What Are We Reading? One Blogger’s List of Under-The-Radar Books

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I read A LOT. My average is at least one book a week, but sometimes, like recently, I can read a book in a day. So I have a lot of things I can suggest to interested readers, whether here on the website, at the bookstore I work at, or in general in my life. This list was something I’ve been wanting to put together for a while now, because, though I read a lot of what’s popular (The Hunger Games, Twilight, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Mortal Instruments, and on and on…), there are some series that I adore that more often than not tend to fall under the radar.

My area of interest is YA, so most of the books will be in that genre, but there are a few that are from regular adult fantasy or sci-fi. Also, I need to state that yes, some of these series are New York Times bestsellers, so I’m sure some of the readers here on Lytherus will have heard of or even read these books. But more often than not I’ve found that these tend to be new reads for people, so that’s why I’ve included them. Enjoy!

The Books of Pellinor

(Alison Croggon)

This is my favorite YA high fantasy series, period. I discovered this series a few years ago and devoured it. I actually had to chase down the third book in this four-book set from one of the city libraries, as my local bookstore didn’t carry it and the library I use was out of it, that’s how badly I wanted to continue reading.

Sixteen-year old Maerad is rescued from a miserable life of slavery by a mysterious bard with magical powers named Cadvan. Together they journey to a Bard School, where Maerad learns that she isn’t just an ordinary person, but that she is one foretold of, the one who will basically save the world. The magic of this land is through music, which I really loved, and though a good chunk of the series takes place during various journeys, so much is revealed that these became my favorite parts. Any lovers of high fantasy in the feel of Tolkein should check this series out!

The books are, in order: The Naming, The Riddle, The Crow, and The Singing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Time Quintet

(Madeleine L’Engle)

I first read A Wrinkle In Time in seventh grade as an English assignment. Like most books school forced me to read, the beauty and value of this story was lost on me at the time. I’m so glad I decided to revisit these books in college, as they are now some of my most beloved.

Tesseracts, the term for a way to bend space. This is what Meg Murray comes to find out her scientist parents have discovered. This knowledge is reavealed to her not by normal means, but by an eccentric stranger appearing on their doorstep in the middle of the night. Meg’s father has disappeared, and it has to do with his involvement in the Tesseract discovery. It’s up to Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and her friend Calvin to save him. And such begins the Newberry-award-winning A Wrinkle in Time.

The adventures of the Murray children continues through each book, and though these books aren’t commonly seen as Christian fiction, L’Engle mixes the secular and scientific with the spiritual to create stories that are complex and completely absorbing.

This series originally was four books (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters), but there are other books that L’Engle wrote in the same world, and so now An Acceptable Time has been added on. If you end up reading the first four, and want to read An Acceptable Time, make sure you also check out A House Like a Lotus, which isn’t included in these five but goes hand-in-hand with the last book, and the series in general (and is very good!).

The Beggar’s Series

(Nancy Kress)

Hugo and Nebula-award-winning author Nancy Kress created the first book in this trilogy, Beggars in Spain, from a novella that won her those awards.

Leisha Camden is a little different. She is one of a few special people who were modified genetically at birth (sometime in the near future), when parents were given the options to create the baby of their dreams. Her biggest change? She doesn’t need to sleep. Ever. This alteration stopped being offered after the side-effects (super-intelligence, perfect health, and inability to age) were discovered. But by this point Leisha and others like her were in the world trying to fit in and exist where many looked upon them in fear and envy.

This book was simply fascinating. Kress does a fantastic job with the story and plot, but it was really interesting to see the main character interact with her twin sister, who is perfectly normal. Imagine the rivalry there! I thought this series was a great take on genetics and was really great sci-fi that didn’t feel like Dune or Ender’s Game. This is an awesome science fiction series, but be warned: it is definitely heavy on the technical science end, so be aware if this isn’t your thing.

The books are Beggars in Spain, Beggars and Choosers, and Beggars Ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Darkest Powers Trilogy

(Kelley Armstrong)

Though this series is a New York Times best-seller, I have yet to meet anyone else who has read these books! And that is a shame, because they are definitely worth the time. 

