Young Adult

Book Review: Warchild: Pawn by Ernie Lindsey

Being a mom on a tight budget, I don’t have a lot of money to spend on books, despite my love for them. So, I tend to gravitate both out of need and desire towards Indie titles, which are often much cheaper in electronic format that mainstream titles. This allows me to save for my must reads throughout the year. The self publishing scene can be fraught with pitfalls for readers. Amazon makes it so easy to publish, that some simply throw their book up for the world to see with only cursory editing. I have picked up and put down many titles that sounded promising. “Warchild: Pawn” is proof that there are amazing stories in the mix and that it is worth digging for the jewels.

The premise does not at first seem unique, and in truth, it isn’t. “Warchild” is set in a post-apocalyptic society where the original government, in an attempt to crush the rebellion of its people, turned super humans labeled Kinders loose on society. Years later, these super human are thought to be gone and America is reduced to two governing bodies that maintain a delicate truce. The environment has turned on surviviors. Rain pours from the sky more days than not. If you are unlucky enough to be born on the fringes of the People’s Republic of Virginia food and shelter is scarce. Our protagonist, Caroline Mathers, spends her days scouting the woods around her settlement to protect it from would be looters, and worse, war.

What “Warchild: Pawn” lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in the strength of its protagonist and the overall feel and pacing of the text. The story opens at the very beginning of the action with the dreaded drums of war banging in the distance, and does not stop from there. It is breathlessly quick paced. I did not feel bogged down by exposition or superfluous descriptions. The reader is left to quickly follow the protagonist and her hodgepodge group of lost souls and rebels on their journey, discovering the world right along side the characters.

Caroline was a believable, though I felt she acted a bit older than her given age of fourteen years. She lives in a realistic world of destruction, death, and hardship. Saddled with a mantel of power that does not want and did not ask for, she struggles with what is best for herself, and what is best for the people who now look up to her as their leader. She makes mistakes. She is a child who misses her home. She is confused by the role that has been given to her. She doesn’t understand her past and her role in the future, or even what is happening to her internally and externally. Most of all, she wants to trust, but has difficulty knowing who to put her trust in. As a reader, I could understand the challenges that faced Caroline and the reasons behind her decisions.

At first, I was concerned that there would be an obvious political overtone with government names like Republicons, The People’s Republic of Virginia, and the Democratic Alliance. Thankfully, the story was not overtly political. I am not even sure if the subtle hints I picked up were intentional. It seems that all three societies/groups has dings against them. The Republicons are portrayed as vile disgusting and self absorbed people in the beginning, but redeem themselves somewhat as the story progresses. Caroline’s people, the Republic of Virginia, are incredibly naive. The Capitol, unbelievably, does not do much to protect the people, complacent in the relative safety they have lived in for generations. The Democratic Alliance is blood thirsty and greedy. The story makes a point to show the gray areas through well placed characters ally themselves with Caroline and help her along the way.I felt that, overall, there was a hopeful tone to the interactions and an ingrained message that nothing in politics and history is strictly black and white.

I highly recommend this deeply layered and fast paced post apocalyptic journey to fans of the genre. I can’t wait to read book 2 when I have some extra time.

warchild pawn

Book Review: The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

I had the honor of attending the release party for “The Cure for Dreaming” at Powell’s a few weeks ago. You can read about it here. When I saw this book cropping up on so many of the blogs I follow, I knew I had to look deeper into it. As I read more, I realized that this book was pretty much written for me. Women’s rights? Check! Victorian Era? Got it! The setting is in Portland, it involves Gothic elements, and the supernatural crops up? Check, check, aaaand check! There is also no denying that it has a beautiful cover. It is much prettier in person with a semi-metallic tone to it. There was no doubt in my mind that I would own this book. It was great to meet Cat Winters and have it signed. This was the first of her writing I have read, and it was wonderful introduction.

The most appealing aspect is the message– Even if you feel like you have no voice, you can still make a stand. You can make a difference. You are allowed to follow your dreams and they cannot be taken from you. What a wonderful message to send to our young people who can feel marginalized by the flood of dissenting voices and differing opinions that saturate the media. Like the 1900s where this is set, we are in the midst of rapid social, economic, and technological change and there are vocal extremists on all sides of the equation. “The Cure for Dreaming” is a story where teenagers can easily relate to the feelings and emotions of Olivia and her desire to speak out and bring forth social change without a contemporary setting. The themes of social equality, bullying, and emotional abuse are also contained between the covers, making the cure for dreaming quite a deep story for its relatively short length.

