Tag Archives: #YA

Deadly Sweet, by Lola Dodge

Anise Wise loves three things: baking, potion making, and reading her spellbooks in blissful silence. She might not be the most powerful witch, but enchantment is a rare skill, and her ability to bake with magic is even rarer. Too bad one wants witchcraft on their campus. Anise’s dream of attending pastry school crumbles with rejection letter after rejection letter. Desperate to escape her dead-end future, Anise contacts the long-lost relative she’s not supposed to know about. Great Aunt Agatha owns the only magic bakery in the US, and she suddenly needs a new apprentice. Anise is so excited she books it to New Mexico without thinking to ask what happened to the last girl. The Spellwork Syndicate rules the local witches in Taos, but as “accidents” turn into full-out attacks on Anise’s life, their promises to keep her safe are less and less reassuring. Her cranky bodyguard is doing his best, but it’s hard to fight back when she has no idea who’s the enemy. Or why she became their target. If Anise can’t find and stop whoever wants her dead, she’ll be more toasted than a crème brûlée. Who knew baking cakes could be so life or death?

I’ve been a fan of Lola Dodge’s Shadow Ravens series, so when I saw a book about a kitchen witch by Dodge on netgalley, I immediately requested it. I prefer my fantasy stories to be light on the witchiness, and like it when magic is used in a utilitarian fashion, rather than grand use in epic battles, etc. The premise that each magic user is tied to a specific discipline is nothing new, but the concept of a witch whose powers are all about the baking with a specialty in desserts just makes me smile.

Because witchcraft is presented as a female-dominated skill, this story is full of badass ladies. The portrayal of Anise is pretty standard fare for a young adult novel. What really intrigued me was the history of the prominent witches in the story. Their relationship with Anise’s mother and her expulsion from Taos was sadly not explored in this first book. The sexism and misandry is almost nonexistent in Deadly Sweet, and I was just a little disapointed in the opportunity missed to compare the world of Taos to modern society. Science fiction and fantasy have a rather unique ability to criticize society without offending, and while not every novel needs to be a treatse into the flaws of our society, I feel that it would’ve been easily accomplished, especially since Anise was raised in the “normal” world.

From a socio-anthropological view, the ways that the closed tribe of witches interacts with each other, and the normies is another theme that is well done in Deadly Sweet. The ‘townie’ trope is commonplace, and I rather enjoyed Wynn’s uncomfortable encounters with tourists. Which brings me to a part of the story that disappointed me: Wynn. Written as a stoic hero trope – almost a reverse-gender La Femme Nikita, I found his antics to be off-putting. Plus the constant references to his contract, and shields in general, weren’t explained enough in this book. I understand that it’ll be a prominent theme in the second book, but the lack of knowledge made his character unnecessarily uninteresting. I hope in a future story, Dodge explores the issue of power and wealth, and perhaps even same-gender relationships.

Overall, Deadly Sweet is a fun read. I look forward to the next book later this year, and my expectations are pretty high. A solid four-star read. Lola Dodge is one of the few writers that I usually end up “over-reading,” because the story is just so engrossing, that I say to heck with my responsibilities and just keep reading. The book is out today, so let’s help Ms. Dodge have a grand start to this new series.

Lola-Dodge

Lola Dodge is nomadic and has lived in New Zealand, France, the Czech Republic, and Taiwan. Her current base is Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she spends her days eating excessive amounts of coconut and trying to avoid heat stroke. She grew up in Upstate NY (Salt potatoes! Apple cider donuts!), got a degree in English Lit and German at Stonehill College, and an MFA in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. She doesn’t like bacon, coffee, beer, the sun, or fireworks. Instead, give her tea, vodka drinks, air-conditioning, and anything sweet. She’s a proud part of the writing roster at Ink Monster publishing, where she collaborates on the Shadow Ravens and Alpha Girls series. Her other fiction is represented by Rebecca Strauss at DiFiore and Company Literary Agency. Some days she hates writing and some days she loves it, but she can’t imagine doing anything else (even though she works at the pace of a sloth on sleeping pills.)