The series starts off with The Summoning, and is followed by The Awakening and The Reckoning. The premise is that the main character, fifteen-year-old Chloe, is placed in a home for troubled teens after she has a breakdown and is diagnosed as having Schizophrenia. Really what happened is she sees dead people. And the longer she’s at the Lyle house, the more she realizes that the other kids, in their own ways, are like her, and something fishy is going on.

there are definitely some creep-tastic scenes that gave me the chills when reading them (what would you expect when your protagonist is a necromancer?!), and an unlikely, unpredictable romance adds a nice counter to the plot of trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

This series was great, and I’d encourage fans of urban fantasy or paranormal romance to give it a shot.

Gregor: The Underland Chronicles

(Suzanne Collins)

Superstar author Suzanne Collins is a household name in the literary world, thanks to her amazing dystopian series The Hunger Games. But that is Collins’ second series. Her first is one of my all-time favorites, and one I re-read often, Gregor: The Underland Chronicles.

Collins, when she set out to write the Gregor the Overlander series said she wanted it to be like Alice in Wonderland for people who live in the city. Twelve-year-old Gregor, with his toddler sister, goes to the basement of their New York City apartment to do laundry. They end up falling through the vent to a whole world deep underneath the city. There are giant talking cockroaches (which are surprisingly awesome), huge talking bats that people can ride, enormous talking rats, and humans with luminescent transparent skin, white hair, and violet eyes. Of course there is a prophecy which involves Gregor, which keeps him coming back again and again to help the beings of this world. 

The characters are wonderful, and are my favorite part of the series. The world is amazing, and the interactions between Gregor and his sister and all the Underlanders is fascinating. But at its core this series is an all-out adventure, and each book builds on the last while still having its own self-contained adventure. I love love LOVE this series and I definitely encourage fans of light fantasy and talking animals to check it out.

The series in order is: Gregor the Overlander, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, and Gregor and the Code of Claw.

The Classic Tales of Partholon

(P. C. Cast)

These books have been around since the mid 2000’s, but because of P. C. Cast’s recent popularity with the House of Night books, they have been re-issued with updated covers. It seems like there are six books written in this world; I have five of them, having only discovered the sixth one the other day (it’s called Divine Beginnings, and it is in e-book format only). The first three, Divine by Mistake, Divine by Choice, and Divine by Blood, center around a human, Shannon Parker, who on her vacation picks up a magical Grecian-style vase (unbeknown to her), which teleports her into the body of an ancient goddess-on-earth, days before she is to be wed… to a centaur. The story only gets better from this point as Shannon tries to figure out how to function in this alien body and this foreign world.

The two books I want to focus on, however, are ones set in the same world, which take place over a hundred years later: Elphame’s Choice and Brighid’s Quest. These are set completely in the world of Partholon. The characters are in the aftermath of what occurred in the previous books, and the main characters, part of the ‘royal’ family, try and make their own mark on the world. These are consecutive, so you get to stick with the same characters for a while, which I like. It’s also fun that the title characters aren’t entirely human: Elphame is a faun and Brighid is a centaur.

Two words of advice on these. One, the entire series has some pretty heavy and graphic sex scenes, so if that isn’t your thing this is a series to stay clear of. And two, though I prefer the latter two books, reading the earlier ones (which are still quite enjoyable) makes it easier to understand what’s happening in the world overall.

The Parasol Protectorate

(Gail Carriger)

This series is dear to my heart because it was my first introduction into the world of Steampunk, which has now become one of my favorite genres to read. I sort of fell into discovering this series, but I’m so happy that I did!

The first three books in this five book series (Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless) are currently out, with book four, Heartless, to be released this summer.

The time is turn-of-the-century Victorian England. But in this world, there are vampires and werewolves running about, which in and of itself makes things interesting. To make it even more interesting, our main character, Alexia Tarabotti, has no soul, the interesting side-effect of which negates any supernatural powers or the aforementioned beings.

But the thing that makes this series great is that she writes with the feel of the era, which makes these books charming, funny, and believable, despite their supernatural elements. One of the first scenes in the book is Alexia getting attacked by a vampire in a library who has (Heaven forbid!) a lisp! She is thoroughly affronted by this breech in manners. And so begins what is one of the most delightful, fun, suspenseful, adventurous series I’ve read in a long time. If any of this interests you, or if you’ve always been curious about Steampunk but aren’t sure where to start (this is a good choice, the Steampunk elements in it are rather mild in comparison to some things I’ve read), definitely check out these books.


