YA

When We Fall by Peter Giglio
When We Fall
by Peter Giglio (Goodreads Author)

Read in October, 2014


Fantastic Story!

I am not going to follow my usual format for this one. I don’t think a collegiate dissection of plot, character, voice, and guts of WHEN WE FALL will do justice for a reader wondering whether this is worth the investment and time.

Let me take care of that for you here. The answer is, “Yes!” And trust me: time won’t mean a thing after the first chapter.
I expected a lot of macabre and conflict going by the cover copy and artwork, but not a shot in the heart like author Peter Giglio delivers. Sure, there are plenty of darker moments to leave a reader with a wake of goose bumps running up the arms, but this is a minor detail. Mr. Giglio’s perfect snapshot of the 80s wrapped around a soft, heartwarming middle, teaches us how to live… and love.

If you remember what it was like to be a kid so lost in a summer Spielberg movie you never wanted it to end, and felt your feet tread on some harsh alien planet in the theater lobby afterwards, WHEN WE FALL is sure to carry you away. I can’t recommend this book enough and am damned glad I got a chance to read.

Big Fat Disaster by Beth Fehlbaum
Big Fat Disaster
by Beth Fehlbaum (Goodreads Author)

Read from September 22 to 29, 2014

 

A Realistic Binge with a Message of HopeAfter reading the author’s bio and discovering she is a teacher, I expected the typical YA drama about overcoming social/ inner conflict characteristic of the teenage world, rising above peer pressure, understanding the values of friendship versus status, volunteering and community service, etc. BIG FAT DISASTER is far from any PBS After School Special. Prepare to become very uncomfortable.

The story is told from the perspective of fifteen-year-old, Colby Denton, as she starts a new life in the one-church, East Texas town of Piney Creek. Having spent my first 22 years in South Texas, I can testify to the authenticity of Piney Creek and its people. Ms. Fehlbaum nails it. Every character speaks with a voice unique enough to tell them apart without dialogue tags and so real they could easily be the snobby Maybelline princess next door or vato loco punk terrorizing kids on the school bus. She even gets the dog in the front yard recliner right.

Colby’s voice gives us a brilliant view of the pressures for a young lady coming of age, accurate and heartfelt for any teen, yet Colby is far from typical. The conflict she faces daily, through both self-infliction and 360 degrees of abuse, creates a plot that gains momentum with each chapter, spiraling to an unavoidable climax and perfect landing. But what I loved most about Colby was her awkward moments where she is still a child, yet having to deal with adult issues around grown-ups who act like children. The best part? This is exactly how some parents act, and the author pulls no stops at revealing just how low some will stoop to save public face.

There are multiple themes present, but I felt Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter parallel of “hypocrisy of the judgmental” was perhaps the strongest. I also appreciated the way it is crafted into the story: seamless and invisible, yet deliberate.

Finally, a good portion of this book deals with suicide. The counselor, Dr. Matthews, serves as both a guardian angel for Colby, but more importantly, a voice for every educator or mentor with teen/ YA suicide experience. His lessons of hope are not fiction, but based on true intervention counseling. Given the framework of the story, I felt the self-actualization techniques of control were so much clearer as opposed to the mandatory suicide prevention training I’ve dealt with in the past. It really hit home. This book should be mandatory reading for every teen prior to high school.

For outstanding voice, plot, humor, and most of all, heart. I strongly recommend BIG FAT DISASTER with five-stars.

The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard

by Amalie Howard

Dec 11, 13

 

I received a review copy of THE ALMOST GIRL from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.I went into this expecting more action and violence than usual and that’s what I got. Ms Howard delivers Riven, her teenage protagonist, as a cold calculating femme fatale version of G.I. Joe’s SNAKE EYES. The combat sequences are executed with dance precision and–aside from the unbelievability of a teen girl taking out hordes of heavy muscled shock troopers–made the book a joy to read. Making it even better, we get a great Jet Li experience throughout the first setting, and then the action carries over into an even faster paced SciFi orchestration during the second half.The character growth is well developed, though repetitive at times. Riven’s conflicted hunter-killer instincts versus her raging teenage hormones adds new levels of tension that trump even the deadly sword and electrorod duels. Her male counterpart, Caden, falls flat at times, mostly because he is rendered too perfect and accepting of the incredible circumstances in the first half, though Ms Howard makes up for it in his introduction to her alien world of Neospes in the second.The plot is intricate, but I felt like much was left out in the beginning. As the story progresses, the back story fills in eventually but there were a few points where I felt like I missed something in terms of the politics. Understanding that the weave of mystery is part of the hook, I still feel that it could have been better explained to provide more foundation for Riven’s struggle.On the technical side, the SF is incredible, well-constructed and planned with precision that brings plausibility. There are also at least two homage points to Frank Herbert’s DUNE and that is sure to bring a smile for some of us die-hard space cadets.Overall, I enjoyed THE ALMOST GIRL and believe there will be a sequel, hopefully more centered on Neospes its fantastic creatures and Vulcan environment.
***
The Holders by Julianna Scott