What sets “The Cure for Dreaming” apart from other historical novels with similar themes is the incorporation of paranormal elements as well as imagery from Dracula. I enjoy two types of vampires. The first are the sort of wolf-like predators found in Deborah Harkness’ “All Souls Trilogy”. Noble, long lived, yet unable to escape from the predatory instincts within them. The second, and most beloved, are Bram Stoker vampires. Use elements and imagery from Dracula, or talk about Vlad Tepas and Erzebet Bathory and I am hooked. Olivia’s visions after hypnosis are laced with imagery from her favorite novel, Dracula. These elements enhance the Gothic feel of the novel and gives readers a slightly different take on a historical novel. If you are a fan of the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen, there are pieces here you will love. My only real complaint is that sometimes the language felt a bit anachronistic, but this is definitely coming from someone who really enjoys Victorian literature and Steampunk.

I recommend this to a wide audience. There are strong male and female characters. The themes will appeal to many young adults, and older adults. If you are a fan of creepy novels, or paranormal, I definitely suggest you pick this one up.

If you have read it, what did you think?

the cure for dreaming by cat winters

Book Review: The Red Magician by Lisa Stein

I must admit to having read more Holocaust fiction than can be considered healthy. I have a morbid fascination with frightening level of darkness that human beings can allow themselves to participate in. Nearly every major nation involved in WWII completed atrocities that today would be considered highly unethical. They did it for science. They did it out of fear. They did it because everyone who was not there ally had become “the other” and therefore, less than human. The psychology of it is both incredibly scary, and extremely interesting. When I read a Holocaust novel, or any WWII novel, I am looking for an exploration of the elements that could turn normal, loving, people into monsters. I am looking to understand the feelings of the victims. I am looking for a window into one of humanity’s most terrifying times. Stories like Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” and Tatiana de Rosnay’s “Sarah’s Key” are beautiful and heart wrenching examples of amazing Holocaust fiction. You understand the characters, and through them, you understand the true effects of the Holocaust. You understand the nightmare the characters lived. Next to such deep, emotional, and character driven stories Lisa Stein’s “The Red Magician” pales in comparison.

I do not want to say “The Red Magician” was bad. It wasn’t. The National Book Award sticker affixed to the cover is a testament to its technical flawlessness and uniqueness. The magical realism aspects were a fascinating glimpse into Jewish mysticism. Thematically, the story is rich. The characters embodied the belief that many Jewish communities held that surely the German government was not exterminating the entire Jewish population of Eastern Europe. It was unthinkable in the modern age. And, if they were, other countries would certainly step up and stop them before their reach extended too far beyond their borders. Many communities believed everything would be fine, despite the warnings they received. It also digs deeply into the desire to keep fighting, and survivor’s guilt.

Unfortunately, that is as deep as things got. The characters were incredibly underdeveloped. Strong relationships were created with little build up. A few pages of conversation, and suddenly the main character is in love. A handful of interactions, and another character is willing to take responsibility for another’s life. A page or two of confrontation, and life long enemies are created. I couldn’t convince myself that these relationships were real, or important, and therefore could not connect to the characters.

I remember reading “Bartleby the Scrivener” in high school. At a specific point in Melville’s famous story Bartleby apparently decides that he will no longer do anything. He would “prefer not to” review a document in his office. He would “prefer not to” leave the office. He would “prefer not to” defend himself in a court of law. He would “prefer not to” do anything at all, even eat. To this day, remembering the story fills me with a rage I cannot explain. It bothers me that Bartleby does not care if he lives or dies. He does not value his life, and no one stirs him to care. It bothers me, which is probably more telling of my mental state than anything else. There is a point in “The Red Magician” where the protagonist gives up as well, and I felt that frustration and rage again as her character refused to listen to those around her, including the person she was supposed to have loved. Perhaps if I felt more connected to her as a character I would understand how the horrors she witnessed throughout the Holocaust would have brought her to a passive point where she neither sought death, nor continued to live, but I could not. I almost gave up reading at that point, but persevered.

