Tag Archives: young adult

Mirror at the Heart of Time (The Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek Book 3)

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Mirror at the Heart of Time (The Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek Book 3) by [Laporta, Mark]

Mirror at the Heart of Time is a brilliant conclusion to an equally brilliant series that will leave readers ecstatic, on the edge of their seats, and heart broken to see such great characters go, but it’s well worth it.
In the thrilling conclusion of “The Changing Hearts of Ixdhan Daherek,” Ixdahan and Lena face the universe’s greatest threat yet: a force that seeks to erode time itself. After all they’ve been through together, defeating a culture based on a miracle diet, getting a girl from the future back to her time, and finally figuring out their relationship once and for all should be a piece of cake…right?

In case you haven’t noticed, I adore these books. The wonderful characters, the outlandish conflicts, the strange worlds and aliens, all of it. Mirror at the Heart of Time is no exception. In addition everything I loved about the first two books, the trilogy’s conclusion reaches a level of maturity that makes it a must-read for fans of YA, especially fans of YA sci-fi and fantasy.

I’ve talked at lengths about Laporta’s great world building and creative story telling in the reviews for Heart of Earth and Heart of Mystery, but I can’t emphasize enough how great his characters are, especially in this final installment. It’s been quite the adventure watching Ixdahan and Lena grow as characters over the course of these books and Laporta gives them the perfect send off, both for the characters as well the readers, I think.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth mentioning again: If you write YA, sci-fi or otherwise, I highly recommend this series just to see how Laporta writes teenagers, because he does it brilliantly.

So, if you’re a fan of YA, sci-fi, or you want to take a few hours and feel like a kid again, check out the entire Changing Hearts series. It’s a smart, funny, endearing trip through the cosmos you won’t soon forget.

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“Heart of Mystery”– Mark Laporta

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Plot: 5/5       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 3/5        Entertainment: 5/5       World Building: 5/5

 

51wgxgwbihl-_sx331_bo1204203200_   When an unlikely intergalactic alliance comes to light, Ixdahan Daharek (AKA Derek) and his human best friend, Lena Gabrilowicz, must save not only the Earth this time, but the very fabric of space itself. Between their search for alien cookware, stopping a clone army, and calming down a moody robot, Ixdahan and Lena must also figure out their feelings for one another once and for all. But no pressure, right?

 

Guys. I love these books so much. Mark Laporta officially has a spot on my “Favorite Indie Authors of All Times” list and I haven’t even been reviewing for a full year yet. “Heart of Mystery” is just as funny, creative, zany, endearing, and memorable as “Heart of Earth,” if not more-so since it builds on such a great foundation.

 

Just like the first installment, the sci-fi elements are funny, colorful, and an absolute joy to read. Between the new, strange aliens and the action there’s never a dull moment, no matter what species Derek is around and, yet again Derek and his friends are some of the best teenagers I’ve ever read.

 

Laporta knows how to tap into the most universal aspects of being a teenager and bring them to life in the most outlandish situations. Derek and Lena not only grow as an individual characters, but as teenagers entering adulthood, which can be hard to capture, regardless of the YA subgenre.

 

I don’t want to give too much away, but I just want to give an example. There’s a scene where Derek is talking with another character about the gravity of his situation and what the adults are asking of him. The conversation turns to Derek himself and how important it is for him to stick to his morals, especially in a situation with such dire consequences.

 

That kind of message is so important for young people, especially in times like these. Not only that, but Laporta makes the world around Derek and his friends so much fun and exciting that the message is bound to stick. I know the scene itself will stick with me for a long time and I’m 24.

 

So, if you like bizarre worlds, even more bizarre conflicts, and wonderful characters, go read “Heart of Earth,” if you haven’t already, and read “Heart of Mystery” intermediately after, regardless of your age. Your inner kid will thank you. And don’t forget to look for the conclusion to Derek’s adventures in “Mirror at the Heart of Time,” set to be released this summer!   

Bad Bloods: November Rain– Shannon A. Thompson

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Bad Bloods: November Rain– Shannon A. Thompson

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 3/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 4/5

“Bad Bloods” is a solid work of dystopian YA that will delight any fan of the genre. It also includes an angle that is too often overlooked by other authors in the category.

