Tag Archives: genre: young adult

The Midnight Gardener by R.G. Thomas

The Midnight Gardener

The Midnight Gardener by R.G. Thomas

Series: The Town of Superstition, Book 1
Published by: Harmony Ink Press on November 12, 2015
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Thaddeus Cane’s mother died when he was a baby. He’s spent as much of his life as he can remember with his father, moving so frequently from town to town that he’s never really made any friends. But when they arrive in Superstition, Thaddeus hopes they might be in a place where they can stay for a while.

One evening, Thaddeus looks out his window and sees a young man tending to the garden next door. There’s something intriguing about him, and Thaddeus finds himself paying attention whenever he sees the man out there–though he’s curiously only out at night. And when Thaddeus finds himself running from a wild animal a few nights later, he crawls over the fence and into the presence of Teofil. From there, things begin to get really strange and Thaddeus soon learns there is much more to his life and his history than he ever could have imagined.

I love young adult fantasy. Toss in a light m/m element, and I’ll read it up as easily as drinking a cup of tea. While this one is a bit slow in the beginning (though it’s necessary for readers to connect to Thaddeus), it picks up quickly. And the backstory is definitely very interesting.

I look forward to the next book in this series. I need to know what happens between Thaddeus and Teofil, and I also need to know if Thaddeus and crew are successful in their quest.

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

An Accident of Stars

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

Series: The Manifold Worlds, Book 1
Published by: Angry Robot Books on August 2, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Saffron Coulter is a typical teenage girl dealing with the things teenage girls, well, deal with. Except she’s stuck in a school system where the “boys will be boys” mentality means her and her classmates have to put up with some really rough behavior. Which is why Saffron is taken aback when the mysterious Gwen Vere stands up for her to one of the biggest bullies in the school. Gwen tells her she’s looking for a job at the school. Saffron is intrigued and wonders if someone like Gwen could give her hope for change.

When Saffron learns Gwen has been spotted behind the school, she rushes to find her and thank her. What she finds is something she never could have imagined. She comes upon Gwen running into what looks like a portal of some kind. Throwing caution to the wind, Saffron follows–something that could lead to great adventure or be the biggest mistake of her life.

Saffron finds herself in Kena, one of several other worlds besides her own. And while Kena is full of magic, it’s not a happy fantasy realm. Its leader, Vex Leodon, misled people to come to power and is nothing short of a tyrant. But it just so happens that Gwen is part of a group dedicated to bringing him down. Having followed Gwen into Kena, Saffron has little choice but to take a side and hope she can find a way back home. But when the opportunity to get back presents itself, will she take it? Or will Kena prove so inviting she will choose to stay there forever?

I know that describing a book as “fun” isn’t very specific, but that’s really how I have to start this one. I enjoyed being thrust into the world of Kena with its people and its history. Foz Meadows has done an outstanding job building and presenting this world to readers. The rich backstory and the political dynamics make for a strong setting and compelling plot.

Of course, I have to also acknowledge a well-written young adult science fiction/fantasy story that doesn’t revolve around the female protagonist’s love interests or include a love triangle. Have we finally moved on from that trope? Let’s hope so.

What I would say I most love about this story is the strong character development. As I went through the story, there weren’t many moments when I found myself questioning a character’s behavior. And those moments were shortly answered with a bit more history of a character or relationship dynamics.

I definitely recommend giving this one a read.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Series: Harry Potter, Book 8
Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books on July 31, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

The Boy Who Lived. The Chosen One. The One Who Defeated the Dark Lord. One might think that Harry Potter is fearless. He’s up for any challenge. But no one told him that moving on, raising a family, and trying to have a normal life would be more challenging than anything he’s faced before.

And one of the biggest challenges for Harry is his son. Albus Severus and his dad have never really clicked. The connection between them doesn’t feel the same as the connection Harry has with James. And when Albus is sorted into Slytherin and becomes friends with none other than Scorpius Malfoy, the divide only grows wider. A divide further complicated by the rumors that Scorpius may not be Draco’s son. A divide further complicated by Harry’s scar acting up. And a divide further complicated by a centaur’s vision of a darkness around Albus.

For Albus, living in his father’s shadow is challenging. There are expectations. And it’s always made very clear when he doesn’t meet them. But there’s got to be a way for him to do something to break beyond that, right? Something he can do that makes him stand out on his own? And with Scorpius at his side, he’s sure he can accomplish anything.

