Tag Archives: #YA

Sugar Spells, by Lola Dodge

After her run-in with a jealous warlock, apprentice baker Anise Wise can’t wait to get back the kitchen where she belongs. But thanks to her brush with death, the land of the living isn’t all cupcakes and marshmallows. Anise’s magical mojo is way out of whack and her evolving powers are stirring up trouble. As the town buzzes with news that Anise can bake deathly spells, unsavory characters start lining up for a taste. They’ll stop at nothing for the chance to use Anise and her witchcraft to further their own plots. She plans to hole up researching magic recipes until the attention dies down, but then she discovers the horrifying terms of her bodyguard’s contract. Wynn has saved her life so many times, she can’t leave him trapped. But doing the right thing will mean risking death or worse—being cast out of her dream job.

I’ve yet to read something by Lola Dodge that I haven’t liked, and Sugar Spellsis no exception. Although, I wonder why the names of the first two books aren’t swapped. I think that the titles describe each book better. Anyway, Anise continues in the employ of her great aunt, Agatha, but things are amiss, and well, Anise might never be the same again…

Like Deadly Sweet,Sugar Spells contains strong female characters, while allowing vulnerability that male protagonists are regularly not allowed to show in fiction. I didn’t groan at the mistakes Anise made in this second book. Unlike some series protagonists, Anise actually learns from her mistakes, and doesn’t repeat them over and over again.

Like book one, I requested this one from NetGalley, and my thoughts from my review of book one continue in regard to sexism and misandry, and the overall socio-anthropological view of the characters within the pages.

It’ll come as no surprise that I enjoyed Sugar Spells, and like its predecessor, I read the story as fast as I could pour the words into my brain. Even though the title just reminds me of the older brother in The Goldbergs, I look forward to reading Wicked Tastyin first quarter 2019. Four stars for Sugar Spells, and you should totally read these books.

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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Aftermath, by Kelley Armstrong

Three years after losing her brother Luka in a school shooting, Skye Gilchrist is moving home. But there’s no sympathy for Skye and her family because Luka wasn’t a victim; he was a shooter. Jesse Mandal knows all too well that the scars of the past don’t heal easily. The shooting cost Jesse his brother and his best friend–Skye. Ripped apart by tragedy, Jesse and Skye can’t resist reopening the mysteries of their past. But old wounds hide darker secrets. And the closer Skye and Jesse get to the truth of what happened that day, the closer they get to a new killer.

I knew that Aftermath, by Kelley Armstrong, would elicit strong emotions. It’s about the family of a school shooter after all. I found Skye and Jesse to be written well, and very relatable. The emotional arc of both characters was believable, and within the norms one would expect of people in this situation. The writer does an excellent job of disguising the antagonist throughout the book. I had my eye on a character, but as expected that character was only a red herring. I had correctly guessed who the villain was, but the author had me doubting myself before the reveal, and their was definitely a “oh no they didn’t” moment that is fortunately overcome right away. I wasn’t totally sure until the very end.

This is a story of emotional healing after a tragedy, and how something like a school shooting can affect those connected to the dead and injured. School bullying is forefront, and there’s an obvious theme of those responsible for protecting children seeming to fail again and again to do so. While gun violence is a pertinent topic here in the states, the book doesn’t advocate gun control or gun fetishism. I’m glad that that topic wasn’t shoehorned in. It could’ve easily been the focus of this story, but the victims and the families of those that died and the shooters were what this story was truly about.

I started reading Aftermath on a Wednesday evening, and couldn’t stop reading until I had consumed it all. Aftermath is a powerful story about love, loss, and redemption. Five stars, and highly recommended.

Kelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers’ dismay. All efforts to make her produce “normal” stories failed. Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon. She lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and far too many pets.

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The Lives We Lost, by Megan Crewe

First, the virus took Kaelyn’s friends, then her family, and now it’s spread beyond her island. No one is safe. But when Kaelyn finds samples of a vaccine hidden in her father’s abandoned laboratory, she knows there’s only one option: seek out someone who can replicate it. As Kaelyn and her friends head to the mainland they face greater challenges than they ever could have imagined. Not everyone they meet wants Kaelyn to succeed-and many simply want her dead and the vaccine for themselves. With the chance of finding help slipping away, will Kaelyn be forced to sacrifice those she loves in order to rescue the human race? Megan Crewe’s second installment in this powerful and gripping YA series tackles self-preservation, first love, and hope. This heart-wrenching story of one girl’s bravery and unbeatable spirit will leave readers fervently awaiting the final book in this suspenseful and action-packed trilogy.

The Lives We Lost is very much like The Way We Fall. I think that the plot was thinner in TLWL over TWWF, but book two is character-driven, and not plot driven. It did seem to drag on a bit in some sections, and the decisions made by Kaelyn were often confounding, but that’s what I’d expect from a 17-year old protagonist. The same black and white in a world of gray was present, but Kaelyn is starting to see that the world is not as rigidly black and white as she saw it on the island.

