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

Paranormals on Parade – Five Stories About Vampires, Ghosts, and Monsters (Oh My!)

Happy Wednesday! This is Halloween week, such an exciting, dark (maybe a little too dark since daylight savings time has yet to hit), and spooky time of year. If you are staying in, sheltered away from the rain and cold wind (at least here in Portland) you are going to need something to read, and I have a few haunting suggestions for you.

1. The Bird Eater by Ania Ahlborn (3.42 Goodreads)

bird eater ania ahlborn

Goodreads Summary: Twenty years ago, the mysterious death of his aunt left Aaron Holbrook orphaned and alone. He abandoned his rural Arkansas hometown vowing never to return, until his seven-year-old son died in an accident, plunging Aaron into a nightmare of addiction and grief. Desperate to reclaim a piece of himself, he returns to the hills of his childhood, to Holbrook House, where he hopes to find peace among the memories of his youth. But solace doesn’t come easy. Someone—or something—has other plans. Like Aaron, Holbrook House is but a shell of what it once was, a target for vandals and ghost hunters who have nicknamed it “the devil’s den.” Aaron doesn’t believe in the paranormal—at least, not until a strange boy begins following him wherever he goes. Plagued by violent dreams and disturbing visions, Aaron begins to wonder if he’s losing his mind. But a festering darkness lurks at the heart of Holbrook House… a darkness that grins from within the shadows, delighting in Aaron’s sorrow, biding its time.

My Thoughts: Wonderfully creepy. There was a part of me that was never certain if what was going on was real or imagined, and a part of me that dreaded turning the page to find out.

2. Written in Red by Anne Bishop (4.36 Goodreads)

written in red anne bishop

Goodreads Summary: As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

My Thoughts: “Written in Red” has one of the most unique views on creatures of the night that I have read. It is wildly creative, and well worth the read. There are some nail biting parts, but overall if you are sensitive to scary, you should be good here.

3. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (3.74 Goodreads)

the historian elizabeth kostova

Goodreads Summary: Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.

My Thoughts: I have a morbid fascination with Vlad Tepas and the role his bloody legend played in the creation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. This story is such a wonderful and haunting tale that in some ways shows how a legacy can become a legend. I am not going to lie, this is one of my favorite books. It’s got just enough creep factor to make it a perfect Halloween read.

4. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman (3.82 Goodreads)

Anno Dracula Kim Newman

Goodreads Summary: It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. Peppered with familiar characters from Victorian history and fiction, the novel follows vampire Geneviève Dieudonné and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club as they strive to solve the mystery of the Ripper murders.

Anno Dracula is a rich and panoramic tale, combining horror, politics, mystery and romance to create a unique and compelling alternate history. Acclaimed novelist Kim Newman explores the darkest depths of a reinvented Victorian London.

My Thoughts: Yet another vampire novel that plays with the legend of Vlad Tepas. Sensing a pattern here? Vampires, Queen Victoria, and Jack the Ripper in an interesting alternate history? This story was steampunk before people even knew what steampunk was. Kim Newman has a wonderful writing style, and the best word for this story is engrossing. I could not put it down. The sequel “The Bloody Red Baron” is worth a read too, though I did not lose myself in it nearly as much as Anno Dracula.

5. Splintered by A.G. Howard (4.02 Goodreads)

splintered ag howard

Goodreads Summary: This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

My Thoughts: I could do without the burgeoning love triangle, but otherwise, this is a great read. If you really think about it, “Alice in Wonderland” is one of the most frightening tales we tell our children. Lewis Carroll’s classic has taken imagination in a darker direction for years. This is one of the best “dark” adaptations I have read. Asylums, monsters, dark and dangerous world, and so much more make it an excellent Halloween read.

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

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