I’ll start by saying that if you’re not a big reader of plays, this one might be a little challenging. They don’t read like prose. They’re not meant to. And you often have to fill in some of the action and internal monologues based on your own reading of the characters. That’s just part of dramatic works as casual reading.

The story here is engaging. I enjoyed getting a glimpse back into the wizarding world. You’ll find your old favorites and even some new characters that are a part of the next generation. And the flashbacks to Harry’s childhood that were left out of the original novels were also very telling.

Is this another epic Harry Potter adventure? No. But I don’t think it’s meant to be. It’s not a seven-novel saga with a major arc. It’s a single story, focusing on the future of the wizarding world, and reminding us that the past can come back to haunt us in ways we never imagined. And those ways are exponentially more when magic is involved.

I’ve seen some comments online to the effect of “I’ve read better fanfiction.” And while I don’t want to get into a whole debate in this review, I don’t see how that is necessarily a standard of what makes for a good story. For one, it diminishes fanfiction as something “less than” quality published work. And I’ve read many fanfics that were better than some published work. And secondly, what’s the point of the comparison? Just because you’ve personally read something you think is “better” than something else, it doesn’t–by default–make that something else bad. When I give a book a three or four star rating, I don’t say “But I’ve read 15 five star books that were better so this is awful.” Context is important, and I think it’s something that we as readers and reviewers need to remember. /soapbox

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, pick this up. If nothing else, you’ll get a few hours of entertainment and enlightenment out of it. And you’ll get to go back to Hogwarts one last time…

 

Haffling by Caleb James

Haffling

Haffling by Caleb James

Series: The Haffling, Book 1
Published by: DSP Publications on January 5, 2016 (2nd Ed.)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Sixteen-year-old Alex Nevus lives a challenging life for a teenager. Living with a schizophrenic mother, he does all he can to keep things together for his younger sister, Alice. He will do everything he can to keep his family together. And while he manages, it’s always just by a thread. And he tries hard to ignore the fairy that he hallucinates, worried he might end up just like his mother someday.

When Alex’s mother disappears on the day of a court hearing, he knows he has to find her. And his quest to find her takes him to a strange place–the land of the Fey. What he learns there helps explain some of what’s going on in his life, but it stirs up more questions than answers. And in the land of the Fey, all questions come with a cost.

Alex learns there might be a bigger threat to his family than the court system. To save them, he’ll need to find a way to stop May, queen of the Fey. And it won’t be easy.

Complicating things is the fact that the boy of Alex’s dreams, Jerod Haynes, just started talking to him. As much as Alex has longed for a relationship, Jerod’s timing is terrible. Or is it actually the best timing ever?

I really enjoyed this fun and action-packed story. Once things get moving here, they move quickly and stay that way right up until the end. There’s a rich history between the Fey lands and the lands of the humans that the author has developed. And there are some fun references to other stories that certainly made me smile.

This is the start of a series and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

The Bridge by Rachel Lou

The Bridge

The Bridge by Rachel Lou

Published by: Harmony Ink Press on June 2, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Everett Hallman is a witch, working with his grandfather to investigate the paranormal and help lost souls cross over to the other side. When a mysterious feeling leads him to a local martial arts studio, he’s surprised at the amount of power he finds there. It’s a place worth investigating. But the source of the power remains unknown to him.

In another surprising twist, Everett learns he is a Bridge Master. Bridge Masters are special witches tasked with guarding the bridges between worlds. They also are the only witches who can freely cross the bridges and enter the spirit world. As a young witch who is still coming into his power, it’s just a bit overwhelming.

And he’s still trying to figure out what’s going on at the martial arts studio. And what exactly is going on with his new friend he met there. Especially since Everett wouldn’t mind at all if he became more than just a friend…

Throw some well-written young adult urban fantasy at me and I’m happy. And this book is exactly that. It’s a unique world and story, and I found myself drawn in quite quickly. And there were a few twists that I absolutely did not see coming.

Everett goes through quite a journey in the short span of this book. So many things around him are changing. And he is learning new things about himself. Despite this personal growth and challenge, he holds strong to his purpose, even when it might put him in danger.