Serena was born a bad blood–a person with strange unique powers. In the city of Vendona, that’s an automatic death sentence. Before Serena can be executed, a prison guard helps her escape, setting into motion a chain of events that will determine Vendona’s political future and every bad blood’s right to be seen as human.

While I can’t say “Bad Bloods” is particularly original–we’ve seen a lot of stories like this in the past ten years or so–I think it still works. The plot is engaging, the characters are interesting and the bad bloods’ powers are unique. What really sets “Bad Bloods” apart is a world building aspect many dystopian YA seem to forget:

The political climate of “Bad Bloods” is eerily similar to our own.

This past election year has been hard on everyone and I don’t want to focus on it too much (this is a book review, after all), but it’s hard to deny that the question of who gets what fundamental rights has been front and center lately. When I realized that “Bad Bloods” dealt with a very similar dilemma, I got chills and made me want to read on.

I’m not sure if Thompson meant for the major conflict to come across like that, but that’s how I interpreted it and I think it makes “Bad Bloods” stand out in the dystopian YA genre for the better.

If you liked books such as “Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” or even James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride,” I’d definitely say you should check out “Bad Bloods.” It has all the things dystopian readers love about the genre, plus an extra kick. So, if you’ve got some free time over the New Year’s holiday, head over to Amazon and check out “Bad Bloods” for yourself.

My Fair Assassin–C.J. Anaya

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My Fair Assassin–C.J. Anaya

Plot: 4/4       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 4/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 4/5

My Fair Assassin is a rare gem in the Paranormal Romance genre. The two main leads are both enjoyable, the writing is engaging, and the alterations to traditional faerie lore lend themselves to some fun and creative world building.

Crysta has come to accept that she’s strange. For years she’s tried to hide her white hair, strange powers and pointed ears in hopes of finding an adoptive family with little luck. Now, at seventeen, she’s chosen to be on her own, but her independence is short lived when an assassin from another realm appears in her living room. While his intentions of killing her seem clean cut, the more he learns about her, the more complicated their relationship becomes.

As someone who was in high school when Twilight was getting big, I honestly thought I’d seen it all when it came to YA Paranormal Romance. I’m so glad Anaya proved me wrong.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually really liked Crysta. She’s a rarity all on her own in that she’s a girl who is legitimately not like other girls, resulting in a personal struggle that my heart broke for. Normally I roll my eyes at these kind of characters, but Crysta’s struggle for belonging and identity felt real and sympathetic, making her a character I would actually like to see teen girls exposed to and sympathize with.

Her relationship with Jareth, the assassin, is pretty great as well. Their interactions are funny and genuine. Nothing feels forced or contrived. Every line of dialogue and interaction feels like a real interaction between two people, even if one is an assassin sent from Faerie. In fact, if you write YA, especially romance, I recommend you check this book out for Anaya’s use of dialogue.

Her take on Seely and Unseely fae seems interesting as well, all though I can’t say too much about it since we don’t actually get to see either of the courts. However, as someone who’s seen a fair amount of them in urban fantasy (heck, I’m even working on a book about them), it was nice to have a different take on the lore. I’m actually really curious to read more about them in future books.

I just wish the actual romance held my interest like the rest of the book’s elements. As great as the rest of the book was, the actual romance felt a tad bit cliche. What do romance writers have against letting couples fall in love like normal people? I don’t understand it.

However, I do acknowledge that it’s a matter of personal taste and a symptom of the entire genre more than an error on Anaya’s part, so I’d still highly recommend giving it a read, even if you’re not usually a fan of Paranormal Romance. There’s still plenty of great stuff there to enjoy, so if you’re looking for a quick light read with some great characters, fun dialogue, and an interesting take on Faerie, give My Fair Assassin a try.

Moonchild-Kate L. Mary

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Moonchild-Kate L. Mary

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 4/5       Writing: 5/5       Entertainment: 5/5       World Building: 5/5

With its captivating setting, riveting plot, and heart-pounding action, “Moonchild” is a much needed breath of fresh air in the world of YA fantasy. I’d say the same in the context of New Adult fantasy as well since the novel teeters between the two, which works to its benefit. Whichever age bracket you want to put it is, mature YA or NA, “Moonchild” is an original, creative, and exciting read whether you’re familiar with the world of steampunk or not.

