Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Shadow Queen (Ravenspire #1)

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A dark retelling of Snow White, The Shadow Queen hits all the right notes with an exiled (presumed dead) princess, an evil stepmother who drains the land of life, a young prince trying to save his own kingdom, magic, ogres, and DRAGONS. Shape-shifting dragons, at that, with both human and dragon hearts.

Once upon a time, Crown Princess Lorelei of Ravenspire was happy. She had everything she could possibly want and need, a happy home, two loving parents, a precocious younger brother whom she adored, and a beautiful kingdom that she would one day rule with kindness and fairness. But her mother died in a mysterious accident, and her aunt Irina came to take her place in the castle. And in everyone’s heart. Or so it seemed. One day, when Lorelei recognized the evil that lived in the castle and tried to fight it, it all came crashing down. Literally.

Now Lorelei is a fugitive with one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. She has a few weapons at her disposal; one is surprise, as Queen Irina believes her dead, killed in the destruction of the castle that took her father’s life and crown. The other, a magic more powerful than Irina can imagine. Lorelei is a mardushka, a descendent of the magical bloodline in the land of Morcant. She calls upon the power of living hearts to fuel her magic.

I love dragons. I love retellings. I love gorgeous covers. And magic and action and battles and drama and love and evil. And dragons.

Lorelei is a self-rescuing princess. She is good and kind, a kick-ass warrior, and she isn’t going to wait for a prince to sweep along and save her. Author C.J. Redwine doesn’t beat the reader over the head with the princess’s goodness, which I like; she allows the girl’s thoughts and decisions to show her heart.

After an ogre attack in Eldr, Prince Kol has unexpectedly become King. He is the second son, bane of his father’s existence, and Draconi (a dragon shape-shifter), and totally unprepared to lead in a time of war. Thrown into the deep end, he develops from a reckless troublemaker to a young man ready to lead his kingdom.

Secondary characters Gabril, Leo, Trugg, and Jyn, are great additions to the cast. Loyal to their princess and king, they see and nurture the potential of the two young leaders. Irina, a dark mardushka, is evil and cruel, power hungry and jealous. She is so easy to picture as she sweeps through the realm and steals the life-force of her subjects and land.

The inclusion of the map at the beginning is awesome, and a must when dealing with fantasy worlds. It is gorgeous, with so many different influences in the images – Russian, Middle Eastern, European, etc. Beautiful.

The nods to Snow White are imaginative, with the living trees, the rotten black apples enslaving the minds of the Queen’s subjects, and Lorelei attacking the castle with seven dragons beside her, among many others.

This is a fun retelling of a classic fairy tale. Yes, you open the book already knowing the ending, but there are enough twists to keep you turning pages, just to make sure you are right.

The Shadow Queen was published February 16th 2016 by Balzer + Bray.

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The Silence of Six (SOS #1)

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What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?

After hacking into the live-streaming Presidential debate at Granville High, and asking the candidates to answer the question, an anonymous member of hacker group Dramatis Personai kills himself on screen. Except he isn’t anonymous. Former hacker Max Stein recognizes him: 17 year old Evan Baxter, a genius hacker, code name ST0P, and Max’s best friend. And now dead.

Just moments before the hack, Max received an encrypted text from Evan, with an apology, a plea for help, and a warning. Post-hack, the government shut down the school’s wifi, confiscates the students’ technology, and sends them on their way. And all of a sudden Max is on the run, in danger and up to his neck in conspiracy, hacking, and privacy issues.

This story has everything.

Main characters Max and Penny are fantastic. And I didn’t like either of them, in the beginning. That changes as they develop throughout the story. Max has flaws, but he recognizes and tries to deal with them. Penny is a loner, ready to run, a hacker who knows she could be caught at any moment. But she learns to trust Max as he learns to trust her, and they form a strong team in their search for the information Evan left behind.

Evan, although he leaves the story early, is present throughout as the two hackers follow his clues and unravel the mystery that led to his death. His character is wonderful; diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is obsessive about privacy, organized, and loyal.

The plot is fast-paced and original. Author E.C. Myers not only gives the reader a thrill ride with high speed chases, men in black, genius teenage hackers, and just-in-time escapes, but also delves into the concept of privacy, and social media as a tool for gathering information and control. What is the connection?

The tech giant Panjea runs a Facebook-like site that connects users and gathers information. What is happening to this data? What is it being used for, and by whom?

The “anonymity is good, government is bad” message is a bit heavy handed, but does keep the narrative on track.

My one criticism of the novel is the info dump that seems to take place every time Max or Penny or anyone with a computer turns it on. Information is great. And I know next to nothing about coding and hacking, so a bit of knowledge is good. But even I don’t need to know absolutely every keystroke that Max takes to delete a file. Or download one.

