Tag: Young Adult Fiction

The Mask Falling (The Bone Season #4) by Samantha Shannon

Eight years ago I picked up this book with book with one of the most interesting premises I’d run across: a criminal who steals thoughts and information from peoples’ minds, and operates under an oppressive regime where people with her sorts of gifts are imprisoned and executed.

Little did I know that this was just the tip of the iceberg for young Paige Mahoney. Over the next few years, books 2 and 3 were released with the tale of Paige’s exploits growing exponentially. After book 2, I was really convinced that Ms. Shannon didn’t like Paige very much, and book 3 pretty much cemented that.

Then came the gap. Paige Mahoney had just gotten out of an absolute horror of a situation, and book 4 was just “coming soon.”

Boy was the wait worth it. The Mask Falling opens with Paige and Arcturus (Warden), escaping England and ending up in a safe house in the Scion Citadel of Paris. Paige is in really rough shape, but has been taken in by the mysterious Domino Program; who want to use her abilities and skills to help subvert Scion control. While she has been told to stay put and heal, Paige also wants to leverage her position of Underqueen to gain audience with the Court of Miracles — the voyant syndicate of France — to continue her own flavor of assault on Scion, and, hopefully, learn the fates of many of her friends.

This one is a real rollercoaster, but I often found myself giving Paige the ol’ “What the hell are you doing?!?!?!?”

Paige’s stubbornness is definitely her biggest weakness. Sure, her bond with Arcturus definitely affects her judgement sometimes, but it is Paige’s unwillingness to accept compromise that really seems to put her in all the pickles in The Mask Falling. Especially when things get wacky, and, boy howdy, they get wacky.

One thing about this series that I greatly appreciate is Ms. Shannon’s boldness in worldbuilding. The Scion Citadel of Paris is absolutely nothing like the Scion Citadel of London, yet she could have used the uniformity of Scion to make them far similar. Details like this, and her amazing obsession with tweaking language (definitely read the afterword about how she tweaked Scion French) show a masterful attention to what makes each location, and subsequently culture, unique.

I dearly hope we don’t have to wait too long for book 5.

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance, #2)

Oh poor Galadriel Higgins. El’s affinity for super destructive magic, her desire to be semi-anti-social, and her torn feelings for one Orion Lake really put her in an interesting spot coming into her senior year at the Scholomance.

Now that graduation is upon El, she has set it in her mind that she will get out as many students as possible. As she begins to enlist more and more of the student body in her seemingly hare-brained plans, they all begin to understand just what a powerhouse El really is. To make matters worse, it appears that the school is beginning to turn on her.

I absolutely love this series, and was super excited to be given the opportunity to tackle an early copy of book 2. The Last Graduate really does take off right where A Deadly Education ended, and Ms. Novik has really honed her masterful craft of deft first-person narration. El really is the embodiment of snarky power, and the wide variety of characters, each with their own foibles, really make for an enjoyable experience.

There is so much more I would love to gush about this book, but I would give away far too much.

Once this book drops, I’ll definitely be picking up the audiobook. Anisha Dadia did an absolute masterful job with the first book, and I really can’t wait to hear her doing book 2.

Mister Impossible (Dreamer Trilogy #2) by Maggie Stiefvater

I’ve been mulling over how to approach a review for this amazing piece of fiction. Ms. Steifvater’s work is often very transcendent, but Mister Impossible just takes the cake.

The Dreamer Trilogy, follow up series to the wildly popular Raven Cycle, is focused on seminal “bad boy” Ronan Lynch and a wider exploration into his dreaming powers.

Where Call Down the Hawk set up the situations surrounding the current storyline — introducing the Hennessys, Bryde, the Moderators, etc. — Mister Impossible is more an etheric epic poem. Very quickly the deep dive into the ley lines, the quest for understanding around sweetmetals, and the indomitable personality that is Bryde, folds this novel into a dreamy story state that often doesn’t seem at home in the waking nor the dreaming world.

Per usual, the writing and character development are absolutely top notch. Ms. Steifvater always has a unique perspective on how to present scenes and situations, and Mister Impossible is a perfect example of this. There is suspense, humor and drama all present with a undertone of surrealism that just builds and builds and builds.

