Category Archives: Young adult

Alina: A Song for the Telling by Malve von Hassell

Alina: A Song for the Telling is a wonderfully told story set in the Christian court of Jerusalem during the Crusades.

During his lifetime, Alina and Milos de Florac’s father, Guy, had been far more interested in his family and music than estate management, and the holdings, as well as the retainers that depended on its success, had all suffered due to its neglect. And when his beloved wife, Beatriou, and eldest daughter, Maria, tragically succumbed to the sweating sickness, he sank into immovable despair, and things only got worse. Not long after, he was found drowned, a suspected suicide, and his brother, Garsanc, and his wife, Marci, arrived, determined to set things right and repair the damage to the family name.

The brother and sister felt increasingly stifled, trapped under their new guardianship. Milos was constantly in trouble for one scrape or another. He was young and undisciplined; their father had been lax with the boy’s education in estate management much as he had been. Nor were there the funds to send Milos as a page to the household of a knight where he could learn and trained as a squire before returning home to take up his duties when the time came.

Although bright and musically-talented like her father, Alina was not considered a great beauty, and lacking an attractive dowry, her prospects for an advantageous marriage were dim. She dreamed of becoming a trobairitz, a female troubadour, traveling the country, perhaps the world, playing her lute, and singing songs of her own devising.  She became alarmed by the parade of unsuitable men her aunt keeps thrusting in her path, and the threat of the convent starts to look more desirable.

As the tension at home mounted, the siblings formed an escape plan: they would join one of the parties of knights, merchants, and pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land on the pretense of praying for their father’s endangered soul. Aunt Marci and Uncle Garsanc agree, glad to have the pair out of sight for a while as they continue to mend the damage to the estate all the years of neglect had wrought. Uncle Garsanc knows of a group preparing to depart soon and led by a reputable knight from right there in Provence, Baltazar de Aurignac. With money from Uncle Garsanc in their pockets and Alina’s lute carefully wrapped for the journey, the young brother and sister set off for Lyon to join their new companions and head off on the trip of a lifetime.

Author Malve von Hassell has written a wonderfully immersive tale set in 12th century France and Jerusalem. Set during the time of the Crusades, the long journey by horseback is interesting and exciting and so descriptive that I felt I was right there with Alina and Milos. The arrival in Jerusalem was full of sights and smells, dust and heat, color and antiquity. There are mystery and political intrigue galore that kept me turning the pages as I soaked up the atmosphere the author so skillfully and effortlessly crafted. ALINA is historical fiction, so real people and events are included in the story, and fact and fiction fit together flawlessly. It is amazing to me thinking about the massive amount of research this author did in completing this wonderful story. This realization only came to me later after putting the book down because I never felt like I was reading history; the story was so lively and entertaining.

I enjoyed that the book was told from Alina’s point of view, and the thoughts and feelings of the young teenager felt true and natural. I also liked that she’d learned how to behave properly from her mother and had enough self-discipline to control her emotions and reactions to how she was treated at the court in Jerusalem. I felt this enabled her in her role as an onlooker of the various political schemes and drama. Well-behaved and a proper lady, she was useful yet overlooked and dismissed at times, allowing her the freedom to move about without being missed.

I recommend ALINA: A SONG FOR THE TELLING for readers of historical fiction, especially those that would enjoy the 12th century setting of the Crusades, France, and the history of the Christian court in Jerusalem. The book is suitable for YA and adult readers, and I could see this as a read-aloud book for middle grades and younger and something the entire family would enjoy.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author through France Book Tours.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Historical fiction, Middle-Grades, Young adult

The New World (The New World, #1) by Chad Wannamaker

Great beginning, an engaging story, but I was left wondering where’s the rest of the book?

When the small spacecraft had crashed into the lake, Bob Mackey and his brother-in-law, Dan, had gone to see if there were survivors and if they could help. What they found was a dying alien mother protecting her child. With her last breaths, she entrusted the small, furry female to Bob’s care, calling her Tammy. It isn’t until 11 years later that humans will make contact with others of her race – the jZav’Etch, taller, humanoid cat-like beings.

Bob took the young creature home to his remote station and acreage in the wilderness of Juniper, the planet he called home. Tammy became a part of the family, just one of Bob and his wife, Deborah’s, three children. Time passed. She grew up along with the others and is seen as one of the Mackey family, and one of them, by the close-knit community of people colonizing Juniper, a frontier planet outside of the Conglomerated Planets. She’s started to notice boys, and they’ve begun to notice her as well.