Scarlett Moon lives on the streets of a world where computers are a sin and airship rule the skies. Those in control are controlled in turn by corruption. Those who go against them are sent to the coal mines to pay for their crimes. When her best friend, Rory, meets such a fate, Scarlett’s life begins to crumble. Even after she and the rest of her friends are rescued by a band of coal-smuggling pirates, Scarlett finds it hard to fix the invisible walls she has built to protect herself. Among the pirates is the dashing Asher Kimura, who only makes Scarlett’s efforts all the more difficult. When she discovers that there might be a way to save Rory, Scarlett will have to put her friend’s life before her own, even if it means leaving herself vulnerable to Asher’s charm and affection.

There’s so much great stuff in this book that it’s hard to know where to begin.

For starters, the setting is a lot of fun. It blends steampunk and the post-apocalyptic genres together seamlessly and brings something new to both categories, which is refreshing seeing as the post-apocalyptic side has been sufficiently milked. The world that Scarlett inhibits is so vast and vivid that it lends itself to a lot of future stories and creative set ups. The characters that inhibit this world are fantastic as well. While not the most memorable, they all offer something important in every scene they’re in. If they’re not moving the story forward, they’re offering insight about the world around them, providing foils to other characters, or helping to build conflict. They each have a job and they execute it perfectly.

I liked Asher in particular.  It takes about two paragraphs to figure out that he’s going to be Scarlett’s love interest, but Mary does a wonderful job making him just as believable and likeable as Scarlett. If anything, he’s more believable and likeable than Scarlett, but I’ll talk about her soon enough. I especially like the way Mary uses Asher to explore some mature themes that you wouldn’t expect from a book like this. That little detail gives “Moonchild” a depth that transcends its genre and intended age group (even if that detail is still a little fuzzy).

The main conflict ensnared me from start and I was thankful for the route it took. In the first few chapters, I was worried that “Moonchild” was going to be another “Hunger Games”/“Divergent” clone, but despite its small scale in comparison to the rest of this new world, it proved to be exciting, captivating, and emotionally gripping, much to my surprise. That is due in no small part to the magnificent writing. Both the narration and the dialogue do a great job introducing the reader to both the world and the characters. Despite the newness of it all, nothing feels like exposition. Everything feels like natural storytelling. The entirebook flows like a bullet train heading for a destination you can’t wait to reach, even if the scenery outside is immensely enjoyable.

Despite all of “Moonchild’s” strengths, its protagonist, Scarlett, was rather disappointing. To be fair, she really shines in the action scenes. She’s a headstrong force to be reckoned with and has no trouble getting her hands dirty. In the quiet moments, however, she begins to fall apart. She suffers from that “strong female character” syndrome where “strong and confident” is confused for “emotionless and cold.” Normally I’d shrug it off, but she’s so incredibly bad at it that she started to get on my nerves. She spouts Queen Elsa-esque rhetoric of “Conceal, don’t feel,” but she never seems to follow it. She’s constantly letting her negative feelings color how she sees people and situations and ends up making bad choices because of them. If she were fifteen or sixteen, I might have just made a footnote about the discrepancy, but she’s nineteen. If she’s going to give into emotionally-driven recklessness, Mary should have just called it than rather than hide it behind the need for a “strong female character.” It would have made Scarlett a bit more mature and likeable.

Thankfully, Scarlett is only one piece of an otherwise expertly crafted novel and I won’t deny that she could mature over the course of future novels (which I would love to read, just so you know, Kate L. Mary).

As a whole, “Moonchild” is brilliant. The world is fascinating and vibrant, the characters are enjoyable, the conflict will have you desperate to see the end, and the brilliantly written first-person narrative is worth taking a look at in and of itself. If you’re a long-time fan of steampunk, post-apocalypses, mature YA and NA, or even if you’re new to all of it, I highly suggest you pick up “Moonchild” and get swept away on an air ship. I’m sure it’ll be an adventure.

 

Originally posted on tabbyafae.com on August 20, 2016

Everblue–Brenda Pandos

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Everblue–Brenda Pandos

Plot: 2/5       Characters:3/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 3/5       World Building: 4/5

Everblue is an imaginative and artistic piece that has the potential to reshape the YA fantasy landscape if it had more press. It takes the world of mermaids, which is surprisingly untouched in the paranormal romance subgenre, and gives it some creative and original spins. Unfortunately, the actual romantic elements is lackluster at its best and cringe worthy at its worst.

