Summer is finally here! For those of you who have been suffering Mother Nature's wintry wrath with me in the Midwest, this has been a long time coming.
Now, it used to be that summer meant a lot more free time for me. School was out, I didn't have any bills or rent to pay, and only a handful of extra curricular activities to keep me on my toes. Therefore, I had a lot of time to read books that weren't dry, outdated school texts. And I loved it!
These days, at age 23, it's a little different. Namely that I have a job instead of school, which doesn't end just because the weather's nice enough for a beach ball. Summer really just means dodging construction on the way to work.
Still, there's something about summer that calls for a certain kind of book. Most people gravitate toward "cozy" or, as I like to call them, "fluffy" novels. I usually go more toward YA in general, content be damned.
So with that in mind, here are my top seven recommendations for sci-fi and fantasy YA novels (or, I should say, novel series) for you to read this summer. They're in no particular order.
Literally Everything by Rick Riordan
It's been a while since I've sung Riordan's praises. If you don't know, Rick Riordan wrote The Percy Jackson series, a five-book middle grade/YA book series about Greek gods and their children in modern New York. This was quickly followed by The Heroes of Olympus series, then a brief trespass into Norse mythology with the Magnus Chase trilogy, and is now being wrapped up by the ongoing Trials of Apollo series. (He's also got a thing with Egyptian gods, but I haven't read that yet.)
Be warned: while Riordan's stuff is generally funny and light-hearted, each book has some pretty heavy moments. And the series overall gets a bit darker as you go on. This is probably because the characters--and subsequent audience--are all growing up and thus are dealing with more adult things. The latest book, The Burning Maze, even killed off a beloved major character from Heroes of Olympus.
You can read a fuller review of one of the Magnus Chase books here, as well as two Trials of Apollo books here and here.
Throne of Glass series, by Sarah J. Maas
I've written mixed reviews about Maas's Throne of Glass series. On one hand, the story itself is incredible, the world-building is insane, and the characters are very well-written. On the other hand, there are way too many goddamn romantic subplots, and Maas stopped killing off major characters when she should have at around book four. Not that there isn't any angst in later books; there is a shit ton of angst. But it's also undermined by last-minute saves and plot armor keeping everyone alive, if miserable.
Throne of Glass is also technically adult. It's one of those books that they market as teen and young adult and starts off that way, but right around book five is when you get to definitely adult, so fair warning on that.
Still, all of the books are an excellent read and a great way to hide from the sun this season.
The Spectre War Series by Margaret Fortune
So far there are two books out of this five-book sci-fi series. I won't go into what it's actually about because that's a major spoiler for book one, Nova (spoiler-free review here), so I'm sorry if this is a little vague.
Basically, it's way in the future, with spaceships and stations and whatnot, and some telepaths for kicks and giggles. Each book is an intense mystery that the main character (who that is changes with each book, by the way, which is really cool) has to solve before time runs out and everything goes boom. Literally. This has varying degrees of success; the characters do fail on several occasions, making it extremely intense.
In book one, our MC Lia is essentially a human bomb with no memory, sent to blow up a space station, except she turns out to be a dud. Problem is, duds can still go off, you just don't know when. So she has to figure out who she is, why she was sent to destroy the space station, and maybe figure out a way not to blow up.
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
This is the first book of a series, and I haven't gotten to the other books yet. It's an excellent YA fantasy that satirizes fairy tales while also doing homage to the genre.
The idea is that every major figure in fairy tales--Cinderella and her prince, Jack and the giant of the beanstalk, Snow White and the evil queen, etc.--all went to the same school, the School for Good and Evil, where they were explicitly taught how to be good or evil, depending on which side they were on. While that sounds fun on paper, the school itself is cruel and ruthless, eve on the "good" side, where the punishment for failure is cringe-worthy even to the bad guys.
Two girls from the same isolated town--Sophie and Agatha--get snatched up to go to this school (by the way, recruitment isn't exactly voluntary). While Sophie believes herself to be "sugar and spice and everything nice," she ends up on the "evil" side while goth queen Agatha is forced to the Barbie-ized "good" side. While trying to figure out an escape, they end up blurring the lines between the two in more ways than one.
Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakwa
This is a fantasy manga (Japanese comic) that ended up becoming two animes (Japanese shows). If you want to watch the anime, go with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, because it actually follows the manga, has more episodes, and has a much better ending.
In this world, the magic used is a rigid system of alchemy taught to an educated few that are almost all immediately recruited into the military of the dictatorship country of Amestris. The whole thing has a dieselpunk feel to it, and mechanical limbs are a common sight.
The two main characters--the Elric brothers (Ed and Al)--broke a strict taboo in alchemy by trying to bring back their dead mother. The attempt failed, and left Ed down an arm and a leg and Al's soul stuck to a suit of armor. Now they travel all over Amestris trying to find the Philosopher's Stone, which they believe will restore their bodies.
Kind of like Riordan: it's both goofy and heavy. If you like more science-based magic systems, then this is definitely the series for you. You can read it for free at MangaPanda.com.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
I went into a pretty in-depth (spoiler free!) review of Dread Nation already here, so I'll make this quick.
In the real world, the American Civil War lasted four years, which were then followed by the Reconstruction period. The Reconstruction period was supposed to piece everything back together and move on from the slavery and racism thing, and it failed pretty spectacularly.
In Ireland's world, the American Civil War was interrupted by zombies.
Eighteen years later, and the country is teetering on the brink of collapse, trying to fight armies of the undead while pretending everything is fine. It's very much like the meme:
The Nemesis Series by April Daniels
Also reviewed on this blog, the Nemesis series centers around Danny Tozer, a transgender superhero who has to deal with both the rotating supervillains of the week and a steady stream of transphobia. Oh, and anger and self-confidence issues due to the emotionally abusive upbringing. And being a teenager.
So far there are only two books, and I'm holding out hope that there will be more. Daniels manages to address several social issues without coming across as preachy, and book two ends with the beginnings of a really promising team of teenage superheroes.
What are your favorite YA summer reads? Let me know in the comments!
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!