One weekend, she and her friends are out beyond the family’s station helping her older brother, Mike, build his own place, which he’ll eventually move to and start his own business and family. They see another spacecraft go down in a wild, hard-to-reach location. The young people make their way to the crash site where they find a heavily-damaged ship and one critically injured survivor – a jZav’Etch like Tammy! When communications and other utilities are knocked out and shuttles coming to their assistance are shot down, they realize the planet is under attack by whoever was after the newcomer and who are now after them!

What to say about The New World? The writing is smooth and easy to read, but there just wasn’t enough of it. The reader is left hanging at a waypoint in the story without a truly compelling reason to read further.

I enjoyed the story, the characters, and the setting. I was most definitely and immediately engaged by what I read. In fact, I was quickly reminded of John Marsden’s YA Tomorrow series, which is one of my favorites. But, frankly, the story needed to be fleshed out with a little more detail on the characters, the world-building, and the background situation. We don’t know the reason for or the exact nature of the peril the characters and their world are in. I felt we only had a superficial acquaintance with most of the main characters and their lives when the book ended. The story seems to just stop – not in cliffhanger fashion but as if the book’s last half was cut off.

I have also struggled to categorize this book. When the series is further along, I might have a better idea, but I think it will have a wide appeal – adults, YA, and middle-grades. It honestly has the feel of an epic middle-age series (except for the few swear words, drinking, and some frank mentions of sexual activity.) I can see this as a great read-aloud book. It also has a YA feel with the theme of searching for one’s identity and because of the main characters’ ages and life stages.

I recommend The New World, with reservations, to readers that enjoy a YA SciFi story without a lot of discussion of science and hardware. I would also recommend to friends that they wait until at least the next book in the series was available before giving it a read. Having said this, I will be following this author so that I can buy this next book to see what happens next.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

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Filed under Book Reviews, Sci-Fi, Young adult

Edge of Light (Edge of Light, #1) by Jay Antani

Heart-stopping at times, heart-breaking at others, Edge of Light is a real action-adventure!

Dev Harrison and his two best friends, Abby and Conner, are in the bleachers watching the game when a meteor-like object suddenly streaks across the sky, impacting the Earth in the near distance. Everyone is stunned and disoriented when a bright light explodes around them and a massive BOOM! erupts. Dev and Abby become separated from Conner, but eventually, all three escape the ensuing chaos at the field and make it safely back to their respective homes. But this is just the beginning of the end of the world as they know it.

Soon strange, violent sick people begin showing up at the local hospital where Dev’s mother works as a doctor keeping her working around the clock. Dev is desperately worried about his mother; it’s been just the two of them since his physicist father mysteriously disappeared a decade earlier when Dev was only a child.

Now Dev is having confusingly realistic dreams of his father. In it, he shows Dev the location of a mysterious box hidden in the mountains near the vacation cabin they visited as a family before his disappearance.

On his own and unable to see or talk to his mother, Dev sets out with his two friends in his father’s old Outback to see if there is any truth to the dream, hoping it holds the answers to what happened to his father all those years ago. But with the sickness spreading through Los Angeles and the populace beginning to panic, and strange alien-like creatures roaming the countryside, the three friends’ trip to put Dev’s dream to rest becomes a lot more than a simple buddy road trip.

What an adventure! From its exciting opening scene to the closing pages, I was hooked and stayed up way past bedtime to read as much and as long as I could.

The three friends, Dev Harrison, Abby Mendes, and Conner, play nicely off one another, and I was utterly invested in their quest to follow Dev’s reoccurring dream about his father. Dev, the main character in the story’s present time, is smart and a good kid with just the right amount of teenage insecurity and vulnerability that has you rooting for him throughout the book. Conner, the buddy, smart and cynical and sassy, doesn’t ever succumb to being the third wheel to the Dev-Abby relationship, and that’s nice. I especially liked that the author developed Abby to be an independent “force-to-be-reckoned-with” young woman. She’s an able member of the trio, no Shrinking Violet, waiting to be saved. She was the one doing much of the saving in almost all instances. She adds positively to the story’s advancement but that it felt natural and in character for her to do so.

I enjoyed that this story had several tropes that I love in apocalyptic/dystopian tales: the teenaged, strong yet vulnerable protagonists, alien influences, humans transformed into not-quite-humans, everyday people transformed into crazy, grasping maniacs, evil master corporations, and government corruption. Each element merges into and supports the others seamlessly to create a great action-filled reading experience. (And this is just book 1, there’s more to come!)