The Holders (Holders, #1)
by Julianna Scott

Nov 02, 13


If you are a fan of HEROES, X-MEN, and Dropkick Murphy’s, you will love Juliana Scott’s THE HOLDERS!

Review: THE HOLDERS by Julianna Scott

Ms Scott’s story is theme intensive, taking on Becca’s own big sister version of empty nester syndrome when her little brother, Ryland, becomes less dependent on her. In addition, Becca also grows through the secondary theme of paternal abandonment with the reunion of her enigmatic father.

The setting jumps very quickly from the US to Ireland and Ms Scott does an absolute phenomenal job of delivering Ireland through high definition sensory-immersion. She also does something much deserving of recognition and includes well researched Gaelic throughout the book, adding a distinct voice to her Ireland.

The plot is not actually as predictable as many have claimed. There is such a thing as hiding in plain sight and I recall grinning when the denouement came with great pacing and definitive antagonists to get all up in arms about. Because when Becca beats the brakes off of them, you can’t help but pump a fist in the air with a solid “Oy!”

The romance comes a bit abrupt, but there is enough conflict and mystery involved that it sustains the secondary plot well.

Overall, I enjoyed THE HOLDERS and, even though this particular book has a fantastic and satisfying ending, I certainly hope Ms Scott is already through her first draft of a sequel. The second book would be a nice Christmas present… just saying!

***
Cracked by Eliza Crewe

Cracked (Soul Eater, #1)
by Eliza Crewe

Sep 23, 13


CRACKED by Eliza Crewe

(un)Holy Mouth-of-the-South

If as a reader you tend to appreciate the snark and sizzle of modern teen language reminiscent of MTV’s GirlCode, CRACKED will have you rolling. Ms Eliza Crewe gives her protagonist, half-demon killing machine Andomeda “Meda” Melange, a voice to match the wittiest of teenage sharpshooters, spiking every page with laugh-out-loud humor. If on the other hand you tend to shy away from such dagger-ish banter… Keep. Reading. Trust me on this one. I fall into the latter category and found myself unable to put the book down just about the point where I thought I couldn’t take one more of Meda’s snide remarks or parenthetical interrupts. Which I suspect is exactly the effect the author was going for.

The voice seems to be the biggest selling point based on the other reviews I have read, and a strong one it is. But it is not the actual wit that sells us on Meda. It is the way her voice contradicts her actions. The way her inner dialogue burns and slices in the most derisive manner while her true heart comes to the forefront with each chapter. Meda grows and we get to grow with her. To me, that is what a great story is all about. I never would’ve guessed the end would be as emotionally charged and moving based on the first two chapters. Definitely worth the read.

CRACKED opens on a dark and violent scene, and at no time does the action—or blood flow—let up. What does change, however, is the maturity of the book after the halfway point. It morphs from an over-the-top mash-up that borders on bizarro at times, into a true adventure with all the romance, tragedy, and feeling of a summer blockbuster. And by no accident. The plot is incredibly well thought out and all I can say there in lieu of a nasty spoiler is the last few chapters will leave you a sniffling mess or Hulk-smash-angry enough at injustice to want to rip some evil souls apart stat. I started out not quite sure what I had gotten myself into with this one, and by the end of the book, wished I could’ve spent at least one more day with Meda and company.

I had a very difficult time rating this story. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the premise and really grew to like the characters and storyline. But the style was not really to my taste based on two factors. 1)The continual break in momentum by Meda’s sarcasm as discussed previously, and 2)some of the details that pushed the believability limits a bit much. Yet the more I read and analyzed Ms Crewe’s writing style, it was hard to not give her more credit. She is a damned good writer, especially for YA! And there you have it, the choir parts the heavens. This IS a YA… written for a teen audience of mostly females. Not some 40-y.o. English major with grown children. This is EXACTLY what her audience wants. And they will definitely not be disappointed, though a few may lose their souls by the end. Enjoy!

