readers will be drawn to the wonderful illustrations and follow the story eagerly to see what will happen to the pair as they gradually become friends, realising that they are being manipulated by more powerful beings and blunder through danger and adventure. Older readers will be drawn to the satire and thought provoking ideas about history, politics, power and the nature of war. A discussion guide is available and will help highlight major ideas in the book, while the humour and unreliable narration will leave a lasting memory for anyone who picks up this handsome hardcover book.
Pat Pledger




Jan 15 2019

A good night for shooting zombies by Jaco Jacobs

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One World, 2018. ISBN 9781786074508
(Age: 11+) Recommended. Themes: Adventure. Martin aka 'Clucky', is a quirky 13 year old mathematician and heir to his father's egg business. Vusi owns a dog who likes to bite chickens. Confronting your neighbour about his murderous dog is not a great start, but friendship follows as Clucky sees that Vusi is recovering from treatment for Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Clucky is persuaded to help Vusi make a Zombie film, in which they will both star. When school chum Chris, spots them filming one day, she quickly becomes the female lead in Vusi's film.
But the prophetic 'The End of the World' film lands them in a bit of strife - first with an overprotective nurse and concerned parents but more worryingly with a gang of local thieves who store their booty in the old shed, serving as their movie studio.
It's not a long read to find out whether the film gets finished and the bad guys get caught. The first person narration is hard-hitting and compelling. Events hurtle along in Vusi's desperation to finish the film, punctuated by Martin's ongoing and sometimes hilarious hardships both at school and at home.
Jaco Jacobs first published this title in 2015, in his native Afrikaans. 2018 saw a movie version as well as this English translation by Kobus Geldenhuys, which is illustrated by Jim Tierney. With over 140 Afrikaans children's novels to his credit, this edition and perhaps a second copy to read simultaneously with a mate, will definitely not gather dust on our school library shelves.
Deborah Robins




Jan 11 2019

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman

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Lady Helen book 3. Angus and Robertson, 2018. ISBN 9780732296117.
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. After devouring the first two books in the series (Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club  and Lady Helen and the dark days pact) the final in the trilogy set in beautiful Bath does not disappoint with its thrilling mysteries and heart rending romance. Helen is in the midst of preparing for her wedding to the Duke of Selburn, while at the same time struggling to learn to control her powers with Lord Carlston as part of the Grand Reclaimer, in order to overcome the Grand Deceiver. Lady Helen believes that Carlston's wife is still alive and must supress her illicit feelings for him, knowing that she could love the Duke of Selburn who is devoted to her.
Anyone who likes the Regency period will be fascinated with the gorgeous setting. Bath of 1812 is described in detail as is the country mansion belonging to the Duke of Selburn and the manners of the time. The slow burning romance between Helen and Carlston is fraught with difficulties, not least the engagement of Helen to Selburn, and Goodman kept the tension of this going right to the end of the book - it was virtually impossible to predict if it could be resolved or to predict just who the Great Deceiver was! And there is action galore as Helen and Carlston join together as the Grand Reclaimer in the final fight against the dark powers that have been unleashed.
An inventive, highly addictive series, part historical and part dark fantasy, this series will appeal to lovers of the Regency period, as well as those who enjoy books by Georgette Heyer and the The Glamourist histories by Mary Robinette Kowal.
I can't wait to see what Alison Goodman writes next!
Pat Pledger




Jan 08 2019

The caged queen by Kristen Ciccarelli

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Gollancz, 2018. ISBN 9781473218161
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Themes: Fantasy. Love. Loyalty. Roa and her sister, Essie, share a bond that goes beyond understanding and even death. Essie's spirit is trapped in the body of a hawk, living in the limbo between life and freedom. Roa's driving desire is to release her from this trapped existence, but to do so she must sacrifice another life, and the victim must be the young King, Dax. Dax comes from the Dragon people, and grew up with the girls to escape his own dangerous father. But he is also the one that Essie saved as she lost her own life. Roa is a strong, capable and feisty young woman and in order to save the people of her homeland she has negotiated a marriage with the hapless, Dax. Dax though has his own solutions to problems, and they are not pleasing to Roa, and his affections seem to be shared with too many other young women! This fraught relationship between king and queen swings from open dislike to something that surprises Queen Roa. With plots to destroy the allegiance that Roa's marriage has enabled, Roa becomes embroiled in the complications of her own confusion and in resolving her connection to her former love interest.
Foremost though, this is an amazing and highly readable fantasy tale with broken relationships, hidden love, knife fights, political subterfuge and romance. These are all immersed in the world where dragons may appear and communities share stories and aspirations, and sometimes resort to violent solutions to their problems. Even though this is not the first book in The last Namsara saga, it is highly readable on its own and can be recommended to lovers of fantasy and romance alike.
Highly recommended for readers aged 15+.
Carolyn Hull