The creatures or “crawlers” are a frightening element as they creep around the periphery of everything and everywhere Dev, Conner, and Abby go and do. They seem to always be just out of sight but waiting to jump out and attack, keeping tensions high and nerves taut. Scarier still, though, is their encounter with the fine folk of “Freetown.” I held my breath as I quickly turned pages while they were there. I guess I thought I could “help” get them through town faster that way!

And if you’re a reader that likes the hardcore science of a science fiction story, this book has you covered. Numerous topics are touched on, but this is done in such an understandable way that it will satisfy the nerd inside each of us without bogging down a great adventure or driving off a reader that likes a softer sci-fi feel.

I also highly recommend this book to readers that enjoy dystopian, post-apocalyptic tales featuring young adult protagonists. I can’t wait for the next book in the series!

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review of Edge of Light by Jay Antani for Reedsy Discovery!

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E by Fraser Small

E

A great new young adult post-apocalyptic story with a surprising twist!

Alexandria E. Monroe, “E” to her friends and family, woke up that morning expecting a school day like any other. But as she headed downstairs for breakfast, her mother wasn’t in the kitchen or anywhere in the house. Guessing she was making a quick trip to the shops, E settled down to a bowl of cereal and didn’t worry about it. However, as their regular time to leave for school came and still no sign of her mother, she felt the first little niggling of worry begin, especially when she found her mom’s cellphone left behind in the living room. Too far to walk to school, she was left to hang out at home and watch some television, but then the power went out. When her best friend never contacted her to find out why she wasn’t in school, she really began to wonder what was going on. No one had posted to social media since the day before. No one: the friend, the police, nor the fire department answered their phones. E fell asleep that night on the stairs watching the door and waiting for her mother to return.

When she couldn’t stand not knowing what was going on any longer, E ventured out of the house and headed down to the village. For the first time, she noticed how quiet it was. Everywhere. Not a car, a plane, no noise. That’s where she realized she was completely and utterly alone.

E is a great new young adult post-apocalyptic story with a surprising twist. It follows the main character, E, over a three year period starting when she’s a young 13-year-old to just after her 16th birthday. I thought the author did a great job portraying her as a typical but sheltered teen as she goes through so many stages of loss, grief, and other emotions all on her own. Of course, she changes over the course of the book under the weight of this loss and apocalyptic event, and she uses what talents she has to survive when everyone she knows and loves goes missing. I liked how she went to the local library to research how to do whatever she needed to have done. I liked that the author chose for her to have a hearing impairment, which emphasized how London’s ambient sounds changed so drastically with the removal of human activity.

The action is set in London and the surrounding areas, and I enjoyed the incorporation of recognizable places and things in the story. Even small things like the inclusion of the Oyster card for the turnstiles made this more realistic. Seeing what happens to these known places has its own poignancy.

Because there are no people for E to interact with, the author relies on flashbacks and a series of notes from her fun-loving Uncle Robert to skillfully move the story forward. Animals take on a significant role in E’s new reality. As I read, I couldn’t help but compare what was going on with E emotionally to how people are reacting to the current COVID-19 safeguards, many of whom have found themselves in isolated circumstances, or at least with much-reduced contact with friends, family, or coworkers. As E mentions in the book, her ability to deal with her total lack of others may have been her strength, she was singularly prepared to survive this better than anyone she knew due to her isolation from schoolmates as a child with a disability.

I highly recommend E by Fraser Small to readers of young adult post-apocalyptic fiction. It is well-written, easy-to-read, and held my attention until the very last page. Although I didn’t agree with every choice the main character makes, I certainly understood and rooted for her every exciting step of the way. There is a twist to the story, unlike similar stories I’ve read, and it adds to the enormity of the story’s vast unknown.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an ARC from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

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Minor Mage, a novella by T. Kingfisher

Minor Mage

Up until now, 12-year-old Oliver has lived a fairly peaceful, if not exactly normal, life with his mother, a retired mercenary, in the quaint village of Loosestrife. But as the village’s wizard when Loosestrife experiences a prolonged drought the villagers expect him to do something about it. However, even though he is the village mage, he is still very young and still trying to figure out magic spells. He had been apprenticed to the village’s previous wizard and although the man was very kind, he was also very old and passed away before fully completing Oliver’s training.

With his mother away visiting his older sister and new baby and armed with the three spells he’s mastered, Oliver and his faithful familiar, an armadillo named Eglamarck, set out for the distant Rainblade Mountains to find the rumored keepers of rain, the mysterious Cloud Herders, and to save his village.