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Ice Kingdom, by Tiana Warner

The final adventure in the Mermaids of Eriana Kwai trilogy … Meela and Lysi have unleashed Sisiutl, legendary two-headed serpent of the Pacific Northwest. It was supposed to be an ally that would help them win the war. Instead, it has fallen under the control of King Adaro, ruler of the Pacific Ocean. If Meela and Lysi can’t stop him, Adaro will use the deadly serpent to rid the oceans of mankind. With the American military using catastrophic weapons of their own to retaliate, Meela and Lysi must make peace between humans and merpeople before one race destroys the other. The journey will risk their lives and put their relationship to the test—but the vengeance that has been consuming Meela’s thoughts, day and night, might prove even more dangerous.

I saw on Twitter that the third, and final Mermaids of Eriana Kwai book had released, so I asked the author for a copy to read and review. The quality of writing from the first two books continued in Ice Kingdom.

The Good: Meela really pushed the story. She made decisions, and she lived with the consequences. Ice Kingdom, like Ice Crypt, was so compelling, that I had to finish reading it in one sitting.

The Bad: When a totalitarian regime is portrayed in literature, we come to expect certain things. We want to know that those caught under the influence of the charismatic madman are still good people, they just go along out of fear. We want to easily identify those going along for personal gain. We want to cheer on the underground resistance, we want to despise those in it for personal gain. We have a resistance in Ice Kingdom, but they’re uninteresting. We don’t see minor acts of rebellion to let us know that the people want a better world.

The Beautiful: I mentioned in my review of Ice Crypt that I felt that book two was the best, and I continue to feel that way. Ice Kingdom is a fast-paced swim toward the inevitable conclusion that we want. Adaro’s motives finally make some sense, and he loses some of the clichéd snidely whiplash-ness. I still think he’s a sub-par villain, but at least there’s something.

The Final Word: Ice Kingdom returns to a four-star rating. The conclusion of the trilogy ends as you’d think it would. Overall, the series is a great read that should appeal to young readers. Other than the violence in Ice Massacre, there’s nothing in the series to be concerned with as far as young readers are concerned. The middle book is the shining jewel in the series, and overall, the series is a great read.

Tiana Warner

My grandma tells me I sold her my first story, The Sachmoe, for $2. I’m not sure if this makes me a born entrepreneur or just plain saucy, but my point is that I’ve been a writer for longer than I can remember. I wrote poems and short stories throughout elementary school (most of them about ponies), and wrote my first full-length novel in high school. I now spend my evenings writing about killer mermaids. I went to the University of British Columbia to study psychology and came out of it with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. I’m now a technical content creator for a software company, which means when I’m not writing about kick-ass mermaids I’m writing about kick-ass technology. I currently live in Langley, BC, and am an avid supporter of animal welfare. I have a quarter horse named Bailey, a pony sidekick named Strawberry, and an extremely naughty cat named Paisley.

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Strike, by Delilah S. Dawson

The hit list was just the beginning. Time to strike back. After faking her own death to escape her term as an indentured assassin for Valor Savings Bank, Patsy is on the run with her boyfriend, Wyatt. All she wants to do is go home, but that’s never going to happen—not as long as Valor’s out to get her and the people she loves. Left with no good choices, Patsy’s only option is to meet with a mysterious group that calls itself the Citizens for Freedom. Led by the charismatic Leon Crane, the CFF seem like just what Patsy has been looking for. Leon promises that if she joins, she’ll finally get revenge on Valor for everything they’ve done to her—and for everything they’ve made her do. But Patsy knows the CFF has a few secrets of their own. One thing is certain: they’ll do absolutely anything to complete their mission, no matter who’s standing in their way. Even if it’s Patsy herself.

I enjoyed Hit, so it made sense that I’d like Strike. Initially, I thought that Strike would be longer, since the hardcover is one and a half times larger than Hit, but it ends up that the opposite is true. Strike picks up where Hit left off with Patsy and Wyatt, and I was hoping for some resolution in Strike that didn’t pan out. The overall story introduced in Strike is resolved, and since I heard that there wouldn’t be a third book, I’m disappointed that the ultimate fates of Patsy and Valor Bank won’t grace pages.

Whereas Hit painted Patsy as a lovable misfit, there the hard edge she picked up during Hit transferred to Strike. There’s nothing wrong with a character evolving, but Patsy’s innocence in Hit was what endured the character to the reader. She was sympathetic, whereas in Strike, she’s just another femme fatale – albeit a YA femme fatale.

The leader of the Citizens for Freedom starts out making sense, but quickly devolved into a clichéd villain. It seemed that Ms. Dawson kept heaping on character flaws to make us hate him, but in the end, he lacked substance. Hit worked because we’ve all had run-ins with large impersonal corporations, and can identify and relate to them as a monolithic villain. Not so much with the CFF.

