Girl at the Grave by Teri Bailey Black

Title: Girl at the Grave

Author: Teri Bailey Black

My Rating: 4 stars

I've had this young adult book for a while and finally got around to reading it, and then still I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get into it.  Once I started though, it went by so quickly and and I engaged and excited.  It turned out to be a nice, kind of spooky, murder mystery, perfect for October!

It is the set in the 1800's. Valentine is a teen girl who is a bit of an outsider, but not for the typical reasons one might be.  Her mother was hanged when she was a little girl for murdering a man, who was a prominent member of society.  The man's son, Rowan, is now a classmate of Valentine's, and he tends to watch her closely, in contempt she thinks. 

Soon after the book starts Valentine finds out her mother was innocent, but the person who tells her this turns up dead, and it may have been murder.  Surprisingly Rowan wants to help her find out who the new murderer is ; meanwhile Valentine's dad and another townsperson also come up missing. 

There is a also a love triangle between Valentine, her friend Sam, and Rowan. 

I'm a little tired of love triangles, but this one was handled fairly well.  The murder mystery was engaging for me, and my guesses about the killer were wrong, so it's not immediately obvious.  There are twists and turns, likeable and unlikeable characters.  Some characters demeanors changes, making you question whether they are the killer, but their shifts in personality aren't entirely uncalled for. 

I was a little unsure about Valentine though.  I do tend to have problems with the main female characters in most books and tv shows, and this was no different.  My problem with Valentine was just that she was so convinced that the murderer was this one person, and I felt like she was blinded and couldn't see that she had no real evidence to blame that person.  There were other people who could have been suspects. 

It was still a very good book, and I recommend it for teens and adults!

Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett

Title: Onyx and Ivory
Author: Minee Arnett

My Rating: 5 stars

I'm not in love with the cover or the title, but the book? Absolutely! This has earned its spot in my top 3 of the year!

In this young adult fantasy, the main characters are around 19-20.  Kate's father was a traitor, having tried to kill the king, and that has left her with the name "Traitor Kate." Plus she has had to hide her wilder magic ability to speak with and control animals else she be judged for that as well, since wilder magic is illegal. But then she rescues her old friend, Prince Corwin, from a drake attack and things begin to change.

Corwin doesn't want to rule. He has accepted that his brother, Edwin, will likely be the heir. Then he sees Kate again as she rescues him from the drakes and old feelings are rekindled.  But there are more important issues at hand...why are the drakes, typically called nightdrakes, attacking during the day? Is wilder magic involved?

Right at 500 pages, this one is lengthy, but I enjoyed it all.  It didn't drag for me.  This is the start of a new series, and I can't wait for the next book!

Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

Title: Shadow Weaver
Author: MarcyKate Connolly

Rating: 4 stars

This dark tale of friendship, magic, and secrets was enchanting. The main focus is a young girl who can control and speak to shadows. Her parents do not approve of her magic, and soon, she is on the run from those who want to take her magic. She meets new people who her shadow warns her against telling about her secrets, but she finds they have some magic of their own. The story of magic weaves into one of true friendship.  This is the first book in a duology.

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins

Title: Daughters of the Storm
Author: Kim Wilkins

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Five very different sisters work to save their father, the king, while trying to keep their own secrets. Bluebell, the oldest and most loyal to her father, is a warrior, a fierce fighter that brings fear to her enemies. Rose is a queen, married off to a neighboring king to bring about peace, but if her king knew her secrets....  Ash is studying magic, but is more powerful than she should be at her age.  Ivy and Willow, the twins -- Ivy is lustful and vain, while Willow has turned to the trimartyr faith, believing her family to be heathens.  Will they be able to save their father and stop their treacherous step brother from taking the throne?

I really enjoyed this book, both the flow and the story.  I know some reviewers felt there were too many characters, but I think that each character had just enough individuality and personality to stand apart enough for me to keep track.  Some of the characters are more likeable than others, but that is true to any novel, and with this any characters, it would unrealistic to like them all. 

This is a well written fantasy novel that starts the Blood and Gold series, but it does not leave on too much of a cliffhanger.