The author has added an interesting dimension to the story with a website, a YouTube channel, a blog, and a tumblr account that appear in the book, although they have not been updated since early 2015. With a sequel in the works, however, this could change.

Keeping in mind the graphic description of Evan’s death in the first chapter of the book, The Silence of Six is still appropriate for the entire YA age range, and serves as an interesting commentary about what we choose to share online. It is original and exciting and makes you wish you could surf government servers just for fun.

The Silence of Six was published November 5th 2014 by Adaptive Books.

Glass Sword (Red Queen #2)

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If you haven’t read Red Queen yet, be warned… This review will contain spoilers for the first book. So turn away if you haven’t. (By the way. Why haven’t you read it yet? It is a lot of fun. Go read it and come back.)

SPOILER ALERT for RED QUEEN

Maven still searches for Mare. Her power to control lightning and electricity makes her an awesome weapon. The royal court fears and covets her power, and has labeled her traitor and murderer. But Mare has discovered that she is not alone; Reds with supernatural powers, stronger than those of the Silvers, live in secret terror as commoners, afraid of being discovered and turned over to the ruling Silvers.

The race to find the newbloods is on. The Red Guard wants them in the rebel’s forces, before newly crowned King Maven finds and kills them all. The search will take Mare and Cal and their group of rebels across the land, trying to stay one step ahead of Maven and the Silver Army.

But in the search, Mare herself is forced to make decisions she would never have thought possible.  She must answer the question: what is a life worth?

I am not as impressed with Mare this time around. Actually, I don’t like her at all. Seriously, how long can the pity party continue?  Yes, Maven betrayed her. He betrayed EVERYONE. Get over it, move on. She finds herself alone, at the head of a revolution, but her loneliness is self-imposed. She pushes everyone away, even those who are loyal and stand with her. Is it arrogance? Ignorance? Maybe it is fear, but she does not change. She does not learn or develop. The entire book is filled with her internal monologues, and it gets old, quickly.

Also, the revolution is about equality. Yet Mare treats Kilorn, loyal, devoted Kilorn, like crap. Why? Because he has no special powers.

Cal, on the other hand, the lost and exiled crown prince, still retains remnants of what made him the king-in-waiting.  He brings his military expertise and knowledge of the lands to the fight, and he grows stronger. He is the more interesting of the characters as he struggles to figure out who he is without his crown. But his strength is lost next to Mare’s inner turmoil and self-hatred and arrogance.

And Maven is a wonderful villain. He is evil, strong, cold, and without conscience. He was woven throughout the entire story; even when he was not present in the scene, he overshadowed everyone’s thoughts and made it impossible for them to rest. I like him, even as I loathe him.

The book needs a map. All the cities sound similar, and I can not picture their locations in relation to each other. (And I like fantasy novels to have maps.)

The plot never really moves along, and the ending? Well, it definitely sets up the third book, but it seemed rushed and anti-climactic.

All in all, I did not enjoy Glass Sword as much as I did Red Queen. It has the same elements, but I hoped for more. It will not keep me from reading the next instalment, but I do think Aveyard has a great idea that she needs to focus more sharply. This book reads like a middle chapter.

Glass Sword was published February 9th, 2016 by HarperTeen.

Other Broken Things

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A book that starts with the line “I’d cut a bitch for a cigarette right now” is going to grab you and not let go. Make no mistake, this is not an easy book to read.

On the surface, 17 year old Natalie is a child of privilege. She got drunk, drove, and got in an accident. But her dad has money and paid for a lawyer, and she got away with court ordered rehab, AA, and 100 hours community service.  There is only one problem. Nat isn’t an alcoholic.  She’s not the only one that does stupid things, she’s just the one that got caught.

Her old friends see it the same way. She can still party, right?  Why not?

Her new AA acquaintances, Kathy and Joe, think otherwise.

The two become her sponsors, and her friends, and show her what the lifelong battle with addiction looks like in human form. They wait out her anger and rebellion and self-hatred and fight their own demons at the sane time. There is acceptance, but also accountability.

Natalie is rude and self-centred, but it doesn’t stop the reader from being sympathetic. She is an addict, through and through, always trying to fill a space in her soul with an all or nothing attitude. She can’t do anything halfway; struggling under the expectations of unhappy parents, she gave up her passion because of her father’s concern about “appearances,” and she cannot face her own truth.

Natalie drinks to escape her lack of purpose. She replaces one addiction with another. But as she starts to look inward and really follow the 12 Steps, not just pay lip service to them, she begins to accept herself, and the people around her, for who each truly is. It means the end of some relationships, and the re-starting  of others.

Mom Sarah is perfectly written. Stay-at-home, shunned by her rebellious daughter and social climbing husband, she decorates for Christmas and wears holiday sweaters and bakes cookies and loves her daughter unconditionally. While Natalie can’t see it, or just doesn’t want to, Sarah will do anything for her. And as Nat begins to realize she can’t control everything around her, Sarah learns the same lesson.