I’m not sure if the author has any plans for more, but I wouldn’t mind reading another book or two set in this world.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Chalcedony by Constance Burris

Chalcedony

Chalcedony: Book Two of the Everleaf Series by Constance Burris

Series: The Everleaf Series, Book 2
Published By: Constance Burris on April 20, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

After helping Elizabeth escape the fey realm, Coal finds that he’s stuck in the human world. Worse than that, he’s been arrested and placed in detention for being a party to Elizabeth’s kidnapping. The government agent who arrested him is willing to let him go, but he has a condition. He wants Coal to give up Chalcedony as Elizabeth’s kidnapper. It turns out taking a human to the fey realm without their consent violates a long-standing treaty between the humans and the fey. But although Coal already betrayed Chaledony by bringing Elizabeth home, he’s wary of saying anything more.

All Coal really wants is to return to the fey realm. It’s all he’s known and he considers it to be his home. But getting back there isn’t as easy as it might seem. And Coal will need to enlist some unlikely allies in his quest. Along the way, though, he learns the truth about his past and it turns everything on its head.

Things aren’t all great in the fey realm, either. Chalcedony enlists Queen Tasla to help confront Queen Isis for allowing free traffic through her door. One of the jobs of the queens is to ensure their doors are properly guarded. To do otherwise is ground for other queens to forcibly remove you from power. And it looks like Chalcedony and Tasla will need to do just that. But Isis isn’t going to go down without a fight.

With Coal’s shocking truths revealed in the human world and war brewing in the fey realm, this book is a game changer for everyone involved.

I really enjoyed Coal when I read it a while ago. There’s a uniqueness to the world of this story. It eschews many of the YA fantasy tropes, and it does so quite well. I never once thought to myself “Oh, yep, there’s that thing we keep seeing in every new YA book.” The author brings a a refreshing voice and a vibrant set of characters to life on the page.

There’s also a great balance of action and character development in this book. Readers learn more about the history of this world, but you don’t have to wade through chapter after chapter of exposition to get it. And, as a special treat, we find out what happened to everyone at the end of Black Beauty–and there are some definite major twists that came out of that.

I’m definitely looking forward to the next book!

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Superhero by Eli Easton

Superhero

Superhero by Eli Easton

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on July 24, 2013
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Jordan Carson met Owen Nelson in the second grade. Ever since, the two have been inseparable. There’s always been something about Owen that held Jordan’s fascination. And as they grew older, Jordan learned exactly what that was. Jordan’s gay and Owen is the object of his affection. There’s a few problems with that, though. For one, Owen is straight. He’s also a jock, the star of the wrestling team. And they live in a small town in Wisconsin. It’s not the most open or accepting sort of community.

Although Owen doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that Jordan is gay, there’s still a strain on their friendship. Jordan wants more from Owen, even though he knows Owen can’t give it to him. The heart wants what the heart wants. And sometimes even when one knows something in their head, the heart won’t listen. So while Jordan is happy that he won’t lose his best friend by coming out, it’s a bittersweet happiness. Because he’s just not sure he can stay close to Owen while knowing they can never be more than friends.

As someone who grew up in a small midwestern town, there are many elements of this story that rang true for me. The author has done a great job of capturing the environment where this all takes place. And that adds a real richness to the story. And the characters are great. It’s not hard to like and empathize with both Jordan and Owen. Owen comes across a bit larger than life at times, but that’s coming from Jordan’s perspective. Knowing how Jordan feels, it makes perfect sense in the context of the story.

There are some expected twists here just by the nature of the story. And there are some unexpected twists as well. But it is a rather enjoyable one to read.

I’ve given this a young adult label because of the ages of the characters and the issues they face. I should note that there is some sexual content, just to be clear and upfront.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Series: Red Queen, Book 1
Published by: HarperTeen on February 10, 2015
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Mare Barrow is resigned to a bleak fate. She’s a Red (meaning she bleeds red and has no magical abilities) and has no skills to offer, aside from being an adept pickpocket. She is able to provide for her family using that tactic, though she knows her mother isn’t exactly fond of who she gets the things she brings home. But it doesn’t matter, since she knows it will be less than a year before she is conscripted and will go to fight a war being waged by the Slivers (the ruling class, who, yes, actually bleed silver and possess magical abilities) with Reds as their (often unwilling soldiers). But after Mare chances upon an odd young man one evening who gets her a job at the palace, everything changes. It is here that she (and the Silvers) discover that she’s no ordinary Red. In fact, she’s so extraordinary that her mere existence could threaten the entire balance of their society. Mare quickly finds herself wrapped up in the world of the Silvers, still clinging to her Red heritage, and not really knowing which way to turn. But in a power-based society where people will step over each other to get to the top, there may not be any direction that is entirely safe.