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Title: Sky in the Deep
Author: Adrienne Young

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Eelyn is a warrior, taught to fight and survive.  She is fighting alongside her clansmen when she sees her brother fighting on the side of the enemy -- the same brother that died five years before.  Feeling betrayed she goes after her brother, only to be taken alive by the enemy, and forced to live with them for a while.  In time, she finds herself developing feelings for one of the enemy clan.  And after an attack by another clan that nearly decimates the enemy clan and her own, she has to work to bring the two clans together.

I really enjoyed this well-written warrior tale.  Unlike a lot of typical YA books, the romance was not immediate, it took some time before Eelyn began to trust Fiske and developed feelings for him.  The summary on the book would have you think it happens faster than it actually does. 

Eelyn is a strong female character with loyal ties to her family. The book starts out action packed, with down time in the middle, but ends by amping up the action again.  It is an exciting and riveting debut novel by this new author..

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Title: Then She Was Gone
Author: Lisa Jewell

My Rating: 4 stars

Ten years ago, Laurel's 15 year old daughter Ellie went missing. Soon after, Laurel and her husband divorced.  Now, years later, she has let a new man enter her life, but she is shocked when she meets his daughter and she looks just like her Ellie.

We learn this much from the summary.  I went in thinking that the man's daughter might be Ellie, but in the first few chapters, you learn that the man's daughter is young, and so it seems predictable that it will be Ellie's daughter.  It is also quite predictable who took Ellie.  At first I was disappointed by these things, but then I realized that these things were meant to be known and not surprises.  Once I accepted that, and that this wasn't a true thriller, I liked the book much more.

Initially, I didn't like the author's writing style and wasn't sure I would finish the book, but I kept going and got into the story and style.  I didn't find Laurel particularly likeable, but she did grow as the story went on.  I loved the character of Poppy, as did everyone else in the story.

The changing viewpoints were interesting in that new character viewpoints were added as the story progressed. It added to the urgency of the novel that may not have been there otherwise.

The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell

Title: The Tangled Lands
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell

My Rating: 4 stars

Magic has been banned in Khaim because it causes the bramble to grow, choking out the cities and life.  If the bramble touches you, you fall into a deep sleep, never to wake. Only the Majister Scacz is allowed to use magic and yet, so many others do, causing the bramble to continue to grow.  Stories of magic, yes, but these are really tales of the lesser people fighting back, while losing people along the way.

At first I was disappointed to find out this was a book of four stories set in one world, instead of a novel, but I actually found it to be well written and the stories were moving.  Each author writes two of the stories.  I think my favorite was the Executioness.

In the first story, an inventor is trying to protect his young daughter who is sick.  He creates a device that can fight the bramble, but Scacz and the duke discover it can be used to find those that are using magic...

The second story is that of the Executioness.  When the story begins, the woman is the daughter of an executioner, but her father is sick.  She is just a butcher, until her village is raided and her chidren are taken.  She goes after them, and earns the title of the Executioness.

In the third story, two children (actually I was never sure if they were children or teenagers?) are orphans that used to be well-off in Alacan, but they have lost their family since the bramble overtook the city.  Now they are refugees and have to work to fight the bramble and are considered lesser than the other people.  The girl falls to the bramble, and the boy loses her.  This is a story of him looking for her body, and trying to keep her alive.

Finally there is the story of the blacksmith's daughter.  The family of blacksmiths are commissioned by the duke to create a suit of armor for the duke's son.  But they are not given enough money or time to create what the duke wants.  They are punished when it is not complete, and the daughter is left to make difficult choices.

These people all learn the hard way how to fight back when they have lost their loved ones.  These stories are difficult and sad, but somehow empowering.

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell

Title: The Wizards of Once
Author:Cressida Cowell

My Rating: 4 stars

A wizard boy without magic.  A warrior girl with a secret magical object.  The two meet and fight off witches, thought to have been extinct. Will they save the day and manage to stay out of trouble?

Xar and Wish are a pretty cute team up, though Xar can be a little annoying and selfish.  He does have a little bit of character growth by the end, but not much.  Wish is the true star of the team.  She is much more likeable.  The story is told by an unnamed narrator, though he/she tells you it is a character in the book.  My guess is the bird on the cover or the sprite named Squeezjoos,  but I'm still not certain.

Overall, this middle grade novel is a fun magical adventure romp and the illustrations add to the exciting tale.