Posts Tagged With: young adult

“Choose Your Weapon” by Sarah Rodriguez Pratt

I’ve been following Sarah Rodriguez Pratt’s blog, That’s a Girl’s Car, for a long time now, and when she contacted me about reviewing her book, I was thrilled to accept.

Choose Your Weapon, the first book in the Helen of Hollingsworth Trilogy, is the story of a dragon-slaying high school girl trying to find her identity.

As a child, Helen loved the Glorious Dragonfighter books.  She also knew something that most people did not.  The world of Erwingdon isn’t just a fantasy, and people from our own world travel there in their sleep to help fight dragons.  Recruiting warriors from our world is better, of course, because if someone dies in Erwingdon, they only die there, and not in real life.  Helen was supposed to join the ranks of the warriors and become a Dragonfighter, but then one night, all communication with Erwingdon stopped.  Years pass, and Helen loses touch with her nerdy interests because she sees them as incompatible with having a social life in high school.

Out of the blue, Helen is summoned back to Erwingdon.  The land is under threat by powerful dragons, and the people there have again called upon our world for aid.  Helen is grateful to be back, but not so thrilled that her new comrades are people she knows from school.  Helen must discover her own inner strength and learn to get along with her classmates in order to have any hope of saving the world.

Choose Your Weapon is kind of like Narnia for teenagers, but without the whole Jesus-lion-allegory thing.  Helen’s got the same issues a normal teenager does.  She feels like her interests aren’t good enough and that she can’t speak out in classes and still fit in.  She’s got a crush on the head of the academic quiz team, but doesn’t know how to act on it.  She’s also just lost her best friend, who ditched her to hang out with the dance team.  Helen also has problems in Erwingdon.  She’s not particularly athletic, and fighting dragons requires a lot of coordination.  She’s also the only girl.

I liked the fact that Helen was awkward and yet believable.  She’s the kind of teenager that a lot of us remember being, and I was constantly rooting for her as she began to come into her own.  Choose Your Weapon focuses on finding one’s inner strength rather than succumbing to peer pressure and apologizing for being oneself, and that’s an important lesson for teens and grown-ups alike.

This book rocks!  Sarah is a sophisticated and talented new writer, and I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, YA | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mini Review: “Ironskin” by Tina Connolly

My review of “Ironskin” is a part of a mini-review series to write about books that I read while on blogging hiatus last fall.  I had originally planned to write about it during the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge.  I received an electronic copy of the book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tina Connolly’s Ironskin is a young adult re-imagining of the the story of Jane Eyre, but with angry fae.  Jane Eliot was wounded with fae shrapnel during the Great War, and now she must wear an iron mask over her face to keep the fae magic from leaking out.  Jane is stigmatized because of her condition, but is hired as a governess to help a child whom she is certain is cursed with a similar affliction.  Dorie’s powers have scared away other governesses, but Jane is determined to stay.  Meanwhile, she finds herself falling for Dorie’s father, the mysterious Edward Rochart.

This book had so much going for it.  There were a plethora of elements to love–Jane Eyre, the fae, the gothic atmosphere, the steampunk element.  At the same time, I felt underwhelmed by the book’s ability to live up to its own potential, even though I can’t point out any one specific thing that’s “wrong.”  It just didn’t come together as organically as I would have liked.  I’ll still give it props for creativity (especially the wife-in-the-attic twist, which is NOT a spoiler, because it isn’t a wife in the attic).

Good for a light read, but don’t expect a masterpiece.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Steampunk | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mini Review: “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs

My review of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is a part of a mini-review series to write about books that I read while on blogging hiatus last fall.  I had originally planned to write about it during the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge.

Jacob’s grandfather has always told him wild and imaginative stories.  At 16, Jacob dismisses them as mere tales, but when his grandfather is murdered, he begins to wonder if there might not be a grain of truth in them after all.  Seeking to discover his grandfather’s secrets, Jacob travels to Wales to visit the orphanage where his grandfather was raised.  There, he discovers a world distanced from time and populated by peculiar people with psychic powers.