“The Red Magician” is definitely a different view of the holocaust, and it stirred me emotionally, though not in the way I am accustomed to stories from this time period moving me. I would recommend it to fans of magical realism and fans of WWII historical fiction. I believe, in this case, my lack of enjoyment was mostly emotionally and not intellectually driven. This story is a unique view that I think would be a great way to spark a conversation among middle grade and young adult readers while keeping them interested with a magical and almost fantastical setting.

If you have read it, what did you think?

redmagician

Book Review: A Myth to the Night by Cora Choi

I received a copy of the entire novel (it was released in parts) for free in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected my opinion.

I have had incredible luck with my ARCs. Until now, I have enjoyed every one of them. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and I find myself writing my first negative review for this blog. Thank goodness there doesn’t seem to be a streak going on, as I am quite enjoying my next novel “The Younger Gods” by Michael R. Underwood.

Sometimes it feels like when authors choose to write a young adult book, they underestimate their readers. They simplify the language. They remove the details of their world. They keep descriptions to a minimum and let dialogue carry the story. They forget that children and teenagers are a lot more intelligent than adults give them credit for, and that a good young adult book is simply a book with young characters. I feel like “A Myth to the Night” falls into this trap.

Unfortunately, I could not finish it. The lovely cover drew me in, as did the synopsis. It opened with such promise, but about 20% in I decided I could read no more. This is a little fairy tale that needed more. It needed more world building. It needed more character development. It needed more editing. I wanted to love this story, I wanted to be drawn into it, but it just left me hanging.

A good fantasy novel is dependent on its world. The world in “A Myth to the Night” made no sense. I was treated to a society complete with cars, the internet, movies, television, and popular actors and actresses (names we have come to know and love). Yet, the government, run by a vicious ruling faction “The Order of the Shrike”, and history of the world did not resemble our own. If it was an alternate reality version of our world, where did it split? How did the factions come to be? Why did they hate each other? How can a ruling faction who lacks imagination (since they do not believe in telling stories of bravery) invent our modern technologies? How can they have movies and television without storytelling and mythology? None of these questions were answered and it just left me feeling muddled and confused. I crave information when I am learning a new fantasy world. I need to know how it works so I can imagine the characters living in it. Throw some one dimensional characters speaking in forced dialogue and some poorly edited text into this world and it creates a perfect storm of “I don’t care” and “I am totally done with this”.

 a myth to the night cora choi

Book Review: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

I received a copy of this novel for free in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected my opinion.

I would not like the narrator if I met him in person. He is self righteous, bitter , and jaded. He constantly makes jabs about modern society, revering the good old days of the 90s, before cell phones and digital libraries. There were points in which he was on a soapbox, and I desperately wanted him to step down and continue with the story. The truth is, I would not like half of the characters in this crazy story. And yet, I loved this book. I have never enjoyed a book so much when I disliked the characters so immensely. I almost gave up, but I didn’t. Garth Stein must have a gift, because even as the characters’ actions put me on edge, I kept reading. I wanted to know. No… I needed to know the secrets locked away in Riddel house. “A Sudden Light” is less of a ghost story than it is a portrait of a horribly broken and dysfunctional family, and the secret lies within the haunting. It is a coming of age story that resembles a train wreck. And. like I would continue to stare in horror as a train jumped its tracks and crashed, I could not take my eyes off the words on my screen.

There isn’t much I can say about this story without giving away the secrets within, so I will leave you with some impressions. My heart ached for these family members who hurt, lashed out, manipulated, and belittled one another even as those same interactions goaded me into anger. You can understand, as the story unfolds, what brought them to this point in their lives. Trust me, I felt like I needed counselling by the time I has swiped past the final page. The setting, so beautiful, and so depressing was a perfect fit for this tale.

Those who are looking for a straight forward haunted house story might be disappointed. “A Sudden Light” is character driven and full of lengthy poetic prose that call up the works of authors long dead. It contain powerful messages about love, duty, and conservation. What does a promise mean to the living? What does it mean to the dead? Is there a such thing as a truly happy ending?