Jan 02 2019

The Boneless Mercies by April Tucholke

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Simon and Schuster, 2018. ISBN 9781471170003
(Age: Mature 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: High Fantasy, Death. Certain to appeal to young adult fans of medieval epics, this macabre group of heroines will attract an even wider audience. In the male dominated Vorseland, orphaned girls who want escape life in a brothel could be apprenticed to black-cloaked mercy killers. A band of nomadic Boneless Mercies may be hired specifically to carry out assisted suicide for the terminally ill - with the exception of the occasional abusive husband or revenge kill. Aging Siggy's last apprentices: Frey, Ovie, Runa and Jupiter are skilled in both stealth and homicide. With Siggy gone, Frey leads the Mercies and one by one their pasts are revealed to their 17 yr old leader. Trigve is a tolerated travelling companion, but as a male he can never be a Mercy, a job for women only. 'Men will not do this sad, dark work.'
Without Siggy's guidance, the girls survive but despair of mercy killing - murdering children in particular. Alternatively, they seek glorious battles for their considerable skills and Frey leads her willing band on a series of noble quests. They renounce their trade with an initial goal to slay the Blue Vee monster and end the giant's carnage in Jarl Roth's northern kingdom. The reward money will give them all future security. On route to Blue Vee, they are side-tracked by further adventures; liberating the victims of evil Jarls, making deals with self-serving Sea witches and ending the malevolent reign of the powerful Cut-Queen.
Unlike other Mercy bands or the insular Sea Witches, Frey's group occasionally accept the comradery of worthy males who become embroiled in their battles. Inspired by the saga of Beowulf, these adolescent girls are clearly in charge. Frey's first-hand narration with an undercurrent of free love and extreme violence makes this a novel for mature readers. But a wise woman's universe has no absolutes - Frey never compromises her understanding of the complexity of the human condition, where destructive cycles are broken only by acknowledging all victims - including the monsters themselves.
Deborah Robins




Jan 02 2019

Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake

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Macmillan, 2018. ISBN 9781509876495
(Age: 12+) Despite having read the previous books in the series, Three dark crowns and One dark throne I personally wasn't a fan of Two Dark Reigns. The addition to the series felt unnecessary.
The third book in the series, Two Dark Reigns follows the three queens of Fennbirn in their new lives. After Katherine's ascension, the island is filled with unease. Without the bodies of Arsinoe and Mirabella it is hard to prove their deaths, particularly when rumours of the legion-cursed Jules Milone resurface from the warrior city of Bastian. As the island revolts in the face of The Undead Queen and Katherine is increasingly forced to rely on the powers of the dead queens, whispers emerge of a revolution led by a new queen, a legion-cursed Naturalist with the strength of a Fennbirn queen.
Meanwhile, away from the island, Arsinoe and Mirabella struggle to reconcile themselves to their new lives. Each day is a challenge for Arsinoe as she continues to wear trousers and flaunt her scared face. Mirabella, by comparison, has an easier time blending in, her queenly grace finally being useful. However, things start to go arwy when Arsinoe is contacted by the spirit of the Blue Queen, an island legend who haunts her and demands they return to Fennbirn to save the island from Katherine.
While the sisters must decide what is best for the island, the people, and themselves, Jules must also decide who she wants to be and whether or not she can lead a revolution, breaking free of all the island is and leading it into a new age. I would recommend to fans of the previous books. The novel touches on feelings of otherness and loss of control.
Kayla Gaskell




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