As I read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I found myself continually pondering whether the children were real, or a figment of an overly active imagination.  It is the story of the magic and ideals of childhood being intruded upon by the harsh realities of the grown-up world.

This is the kind of book that you engage and interact with.  It is interspersed with vintage photographs, giving it an eerie and vaguely sinister quality.  I would recommend the physical book over the e-book because the visuals play such a key role in building the story’s atmosphere.  I read the Kindle version, and although there’s nothing wrong with it, the hardcover editions are gorgeous and would give the pictures even more prominence.

Highly recommended.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror/Gothic, YA | Tags: , , , , , | 19 Comments

“Katya’s World” by Jonathan L. Howard

KatyasWorld-144dpiI received a copy of Jonathan Howard’s novel “Katya’s World” from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  It is one of the first books books released through Strange Chemistry, Angry Robot’s new YA imprint.  Based on this book, I can’t wait to see more!

“Katya’s World” is science fiction set on the planet Russalka, a colony world founded by Russian immigrants from Earth.  Russalka is an aquatic world with abundant natural resources, which made colonization a viable economic decision at the time.  However, political problems on Earth meant that the colony was ignored and left to fend for itself.  The harsh climate and lack of any actual land surface created a resilient and independent people.

Katya is on her first voyage as a submarine navigator with her uncle Lyukan when the military asks her to assist in a prisoner transport.  This isn’t normal, and both Lyukan and Katya resent the interruption of their command.  However, when the ship is attacked by a sea monster dubbed the Leviathan, Katya, Lyukan, and their mysterious prisoner find themselves caught up in a struggle that could threaten their entire world.

Over the past few months, I’ve been attempting to find YA novels that aren’t the same old tired story of love triangles and teenage novels.  This one is a winner.  Not only does it lack love triangles, but it doesn’t have a love story at all.  Quite frankly, it doesn’t need one.  Katya is a young woman making the first steps in her career, and is going through the phase where people who would normally be authority figures are now becoming colleagues and asking her to help make decisions.  She’s young, spunky, and confident, and her problems revolve around carrying her passengers to safety and fighting sea monsters.

I was also impressed by the world building, because the entire idea of living on a planet without a land surface is something that I haven’t read about before.  Howard explores themes like ethnic identity as he creates a people with Russian ancestry but who have lived on Russalka for so long that they no longer identify themselves with the people of Earth.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this one.  While I read it a couple months ago, I’m including it in The 2013 Science Fiction Experience, as I’m only getting as far as reviewing it now.

Categories: Fiction, Sci Fi, YA | Tags: , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

“The Iron Witch” by Karen Mahoney

I received a review copy of Karen Mahoney’s “The Iron Witch” while I was at BEA earlier this summer.  The cover looked intriguing, and a  book about alchemists, fae, and angry wood elves seemed like it could be a lot of fun.

Donna Underwood is a home-schooled senior in high school.  Her father died protecting her from a magical attack when she was a kid, and her mother went crazy around the same time.  Donna’s hands were wounded in the attack, but an alchemist named Maker was able to repair them, leaving her hands marked with iron and silver tattoos.

Everyone in the Order assumes that Donna’s going to grow up to be a great alchemist, but mostly she just wants to be a normal teenager.  She’s had problems with bullies, and spends most of her time with her best friend, Navin.  Navin drags her to a party, and she meets Xan, and for the first time thinks she’s met someone who who might understand her secrets.

When Navin is kidnapped by wood elves, Donna and Xan must work together to save him.  Meanwhile, Donna begins to suspect that not everyone in the Order can be trusted.

I had high hopes for this book, because fairies are pretty damn cool.  Unfortunately, this one didn’t work for me.

If my hands were covered with a trippy swirly latticework of iron and silver, I’d think they looked badass and beautiful.  I wouldn’t cover them up with arm-length velvet gloves.  Especially if they also confer super-human strength.  Donna acts as if her arms were scarred and burned, not as if she’s got special awesome alchemical tattoos.  The way she hides and gets defensive about her arms makes no sense, and it bothered me.