Because every post-apocalyptic story has to have a megalomaniac whose charisma attracts the worst of the worst, but the masses keep in line because of the implied brutality, we have the inkling of that exact character who will presumably be prominent in book three. I’m up for book three. It’ll be nice to finally have some closure for the series. Like book one, I’m rating The Lives We Lost four stars.

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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Six Random Questions With Arwen Paris

I know it’s been a while since I’ve interviewed anyone, and I sometimes wonder if I’ve forgotten how to do it :) Since I reviewed Arwen Paris’ Fate of the Stars last week, and I may have been a little overly-critical about her novel, I asked Arwen a few random questions about her debut novel, and what ever else I thought of to ask her. So read this, go buy her story so that she can keep writing more stories.
 

What has been the most challenging part of publishing your book?
You know how most authors have that first book they wrote, the really ugly one they lock away someplace dark? Yeah, I just couldn’t bear to do that. What’s worse, is that I actually finished book two for NaNoWriMo before I finished the first book! Getting Fate of the Stars written, rewritten several more times, edited and rewritten again has been a grueling and educational process. Let’s just say, I can’t wait to write a fresh book.

What are you working on now?
Right now I’m getting book two in the Fate of the Stars series, Rival, ready for the first round of edits.

What other books have you written and/or are working on for the future?
Oh my gosh, I have an excel spreadsheet I keep of all the series I want to write. After I finish up the Fate of the Stars series I’m really excited to work on my next project – a YA Fantasy!

What’s your favorite supernatural creature?
I know what you’re thinking. She should choose Elves, her name’s Elvish for the love god! But I have to admit that I’m a dragon lover. That’s probably why I’m switching to fantasy for a bit after this series.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Writing is art, and it grows and matures the more you practice. So never stop writing, and never stop learning to write better.

What’s your favorite quote?
I loved Dune by Frank Herbert when I was a kid. I could read that whole book in less than eight hours. But this quote really struck me to the core: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” It’s a good mantra for writers too.


Fate of the Stars, by Arwen Paris

When the fate of the world rests upon you… Allison Delaney wants to spend her senior year healing from the loss of her father, to leave the shadows of his death and her junior year break-down behind. A Labor Day beach party seems like a good place to start…but there’s more danger lurking than anyone could imagine. Death is coming to Earth if the pods of infectious creatures aren’t stopped. But only one human can help… To live or die is no longer a choice. Eenoki is a protector of life but must have a sentient host to fight the invasion. A teenage girl would not be the best choice, but out of desperation Eenoki invades Allison’s mind and body, granting her unnatural abilities and strengths – and helping her escape certain death when the first wave of pods land. As destruction rains down on Earth’s population, Allison realizes to save everyone, she must make the ultimate choice: Reject her human side and bond with Eenoki to become the Earth’s Priestess – or be killed along with the rest of humanity.

Sigh. ALIENS INVADE EARTH! If only there were a human that a helpful alien entity could occupy and be the savior of mankind. What’s this? A 17-year old girl who just suffered a tragedy and is wise beyond her years because of it. She’s an outcast because of something she did? No worries, the smoldering hot guy is secretly in love with her and will abandon all reason to help her on her quest to get rid of the aliens.

Don’t worry, another alien race comes along and wants to not only rid the Earth of the alien invasion, but DESTROY HUMANITY to save the galaxy. The melding or possession or whatever won’t quite work, so the 17-year old girl will only have some of the powers required to defeat both alien interlopers. She’ll have just enough power to be a threat to other humans, but not accepted by the aliens, even though this sort of thing is how their religion works.

Like young adult readers see things, everything in Fate of the Stars is in black and white. Good and evil. Popular and outcast. The writing is at times concise, but other times, it’s rather purple. While I could understand why young adult readers might relate to this, the fact that the story happened to Allison, instead of her driving the story was a disappointment. The story was campy, but in a good way.

Allison was understandable in the beginning, but became more and more angsty and annoying as the story progressed. The rest of the humans are cardboard cutouts, including the best friend and smoldering hunk. There was just so much waffling in this story. The story sets up a bunch of great ideas, and then pitches those ideas out the window in favor of YA cliché.

I think that the series has some great potential. Fate of the Stars is Arwen Paris’ debut novel, and that shows. It’s not a dig on the author, and I suspect that more novels in the series will only get better as the author figures out what she wants to write. I dissed the story in the first two paragraphs, but that’s because I’ve read this exact same story by other authors, and they did a better job. I’m confident that with a few more books to her credit, Arwen Paris will be an excellent author. I’d totally read the next book in the series, and look forward to what this author has in store for the future. Three and a half stars.

Arwen Paris is the author of young adult fiction. Her debut YA Sci-fi Urban Fantasy novel FATE OF THE STARS released September 1, 2017. The second book in the Fate of the Stars series RIVAL is coming in 2018. The actions packed pages of her novels are filled with characters that are forced to face fears they never expected. When she’s not writing, you can see posts of her (too many) vacations that keep her sane. Arwen lives in Washington, has a big crazy family & after the day job, she writes Fiction For the Fearless – #F3Fanatic

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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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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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