As the larger direction starts to unfold, there are still plenty of twists and turns that Ms. Stiefvater takes us down in a masterful execution of really looking at what the definition of humanity really is.

There is an unveiling towards the end of the book that I would absolutely love to make a parallel connection to a popular culture stalwart, but I’m just not the type of guy to spoil a storyline with one phrase. I will say that I am totally shocked and cannot wait to see how everything plays out in book three. That being said, I can’t believe I now have to wait for freakin’ book three!

I wanted to recognize special kudos to the amazing Will Patton for the audiobook of this manuscript. Mr. Patton is a remarkable performer who has breathed life into all of these two series of books. His tone and inflection definitely bring something to the table that enhances the experience.

Among the Beasts & Briars by Ashley Poston

I feel like I was well into my adult years before truly appreciating the warmth and familiarity of fables, fairy tales and folklore. I find this funny because in my life and studies as a young man, I was very much entrenched in several very rich cultural traditions of story telling and lore.

Regardless, the genres now hold a very dear place in my heart and Ms. Poston really scratches that itch with Among the Beasts & Briars.

This is the tale of the Kingdom of Aloriya: a place of perfect wonder with no drought or disease, and a happy population looked over by a magical royal bloodline to prevent the horrors of the woods from overtaking them.

Our protagonist, Cerys, is the daughter of the Royal Gardener and best friends with the soon to be queen: Princess Arwen. Cerys also hides a very special gift that should only be able to be wielded by the royal family: she can do magic.

As Arwen stands ready to be coronated Queen, things get really interesting as the monsters and magicks of the woods attack. Escaping with barely her wits and the magical crown of Aloriya, Cerys runs into the woods to attempt to find the hidden city of Voryn and possible help from the magical Lady of the Wilds.

This story has some incredibly tense moments. There are some major themes of trust and bravery, along with what I read into a xenophobia. With a storyline that relies heavily on the impending doom of Cerys — and her traveling companions — being overtaken by the horrors in the woods, the story gets a little stress-y, but in that “I’m just going to keep flipping pages” way.

The thing that makes Among the Beasts & Briars so great to me is the consistency with which the story and settings develop and unfold. I love a good book with a map in the front because that tells me that the author has thought about the bigger aspects of their created world, and possibly considered what the ramifications of their storytelling might wreak on the bigger picture.

Most importantly, and it really takes a good portion of the novel to get there, Among the Beasts & Briars is a story about redemption and trust. Yes, there is some predictability in how the story unfolds, but that, for me, is a comforting aspect in a fairy tale. The dawn after the harrowing night is the reward.

I really do hope Ms. Poston has some more stories hidden in the depths of Vaiyl. I feel there is so much more potential.

The Unbound (The Archived #2) by Victoria Schwab

I’m not really sure why I never got around to reading this wrap-up of the Archived duology. Two years ago I read book one and then flitted off to something else before picking up number two.

Boy was that dumb.

The Unbound continues the story set up after the hyper-dramatic end of The Archived. Mackenzie Bishop is still a Keeper trying to keep violent Histories in their place, but The Unbound adds the bonus of poor Mac having to start her junior year at Hyde School: a very posh and very small private school where she knows absolutely no one (or so she thinks).

When people Mac glances into start disappearing, she and Wesley start digging into what could possibly be going on. All this along with Keeper work, school work, and juggling new friends.

Then it all starts to get really interesting, and we are all left to wonder if Mac might be losing her mind.

The marvelous thing about The Unbound is that it immediately picked up right where The Archived left off. Even though I had a two year gap between reading the two books, The Unbound just flowed perfectly in to place.

The main reason for this is that Ms. Schwab truly is a master of her craft. Her ability to quickly build and establish fantastical worlds with multi-dimensional characters is really an amazing gift. Rather than rest on the laurels of an amazing set of characters introduced in The Archived, Ms. Schwab expands the tableau with another smattering of very well-developed individuals; fully formed with charisma and depth. Basically, The Unbound is everything perfect about The Archived with an added bonus of all the toppings.

I would really love to have more Mackenzie and Wesley adventures in the future, but we’ll just have to see what happens.

