entwined Romance reading challenges are not new to AAR. And then there’s also the Annual TBR Challenge that has people participating from various sites around the internet, including here. Most folks, like me, participate in challenges because they have too many books and want to see a dent made in their darn TBR. But this year I added a challenge – the YA debut authors reading challenge that tasks one with reading 12 books in the calendar year by debut authors. I’m finally done and thought I’d report in with some of my good reads.

One interesting point was that my books basically broke down into three categories: fairy tale themed novels, paranormals and science fiction. All three are the style of book I read in romance as well. My fairy tale reads are probably the most like my traditional romance reads.

My first book for the challenge was The False Princess by Ellis O’Neal, this charming tale, reminiscent of a Mercedes Lackey novel, finds a young Nalia in a very odd situation. Raised as the princess of her small kingdom she finds out she is actually an imposter, a divergence to allow the real princess to be raised in safety. As she tries to adapt back to the ordinary life she was always meant to have she discovers that there is actually something extraordinary about her. Magic runs deep and strong through her veins, something no one knew when they picked her as the substitute. Now Nalia is back in the capital, learning magic and reconnecting with the young nobleman who has always been her best friend. But Nalia is destined to keep discovering secrets about herself and the “new” young princess. She just hopes she can survive till she figures out the mystery. There is a sweet love story running throughout the novel and while it reads young I still really enjoyed it.

But not as much as my second book for the challenge, Entwined.  A retelling of the fairy tale the Twelve Dancing Princesses, this novel centers on Azalea, her love of dance and her growing love for a young man who visits her in the palace. But she finds herself trapped, dancing endlessly in a shadowy court that should not exist. Azalea is a bit immature but learns the ways of life and love as she navigates herself and her sisters through a difficult situation. This novel has a to die for cover and a depth that keeps you thinking about it even after you have closed the last page. What especially interested me in this novel was the mother/daughter relationship. Even though the Queen is gone for much of the book I felt we got to know her through the choices her daughters were making. It will be interesting to see what new worlds this debut author will take us to.

Warped, my third book, was easily the most debut-ish of the three. Author Maurissa Guibord had a wonderful concept, but I struggled a bit with how she executed it. The book was filled with terrific fairy tales aspects – witches, unicorns, a prince and a lovely maiden – but it was missing that magical spark that moves a book from good to memorable. My review for it can be found here.

Starcrossed is not what I typically consider fairy tale but LLB made a good argument for Greek myth being the origin of many of these stories so I will include it here. This fantastic story is about the beautiful Helen, who hates attention but whose appearance and abilities draw it to her constantly. Helen is stunned when she meets Lucas Delos that she not only hates him on sight but starts a very attention getting fight with him. The working out of the who, what, when, where and why of their relationship is bittersweet and makes for terrific reading. I don’t normally like Greek myth, in fact it would be fair to say I hate them, but this terrific story turned my prejudice on its ear. I’m so glad I took a chance on something different.

One thing I really loved about these novels was the reliance on an HEA. These are not the “I finally got a first date novels” of my youth but genuine “he is my true love forever” endings. Some of them, like Starcrossed, may take several books to achieve but I know we are headed there. It made me wonder just how much our genre is an influence on this one. And I would imagine that that is a large part of what appeals to me as an adult reader of YA.

I also enjoyed the fact that I was reading debut authors. I don’t just feel as though I am boosting someone’s career when I read debut work but it seems as though I am getting a look ahead into what’s coming for the genre. While “my look” has contained lots of same old, same old, the debut authors list showed more science fiction, more fantasy and an expansion away from vampires. Very exciting to me and it enabled me in my own small way to let publishers know this is what I am looking for. This was in contrast to my experience with debut romance authors who all seemed to be doing the same plots that had been done a million times before.

One thing I will say for both groups of debut authors – the writing was much, much better than the debut authors of twenty years ago. Now it is hard to tell you are reading a first novel based just on writing or plot. The field is obviously competitive and while I can’t speak to creativity I would imagine we are seeing the best writers that publishers can find.

So do you ever read YA? Do you look for debut authors in any genre? What has been your best debut this year?

– Maggie Boyd