Young Adult Reads: The Inheritance Games series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Jennifer Lynn Barnes is an acclaimed writer of more than a dozen young adult novels. She wrote her first novel when she was 19 and sold her first five novels when she was still in college. Jen holds advanced degrees in psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive science, as well as graduate degrees from Cambridge University. She was a Fulbright Scholar at Cambridge as well. Jen also received her PhD from Yale University in 2012. In case you aren’t impressed enough already, Jen has written multiple pilot scripts for television networks. She is also considered a leading expert on the psychology of fandom as well as the cognitive science of fiction and the imagination. In addition to her work as an author, Jen is an Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma where she teaches in both Psychology and Professional Writing.

Author photograph © Kim Haynes Photography

“Everything’s a game, Avery Grambs. The only thing we get to decide in this life is if we play to win.”
― Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Inheritance Games

The Inheritance Games is the first book in the series of the same name. This book was recommended to me by our teen librarian and oh, she was so right that I would enjoy this book! Let’s dive in.

Avery Grambs is brilliant. Her mind has helped her survive high school so far and if she’s lucky, she will hopefully win a scholarship and escape the crappy town where she lives. All of her plans change when she is called to the office to find a dapper young man telling her that her life is about to change.

Flying off to Texas with her older sister Libby, Avery finds herself ensconced in the lives of the mysterious Hawthorne family. Avery soon learns that billionaire Tobias Hawthorne has left Avery virtually his entire fortune – and his family almost nothing. Avery didn’t even know Tobias Hawthorne, so why would he leave his entire billion dollar fortune to her? Avery must live in Hawthorne House for a year in order to inherit, a rule that doesn’t seem like much at first, but the longer she stays, the more daunting it becomes.

Hawthorne House is massive – full of secret passages, as well as riddles, puzzles, and codes hidden everywhere. The entire Hawthorne family also lives in Hawthorne House and they are not pleased. They see Avery as an unnecessary interloper, but also as a sort of clue to the inner workings of Tobias Hawthorne’s last wishes. Avery frequently finds herself butting heads with the four Hawthorne grandsons: handsome, dangerous, magnetic, and brilliant boys who all thought they would inherit billions one day. They see her as a con-woman, a teenager who must have known their grandfather. Others see her as a puzzle to be solved. After all, Tobias Hawthorne’s deep love of puzzles, riddles, and codes permeated every part of his living life, so adding them to his will seems exactly like something he would do. Avery is thrust into a dangerous world of wealth of privilege where in order to survive, she will have to play Tobias’s game.

This book is also available in the following formats:

The Inheritance Games series

    1. The Inheritance Games (2020)
    2. The Hawthorne Legacy (2021)
    3. The Final Gambit (2022)

Montague Siblings Series by Mackenzi Lee

The Montague Siblings series by Mackenzi Lee is an adventurous romp that has surpassed my every expectation, and I’m thrilled that the third volume is supposed to come out in April.

The first book is The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, and tells the story of Henry “Monty” Montague, a nobleman’s son embarking on his “grand tour” of Europe before he settles down to work on the family estate. Monty would rather party and have fun than do the serious, cultured work of a nobleman, so he’s excited to get one last hurrah with his beloved best friend Percy (and, to a lesser degree, his younger sister) before the drudgery begins. Unfortunately for Monty, his impulsive, fun-loving nature quickly gets him into trouble, and his respectable “grand tour” turns into a disaster-filled chase across the continent, featuring pirates, vengeful nobles, alchemy, danger, kidnapping, and lots of romantic misunderstandings.

The sequel is The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, featuring Monty’s younger sister Felicity. A powerhouse of intelligence, backbone, and independence, Felicity wants two things:  to be a doctor, and avoid getting married. Regrettably, university administrators unanimously believe only men can be the guardians of science and medicine. Her last chance is to meet with a renowned doctor in Germany and convince him to change her fate, but finances are a problem… until a mysterious woman offers to foot the bill, in exchange for traveling as her maid. With no other options, Felicity agrees, launching her on yet another perilous quest across the European continent in pursuit of life-altering secrets.

The final installment is The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks, set some years later and featuring Monty and Felicity’s much younger brother, Aiden. As sole heir, Aiden is set to take over the Montague estate, but with a diagnosis of hysteria and an embarrassing breakdown on the public record, he’s not viewed as terribly fit for the job. In desperation, Aiden sets out on a journey to find his long-lost older siblings and convince them to take over the estate in his place. To his frustration, Monty refuses point-blank, agreeing only to help him claim the last of their late mother’s possessions in the Caribbean. But in true Montague fashion, this seemingly simple errand turns into a race across the world to chase down an mysterious artifact with links to a family curse.

I love these books because they’re packed with action and adventure, period details, and modern sensibilities – especially in the portrayal of well-rounded, realistically diverse characters. Not all historical fiction (or fiction published in the period) acknowledges disabilities, racism, sexism, LGBTQ identities, or mental health, but this series acknowledges all those things, and still presents happy or hopeful endings for the affected characters. I recommend this series as a perfect escapist read.

Banned Books Week: His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman is the first in a trilogy of fantasy novels, but don’t worry: since they’re written for a YA/mature child audience, it’s not nearly the kind of time commitment that most fantasy series are. The first novel follows Lyra Belacqua, a precocious 12 year old girl who lives in a universe parallel to our own: in her world, each human is accompanied at all times by an animal daemon – a physical manifestation of their soul and a lifelong companion. For children like Lyra, the form of the daemon is in flux, taking the shapes of different animals depending on the person’s mood or circumstances. Lyra is a wonderful fantasy heroine: she’s tough and smart and relatable, and her journey isn’t just an adventure but a moving tale of growing up. She sets out to rescue a friend who’s been kidnapped by the mysterious, possibly malevolent Magisterium; on the way, she meets gypsies and witches and powerful Magisterium officials, and learns how to use a device called an Alethiometer that can answer any question with absolute truth.

The next two novels, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, follow Lyra’s further journey to fulfill her destiny. The trilogy has been banned or challenged on the grounds of Political Viewpoint, Religious Viewpoint, and Violence. To learn more about this book, censorship, and Banned Books Week, check out the ALA Banned Books Week website.