Minor Mage is a great story with genuinely likeable characters, witty dialogue, lots of action, exciting obstacles to overcome, and bad guys to foil. I read this one is one sitting and loved it. The story is suitable for both adult and juvenile audiences, and may be one that would keep even the most reluctant reader coming back and turning pages. (There are short, easily completed chapters, too.) I highly recommend this book for readers that enjoy fantasy quest stories and tales of magic-infused journeys, child or adult.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Middle-Grades, Young adult

The Key of Astrea by Nicholas Marson

The Key of Astrea

Jenny Tripper is barely keeping it together: an outsider at school, a ghost only she can see a constant companion, her 17th birthday coming up, and her mother, at the end stages of cancer, has come home for her final days. Living with her Aunt Bea, her mom’s sister, Jenny helps with expenses by reading tarot cards in her aunt’s shop, with the bleak expectation that she will take over the meager living when her aunt passes away. On her birthday, she receives a strange and mysterious puzzle box from her only friend, Michael, but before she can realize its solution her mother dies and she puts it away. Returning to it days later, she finds herself in a parallel universe where the mental anomalies she’d experienced back home were now revealed to be gifts: special powers she needs to learn to understand and control in order to save the Selkans, an alien race being hunted and enslaved by the current galactic rulers, the Tyr.

Jack Spriggan is also just barely scraping by. Previously, in his home star system of Balt, Jack had been an accomplished space fighter pilot but when the First Galactic War was over Balt had been required to dismantle their space fleet, and Jack found himself without his career. Now, in his small workshop on Lan Station, he keeps a roof over his head and food on the table by repairing anything mechanical that come his way. When his friend, Hocco, approaches him to make some REAL money piloting his restored Harbinger spacecraft, the Celestial Strider, he is reluctant at best. Jack is committed to staying on the right side of the law and away from the rebels hiding and running from the Tyr, the peacekeepers and victors of the First Galactic War. But the temptation proves too much and off he goes, not realizing that Hocco’s body has actually been possessed by one of the worst of the Tyr, Admiral Vae Victus himself, and the admiral is hot on the trail of the escaped Selkans.

With elements of fantasy and science fiction, adventure and romance, The Key of Astrea is one of the most entertaining stories I’ve read in a long time, keeping me reading way late into the evening. The story is fast-paced covering a lot of ground, literally planets and parallel universes, in a short span of time. A number of great characters populate its pages. Besides Jenny and Jack, there are a host of good guys, bad guys, and those we’re not quite sure of at times, well defined, and used to build a really good, satisfying story.

Besides the excitement, this is also a coming-of-age story for Jenny and some of her fellow recruits at Cabin, Inc., as they come to terms with their special gifts which, back home, had all been seen as handicaps, and as she deals with the loss of her mother and the discovery of a sister she never knew about. There is a teaser or two at the end that, hopefully, open up the possibility for a sequel. I give this one four of five stars and recommend it to readers who enjoy young adult science fiction/fantasy stories.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

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Chardelia Foss and the River of Fear (The Danny Canterbury Tales, Book 1) by Dominic Jericho

Chardelia

Danny Canterbury and his friends are fourth year students at St. Oliver Plunkett’s on the northeast coast of England. They’ve been together, for the most part, since childhood but as adolescence dawned they’ve begun to view each other as more than playmates; they’ve started to pair off as couples, break up, and grow up. But something else is different at school this year, more than a feeling of change, and when one of their teachers, Professor Woodbridge, is murdered that is just the start of a growing feeling of menace.

Danny, Tim, and Amanita comprise the staff of the school newspaper, The Oracle, and they decide to investigate and report the truth behind Woodbridge’s death when the police don’t seem to be getting anywhere. And when more teachers are killed, rather than being scared off, the trio become more determined than ever to get to the bottom of the evil that has infiltrated their school.

I listened to the audio version of this book as well as followed along in the Kindle edition. Numerous reviews praised this particular narrator of the audiobook but I found her very difficult to follow initially. I had to start over a couple of times (the reason I eventually grabbed the Kindle edition) because I was unable to get accustomed to her accent. After I became comfortable with her though, I enjoyed the various inflections she used for different characters. However, there were so many mispronounced words!

Rather than let a difficult narration completely color my view of this story (seriously, I was ready to throw in the towel), I picked up the Kindle version which helped comprehension and focus immensely. The book read better than it sounded, and it was good. It felt like a genuine look into teen and school life. The deaths of the teachers were mysterious and puzzling. I didn’t see the cause or resolution coming at all. Despite the title, the story focuses on Danny Canterbury. The “River of Fear” doesn’t enter into it until almost 80% into the book. My initial impression before reading the book was that this was going to be a middle-grade story; it is not. I saw later in one online source that this is the “Adult Edition,” and it is. There are grown-up issues and situations. I will definitely be reading the next book in the series, and I recommend this one for readers that enjoy teen coming-of-age stories that also include action, adventure, and paranormal overtones.