***
Tainted by A.E. Rought

Tainted (Broken, #2)
by A.E. Rought

Aug 22, 13


TAINTED, Masterpiece of Romanticism’s Dark

“Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

One of the fundamentals of Romanticism lies in the tragic concept of beauty lost: one cannot fully appreciate love until it is gone forever. E.A Poe understood this all too well, placing him in the unlikely category as a practicing romanticist.

A.E Rought, then, is no practitioner. She is a master.

An emotionally gripping journey, TAINTED transports you to a very dark place of wanton passion and unbearable pain, riveting up to the intense climax. Panting. Gasping for air and then falling back on your bed, arms wrapped tight around you. Exhausted.

Haunted.

When it comes to sequels, I always brace myself, expecting deviant little plot bunnies and character schisms between books. The transition from BROKEN to TAINTED, however, is seamless, with characters developed smoothly even down to the cat. But what is even more incredible is the shift from Emma’s to Alex’s point of view. It maintains the story without flaw, adding layers of life to the completed work of both books.

Ms Rought’s voice throughout carries the story, from realistic and witty teen dialogue, to her unique style that often delivers a page of detail in a single, powerful word or phrase. The pacing also sings through an ebb and flow that drives with breakneck intensity and then backs down to a little girl’s lullaby in all the right places, mesmerizing page after page.

The conflict is on par with a Stephen King nightmare, stacking up first with the inner struggle between Daniel and Alex, then building through the torment of ex-girlfriend Hailey who would scare the hell out of John Carpenter’s Michael Myers. That’s just the basal conflict. Add overprotective parents, a blizzard, law enforcement, side effects of experimental medical practices, resurrection, teen rivals from other schools, and texting-induced paranoia whilst stuck in traffic with a town on fire. And Ms Rought pulls no punches with her delicious new splatter-factor. Plenty of gut wrenching gore to go around and deviously placed in the most sacred of areas.

Yes! This is still very much a romance! Saving the best for last, TAINTED also poses conflict of another kind, more powerful than the blood-spilling variety and the primary force that propels this book beyond a five-star review. Throughout, there is a constant level of sexual tension that teases and pulls reader emotion to the surface and then leaves them exposed to whatever twist may come. Whether sensual moments of completion between Alex and Emma, or the absolute worst heart wrenching loss and despair. From Emma’s innocent playfulness to the incredible sense of isolation found in the themes of sacrifice and desire, TAINTED slips beneath your flesh, burrows into your heart, and then has its way with you, leaving you laughing, weeping, hope-filled and a little broken. Tainted.

Enjoy!

“Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

***
Aug 16, 13


SKULK, Action, Romance, Mystery, and Banksy

Thank you to Strange Chemistry for allowing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The front of Rosie Best’s Skulk holds all the intrigue of a summer blockbuster, from a clandestine tunnel and mismatched silhouettes-on-a-mission, to the centerpage Skulk embellishment screaming, “MORTAL KOM-BAT!”

And that’s just the cover.

Admittedly, when I heard that this was a YA shifter novel—about werefoxes and other not so terrifying critters—I was hesitant, half expecting a Disney- cute teen fable. Man, I was WAY off! Deliciously not for you precious butterflies with weak tummies, Skulk journeys through the complete gamut of emotion with a great plot, living characters, and unforgettable voice, all merging into one beautiful and sometimes grisly story.

Ms Rosie Best has a gift for voice that gets into you and pulls you right into the maelstrom life of her teenage protagonist, Margaret “Meg” Banks, feeling every pounding heartbeat along the way. Themes of self-confidence and acceptance are bolstered by Meg’s strength of character as she stands her ground against judgment and arrogant superficialness of society, placing her high in ranking for a new teen role model. All heart and incredible fortitude, I fell in love with her from jump. The dialogue is fresh and realistic with plenty of modern iconology, the inclusion of street art culture impressive to say the least. I particularly found Ms Best’s cleverly embedded motifs and homage to Banksy quite a delight.

In terms of setting, the different “shifts” are executed through well researched attention-to-detail, realistic differentiation of animal/ insect senses, and social habits unique to each critter clan or “weard;” all framed in an environment that also shifts from a mundane city to a much darker parallel smacking of Silent Hill. I mentioned earlier not for the squeamish: there is a point when Skulk became a full contact sport and I thought, “Sweet, Watership Down…” and then continued with my mouth open when it seemed there was no staunching the crimson flow. If you’re reading this, Ms Best, I strongly recommend Sam Raimi handle the movie production, especially the fog scenes and bird peeps!

