Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is a book about zombies interrupting the Civil War. Don’t let the idea of zombies scare you off, though (Mom), because this story is so much more than the next zombie apocalypse novel.
Our main character, Jane, was born during the Civil War, right around the time the dead came back and put a stop to the battling. Everyone became focused instead on solving the issue of zombies — or “shamblers” as they’re known in the book. Old beliefs linger despite the physical war ending, and the view of post-war America where neither side won is fascinating.
Black and Native American children are sent to boarding schools where they learn combat skills to fight the shamblers. The ultimate goal is to attain a position as bodyguards for the wealthy. Jane is enrolled in one of the best of these schools, and while she is an excellent fighter, she struggles with following the rules. Her antics lead her from a frustrating situation to one that is downright deadly. She has to fight –and not only against shamblers — to keep those she loves safe.
Dread Nation is very well-written with believable and relatable characters. The America Justina Ireland paints is vivid and sometimes heart-wrenching in its authenticity. It isn’t hard to imagine some of the reactions, beliefs, and social norms created in this alternate society. This book is both entertaining and deep, evoking fun conversations about zombies as well as more serious social commentary that could be applicable even today.
Also worth noting, I really love the chapter titles. It’s a small touch, but in my opinion, they are very well done and made me look forward to each new story-within-the-story.
I know I said An Ember in the Ashes is my all-time favorite YA book. I stand by that. BUT. The Selection Series by Kierra Cass is one of my all-time favorite of the YA series (okay, so I have a lot of favorites…there’s a reason my husband promised in his wedding vows to move all my books wherever we go).
The Heir, which is the fourth book in the series, is what I read almost cover to cover the morning of my wedding day. As much as I loved America, I adore Eadlyn. And like a boy-crazy teenager, I really liked how different all the boys were.
The Selection through The One is basically The Bachelor meets Cinderella. Girls are selected from around the kingdom to compete for the affection of the crown prince. They represent different caste levels and each bring something appealing to the table, be it alliance potential, charisma for the paparazzi, or a desire to make life better for the lower castes. The camaraderie (and sometimes, the fighting) between the girls is beautifully written and wholly believable. It’s a trilogy about friendship as much as it is about love and politics.
The Heir and The Crown follow the next generation: a princess determined to prove she is the strongest person in the kingdom. She don’t need no man, and she tells her parents constantly. But the kingdom is still showing signs of unrest, and the king and queen hope a return to the traditional Selection will boost morale. Eadlyn is determined to torment the boys into leaving of their own volition, but as time passes, she grows to enjoy their company. Love blossoms in the least likely of places, and she has to decide if accepting a husband — even one she truly loves — will hold her back from being the queen she’s always dreamt of.
The writing is fast-paced and engaging, and the characters come to life with each page. I shared their heartbreaks and rejoiced over their triumphs, and actually believed the possibility of a less-than-happy ending. I’ve also read through this series at least twice. It’s a keeper on my shelves for sure!
HOW HAVE I NOT ALREADY WRITTEN THIS?! Guys, this is my all time favorite YA book that isn’t Harry Potter (because Harry Potter is really its own thing at this point, anyway).
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is about a slave and a soldier in fantasy-Ancient Rome. Laia is a Scholar, the broken and subservient class, sent as a slave to spy on the martial school in order to help free her brother from imprisonment. Elias is a Martial, and on his way to joining the upper echelons of the Empire — a position that only fills him with disgust. (And also, Helene is a badass secondary character whom I love — dare I say it — possibly more than either Laia or Elias).
I will say right off the bat, if you haven’t already noticed, I’m not too hard to please when it comes to the love interest. I know that makes me somewhat unreliable when it comes to actual opinions about the guys in these female-led novels. Set that aside for a second and trust me when I say, Elias is everything. Strong and deadly and kind and compassionate. He’s probably my favorite swoon-worthy character since Gilbert Blythe (not that anyone will ever take the place of Gilbert Blythe).
Laia is relatable, at least for me. She wishes she were braver than she thinks she is, but she’s willing to do anything it takes to save her brother. She pushes herself out of her comfort zone time and again until she learns she is strong enough to take charge of her situation.
The writing is exceptional, especially for a debut author. It’s the kind of writing that makes me question whether my own could ever be good enough. And I mean that in a good way — too many debut novels make me cringe and wonder what the point is of even trying if pretty much anything can be published.
And, if you find yourself falling a little for Helene, she gets a main character POV in the next book which will only make you love her more. Plus, the third book is due to come out this June, so it’s a pretty good time to get started on the series. DO IT!
Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller is my favorite YA book I’ve read so far this year. And guys, it’s currently only $5.99 for hardcover on Amazon right now. That’s amazing! It could be because the sequel, Daughter of the Siren Queen just came out. I say buy ’em both!
DotPK stars Alosa, a fiery pirate captain (and, you guessed it, daughter of the king of the pirates). She gets herself kidnapped by a rival pirate ship so she can search out a piece of the ultimate treasure map (and show off her overall badassery).
Of course, she meets her match in the handsome Riden. They battle wits and occasionally trade physical blows and fill the pages with wonderful tension. I loved their banter and their chemistry.
This isn’t the first heroine I’ve met who is both feminine and strong, but I love it every time. She brags about her fine clothes and threatens to murder those who get her gowns dirty. She’s been hardened by past trauma but still leaves room for hope and kindness. Alosa is both vicious and compassionate, and I greatly enjoyed her story.