Victories Greater Than Death (Unstoppable #1) by Charlie Jane Anders

I cannot get over this book. I picked it up because Ms. Anders has some serious Sci-Fi chops, the premise sounded interesting, and, duhhh, it’s YA Space Opera. What I got, however, was unlike anything I have ever read.

The basic story is that our protagonist, Tina Mains, is not just the typical teenager. She contains a interplanetary rescue beacon in her chest and is fully aware that, some day, it will be activated and her destiny as an alien disguised as a human will be unveiled.

As you can imagine, the time arrives and it is so much bigger than Tina could have anticipated. It turns out that Tina is the disguised copy of the galactic legend Captain Thaoh Argentian, and the Royal Fleet is relying on restoring Captain Argentian to help save the galaxy. Naturally, things don’t go as planned and Tina is really just turned into “Space Wikipedia.”

The very real threat, however, is not stopping, so Tina, her best friend Rachel, and an incredible crew of various alien races now have to figure out a mysterious puzzle and beat the horrible Compassion to gaining potential god-like powers.

There were several things about Victories Greater Than Death that struck me. First off, I’m not sure I have read a work that was so incredibly inclusive and sensitive to, well, just about everything. I understood, from the acknowledgements, that Ms. Anders employed a crew of sensitivity readers, and that is incredibly apparent. Even in the face of some pretty harsh speciesism, the story manages to be incredibly respectful.

The second thing that struck me was the incredible thought given to the people and places of Victories Greater Than Death. Alien races are presented with history and character/physiological traits that are oft referenced and really fine-tune the characters in a deft and refined way. Where many authors use an aside to describe alien morphology, Ms. Anders weaves these traits into the presentation of inter-character conversations.

Thirdly, was the action description. I have mentioned before how in awe I am of authors who can orchestrate battles where nothing seems to get lost in the telling, and Ms. Anders is a total natural. There is some serious action in Victories Greater Than Death, and it is presented in white-knuckled, amazingly detailed glory. This is a writing trait that I absolutely adore.

Lastly, for YA, Victories Greater Than Death tackles some seriously heavy subjects without getting preachy or letting the emotional themes detract from the greater story. In fact, it is these themes that really help propel the story as well as bond the reader with the characters. This is literary magic not often wielded well.

The one thing that I’m disappointed in is that I am now going to have to wait FOREVER for Unstoppable #2 to come out.

Rule of Wolves (King of Scars #2) by Leigh Bardugo

I guess the best way to describe this book is “attack of the Grishaverse all-stars!” Ms. Bardugo really went all out with this effort and really delivered on the setup she prepared with King of Scars two years ago (how has it been two years?!?!?!).

Basically stated, Ravka is in a pickle and Fjerda is getting ready to drop the hammer on young Nikolai Lantsov and his merry armies.

At the same time, deep in the heart of Fjerda, Nina Zenik remains very deep undercover in the home of her greatest enemy: Jarl Brum. Nina spends a lot of this tale battling between enacting revenge, providing valuable information for the salvation of Ravka, and tending to Jarl’s daughter, and Grisha in hiding, Hanne Brum.

Absolutely everyone from the Grishaverse makes an appearance, and Rule of Wolves was just a pure delight and awesome mix of amazing storylines and fan service.

This book really hits on the themes of obligation, responsibilities, and accepting or denying one’s personal emotions in the face of great adversity. There are so many twists and shock moments that really compels the reader to just hold on and motor through as quickly as possible.

The one thing I really love about this novel is the way it really pulls together the previous six efforts in the greater Grishaverse saga, yet also leaves the door open for an incredible expansion with future efforts. Ms. Bardugo really is a master of her craft, and, with the Grishaverse gaining greater exposure thanks to the Shadow and Bone television series, there are almost endless possibilities on where to go next.

The Last Shimmer by Sage Hyatt (Ryan Hyatt, ed.)

Short fiction, like a well-executed amuse-bouche, is very hard to pull off satisfyingly. Due to the nature of the back-lying mechanics of it, there is just so much opportunity to lean on one pillar of the story structure while not paying enough attention to one of the others.

Miss Hyatt understands this. The Last Shimmer balances a very well-developed storyline along with fully formed characters and a richly described setting in a way that is downright envious.

Without giving too much of it away, The Last Shimmer is the story of Tiger Lily Dander, her friend Stacy and the fanciful supposition of:

What if our shadows turned on us?