Overall, I enjoyed the exploits of Patsy and her rag-tag crew of misfits, but I feel that Hit was a better story. They’re both worth reading, and should provide the reader with hours of entertainment. Which brings us to YA readers. Hit should be easily consumed by young readers, but Strike, not so much. It’s difficult to quantify why exactly, but that was the vibe I got.

Hit was a solid four stars, and for the purpose of this review, I’m awarding Strike the same rating, although just barely. Like its predecessor, my autographed hardcover sits prominently on my shelf. Ms. Dawson is easily approachable at events for an autograph. As with most big five publishers, the eBook is way overpriced, so be sure to wait for a sale.

Delilah S. Dawson writes dark, edgy books for teens and fantasy with a wicked edge for adults. The Blud series is available now and includes WICKED AS SHE WANTS, winner of the RT Book Reviews Steampunk Book of the Year and May Seal of Excellence for 2013. SERVANTS OF THE STORM debuts August 2014, and Kirkus called the Southern Gothic Horror YA “an engaging page-turner” and “a standout, atmospheric horror tale.” April 2015 will see the launch of HIT, a YA pre-dystopia about teen assassins in a bank-owned America.

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The Deep Beneath, by Natalie Wright

H.A.L.F. (Human Alien Life Form) #9 is the product of genetic engineering, the union of human and alien DNA. Created to be a weapon in a secret war we don’t know is coming, he proved too powerful to control. He has lived for seventeen years in an underground lab, sedated and trained to be a cold-blooded killing machine. But H.A.L.F. 9 has escaped the lab and the sedation has worn off. He has never been more alive. More powerful. Or more deadly. While H.A.L.F. 9 revels in his newfound freedom, Erika Holt relaxes in the desert with friends. But a typical Saturday night soon erupts into chaos when fate brings her together with H.A.L.F. 9. Erika is forced to make a choice that will irretrievably change her life. If she chooses to help H.A.L.F. 9 escape, her fate will become intertwined with his in what will become an intergalactic adventure. Little do any of them know that their actions trigger a vast New World Order conspiracy which began after the UFO crash in Roswell in 1947. Will H.A.L.F. 9 be reeled back in, once again forced to do the bidding of the Makers? And will any of them survive the dangers of The Deep Beneath them?

I’ve run into Natalie at writing conventions, book festivals, and comic cons. Since we’re both Arizona authors, we often get invited to the same events. She’s always fun to sit next to on a sci-fi panel. Obviously, I’ve known about her alien/human hybrid story for a while (The Deep Beneath came out almost three years ago), but it wasn’t until a recent subscription to Kindle Unlimited that I finally got around to reading her work. (Sorry, Nat!)

From my interactions with Natalie over the years, I had high expectations for The Deep Beneath. I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed. As with many stories revolving around secret government off-book projects, the administrators of said project were a bit clichéd. It’s an easy trope, and authors (including myself) often fall back on the megalomaniacal villain who has to save the world by destroying innocents. After all, the good of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

Those that have read my reviews the last few years know that I grok sci-fi. It’s just my bag. The Deep Beneath is an easy sci-fi adventure. The premise is often repeated: An alien or alien hybrid escapes the machinations of a government facility, meets a young girl or boy who is at a potential crossroads in his or her life, and the two of them fall in love, but their love is not meant to be because the alien has to return to save the one they love. There is often an impossible pursuit where the powerful alien and crafty, but underestimated human outsmart the government thugs that brainlessly pursue the young couple because of duty or orders.

That pretty much describes all of alien YA sci-fi. It’s not a criticism of Ms. Wright’s work, or even the genre, but an acknowledgement that the trope exists. When an author tackles a common trope like this, it’s the quality of the writing, and unique insights by the author that make a story rise above the rest. Natalie uses her life in Arizona to bring realistic environmental descriptions to her writing. As someone who has been to most of the locations described in The Deep Beneath, and who is a military veteran, I found all the settings believable. The actions of the government thugs, however, were a little hard to swallow.

Military personnel are so often portrayed as mindless robots, serving their generals and commanders. These generals and commanders are often portrayed as iron-fisted oligarchs with absolute impunity and able to administer extreme non-judicial punishments. Punishments so severe that everyone is afraid of their commander. If this were the case, why would we even have a volunteer military? If I were so mistreated by a commanding officer, I’d bail, and never look back. But, this trope is so common, that I too, end up writing it. Which is a disappointment, because these wonderful men and women in the armed forces deserve to be accurately portrayed.