The book also has a lot of awkward teenage drama.  Donna friendzoned Navin, Navin’s got a secret crush on Donna, she hides her relationship with Xan from Navin because …why?  It’s not like she wants to date him, but the way she dances around telling him about Xan makes me feel like she’s deliberately leading him on, even though I don’t think that she is.  I could still forgive this if I wasn’t so annoyed with Donna acting all weird about her arms, which makes me predisposed to question her judgement about everything else.

Aside from that, I actually do like the premise.  A secret order of alchemists fighting wood elves from a parallel world?  The iron of the city as the only thing keeping the magical folks at bay?  Iron tattoos that burn through magical villains?  Um, yes please.  More of that.

I also liked the way that the story was told in third person but with interjections of Donna’s own voice through journal entries.  It was a good way of tying up loose ends throughout the course of the book, and as a device it worked rather well.

“The Iron Witch” is the first book in a trilogy, but I don’t think that I’ll be reading the others.  The writing itself was decent, but between the cliched romance and Donna’s irrationality about her tattoos, I left the book feeling underwhelmed.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Urban Fantasy, YA | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

“House of Shadows” by Rachel Neumeier

I received a copy of Rachel Neumeier’s “House of Shadows” from the publishers via Netgalley.

“House of Shadows” is what you get when you blend Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” with sorcery and dragons.  A merchant dies, leaving his eight daughters orphaned.  The sisters are in dire financial straits, and so they come to the conclusion that two of them must be indentured.

Karah is startlingly beautiful, and so she receives a lucrative contract at a keiso house.  A keiso is pretty much the same thing as a Japanese geisha–a skilled entertainer and artist whose hope to one day become the Flower Wife of a wealthy patron.

Nemienne isn’t as pretty as her sister, and she’s a bit too old to be  a worthwhile investment for a keiso house.  However, the mysterious Mage Arkkennes takes an interest in her and sees her potential for sorcery.  The two sisters find themselves in the middle of a plot that threatens to shake the fabric of their entire kingdom.

There are two other point-of-view characters, the first of which is Taudde, a bardic sorcerer from a neighboring kingdom.  In his homeland, magic is channeled through music rather than through incantations.  He finds himself manipulated into an agreement to kill the crown prince, but then has second thoughts about the entire situation.  Taudde is one of the most interesting characters in the book because he is so conflicted, and I enjoyed the way that his character developed as the story progressed.

And finally, we’ve got Leilis.  Leilis was a keiso-in-training, but became the victim of a magical attack perpetrated by a jealous rival.  Ever since then, her skin delivers a painful and weird shock to anyone who touches her, which means that she’s now unsuitable to be a keiso.  Leilis makes it her mission to protect Karah from bullying in the keiso house.

This is a standalone novel, although the ending does leave a bit of room for a sequel if the author ever decides to return to the same world for another adventure.  I get excited when I find fantasy novels that aren’t a part of an unfinished trilogy.  This one was also relatively short (around 350 pages), which seems to be pretty standard for the young adult demographic.  I would have liked to see a bit more explanation and exploration of the world and magic systems, but Neumeier kept it short, sweet, and to-the-point.

Lately I’ve come to the realization that I’ve unfairly judged YA novels.  This one had a well-constructed world and an engaging story, and the characters were sophisticated and intelligent rather than angsty.  When I’m reading fantasy, I don’t like it when characters whine and wallow in self-pity.  I was so glad to see characters who seemed to be emotionally mature.

We don’t see a lot of each character’s thoughts, but you still got to see progression and development (Mind you, as far as character development, Karah was relatively flat and unchanging, but Nemienne, Taudde, and Leilis more than made up for it).  Even the minor characters grow throughout the story, and there’s more to each of them than we initially suspect.

Oh, and did I mention that there are no love triangles?  Instead we’ve got political intrigue and dragons.

Point of clarification as of 8/9/12:  Heidi pointed out to me that the book is actually being marketed as an adult novel, despite the fact that Goodreads says otherwise.  I screwed up by not double checking.  However, if you’re a younger reader who is considering reading it, it doesn’t really have any content that would make it inappropriate.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, YA | Tags: , , , , , , | 23 Comments

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