Ahhh…. sweet romance. Saving the best for last, this is not your typical conflict-riddled love interest. I’m not giving it away, but it ties into the final and strongest theme: maintaining a pure heart. One of the most rewarding romance arcs I’ve found in a long time, proving the power of love to overcome.

Skulk is a must-read and the best part, there are more to come. Enjoy!

***
The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond

I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

If Percy Jackson was a sassy emo-punk chick and given a free romp through Warehouse 13, Jackson would still get schooled by Kyra Locke. Perhaps one of the sexiest, most well researched and intricately plotted YA novels I have read in a long while, The Woken Gods kept my attention from start to finish with Gwenda Bond’s incredible setting, lovable characters, and flying pace.

The first aspect of this book that really jumped out at me was the lack of back story—and beautifully executed. Nothing turns me off quicker than every other chapter walking us back through how-we-got-here moments that totally slam the brakes on momentum. The Woken Gods starts with mystery and builds across the next three chapters. Now, on the down side, some readers may not appreciate being thrown into a story without a solid MI6 pre-brief. For me, Bond drops you right in the middle of a situation and hints just enough at the State of the Nation to allow the reader to put it together. It creates a realistic feeling and emotional connection that would have been otherwise lost.

The setting is dark and fantastic, rendered down to minor details. Imagine every god from every pantheon existing together in a theo-political pressure cooker—from the dog-headed fiends of the Egyptian Book of the Dead to Faustian deals cut between dark blues travelers and sly Old Scratch at the Crossroads of Mississippi. Magic abounds, deities abuse, and the city suffers shoddy power issues. Limos replaced with tack and saddle tech. Gas lighting and pagan bond fires. And yet with every nod to pop-culture that exists in a teenager’s world today.

Character-wise, each is an individual with their own quirks, down to the parents and extras. I did feel that Kyra’s heartthrob hero, Oz Spencer, was a bit too perfect at times, but hey, it’s Kyra Locke’s story and she seemed to like him just fine. And Ms Bond takes on themes of teen sexuality like a Victoria Secret model, though tastefully executed and professional enough that I have no problem letting my own teens read it. The gods also have distinct personalities that fit the stereo-types of their races/pantheons: Sumerians are silent and brutish, Greek gods narcissistic and lackadaisical, Norse Loki’s a classic pig, and your skin crawls at Papa Legba’s throaty Haitian laugh.

The voice is perfect for the story, full of wit and charm, descriptive and beautifully written—if I were not working with an ARC, I would definitely being quoting Gwenda Bond here—and the choice of first person present tense puts the reader right into the action. One oddity that really stood out was Ms Bond’s POV shifts into minor characters on occasion while maintaining the present tense. It took a little getting used to, but in the end, I felt it did bring more life to the story.

I was expecting that perfect ho-hum ending that tends to plague this genre, girl gets the guy, gods all go home, etc. And the resolution far exceeded standards for satisfaction. More importantly, it was real and not all Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm-ish, and that sealed it for a five-star review. Readers will not be disappointed, unless of course we don’t get a sequel soon! Godspeed, Bond!

***
When the World Was Flat by Ingrid Jonach

When the World Was Flat (and we were in love)
by Ingrid Jonach

Aug 08, 13


When the World Was Flat (And We Were in Love)- Sliding with Gatsby

I admit I had a hard time getting into this at first. It felt like it dragged quite a bit in the beginning with character introduction; however, the writing is beautiful and Lillie’s voice is captivating enough with her teen wit and naiveté that it kept me reading. And I am glad I did. By chapter fifteen I couldn’t put it down. Ingrid Jonach takes a very chick-lit teen drama about high school undesirables and, by means of surprise quantum physics—no, really—transforms it into a Time Travelers Wife action/ romance.

The characters are well developed and, while there have been one or two crass statements on Goodreads in regards to shameful stereo-typing, I felt that what Ms Jonach did was rather on par and some of the reviewers are missing the point. She captured a spectrum of real teen issues and wrapped them up in a handful of characters in order to show their growth, something paramount to the plot in this particular story. Not to mention giving something to those young women that may actually be undergoing similar issues: hope. It made the book one hell of a good read and as a father, for me it was pretty damned eye opening at points. I did feel that Lillie’s focus on her physical appearance became repetitious in the beginning, but fortunately, this stops rather early in the story.