The Dark is Rising Sequence

(Susan Cooper)

This series is another one that came into my life thanks to assigned reading in school. But don’t be fooled. This series is one that everyone can enjoy. You know how some people have books they re-read every year? This series is that for me.

The five books in order are: Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greewitch; The Grey King; and Silver on the Tree.


One of the great things about this series is that, in book one you have three siblings as the main characters, in book two you have someone different (an eleven-year-old boy named Will Stanton), but in books three four and five, they come together, even though they don’t know each other prior to the adventure they find themselves in.

The Dark is rising to destroy the earth. Its powers are building, and the Light only has so much time to mount a resistance. They are looking for items of power to help them stand up to the Dark: A Chalice, a Harp, and six  signs, objects made from the various elements. And that is what the first four books in the series are about, in essence: a race against the baddies to get the items of power.

Two of the books in this series are Newberry books, one a winner and one an Honor book, which means that, though they are a great adventure, they are good literature too. Also, something else fun about them is the overlying theme of King Arthur that comes into play. This book isn’t too heavy on that aspect, it’s more about the upcoming battle for all of humanity, but it adds a nice, believable element all the same. This series has also made me want to visit Wales. Book four teaches the reader how to read Welsh through the characters, and the descriptions make it sound breathtaking.

This is really high up on my must-read list if you like well-written stories with adventure and fantasy elements in them.

The Study Books

(Maria V. Snyder)

Jackie (the Comics Guru here on Lytherus) is one of my best friends, and I discovered these books on her bookshelf when I was cat-sitting for her once. They are wonderful, easy, and absorbing reads that make you wonder where the time goes. 

The three books in the series are Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study. The premise alone sounded interesting: the main character Yelena is the food taster to the king, the one to try everything first, in case it is poisoned. She was set to be killed, and this seemed like a nice reprieve from, you know, certain death. But this offer comes with a price, besides the obvious chance poisioning: the head of security actually did poison her with the world’s most deadliest poison, and she needs to come to him daily for the antidote, or she’ll be dead by morning. Why did he do this? To keep her close because she’s supposedly dangerous and he doesn’t trust her. Of course she soon develops magical powers she can’t control (gotta have a little fantasy in my books, if you haven’t noticed!), and things just keep mounting one after the other in the world around her as she slowly discovers the role the has to play is more than just as the food taster.

This series is enjoyable. I loved the characters, and it had a different feel than the types of common fantasy out there. that are currently popular. It is more high fantasy than anything, but it is so character-focused that the world really takes a backseat to the wonderful development of Yelena’s life. And there is great romance elements throughout the series, not the typical, predictable kind, which only makes it better. I must also note that the first book in the series was Snyder’s debut book, and she has come to publish a lot more recently, thanks to her successes. Definitely check this series out.

Fablehaven

(Brandon Mull)

Siblings Kendra and Seth spend the summer with grandparents they hardly know on their farm. But their farm isn’t just a regular farm; it’s a haven for magical creatures. And so begins the five-book epic series by Brandon Mull, which has become one of my favorite series.

As the story progresses, the reader learns that there are havens like this all over the world, sworn to protect that which is slowly disappearing. A few of these are special though; they contain magical items of power, that if brought together have the ability to destroy the world.

Of course there is a bad guy after these things, so Kendra and Seth race against time to try and stop him.

That’s the basic plot of the story arc. But there are soooo many other amazing elements to this book. Every type of fantasy fairy creature you can think of appears somewhere in the series. And there are amazing mazes the kids need to navigate to get to the items of power, which in and of themselves are really cool and well-written. Adventure aside though, the character development is fantastic and complex. The journey Kendra and Seth go on, the things they experience together and apart, make for some of the best YA fantasy out there now, in my opinion. Not high fantasy by any means, but just creative and well-done. This truly is one of the best series I’ve read in recent years, and I recommend it all the time.

The books, in order, are: Fablehaven; Fablehaven:Rise of the Evening Star; Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague; Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary; and Fablehaven: Keys to the Demon Prison.

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