Natalie’s father is a different story. So concerned for his social standing, he shuns his daughter’s challenges, and pays for treatment so that he doesn’t have to hide her away.

Christa Desir writes a story about honesty and control and hope. Admitting what you can and cannot control, and who you are truly are, is perhaps one of the most difficult things for us to do. Add the burden of an addiction to make it even harder. But underneath it all, there is hope.

An incredibly tough subject that is dealt with realistically; the ending is not easy or comfortable, but then, neither is the subject. The relationship between Natalie and Joe is uncomfortable to read, but so important to the story.

There are quite a few graphic descriptions of sex; not loving relationships, but desperately grasping needy events that are shocking, and show the depth of addiction.  These scenes are not for the younger end of the YA spectrum.

Other Broken Things was published January 12th 2016 by Simon Pulse.

Front Lines (Soldier Girl #1)

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In 1942, the Nazis, the greatest fighting force mankind has ever seen, sweep through Europe and North Africa, seeking no less than world domination. But this time, women face them alongside men.

Rio Richlin is 17 years old, just too young to join the fight. But a gold star is sewn on the service flag of her parents’ home, signifying the ultimate sacrifice. And Rio wants to avenge her sister’s death. Her best friend wants to escape her home, and convinces her to enlist. Frangie Marr is a young black woman from a family on the edge of losing their home. She dreams of being a doctor, a tough sell in segregated America. She joins up as a medic, and fights a war within a war. Rainy Schulterman is a Jew in New York. She volunteers, hoping to enter the intelligence service, hoping to find out why her family no longer hears from relatives in Europe, hoping to use her brilliant mind to make Hitler suffer. None believe they will see the front lines.

But nothing ever goes as planned. Or, in the language of the Army, the girls learn quickly, it is FUBAR.

The book is not a short one.  Well over 500 pages in length, it takes the reader through the background, decision to enlist, and the initial training for each girl, before even discussing the war, which happens about halfway through. But the story does not drag. I was captivated from the first page onward.

I LOVE that Michael Grant wrote each girl equally. They are each the heroine of their own story, their narratives intertwining, and each strengthens as they come to know and lean on each other. Throughout the novel, they grow and change as each faces the reality of war. Rio thinks she can avenge her sister as a sharpshooter, until she has her sights trained on an actual soldier. Frangie learns to trust her hands, when her brain betrays her as the guns fire all around. And Rainy learns that all her plotting and planning is carried out by real people, it is not just lines on a map.

Grant’s description of the battles and beach landing ring incredibly true, and illustrate his tireless research. (He includes an extensive bibliography following the story.) Capsizing troop transports, bullets spraying sand, bodies falling as they reach the shore. Grenades exploding in foxholes, loss of limbs and life; blood and horror and thirst and cold and noise and silence.

The language and attitudes are definitely of the time. Rampant racism, sexism and anti-semitism are prevalent in the story, and provide a tough social commentary. It is shocking and thought-provoking, and highlights the battles fought within their own units.

I have only one minor criticism of the story. I found the scattered narration from the mysterious young woman unnecessary and gimmicky. She is only present about 3 times, and yet it is written that she narrates the entire story of these girls’ lives as if she is present throughout. The whole “Gentle Reader” thing annoyed me and was unnecessary to the story.

That picky issue aside, book one in the Soldier Girl series is an important and unusual YA story, and a fantastic way for teens to learn a little about that dark time in our history.

After perusing Grant’s bibliography, if you want even more information about the time and battles (and you will want to learn more, after reading this book!), especially at Kasserine Pass, read Samuel Fuller’s incredible and autobiographical The Big Red One. There are shades of the iconic WWII novel in Front Lines, with the bonds of sisterhood forged through training and in war.

Front Lines was published January 26th 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books.

The 5th Wave

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The 1st wave sends darkness, the 2nd wave destruction and death. The 3rd is pestilence and more death. But they aren’t done yet. The 4th wave is insidious and unknown and more terrifying than the any other. It comes from within. And after the 4th wave, the enemy can be anywhere, and anyone. Trust no one. What will be the 5th?

The first book in The 5th Wave series will shake your belief in reality.

Six months after the ship appears, it is the dawn of the 5th wave. The aliens have become human, or at least, taken over humans, so there is no way to tell. They roam the earth, looking for survivors, looking to wipe out the last vestiges of humanity. Except for the children; the children are shipped off to safety. Or so everyone is led to believe.

16 year old Cassie thinks she might be the last human on earth. She hasn’t seen another  since the aliens shot her father and wiped out their refugee camp with an out-of-this-world green bomb. So she runs, toward the one place she believes she might be safe, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where the children were sent.