The theme of acceptance rides at the surface level throughout highlighted with plenty of teen sexuality and tension. But it is the way in which the characters overcome their conflicts with one another that is so priceless. Again, the acceptance. Among friends, parents and children, and finally, lovers. Towing the line on spoilers here, I think my favourite was the obvious between Jo Green and her romance interest. Huge emotional payoff in that one, the kind that lets you know love still exists in the world, especially for those that deserve it most.

The setting is not overly done, but there were a few minor details I felt worth mentioning, if anything because of the clever way in which they were injected. First, right on the heels of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Great Gatsby, Ms Jonach brings us a somewhat Gatsby-esque Tom. Mysterious, eloquent, rich, you name it, but then he is described as “King of the World.” Nicely played! Second, what began as one of Lillie’s quirky motifs, her Einstein interest, suddenly morphs into the primary transitional mechanism that carries the plot from the slow, über feelings-oriented soap opera into a SF dimensional version of a Kansas twister.

Overall, I started to give this one a three-star, but I had to up it based on voice and the fact that Ms Jonach’s style alone kept me reading. A great read for the hopeless romantic lab rat, and a real treat for anyone that ever felt they would never be good enough to find true love.

***
Student Bodies by Sean Cummings

Student Bodies (Poltergeeks, #2)
by Sean Cummings

Jul 19, 13


STUDENT BODIES, Growing up at volume eleven

After POLTERGEEKS, it was obvious that Julie Richardson’s career as a Shadowcull was only just beginning. So with Sean Cumming’s sequel, STUDENT BODIES, it was no surprise that he would step up the heat with Julie’s new role as a Special Ops spell blaster. What was shocking, however, was the high level of action and character development that came with this new story. Where POLTERGEEKS introduced the concept of modern teens discovering love and fighting supernatural forces on a high school campus, STUDENT BODIES takes us through the full spectrum of emotional growth while turning all of Calgary into a battlefield of monsters and magic.

The story opens with an intense train station scene, and trust me, this isn’t Platform 9 ¾ of J.K. Rowlings’ Kings Cross Station. Mr Cummings pushes his supernatural creep factor to volume eleven and never lets up. And there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. From car chases to Native American spirit armies, the action is non-stop, vividly imagined, and raging up to the emotionally charged finale.

Themes of bullying, diversity, and tolerance reflect very real issues that teenagers face daily and add value without coming across as preachy, as do the more personal issues of mother-daughter chemistry (glitter and nitro) and the sacrifices of love. On a side note, the magic systems themselves are intriguing in that they are derived from actual lore and belief, bound in principles that keep the supernatural from being an end-all answer to every dilemma. In other words, Julie can’t just “hexus” her way out of a broken heart. She has to work at it.

The setting and voice are rendered in modern terms, replete with cellphone and Facebook details, though I did have a problem with the language. While it is very realistic— and toned down compared to the sweet things, teens actually say—I have a personal preference against F-word usage by a book’s protagonist. It’s the Catholic schoolgirl in me. Hey, don’t judge me. On another note and more importantly, there is an outstanding balance of narrative and dialogue, which keeps the story flowing along at a speed to match the action.

Saving the best for last, what sold me on five-stars is without a doubt the character development. When I first heard Sean Cummings was writing a sequel, I had a little apprehension in regards to Julie. She came into the world with her kick ass attitude and a heart on fire, but would she sustain that in the next book? More importantly, would she grow? After I finished STUDENT BODIES, I went back and re-read the opening to POLTERGEEKS just to be sure. The answer is yes. Little Julie Richardson is definitely growing up with a vengeance. And not just Julie. Her boyfriend and mother also see major character growth across the course of the story. And after the emotionally-charged ending, I can’t wait for the next book!

I definitely recommend STUDENT BODIES for the YA reader, and while it may not be as fulfilling to read it as a standalone novel, it is written strongly enough that it can be enjoyed without reading POLTERGEEKS first.

But why would you do that? Just read both. HEXUS!

***
Control by Kim Curran

Control (Shift, #2)
by Kim Curran

Jul 07, 13


CONTROL, Shift to Overdrive

I was provided an advanced reader copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Alternate realities based on the ability of children to redo their decisions. Government conspiracies to rival the likes of Cussler and Brown. No holds barred action and just the right amount of comic book style gore to make a reader squirm and cross their legs. Kim Curran’s CONTROL is YA high octane at its fiercest, on point with Westerfeld’s UGLIES series and definitely just as rewarding, if not more so.