I did find the formatting of the dialog confusing in which people referred to the alien as “H.A.L.F. 9.” I couldn’t tell if characters were calling him “half-nine,” or “H-A-L-F-Nine.” I’m also not a fan of small numbers not being spelled out, but it’s a stylistic choice. Overall, I enjoyed the read. I’m a sucker for sci-fi. Although The Deep Beneath didn’t bring anything new to the table, reading a familiar trope in a familiar environment (a location that is often overlooked) was so easy, and fun. I plan to read the other two H.A.L.F. books next year, and look forward to interacting with Natalie Wright at future events. I’m going to call it 3.5 stars, and bump that to four since Amazon and Goodreads don’t allow fractional star ratings.

Natalie is the author of the multiple award-winning H.A.L.F. series and the young adult fantasy series, The Akasha Chronicles. She lives in the high desert in Tucson, Arizona with her husband, teen daughter and two cat overlords. When not writing, reading or gaming, Natalie appears on panels and exhibits at book festivals, comic cons and Sci-Fi/Fantasy conventions throughout the western US. She enjoys walking in the desert, snorkeling in warm waters, and sharing excellent food and conversation with interesting people. She was raised an Ohio farmgirl, lives in the suburbs, and dreams of living where she can hear the ocean. She graduated from The Ohio State University and practiced law for twenty years, but now happily spends her days making things up.

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Solstice, by Jane Redd

There are four ways to get banished from the last surviving city on earth: 1. Cut out your emotion tracker, 2. Join a religious cult, 3. Create a rebellion against the Legislature, 4. Fall in love. Jezebel James does all four. Jez is on the fast track to becoming a brilliant scientist, with one goal–save her city from total extinction. But the more Jez learns about the price of a fresh beginning, the more she realizes that carrying out the plan will lead to few survivors, and among the dead will be those she cares about the most.

It has been said that all stories are just derivative of about five plots. It’s also been said that every story has already been told, and what makes new works of fiction special is the author’s unique way of telling the same old story. The problem arises when the author just tells another rehash of the same old story. It’s not to say that writing to genre is a bad thing, it’s just not refreshing.

Solstice follows a common trope in young adult storytelling: A young person, controlled by parents/state/ability must save the world/city/universe by overcoming his or her contemporaries and several obstacles that prove to the young adult, his or her contemporaries, and the parents/state/ability that he or she truly is the only one that can save the world/city/universe.

Believe me, I get it. Many young adults see the world in black and white, and often feel the pressure from peer groups, and stifled by their parents/school/job. It’s fun to escape into a world where young adults have a say in their own destiny, and that they can absolutely save the world.

We stopped teaching our children that they can do anything, and instead we teach them that they are equal to their peers. We teach them that everyone deserves a chance, and then being really good at something is somehow a detriment. (Except sports, of course.) So it’s no wonder that young adult fiction shows what initially appear to be ordinary young characters achieving great things. It’s a classic empowerment story.

And who doesn’t want to feel empowered? Unfortunately, Solstice is a rehash of the young adult genre. Sure it’s got a dystopian world controlled by a totalitarian government, and there is a clear division of wealth. There’s class warfare, albeit on a small scale. It’s standard fare for a young adult story. There isn’t excessive violence or sex. There’s no cussing. There’s a cliffhanger to get you reading the next book.

I think I’d call Solstice “popcorn dystopian.” It’d make a decent movie. Young actors and actresses would likely make this story akin to Maze Runner or The Fifth Wave. Sometimes you just want to turn your brain off, and follow a narrative. It doesn’t matter that early in the book, you can tell who the villain is, and who the hero is. The pratfalls are easy to spot, and the outcomes are predictable. But I don’t always want to spend my reading time thinking deep thoughts.

Solstice is that book. Not a lot of thinking – just follow the story to its conclusion. This review may seem overly critical, but Solstice is well written – no typos or clunky sentences. The plot was easy to follow, and there were no plot holes or otherwise weirdness. The characters are believable within the narrative. It was just predictable. I saw that the sequel, Lake Town, is already available. I’d read it. I’ll award Solstice three and a half stars. If you want a quick dystopian YA read without a lot of executive-level thinking, then this book’s for you.

