by Serena Chase)
Fans of medieval fantasy, contemporary YA romance and everything in between will find a lot to love about these titles from C.E. Laureano, Travis Thrasher and Lorie Langdon & Carey Corp.
Oath of the Brotherhood (Song of Seare No. 1) by C.E. Laureano
What it's about (from publisher TH1NK):
In a kingdom where the Old Ways hold fast and a man's worth lies entirely in his skill with the sword, Conor Mac Nir is a scholar, a musician, and a follower of the forbidden Balian faith: problematic for any man, but disastrous for the son of the king.
When Conor is sent as a hostage to a neighboring kingdom, he never expects to fall in love with the rival king's sister, Aine. Nor does he suspect his gift with the harp (and Aine's ability to heal) touches on the realm of magic. Then his clan begins a campaign to eliminate all Balians from the isle of Seare, putting his newfound home in peril and entangling him in a plot for control of the island that has been unfolding since long before his birth.
Only by committing himself to an ancient warrior brotherhood can Conor discover the part he's meant to play in Seare's future. But is he willing to sacrifice everything—even the woman he loves—to follow the path his God has laid before him?
Why you should read it: Oath of the Brotherhood introduces readers to a medieval world in which the natural and supernatural collide in sometimes frightening and often beautiful moments of Christian allegory and emotional truth. Author C.E. Laureano does not hesitate to strike her characters in the heart, contrasting the dissonance of passionate despair against the brighter chords of hope as they are forced to exchange betrayal for aid, death for life, friendship for sacrifice, honor for faithfulness, and all for love.
Conor is a very relatable teen boy, a likable outsider who longs to find his place in this world. Aine is, likewise, a character who seems just beyond the reach of true acceptance in her current situation. As attraction grows between Aine and Conor, it becomes the stirring, driving force of the tale and provides "that one good thing" to strive toward when everything good seems out of reach.
Best known for her debut contemporary romance, Five Days in Skye (written as Carla Laureano), this author's second offering proves she is a powerful voice that will appeal across multiple genres. Rich with Celtic lore, battle, and competing magics, C.E. Laureano's Oath of the Brotherhood is a heroic coming-of-age fantasy experience and an inspiring, romantic YA series opener.
Marvelous (The Chronicles of Marvella, book one) by Travis Thrasher
What it's about (from publisher TH1NK):
Brandon Jeffery's summer started out with a bang—as in, a friend crashed his car and now he has to work two jobs to pay it off. It's at Fascination Street Records that he's introduced to a beautiful but quiet girl named Marvel. She's new to Hidden Cove and looking for a summer job, so Brandon secretly strikes a deal with their boss to work for free so she can be hired.
When a classmate is found murdered, however, their summer takes a turn for the mysterious. Brandon's friend Devon is sure he knows just who's to blame: the creepy recluse of the town quarry. But the police have few leads, and Brandon has the sneaking suspicion he's being watched.
That's not what's in the forefront of on his mind, though. More than trying to pay off his car to his unemployed, alcoholic father and protecting Seth Belcher from the school bullies, he's determined to date Marvel. He doesn't understand why they seem so close and she refuses to date him, but as the mystery behind her tragic past begins to unravel, Marvel finally confesses her reason: God has revealed she's destined to die saving others—and it's going to be soon.
Why you should read it: Refreshing. That is the first word that comes to mind when considering this mainstream-compatible YA novel from inspy publisher TH1NK and rising-star author Travis Thrasher.
It isn't very often a contemporary teen romance comes to us from the sole first-person point of view of a boy. That alone is refreshing, especially because this boy doesn't come off as "too perfect to live," as so often happens in YA fiction. Brandon is not a "star" at school, but neither is he a rebel or a loner/outcast, as one might expect to find in a YA romance's hero. Brandon is pretty much known for being a normal, nice guy who gets along with everyone. Sounds pretty boring, right? Nope. Even nice guys have secrets, and Brandon's are painful, but approached in such a real way that it makes you question, as he does, if there is any family out there that doesn't hide a world of pain beyond their front door.
Brandon's determination to win Marvel's heart, beyond her willing friendship, is endearing without making him come off as too needy or desperate or even "too romantic" — yes, there is such a thing *wink*. Marvel herself is a strangely lit mystery, a free spirit who is comfortable in her own skin, but she never crosses the line into "flaky," even though she dresses like a 1970s flower child. Marvel has a lovely openness about her manner, even when she is holding back, that the reader never feels kept at arm's length, but rather, along with Brandon, we are simply curious to learn the fullness of her story.
Throughout the novel, a feeling of encroaching evil, a threat darker even than that of the suspected serial killer whose growing trail of mangled teens along the riverbank, steadily grows. Thrasher's expertly placed reminders build suspense at a pace that subtly raises the hairs on the back of your neck, in that "someone just walked over your grave" sort of way, without the big gasp that gives it all away. In a word, the craft with which he builds the suspense tension is ... masterful. At novel's end, we are no closer to knowing who — or what — is responsible for the murders or the darkness that seems to be overtaking those with violent leanings in town, but we are certain that Brandon and Marvel are going to be major players in bringing it — and maybe more — to light in the coming novels of this expertly crafted new series.
Doon (A Doon Novel, No. 1) by Lorie Langdon and Carey Corp
What it's about (from publisher HarperCollins/Blink):
Veronica doesn't think she's going crazy. But why can't anyone else see the mysterious blond boy who keeps popping up wherever she goes?
When her best friend, Mackenna, invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Veronica jumps at the opportunity to leave her complicated life behind for a few months. But the Scottish countryside holds other plans. Not only has the imaginary kilted boy followed her to Alloway, she and Mackenna uncover a strange set of rings and a very unnerving letter from Mackenna's great aunt---and when the girls test the instructions Aunt Gracie left behind, they find themselves transported to a land that defies explanation.
Doon seems like a real-life fairy tale, complete with one prince who has eyes for Mackenna and another who looks suspiciously like the boy from Veronica's daydreams. But Doon has a dark underbelly as well. The two girls could have everything they've longed for… or they could end up breaking an enchantment and find themselves trapped in a world that has become a nightmare.
Why you should read it: Although Doon might be considered pretty light reading fare when compared to the other two books in this rec, this retelling of Brigadoon is a dessert bar of YA romance awesomeness.
The tale unfolds from both Veronica's and Mackenna's uniquely voiced points of view. Veronica is smart, but she is also serious and emotionally fragile — but resilient and dependable. Mackenna is strong, theatrical and driven. Although her humor is often self-deprecating, it doesn't lead one to think she suffers from the sort of self-esteem her friend Veronica does. The boys in this tale — both princes, be still my heart! — are pretty doggone yummy heroes and well suited for these girls.
Fans of Lisa T. Bergren's River of Time series and My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris will find a worthy bookshelf companion in Doon. I can hardly wait to cross the bridge into Doon again when Destined for Doon releases in September!
A writer, performer and accomplished partaker of dark chocolate, Serena Chase lives in Iowa with her husband and two daughters. The first two books in her debut Eyes of E'veria series, The Ryn and The Remedy, are out now. You can find out more about her at serenachase.com.