She has to stay alone, she can’t trust anyone, it is the only chance she has to survive. But one of Them, a Shark in her mind, makes it his mission to take her down, and she narrowly avoids being shot to death on a lonely stretch of highway. Rescued by a mysterious boy, Cassie has to choose between trusting someone and accepting help, or going on alone, to her certain death. 

The characters are odd in this story, perhaps because the reader never knows if the character is a human or one of Them. But the cast was varied and interesting, and the children at the Air Force base are perhaps the most intriguing, as they train to fight the alien war. My feelings for Cassie went back and forth; some scenes, I really liked her, and found her kick-ass and strong. Others, she came across as whiny and weak, and just annoyed me.

The romance was unbelievable after Cassie spent months alone and trusting no one. She doesn’t actually trust him. It seemed random, as if author Rick Yancey (or his editor) was checking off a box. He has a pretty odd idea of what girls think and how they behave, and don’t give me this crap she’s alone and in a war zone.

Let me get this straight. I trust no one. I think I might be the last human on earth. I saw my father murdered by what appeared to be a human but was an alien. I can’t tell by looking if someone is an alien. I killed someone who might have been human because I don’t trust anyone. I found dead bodies on the highway, was shot in the leg, and almost died. But oh! You’re hot, and hot boys don’t usually look at me, so please kiss me. Seriously?!?!??

Aside from that, the psychological themes that run through the novel are well developed: Who can you trust when the enemy looks exactly like you? As a soldier tasked with saving humanity, when do you start questioning orders, and just follow your instincts? And the idea of likening the alien invasion to the colonization of North America is an intense comparison.

Fantastic world-building. Yancey perfectly captures the atmosphere of distrust and fear and loneliness and horror. Stretches of isolated highway with piles of vehicles, burning cities with no humans in sight, looted and abandoned homes and stores really drag the reader into the story.

The idea of birds as a delivery system for a destructive virus is awesome. They are EVERYWHERE on earth. There is no escaping birds. Excuse me while I go outside and chase the little buggers from my feeder right now. Friggin’ little traitors.

The story is a bit repetitive in places, but is good for those with a love for sci-fi and aliens. There is creepiness and gore and violence and a good, solid punch to the brain.

The 5th Wave was published May 7th 2013 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Fans of the Impossible Life

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Jeremy is returning to Saint Francis Prep after a bullying incident ruined the last few months of his previous school year. He spends the first few weeks back hiding in a teacher’s office, sketching, when he isn’t in class, until the teacher decides it is time for him to face the world.

Mira promises her parents she will try to fit in at Saint Francis, after depression and a suicide attempt chased her from her last school into the psych ward at the hospital. There she meets Sebby, a gay foster child with a self-destructive streak that only Mira seems to be able to keep in check.  Together they try to fix themselves by creating a safe haven of rituals and road trips and friendship, one they determinedly drag Jeremy into, whether he is ready or not.

If you are going into this looking for a bisexual love triangle, go elsewhere. This book is about three teenagers dealing with sexual identity, homophobia, depression, suicide, and bullying, with just a touch of romance and a lot of friendship thrown in. The three find love and acceptance in their friendship, as they come to realize they are not alone in their journeys.

Fans of the Impossible Life is narrated from three points of view, each uniquely written in a different person. Mira and Sebby crash into Jeremy’s world, and change his perspective on a life that seems mired in loneliness. He narrates his chapters in the first person as the main character, with Mira a close supporting second. Her chapters are narrated in the third person, and while Sebby has only a few chapters of his own, each narrated in the second person, he influences every action taken throughout the story.

The plot contains a lot of different scenes not often found in a YA novel, including a gorgeous cross-dressing episode and a random night at drag queen karaoke. Added is an amazingly diverse cast of characters including a mixed race young woman battling depression, a teenage boy figuring out his sexuality, a drug addict, gay dads, a teacher who understands teen angst, a caring and strict foster mother, and a lesbian with a tough exterior and an obsession for her elusive ex-girlfriend, along with the regular cheerleaders and football players that are present in every high school.

Debut author Kate Scelsa deals with depression honestly, with no sugar coating. But she also illustrates the misconceptions and denial that can go with such an illness; Mira’s parents want her to be stronger, acting like her suicide attempt was a choice she made out of weakness. Scelsa takes the reader through the exhaustion and fear of facing the day that Mira just knows won’t get better. Seb’s addictions and Jeremy’s torment are given the same careful, authentic, detail.

I loved the ending. There are more loose ends than not, but it works, because it is real.

This is a fabulous contemporary novel about the joys and perils of growing up, friendship, and discovering yourself, without covering up the sad reality of mental illness and bullying. It is a YA novel that will take you back to those tough years where we all stumbled around, immersed in our lives and those of our friends, trying to figure it all out.

Fans of the Impossible Life was published September 8th 2015 by Balzer + Bray.