Although there is the female-YA-protagonist-with-some-romantic-subplot syndrome going on here, I did enjoy this book. The world that’s been created here, the major players, and the sharp twists and turns this one takes made it difficult for me to put this book down. It’s easy to get lost in Mare’s world. The writing is excellent, and I find myself looking forward to the next book in the series. This would probably be a five-star recommendation from me if it wasn’t for the subplot mentioned above. While it didn’t overtake the story in the ways it often does in YA lately, it’s overdone to the point that its existence in a book gives me pause at this point. If you are like me and put off by that trope, I still suggest giving this a chance as I think there are more enough redeeming qualities to make up for it in this one.

Red Queen at the HarperTeen website

Finding the Sky by A.M. Burns

Finding the Sky

Book Info

Title: Finding the Sky
Author: A.M. Burns
Published: February 11, 2016
Pages: 180
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Publisher’s Website: link
Rating: ★★★

Review

Dillon Smith doesn’t live in the best part of Dallas. And he’s looking forward to the end of the school year, so he can spend the summer away from the gangs and the classmates who are pressuring him to join one. Even though he doesn’t have a lot of friends, a gang’s just not something he wants to be a part of. But when he stumbles into the gang’s activities, he finds himself being treated as guilty for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Though he’s never been in trouble, his mother doesn’t believe him. Dillon’s uncle, Bryan, offers to take him for the summer, giving him the opportunity to spend time at Bryan’s house away from the city. Dillon isn’t jumping for joy at the prospect, but he gets along with his uncle and at least he won’t have to worry about any run-ins with the gang for the rest of the summer.

On the way to Bryan’s house, they come across an injured hawk along the side of the road. To Dillon’s surprise, Bryan suggests that they take the bird with him–his neighbors run a wildlife rehab, and their specialty just happens to be birds. This is just the start of Dillon’s journey and the whole new world of possibilities that opens up to him. Over the course of the summer, perhaps in having the space to do so for the first time, he discovers more about himself and about life than he ever could have imagined. And his fast friendship with the son of Bryan’s neighbors, Scott, proves to be a whole new experience all its own.

A coming-of-age story with some unique twists. Too many times those stories where young people question and come to terms with their sexuality are filled with pining and crushing over the hottest jock in school, harsh bullying, and overnight epiphanies accompanied with sudden confidence. While these are all realistic situations, it’s great to read a book that looks at different challenges that a young man in this situation might face. Dillon’s journey is one that definitely has its own challenges–and some of those are heartbreaking–but his story struck me as both fresh and authentic. A great LGBT YA title!

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

sword of summer

Book Info

Title: The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1)
Author: Rick Riordan
Published: October 6, 2015
Pages: 528
Publisher: Disney Hyperion Books
Publisher’s Website: link
Rating: ★★★

Review

Magnus Chase has lived alone on the streets of Boston since his mother’s death. The streets were his only option, as his mother told him never to trust his uncle, making him wary of his family. But when he learns that his cousin and others are out searching for him, he decides he needs to find answers. He sneaks into his uncle’s mansion and is caught. But that’s not the worst of it. His uncle tells him he’s the son of a Norse god. It’s almost laughable to Magnus at first, until they’re chased down by a group of fire giants and Magnus has to make the choice between himself and innocent bystanders. And his choice is one that only sets a whole series of other events in motion…

I honestly devour everything that Rick Riordan writes. As a lifelong fan of mythology and an avid reader of fantasy, these books always hit so many buttons with me that I just can’t seem to ever put them down. And this kickoff to a new series–though with some connections to his other work nicely woven in–is no exception at all. Riordan has a way of weaving in the existing mythology that doesn’t require one to be very knowledgeable, but it’s also clear that you’re reading his unique story and not just having the myths rehashed in various ways. Magnus’s story takes some unexpected turns very early on, which is something that has me really looking forward to where this series is going to go as it develops.