It works, it really really does, and, like I said before, Miss Hyatt develops a situation and a group of characters that work incredibly well for this piece.

This is twenty-seven pages of wonderful middle-grade horror with an absolute bow on top. Sure, it is not my normal fare, but I’m very much reconsidering the role of short fiction as a sort of palate cleanser between bigger works. I definitely needed this, and I really think all of you will enjoy it as well.

TRUEL1F3 (LIFEL1K3 #3) by Jay Kristoff

Mr. Kristoff has an uncanny ability to suck readers into his elaborate world and then leave them hanging on every word until the series is complete. He has done it — again — masterfully in TRUEL1F3, the conclusion of the LIFEL1K3 series. One thing I have absolutely loved about this series is how the character focus one-hundred percent flipped in the midst of book two (well, probably some in book one as well, but that’s going to have to be a deeper dive). For the most part, TRUEL1F3 is all about Lemon Fresh and the resolution of the unlocking of the Myriad supercomputer and the secrets of the Libertas code. Oh, there’s a corporate war getting pretty hot, too.

Let’s just say, there is a whole lot of story packed into these 480 pages.

For me, LIFEL1K3 was a roller coaster of a book, but DEV1AT3 tended to drag a little. The story was still very amazing, but it definitely feels like the bridge of the trilogy. I was a tad worried that TRUEL1F3 might fizzle, but now I see that DEV1AT3 positioned all of the pieces for the wallop that TRUEL1F3 delivered. While I very much appreciate the dynamic between the technologists, the biotech-heads, the lifelikes and the freaks; the storyline that intrigued me the most was the Libertas virus and how much the implications of it distress Cricket.

This book definitely gets far more emotional than the previous two, but I guess that was to be expected in the finale of a series with a pretty emotionally-charged core storyline. This one worked pretty well, though. More often than not, post-apocalyptic dystopian semi-cyberpunk relies wholly on the tech and confrontations rather than delve into the humanity (or meta-humanity) of the characters. For me, this entire series is about how the concepts of humanity can transcend the technology, and Mr. Kristoff has a solid track record of writing amazing inter-character relationships.

Did I imagine I would get teary-eyed about the super-emotional interaction between a girl and her giant warbot best friend? No, but that’s where we ended up.

Pick up this series. It’s a quick read and well worth it.

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

There are books that I read that absolutely hit all of the right buttons for me. The Dead and the Dark is definitely that kind of book.

Logan Ortiz-Woodley is a recent high school graduate living with her dads; waiting patiently to turn eighteen so she can set out into the world to discover herself and where she belongs. At the start of the story, Logan, along with her dad Alejo Ortiz are packing up for a short-term move to Snakebite, Oregon — where her dads grew up — to meet up with Logan’s other dad, Brandon Woodley. Adding a little twist to the mix, Alejo and Brandon are TV’s ParaSpectors, ghost hunters with a pretty opinionated following.

Things in Snakebite are weird. While Alejo and Brandon grew up there, and eventually left (under semi-weird circumstances that is poked at through the entire novel), not much else has changed over the years. Of note, though, is a malevolent shadowy evil called the Dark that seems to be involved in the disappearance of at least one local teen. There is definitely something going on in Snakebite that involves the history of Alejo and Brandon, and Logan is going to get to the bottom of it.

Supernatural YA mysteries are my absolute bread and butter, and The Dead and The Dark does not disappoint. Yes, there are a couple of plot points that are a touch clichéd, but, for me, that is what locks it right into the genre. You have to have these signposts in order to say “Welcome to this familiar ride. Just wait until you reach the twists.” And boy howdy, there are some twists.

Ms. Gould really nailed this one in regards to little town attitude, teen angst and a whole lot of institutional hate and mistrust. Most of the way through the book I found myself questioning why the Ortiz-Woodleys would ever put up with what they are going through, and why they wouldn’t, rather, just find another location to scout. It is painfully obvious that Snakebite is not a place anyone should be. It seems to be an absolutely awful place, but it sure makes for some compelling reading.

Bottom line: if you like spooky queer YA, then do not sleep on this one. The Dead and the Dark is Ms. Gould’s debut, and I could not be more excited about what she puts out next.