Writing under Jane Redd, Heather B. Moore is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of more than a dozen historical novels set in ancient Arabia and Mesoamerica. She attended the Cairo American College in Egypt and the Anglican International School in Jerusalem and received her Bachelor of Science degree from Brigham Young University. She writes historical thrillers under the pen name H.B. Moore, and romance and women’s fiction under the name Heather B. Moore. It can be confusing, so her kids just call her Mom.

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Facsimile, by Vicki Weavil

For a ticket to Earth, 17-year-old Anna-Maria “Ann” Solano is ready to jettison her birth planet, best friend, and the boy who loves her. Her mission is easy: escort Dace Keeling, a young naturalist, through the wilderness of the partially terraformed planet Eco. Ann’s determination to escape the limitations of her small, frontier colony never falters, until Dace’s expeditions uncover three secrets. One offers riches, one shatters Ann’s perceptions of herself, and one reveals that the humans stranded on Eco are not its only inhabitants. This is the story of a girl who must choose between fulfilling the dream that has always sustained her or save the planet she’s never considered home.

I was trapped in the passenger seat on a long road trip, so I ended up reading Facsimile in about six hours. Facsimile has a slow beginning. The premise was interesting, but it was difficult to connect with the characters. There was this odd love triangle, but it didn’t seem to work for me. I had just finished reading the Generations series by Scott Sigler, and I was hoping that Facsimile would be similar. There are a lot of parallels – children left to cope on their own; no adults around to guide the youth who just want to get off the planet; a strong female protagonist.

I think that the narrative was a bit too long. There were some interesting social justice components, but they seemed forced. I think if I had to sum up my quibbles with Facsimile, it would be “forced.” The story just didn’t seem to flow smoothly. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still read a sequel, because the overall story was interesting. In the end, I’d award Facsimile 3.5 stars.

Vicki turned her early obsession with reading into a dual career as an author and librarian. An avid reader who appreciates good writing in all genres, Vicki has been known to read seven books in as many days. When not writing or reading, she likes to spend her time watching films, listening to music, gardening, or traveling. Vicki lives in North Carolina with her husband and some very spoiled cats.
 

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Discord, by Katy Haye

Beth forgot her past. What if there’s nothing to remember? Beth has spent six months at the remote Steptoe House in the English countryside and still can’t remember a single thing from before her car accident. The doctors say that’s normal. They say traumatic brain injuries heal at their own pace and insist the music therapy they prescribe to their patients is the key to recovery. But something is off at Steptoe House and Beth can feel it. There’s a wrongness there — a discord between what is and what should be. Strange voices echo down the halls at night and shifting shadows beckon. And Beth doesn’t dare tell anyone she’s been talking to ghosts. So, when new patient Toby arrives, she’s relieved to find a friend she can trust, a confidant to share her ghosts with. Plus, he’s really cute. Together, they will tackle the mystery of Steptoe House and uncover more than either of them ever bargained for.

I saw Discord, by Katy Haye on Netgalley, and I decided to give it a try. I’ve read some really interesting sci-fi lately with protagonists with memory loss and/or brain damage. It’s interesting to see how different authors handle this serious issue in society – even in future societies. I don’t know if this is because I’m finally graduating this May with a mental health undergraduate degree, or if I’m just a weirdo.

Not to worry, Discord is an easy read for many age groups. The story just doesn’t make sense for about the first two-thirds of the book. Not in a way that I couldn’t follow the narrative, but in a way that the narrative just confounded me. Elements that I read were just a little bit off, and my expectations were constantly challenged. It was as if I were an anthropologist that had all these ideas of how a story should be, and then I got to experience the story, and many of my ideas didn’t quite match up. I was close, but not exact.

Any way, enough rambling. Discord is an odd story. I totally dug it, and some of my complaints about teen angst and relationships are likely due to the very small suite of characters. One you read the reveal, and the oddities make sense, Discord is a cool sci-fi foray, and for 99-cents, you should pick it up for a read. I’d read the sequel, Dissent, when it comes out in just over a week. I’d rate Discord four stars for a rather interesting method of storytelling.

Katy Haye spends as much time as possible in either her own or someone else’s imaginary worlds. She has a fearsome green tea habit, a partiality for dark chocolate brazils and a fascination with the science of storytelling. When not lost in a good book, Katy may be found on her allotment growing veg and keeping hens in order to maximise her chances of survival in the event of a zombie apocalypse or similar catastrophe (you never know!).

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