The plot itself—and the concept of living in a world where a person’s undoing of a decision keeps reality in constant flux—was the first intriguing aspect of this book for me. Often when dealing in time-slip/ simultaneous realities material, writers tend to either lose me with the complexity of their squiggly time line, compounded by insisting on plugging in the quantum physics for justification–or they botch the mess bad enough that their plot holes contain their own freaking event horizons. So then, a salute to Ms Curran for one superbly orchestrated plot complete with head spinning twists on par with Heinlein’s “All You Zombies,” but delivered with such direct simplicity as to make the story flow with an ease that feeds the action.

The characters are realistic and likeable enough. Scott Tyler has all the workings of a hero, to include attractive naiveté. One of my favorite parts of the relationship between Scott and his girlfriend Aubrey is when she informs him, “…oh and Scott… no girl would be embarrassed to be seen with you…” (Curran) Just one of the signs of life for Scott Tyler that makes him such a perfect protagonist.

Scott’s girlfriend, Aubrey Jones, is a direct and assertive operator, but still has more than her share of teen moments to make her one lightning storm of a bombshell. Ms Curran weaves the emotional conflict and up-down emo-coaster realisms of a teenage girl through Aubrey with such deliberate effectiveness that it layers on the tension and pushes the pace of the story to that point on the speedometer where the needles reads the “r” of “Kilometers per Hour.” I found myself stammering excuses along with Scott towards the end of the book.

Thematically, CONTROL deals with the obvious issues of making one’s decisions count and then standing by them. But more importantly, there is a much appreciated aspect in the horrible home life of Scott and his sister as they deal with non-stop embattled parents. I think that so many YA readers deal with the very same—that battle of broken homes most kids don’t talk about—and CONTROL brings with it a very unique message of hope to these children: “You’re not alone.” And this is why I decided on the five-stars. Of all that Scott Tyler’s world offers, this was so real for me that it sucked me into the story heart and soul.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book enough. I came on board late for this one and am definitely buying SHIFT now, but even as a standalone, CONTROL was one of the better books I have read this year. A must read for the YA thrill seeker!

***
The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce

The Weight of Souls
by Bryony Pearce (Goodreads Author)

Jul 01, 13


I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest oppinion. I will post a more detailed review soon, but for now I can say that The Weight of Souls hooked me from “jump” and proved to be quite the page-turner with an incredible blend of action, teen characterization, and nicely woven romance arc between two most UNlikely characters. And Anubis. How can you go wrong with Anubis? Mrs Pearce delivers a fantastic story well worth the read. Again, deeper review pending soon.

Aaand here it is!

I have a confession pertaining to Bryony Pearce’s THE WEIGHT OF SOULS: I was hooked from the opening well before strange Chemistry allowed me an ARC, a few months ago with the release of the trailer and first chapter. Mrs Pearce’s direct delivery and in-your-face style of wordcrafting brings the un-vindicated dead to 3-D in a ride that is sure to make Universal Studios V-Coaster designers scratch their chins. The story opens with a delicious shocker and keeps the momentum going from double-decker bus hopping to high anxiety pole walking.

The teenage characters are recognizable. Not just as typical teens, but as those individuals we all dealt with in high school. One particular aspect I appreciated most about Mrs Pearce’s characterization is that she uses double layers for her peeps. The popularity princess has all the superficial beauty and attitude as to be expected, but beneath, she really is just a nasty little biscuit-witch. The male protagonist, Jason, has all of the Draco Malfoyisms to make us hate him at the onset, but then proves to be one hell of an honorable gent hiding behind very real feelings to which most of us male readership can relate. And the main character, Taylor Oh, is about as emo as a girl can get, down to the self-pity—which was a bit annoying at times, but paid off in a huge thematic lesson learned and well worth the wait.

The plot was a bit predictable after the midway point; however, I cannot find this as a fault because the action carries it so well and keeps the pages moving. The themes of “bullying” and “folly of self-pity” add color and tension throughout, and also serve to raise the emotional investment with the characters.

Most of the book was incredibly satisfying, but there were two points I struggled with a bit.

First, the father’s character pressed the believability envelope at times, as did some of the character’s interaction. This being an ARC, I am hoping that the final version includes better transitions and dialogue in certain areas.

Second, the backstory slows the momentum at times. I feel that the archeological dig scenes are necessary, but there was some excess backstory amongst the teenagers that felt superfluous and could have been covered in a few sentences as part of the current-time action/ dialogue, though I believe these parts are small enough that most YA readers will appreciate them more than see them as speed bumps.

