Tag Archives: #YA

The Way We Fall, by Megan Crewe

It starts with an itch you just can’t shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you’ll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they’re old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in. And then you’re dead. When sixteen-year-old Kaelyn lets her best friend leave for school without saying goodbye, she never dreams that she might not see him again. Then a strange virus begins to sweep through her small island community, infecting young and old alike. As the dead pile up, the government quarantines the island: no one can leave, and no one can come back. Cut off from the world, the remaining islanders must fend for themselves. Supplies are dwindling, fatalities rising, and panic is turning into violence. With no cure in sight, Kaelyn knows their only hope of survival is to band together. Desperate to save her home, she joins forces with a former rival and opens her heart to a boy she once feared. But as the virus robs her of friends and family, Kaelyn realizes her efforts may be in vain. How can she fight an enemy that’s too small to see?

After reading the Earth & Sky series, I had an idea what to expect from The Way We Fall. Crewe writes teen characters that seem realistic in the way that teens see themselves. In YA, a common trope is that the teens are as smart as the adults, if only they’d get a chance to shine. The teen (or teens) get the chance to “show up” the adults with their unique way of looking at things. I really enjoyed that after all the effort and angst that Kaelyn put into finding the link, her dad is like, “Yeah, we figured that out weeks ago.”

It’s not that I don’t find smart teens to be unrealistic- my own teen confounds me with some bit of logic from time to time. But teens are just too inexperienced to really shine in the way they they think they should. Which is fine, people need time to make mistakes and learn and grow. YA novels attempt to force the protagonist to grow up by inserting tragedy – often by the loss of a parent. I saw in the reviews that someone complained about one of the teens being a budding expert in botany. I do not find this aspect to be unbelievable at all – teens are definitely driven, with a single-mindedness that often confounds. With my own teen enrolled in an agribusiness and equine high school, with dual enrollment in a community college, I’ve seen teens that know a heck of a lot more than I do in those fields.

The setting and premise of The Way We Fall is an interesting one: An unknown virus affects the inhabitants of an isolated community, and everything goes sideways, including those responsible for keeping everyone safe. Nothing new there – people have been writing about that forever. The story ends without much resolved – a pet peeve of mine. But, it’s a common trope, so I grumble and move on.

Megan Crewe writes well, and the re-release doesn’t have any of the typos I’ve come to expect from Disney-Hyperion. Like most YA, the language and vocabulary is simple. Also like most YA, there is quite a bit of teenage angst. As often with series books picked up by a large publisher, the first is a true glimpse to what the writer intended, and later books seem to have the spark revised out. I’m definitely curious how subsequent books in the series fare. I’d rate The Way We Fall 3.75 stars, and I’ll read the next book in the series as soon as I can get ahold of it. With the entire series being available own Kindle Unlimited, that should be pretty soon.

megan-crewe

Like many authors, Megan Crewe finds writing about herself much more difficult than making things up. A few definite facts: she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and son (and does on occasion say “eh”), she tutors children and teens with special needs, and she’s spent the last six years studying kung fu, so you should probably be nice to her. She has been making up stories about magic and spirits and other what ifs since before she knew how to write words on paper. These days the stories are just a lot longer.

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Truth

Chuck’s prompt today is to type in the words “strange photos” into everyone’s favorite marketing engine, and use one of the photos as inspiration. I saw this photo from a video game called “Life is Strange,” and I was brought back to my unfinished YA novel, Mental State. I realize that it has been seven months since I wrote more for it, but I dunno, I was inspired or something? You’re welcome to follow the link and read the previous chapters, or just check this one out on its own. I finished this scene at 1191 words, but after rereading it, realized that it wasn’t complete. The ending was lame. It needed something. What it needed was another 650 words. Darn it! I continued the chapter after the second scene break, and incorporated additional prompts: #FFC2018, The Writing Reader, Write on Wednesday, and #SoCS.

TRIGGER WARNING for suicide and self harm, as is the rest of Mental State.


Do it now. Do what you must do.

Steven covered his ears though he knew it was pointless. The voice tormented him. There were no physical attacks, but Steven’s body weakened each day. He couldn’t go on like this.

Don’t do it, they will destroy you.

The voice seemed to guess what Steven’s plans were. At school, the voice still spoke to him, but it didn’t seem to have the physical drain it was having on him now.

They will just kill you, make it easy for them.

“No,” Steven said, defiance strengthened his resolve. “I will not take my life! My tale will not end that way!” His proclamation silenced the voice, but Steven knew it would return.

He surveyed himself in the mirror. He was a wreck. His face still bore bruises, and cuts from the fight; he was almost indistinguishable from his former self. Myself before Lindsay… He shook his head as if he could dislodge the thought. If it weren’t for the cuts and bruises, it would be easier to notice he hadn’t shaved in weeks. The fuzz all over his face looked like he smeared dirt on himself. His clothes, although brand new, looked old and ragged.

Steven resisted the temptation to punch the mirror; he hated that it showed such a sad version of himself. That’s what he felt: anger and hatred toward everything and everyone around him. It consumed him and fueled the voice inside his mind.

Anger swept over him, and the voice returned. Muttering once more that he wished it would shut up, Steven threw himself on the bed. He decided it was time to go back to school. He lost count how many times he had said that.
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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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