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This has been a great year so far for YA fantasy! First The Belles, then Children of Blood and Bone, and now Dread Nation—I’m so excited that these books exist AND that they’re getting all the buzz. I love them even more because they have higher ambitions than creating an immersive world of beauty, magic, or zombies (although they do that too!); they’re telling fantasy stories that illuminate realities about our world as it is right now. People using art to magnify issues that matter—it makes me want to hire a marching band and parade through the streets in excitement and solidarity.

Dread Nation has a premise that begs to be adapted to the screen: it’s an alternate history in which the Civil War ends because of a zombie plague. Slavery is technically over, but black girls are instead conscripted into boarding schools where they are groomed to become Attendants—that is, personal bodyguards for wealthy white women. Salty-tongued main character Jane is a good fighter but struggles with the more refined parts of her training. However, the new society is so rife with corruption, her schooling may become moot in the face of the advancing horde. There are bigger zombies to fry.

There’s a scene change roughly halfway through that basically turns the book into a Western. No spoilers, so I won’t go into detail, but for me that’s when the magic happened. I can’t resist a good Western, and this is an example of a YA author executing the form really well. It reminded me of Vengeance Road, which I also recommend. And I have to say, as someone who is more squeamish the older she gets, I really appreciate how light a touch Ireland uses in writing the fight scenes. Yes, some zombies get decapitated and some people’s faces get eaten, but she doesn’t go into the gleeful detail that some horror writers like to employ.

AuthorTaryn Pierson

In case you don’t believe that people can change, I submit for you Exhibit A: I am now a series reader. No one is more surprised than me by this turn of events—in fact, I wrote a post almost exactly a year ago in which I whined about all the reasons I prefer standalone literature. And honestly, not a lot has changed. I still have a bad memory, which makes it difficult to retain details from one book to another, and I still have constantly shifting moods that prevent me from binging 20 books in the same series all in a row. But somehow, I’ve found a way to make it work.

Series work best for me when each installment is only loosely related to the one before. I’ve also had good luck with series that are set in the same world, but each book focuses on a different character. I’ve found I like returning to familiar characters I’ve loved in the past and going on new exploits with them—and I don’t have to recall every last detail of our prior adventures to enjoy myself thoroughly.

Here are some of the series I’ve been reading and loving lately!

A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas (#2 in Lady Sherlock series)

This series has all the Victorian charm of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but with a refreshing feminist twist—Charlotte Holmes is the detective in question, a buxom blonde with a keen eye for observation and an enthusiasm for cake. I liked this book even better than the first, A Study in Scarlet Women, possibly because it’s a better book but more likely because I was a better reader this time around. There’s something comforting about sinking into a story with familiar characters—and I didn’t have to spend much time thinking about or analyzing Charlotte and her friends, which freed me up to focus on the details of the case. These mysteries are demanding—the prose is fairly dense and the plots are twisty and complex—but the effort is worth it for sure. Also, I can’t resist the burning hot yet unrequited love between Charlotte and Lord Ingram. It seems even someone as coldly rational as Charlotte Holmes has a heart, and I can’t wait to see how their relationship plays out in the future.

Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai (#3 in Forbidden Hearts series)

I’ve said before that contemporary romance isn’t really my jam—I much prefer my love stories to be set in a different time in history or in a fantasy world. However, I will make all the exceptions for Alisha Rai. This series is the ultimate comfort read. They’re the books you pick up when you need to see realistically messed up characters get their happy ending. Usually with contemporary romance I get taken out of the story by unrealistic situations or cringey dialogue, but Rai’s characters always ring true for me. This book is about Eve, the buttoned-up, socially anxious daughter of the Chandler fortune, and Gabe, a hulking, red-headed tattoo artist. They’ve had some awkward encounters in the past and there are unspoken feelings on both sides, but now they’re in a wedding party together. Eve and Gabe show up at a mansion upstate for a week’s worth of festivities, but oops—turns out due to scheduling conflicts, they’re going to have some time to themselves. What will happen, I wonder? ;)

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths (#2 in Ruth Galloway series)

I checked this book out from the library on a whim and finished it the next day. I remembered enjoying the first Ruth Galloway mystery, The Crossing Places, but I had forgotten what a great character Ruth is and how funny these books are. There are so many one-liners, I kept snorting to myself as I read. Ruth is a smart, capable, and delightfully snarky archaeologist, and her unlikely bond with DCI Harry Nelson is not the typical professional relationship. As with the first book, Ruth’s position as an expert on bones leads her into heart-pounding danger, this time investigating the remains of a child found buried under a doorway in a former orphanage. Who knew archaeologists led such interesting lives? I especially like Ruth because she breaks all the female stereotypes usually seen in detective fiction—she’s almost 40, she’s happily single, she’s not a size-two gym rat, and she doesn’t take crap from anyone.

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean (#4 in The Rules of Scoundrels series)

This series was my reintroduction to the romance genre, and I have to admit I saved this one for quite a while because I wasn’t ready to leave these characters behind. It’s the final installment in a quartet set in a gaming hell in London, this time focusing on the fourth partner in the business who just happens to be (gasp) a woman! Chase has built a fortune by exploiting the secrets of London’s elite, but she has a scandalous past of her own that she now has to overcome for her daughter’s sake. She needs to marry a man with a title, but somehow the only man she can think about is the one who has also made a living off the down and dirty: Duncan West, a dark and dashing newspaperman. While the plot unfortunately hangs upon the fact that the characters withhold basic information from each other for way too long for way too flimsy of reasons, which is one of my biggest romance pet peeves, I could look past that because that’s how much I love this series.