“A Sudden Light” toes the line between young adult and adult books with a 34 year old narrator looking back on his fourteenth year, a time full of turbulence and change. I have no doubt that it will appeal to both audiences. It is also LGBTQ friendly. It is rare to find a young adult book that has a realistic and authentic gay relationship. I thought that Garth Stein handled it as he would any heterosexual relationship. It added to my enjoyment not to read a caricature of a gay couple as I have in other books. If you are a fan of character driven dramas, I would suggest you give this one a try, even if you don’t normally read ghost stories.

a sudden light garth stein

Book Review: A Thread Unbroken by Kay Bratt

4 Out of 5 Stars

I just laid my eleven month old son down to sleep. His moist little breaths gently brushed my skin. His tiny hand had a hold on my shirt, his fingers toying with the button on my blouse. I rocked him slowly back and forth, listening to the quite snorts that pass for snores most nights. Looking down on his peaceful little face, with chubby cheeks, full pouty lips, and eyelashes any grown woman would pay for, my heart was filled with so much love that it felt tight in my chest, as it does every day and  night when I have a quite moment alone with my son. It is with that feeling still so fresh, and my heart still so full, that I sit down to write this review.

The topics and themes presented in “A Thread Unbroken” are not easy ones to digest. There is almost nothing in my privileged American middle  class life that could help me understand the mindset that leads to human trafficking. I know that were my son to be a daughter I would still feel the same about her. Were he to be physically deformed, mentally disabled, or otherwise imperfect in the eyes of society, I would still love him and care for him with all my heart. I was raised in a world where children are cherished treasures rather than economic boons or burdens. Many Americans, and in fact, many of the reviewers that I have read, come from a similar background and feel that “A Thread Unbroken” is unbelievable. Unfortunately, while the larger Chinese cities have become increasingly more progressive, life in rural China marches on much as it always has with little regard to technological innovation. It is ruled by traditional values, those that see strong sons as a priceless economic treasure, and daughters as a burden until they are married and gone to produce strong sons of their own for the husbands that rule the household.

In “A Thread Unbroken” we have three families affected by the girls’ abduction. father Jun adores his daughter. He has never seen his two little girls as anything but strong and capable individuals. He encourages their education and is unwilling to allow the search for a husband to decide his daughters’ futures. Josie on the other hand, physically disabled and not fit to be a bride, is responsible for caring for her father’s pigs, taking care of her young siblings, and helping her mother care for the house. The third family is a traditional fishing family living in near seclusion from the modern world. The people of their village openly purchase girls stolen from other parts of China to become brides for their sons, as there are few women around.

Through each family we get a glimpse of how China feels about their girls, and the economic and social reasons behind why human trafficking exists,  and what can be done to stop it. Chai is strong because her father has empowered her to be so.  Her father never stops searching for her, and she never stops searching for a way to get back to him. Josie relies on Chai to find the answers, to rescue them. She is timid and emotionally immature. Her father gives up the search quickly, merely lamenting that there is no one there to care for the pigs and help take care of the small children. The family the girls find themselves forced to become a part of is ruled by their father and the eldest son. Nothing is done without their permission.

Despite such a heavy topic, the story is not dark. I would go so far as to say it is sugar coated. The girls are not beaten, and for the most part are not abused. There are many girls, and boys, around the world who have it worst. The general smoothness and ease of the story, and the narration makes it an excellent introduction to trafficking for mature middle grade students (eighth grade) and younger high school students, though it is also a good read for adults. Be warned, though, that there is one graphic scene late in the book. It reads well for an adult as well. If the prose are simple, and the ending a fairy tale, it can be forgiven. “A Thread Unbroken” shows a gentler version of a dark and violent world making it more accessible for younger readers, and those who don’t often read dark fiction. The story opens up the floor for conversation, but leaves the reader feeling like there is hope, like things can change.

Kay Bratt lived in China for nearly five years and advocates for Chinese children and girls. Her passion shows in her writing. She has penned several novels around these subjects and I look forward to circling back and reading some more of them in the future. I can recommend one other book if you read this and found the story interesting. Sold by Patricia McCormick is the story of 13-year-old Lakshmi who is sold into prostitution to pay off her family’s debts. Please feel free to write you suggestions or thoughts in the comments. Human trafficking is an important issue, and the more literature can do to help get the message out, the better.

a_thread_unbroken_kay_bratt

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