Tag: Young Adult Fiction

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.

The Court of Miracles (A Court of Miracles #1) by Kester Grant

Imagine a story of the inner workings of Parisian criminal guilds wrapped up in a loose homage to Les Misérables and Jungle Book. That is exactly what Ms. Grant has pulled off with The Court of Miracles.

Our main character, Eponine (Nina for short), is a super-talented member of the Thieves Guild and is on a mission to both save her adopted sister Cosette (Ettie) from and destroy the Flesh Guild. Ettie has caught the eye of the Tiger (not a Survivor reference) who leads the Flesh Guild, and Nina is already chapped at him because he took her actual sister into service several years back.

What follows is some serious criminal high jinks, and a broad swath of literary liberty with the characters of Hugo’s Les Mis.

This YA gem was truly a joy to read. The absolute spark between Nina and Ettie’s personalities, coupled with Nina’s preternatural ability to get in and out of the most heinous of situations, seriously drives this novel in an entertaining rollick.

There is some time-hopping that occurs, but, in a tale such as this, that is absolutely to be expected. As the years progress, we see Nina becoming more mature and far more driven to her goals. One thing I greatly respected is that Nina is not always successful in her wild gambits: something I see less and less of these days from other authors dealing with their protagonist(s). In my mind, these trip-ups help painfully carve even more facets onto Nina’s vivacious personality.

While Ms. Kester took the liberty of setting up shop in a preexisting world, she does not shy from leaving her own mark on it. All the visuals, sounds, tastes, and smells of Louis XVII’s Paris — and a lot of the seedy underbelly — are laid out like a buffet for the senses, and, truthfully, a lot of it is quite unsavory.

This is a book worth picking up. Better yet, snag the audiobook which is masterfully executed by Ajjaz Awad and John Lee.

Ready Player Two (Ready Player One #2) by Ernest Cline

I have to preface this review by saying that I really really really enjoyed the intrigue, high tension, pop culture nerdery and all the oodles of easter eggs that Mr. Cline dropped into the first book. That was some prime world and character building.

This effort, however, just doesn’t get out of the gate, and I think the editorial team is who is ultimately to blame.

Ready Player Two opens with the High Five having taken over GSS and setting everything in motion to advance technology and provide a more realistic experience in the OASIS thanks to another discovery of some tech that Halliday created before his death.

Where everything starts to tumble is when we drop into what I like to call “poor Wade” mode. I’m not going to go into a lot of it because it was a complete drudge, but the most infuriating part of the entire first half of the book was the complete overuse of foreshadowing, and a total lack of action. This is what was most disappointing: Ready Player One was all about action and survival while Ready Player Two presents us an OASIS-addicted hermit with a shitty attitude and a rigorous workout regime.

In the second half of the book, however, we go back into quest mode and the reading becomes enjoyable again. Once again we have the pop culture mega-nerdery with tricky puzzles and strange quest fights, and all is right with the world. The problem is, half of the readers have already rage quit the book before getting to this halfway point.

Honestly, the first half of the book could have been summarized in just a couple of chapters. Hell, it could have all been done in an introduction; and a good editor would have pointed that out.

Ready Player Two is a huge case of an author overestimating the patience of his audience. I pray there is no Ready Player Three.

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

Imagine Harry Potter meets Battle Royale. Throw in a dash of The Cabin in the Woods and that is pretty much the core plot for A Deadly Education.

This novel follows the story of Galadriel, or El for short, and her experience at The Scholomance as an outcast and loner. The long and the short of it is that all the other students in the school — a place with no teachers and just slightly attached to the mortal dimension — think that El is an evil magician preying on the other students (as is the norm).

What follows is El being followed/befriended by the class do-gooder, Orion Lake. Orion has the penchant for being in the right place to save El, and a mess of other students, from the monsters that seem to always be randomly roaming the halls and grounds of The Scholomance.

The story in A Deadly Education is really one of trust, friendship, learning, and self-sufficience. El is a fantastically snarky character who really feels — up into this story which happens in the third year of her schooling — that she is pretty much totally alone going into the ordeal known as “graduation” at the end of the fourth year. Let’s just say a whole lot happens.

I rather enjoyed this book because it came from the perspective of an underdog who really had no aspirations of being anything else. El’s one focus is on methodical survival and that is her singular goal.