Overall, I liked this book and intend to buy the final version for my own teens–the themes are just that powerful, as is the delivery. Despite the few problems I pointed out, THE WEIGHT OF SOULS was a darned good story and it stays with me, the Mark of any good tale!

***
Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa\
Playing Tyler
by T.L. Costa (Goodreads Author)

May 11, 13
5 of 5 stars (I LOVE THIS BOOK! BUY IT. NOW.)

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened PLAYING TYLER by T L Costa. The vibrant elements of the cover alone were enough to make me stop and devour the details with dark intrigue.

And I was taken after the first paragraph, my life consigned to Tyler and Ani for the next fourteen hours. I could not put it down.

The voice of protagonist Tyler MacCandless is rendered in perfect ADHD, so much to the point that I found myself reading faster and pedaling my own foot with each moment spent with him. Tyler is the perfect teen hero, complete with foul mouth yet strong moral compass, the selfless pariah navigating through a collapsing world of selfish adults. And every moment is a whirlwind of screaming, random thoughts he must overcome just to get through a day.

Ani Bagdorian, the second voice of PLAYING TYLER, is just as conflicted, a sixteen-year old prodigy feeling her way through a similarly outcast life of being too young for her peer group at Yale University, too girl for her boy-dominated world as a champion gamer/ programmer, and suddenly dealing with the most complicated first romance she could possibly imagine. One that puts her on a jeopardy-scale that starts with academic stability but quickly slides to a threat far worse.

Without going into spoiler detail, PLAYING TYLER takes on very real issues that have come to the forefront in modern society thanks to multiple wars and unmanned war-fighting technology, as well as the demons of drug abuse and family disconnection. The themes of selfless service and staying true to oneself despite the odds drive the continually intensifying plot. Connecticut’s teenage setting comes to life thanks to inclusion of actual pop culture icons: anime interests, real video games, and movies. Finally, the teen dialogue is fresh and believable, as are the idiosyncrasies of military radio communications/ COIN Theater tactics, and a certain technical lean on programming expertise that seals the plausibility of PLAYING TYLER, sure to raise many a young hacker to an accord of head nods and Mountain Dew salutes.

T L Costa brings the intrigue of Tom Clancy, technical wizardry of Dan Brown, and the heartthrob of Stephanie Meyer to life in a voice that is entirely her own, one that speaks for the new generation of teenage survivors. A must read for YA and adult audiences alike, PLAYING TYLER is a story that will stay with you for a very long time.

***
The Host by Stephenie Meyer

The Host (The Host, #1)
by Stephenie Meyer

Apr 24, 13

This is the first novel I have read by Stephanie Meyer and I am glad I took the time to do so. I have read YA Teen Paranormal/ Romance authors before and so I was naturally expecting the style of writing that focuses on female feelings with stylistic prose. Not to say that the protagonist “Wanda/ Wanderer” does not pull the reader into her emotional maelstrom–she does so often and it is rich with flavor as she shares the feelings of her host, Melanie–but the book is written with a direct style I usually find in more action-oriented genres. Something I personally prefer over the “purple prose” that is often found in YA Teen Para genres.The plot is simple enough to follow, yet pleasantly unpredictable. The themes of Kindness and Sympathy are well sculpted throughout by Meyer’s very realistic use of the dichotomy of human feelings in terms of selfless v. selfish to counterbalance the–to use Mrs. Meyer’s own favorite term for her parasitic aliens “souls”–altruistic.I felt that the major conflict–and the incredible reversal of that conflict through character growth were perhaps the best parts of this book. Wanda’s antagonist is a shared mind, shared feelings with some rather steamy incidents regarding romantic jealousy over two separate men, and then the classic conflict of protagonist against self as she fights her own desires and alien rationale.The imagery is incredible, as well as the simple beauty of the alien parasites from their physical form to their direct labeling system that reflects a culture derived from unconditional love and honesty.One of the things that I appreciated about this book was the hypertext questions and musical links to go along with Mrs. Meyer’s listening recommendations for certain sections. It is classified as YA, and the discussion questions at the end would definitely help place The Host in a good classroom environment, but it seemed to me to be not so much of a YA read as a very clean adult novel.I did find one minor slip in the story and that was in the characterizations towards the end. Some of the characters seemed to jump to extremes, especially in Mrs. Meyer’s use of phonetics for dialogue to reflect rustic vernacular. It was not that she did so poorly, quite contrary, but that it was just suddenly much more pronounced at the final fifth of the book. Also, the actions of “loving” violence against the protagonist seemed a bit over-the-top as well, almost to the point of being uncomfortable and out of character.Overall, I am very glad I read The Host and look forward to reading more from Stephanie Meyer should she continue along the SF/ Romance genre.