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Burden of Truth (After the Green Withered, #2) by Kristin Ward

Burden of truth

In Book 1, After the Green Withered, Enora and her partner, Springer, discovered that the Company was conducting experiments with human genetics to create a new human race – to replace the current one. Building from here, Book 2, Burden of Truth, Enora comes to realize that her childhood friend (and now, her commander), Bram, has sent her on specific missions to open her eyes and mind to what the Company has been going to the barely surviving population of what was once the United States: keeping resources back and giving the best to the privileged few.

When she and Springer are uncovered as assisting the resistance, they flee to the nearest group’s underground headquarters hoping to aid the cause all they can. In retaliation, everyone that Enora loves, her parents, her friend Safa, even Bram, are killed by the Company or members of the resistance who never forgave her for things that happened when she was on the other side. Then Enora and Springer discover that the motives are not as pure on the side of the Resistance as they believed.

Exciting twists and turns lead up to a devastatingly climactic ending. I liked the dark nature of the story and the characters were portrayed realistically. There is a growing romance between Enora and Springer that developed slowly and in a natural fashion in my opinion. And other thoughts and reactions by the main characters seemed in line. I thought the ending was perfect…. I didn’t like that that was how it was but I thought it couldn’t realistically end any other way!

Recommended for YA readers that enjoy dystopian tales.

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Before the Fall (After the Fall #4) by Charlie Dalton

Before the Fall

In Before the Fall, a prequel novel to the After the Fall trilogy, author Charlie Dalton tells the story of “the Fall” of humankind when the Earth was peppered with a deadly virus via meteorites.

It was time for the Perseid meteor shower and people were fascinated by the chunks of space rock that fell to Earth across every land mass picking them up, collecting them, selling them, and, generally passing them around as curiosities. The virus the rocks carried wasn’t detected for weeks and by the time it was discovered, massive numbers of people had already been infected. The virus spread quickly, unlike anything ever seen before, and those that were impacted turned into mindless, rage-filled, monsters that attacked everyone and anyone biting, tearing, and eating their flesh.

The President of the United States (as well as other heads of states across the globe) gathered military experts and scientists (including his best friend, Dr. Graham Beck) to stop the spread of the virus and the resulting destruction. But, it was already too late. With time running out for humanity, the strategies turned from a cure to a weapon to fight the green-lit satellite that keeps circling in the atmosphere above.

Before the Fall is Dr. Beck’s narrative and tells of the creation of the diary which had been hinted at in the series novels, and it does not disappoint. It lays out the sequence of events that led to the circumstances that existed at the time of the first book in the trilogy, and is a nice addition to the series. Dr. Beck, not a very likeable character previously, is definitely shown in a different, more sympathetic light. As with the entire series, I recommend this book to readers that enjoy young adult, post-apocalyptic stories.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic, Horror, Young adult

The Covenant (After the Fall #3) by Charlie Dalton

Covenant

 

Book 3 of the After the Fall series returns the reader to Dr. Beck and what’s going on in “The City.” In Book 2, the City had been breached by the Rages as Donny and Jamie’s father, Donald, lay comatose in a hospital bed. Dr. Beck had tricked the boys and their friends, Lucy and Fatty, into getting on the hyper-loop underground transport and sent them to Denver City and the massive cannon and rocket that were built there to fight the Bug spaceship. The children had successfully made it there and had been launched into space enroute to dock with the multi-national Mothership.

Meanwhile, Dr. Beck is just able to lock down his section of the City when Donald starts to come back to consciousness. He works around the clock to heal the former commune leader to the point where they can follow after and be reunited with the children. Beck doesn’t tell Donald the truth that the children are headed to Denver City in order to blast into space to fight the Bugs, and slows their journey to ensure Donald doesn’t talk the kids out of their mission. Beck and Donald arrive just as the rocket launches carrying Lucy, Jamie, Donny, and Fatty to their rendezvous with destiny.

The Covenant is the exciting third book in the After the Fall series by Charlie Dalton and it is great! The plot is a nail-biter all the way and who knows what may come next! I highly recommend this entire series for readers that enjoy the dystopian, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it books, especially those that enjoy a young adult cast of characters.

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