Kudos to Ms. Novik for writing a novel that builds a tiny world full of mysteries and horror along with some pretty strong bond-building and, gasp, friendship. I cannot wait for book two.

Ruthless Gods (Something Dark and Holy #2) by Emily A. Duncan

Lore is something that keeps me totally invested in a book. Give me a well thought out world where there is far much more going on than is in just the setting of the primary story, and we’ve got something. I’m not talking about the insane heights of world building like J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin does, but I find myself more sucked into a story where you get little hints and mentions of other lands, or random factoids that just traipse across the page because they can, and not because the are 100% germane to the story.

This is the sort of detail that has made the current two Something Dark and Holy books so enjoyable to read.

Wicked Saints had a fun little romp with some toyed at romance and political intrigue. Ruthless Gods is all nitty gritty. To be honest, I’m not sure there are many scenes where someone isn’t bleeding.

Ultimately, this epic-ness of a middle book really blows the lightness of the first one out of the water. There are definitely small gems of joy that pop up throughout the story, but, by and large, it really lives up to the “dark and holy” moniker of the series.

Nadya is running away from all magic, Serefin is pretty much being torn apart, and there is never any telling if it’s going to be Malachiasz or the Black Vulture who shows up to a conversation… Sometimes both.

I absolutely love the way magic is presented in this series: as not just a singular thing from a singular source. We have divine magic, blood magic, relic magic, and probably several other versions that we just haven’t had the opportunity to unveil. Nothing is easy in these stories (not even dying), and nothing is sacred or safe. Beautiful scenes open onto eldritch horrors, and not even Divinity is as it seems.

I cannot wait for, but am totally terrified by, what lies between the covers of book number three. Also, there just aren’t enough tales set in a Slavic setting.

By the way, I just wanted to throw it out there that I would absolutely buy a set of the “reference books” Ms. Duncan quotes in the epigraphs of each chapter. I feel like I really need them in my life.

Down World by Rebecca Phelps

This book was provided to me by NetGalley in return for a fair review

Imagine Stranger Things crossed with Back to the Future all tied together with teen angst and the guilt of loss and secrecy. That’s pretty much the premise of Down World.

This is the story of Marina, a girl who lost her brother to a train accident four years previously. She is starting her sophomore year at public school; having gone to private school previously.

As the story unfolds, we discover that the high school, formerly a military base, has portals to different planes deep in its bowels that people have been using for years to visit alternate realities. That’s where things start to get very interesting, and Marina’s world changes drastically.

Ms. Phelps does a great job at world building and character development in this quick read. The foibles of high school life, and the navigation of potential romance make the “normal” portions of this book seem very believable.

Where I was disappointed, however, were the leaps in trying to rush certain portions of the story along to get to the next waypoint. Concepts and situations were introduced, not really ever resolved, and that stuck with me. For me, there is a wide swath of the “Down World” story that would have benefited from a better introduction, or even just an in-story summary of the bigger situation. There were opportunities to expound on this, but it was a path just not taken.

Book Review: War Storm (Red Queen #4)

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I went on a binge of this series and thought I would review the entire story arc here in the “final” book (though I should probably have done this in the first book).

With an incredibly envy-inducing talent for worldbuilding, Ms. Aveyard perfectly sets the scene for these novels (and novellas!). This series, and War Storm in particular, has an amazing foundation of landscapes, history, cultures and conflict that draw the reader in and masterfully set the stage for the tale that is about to unfurl.

At it’s core, the Red Queen series is a story of class conflict, control, and societal woes. One wonderful thing about these books, and Ms. Aveyard in particular, was that there was no pandering to the reader for the pitiable plight of any of the characters or situations. Each happenstance or situation seemed to be designed to help strengthen resolve or establish a disparity.

With War Storm we are dropped right into what we are told is the final wrap-up of this saga. Conflict still ravages the lands, and even more divides are starting to show. There is almost more behind the scenes conniving as there is open war and conflict. I often found myself checking how much of the book I had left when I would run into yet another new dire situation that seemed impossible to resolve by the end of this finale.

If you have made it through Red Queen, Glass Sword, and King’s Cage you will definitely not be disappointed by War Storm. Does it wrap everything up in a nice little bow? Absolutely not. Does it satisfy the reader enough to leave these Kingdoms behind? Again, no. You will, though, burn through this page-turner and feel satisfied that there is plenty of world left for Ms. Aveyard to approach again if she chooses.

I definitely hope she does.