***

 

Poltergeeks by Sean Cummings

Poltergeeks

by Sean Cummings

Apr 04, 13

POLTERGEEKS: May the Force bewitch you!

The stunning cover art of POLTERGEEKS is a promise delivered. From the intense opening scene until the spectacular climax, author Sean Cummings conjures a Teen Paranormal novel that crosses the boundaries of the heretofore stereotypical teenage girl-biased genre and ushers in a whole new perspective, one to which many of us can easily relate.

POLTERGEEKS is about teenage witch Julie Richardson and her struggle to prove herself to her mother, a powerful witch that lives apart from the local coven. When sudden poltergeist activity reaches new and terrifying levels of violence, Julie’s mother is compromised and a tragic twist of irony places Julie in such a position where she must prove herself if she is to save her mother’s life. Her journey becomes one of self-discovery and growth as Julie must navigate through two worlds, one of high school drama and typical teen challenges, the other a breakneck pace through the spirit world of evil shades and spell-blasting immortals.

Sean Cummings captures the voice of his teenage protagonist from a surprisingly risky style, but one that pays dividends throughout. Unlike the typical, first-person POV and present tense combination found in so many titles under the Teen Paranormal heading of late, POTERGEEKS is written in a third-person past tense, making it a bit more appealing to the young male audience, as well as female. Also, the use of language is spot on with a great Star Wars motif woven throughout and a very believable teen dialect found in both conversation as well as narrative. Of course, it wouldn’t be a good teen novel without a solid romance arc and Sean Cummings crafts a beautiful one that—while not exactly unexpected—teases and then delivers to satisfaction.

Overall, the only drawbacks I found in POLTERGEEKS were a few very minor grammatical/ typeset errors in the e-book version, though I suspect that is idiosyncratic to digits and not found in the actual print edition.

Highly recommended, POLTERGEEKS is an action adventure amalgam at every chapter. Righteous imagery, military precise detail, and all the wonder of the unknown wrapped into one delightful tale where the teenage witch is more than just a spell-casting chick in red hair and sparkles—she’s a kick ass heroine with the moves of a ninja and the power of a Jedi, all fueled by a heart that beats fierce for the ones she loves.

***
Broken by A.E. Rought

 

Broken (Broken, #1)
by A.E. Rought

Apr 02, 13
BROKEN is a paranormal romance, dark and moving, powered by the storm of a teenaged girl’s feelings.When I first saw the cover and synopsis, I was admittedly hesitant. The YA Paranormal Romance genre has more than its share of poorly written books covering young women falling in love with monsters and super beings. But in this case, I am glad I took the risk.BROKEN is both well written and captivating, setting itself apart.From the onset, A.E. Rought’s tale is birthed in tragedy as teenaged protagonist, Emma, moves through the cemetery of her recently departed boyfriend, Daniel. Life no longer holds meaning and the healing process is stunted from the deep wounds of overwhelming loss. But when her seemingly unbreakable shell of misery is prodded by newcomer, Alex Franks, it fractures in all of the right places… as does her heart. Eerie similarities between the deceased Daniel and Alex spin Emma into a surreal existence where she is forced to confront her feelings, a process complicated by the dark mystery enshrouding Alex and the sudden appearance of macabre manifestations that haunt her periphery.The plot moves forward with drive and momentum, and the setting and characters are well rendered throughout. Grammatically, the book is finely crafted and a flowing pleasure to read. A. E. Rought captures each moment with concise prose that not only delivers, but sucks you right in. Her vocabulary choice for BROKEN is also a perfect fit for the present tense, first person narrative given from a teenaged girl’s perspective, manipulating reader emotion along the way. But for me, the best part was the title-contrasting theme of healing that kept me intertwined with Emma till the incredible resolution.

***

Mar 28, 2012

I Am the Messenger
by Markus Zusak (Goodreads Author)

Second only to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Great read, good pace, and suspenseful enough to make it one of those stories you regret for its owning of a “last page.” Always part of my library.

***

Mar 28, 2012

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon

Written from the perspective of a teen with Aspergers, this is a rich page-burner. The pace is outstanding, the plot develops naturally and with the a sense of realistic desperation that I could not help but start and finish in one motion, never putting the book down. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect The Curious Incident is Mr. Haddon’s uncanny ability to write in character. His voice delivers. If you can only read one more book before your die, make it this one.

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