Ashlyn Lanski is ready for her life to start. With her best friend Tatiana at her side, Ash wants to leave her sleepy home town on the edge of Lake Tahoe, start college, and explore the world. Maybe then Ash can get over her feelings for Tatiana’s brother, Finley, too. Unfortunately, fate has different plans, due in no small part to the fact that Tatiana and Finley are merpeople. For years their family has guarded the ancient gate to Natatoria, their underwater homeland. When a routine meeting in Natatoria takes a strange turn, the siblings find themselves trapped there with Ashlyn still on shore, none the wiser. Can she figure out their secret and help protect their home? Can Tatiana and Finley escape and return to the place and people they truly call home?

I should mention that this review is bit of a rewrite. I read Everblue some time ago before I started blogging. Since it’s not a very long book, so I went back and reread it because I really do think the well-done aspects deserve credit.

As much as Finley and Tatiana hate the place, Natatoria is a lot of fun. The locations are really interesting, colorful, and creative. Given the conflict it brings with it, Natatoria brings out the best in the siblings as well. Finley’s not only frustrated by being stuck in Natatoria, where he knows almost no one, but his father goes on a special mission ordered by the king, leaving Finley behind. Being a seventeen-year-old boy, he’s hurt, frustrated, and tries to prepare himself for the day his dad decides to rely on him. Tatiana is incredibly limited in what she can do due to her gender and mer-culture, which leaves her frustrated and homesick. Both personal conflicts were well-fleshed out, believable, and I’d even say relatable. Around that age, teens want more responsibility. They want to be trusted. They want to branch out and find who they are, regardless what their culture’s customs dictate. I still think that, if Pandos had made the book purely about that, she could have launched a new YA fantasy fad. But, unfortunately, we have to put up with Ash for half of the book.

She’s blander than I remember. Her whole purpose is still to fall in love with Finley through mermaid ritual called “Promising.” Once a couple kisses, they’re “promised” to each other and fall in love for life. Outside of that subplot, Ash doesn’t really do anything crucial to the story. She just lives her normal human life or mopes around missing Tatiana or gives Bella Swan a run for her money in her obsession over Finley. It’s particularly disappointing since there’s so much going on in Natatoria, minus the mermaid misogyny.

The first time around I didn’t notice it as much, but the whole idea of “promising” and the way mermaids are treated sounds a lot like the toxic “purity culture” that plagues certain Christian denominations. Merpeople are “promised” on their first kiss and they will only ever want each other for the rest of their lives, no matter how horrible the other person is. Mermaids have to be carefully watched at all time lest they bewitched mermen who can’t help but fall under their spell. This all sounds like toxic doctrine that I’ve spent years unlearning so reading about an entire mythos built around it rubbed me the wrong way. Especially when there were more exciting, creative conflicts brewing.

Normally I’d just roll my eyes at the “promising” nonsense (lazy romances are a dime a dozen so what can you do?), but there’s also whispers of merpeople going to war with humans, which lends itself to a lot of excitement and build up. Apparently, mermaid magic works on human men too, so why not use their magic as a weapon? That would be awesome to read. Unfortunate for humans, obviously, but awesome to read.

Despite Ash being a cardboard cutout and the whole “promising’ thing creeping me out, I really do think the parts in Natatoria are worth a read. The scenes themselves are fun because you get to see how a society functions under the sea, what newcomers have to adjust to, and the siblings really are more interesting here. Not to mention the potential mer-human war. That still sounds pretty cool. The nice thing is that Finley and Ash’s chapters alternate, so she’s easy enough to skip. Also, I just found out that Pandos is running a promotion where her book is free to download on Kindles, which is always a perk. So, if you like fantasy in general or paranormal romance in particular, dive on into Everblue, or at least get your feet wet.

Transfixion– J. Giambrone

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Plot: 3/5     Characters: 2/5     Writing: 2/5     Entertainment: 3/5      World Building: 4/5

“Transfixion” is a relatively easy YA science-fiction read with an interesting premise and some decent action, but a lack-luster protagonist and unexceptional writing stop it from being incredible.

Kaylee’s life is thrown into chaos when an unknown force takes control of her city’s TV broadcast system and turns its citizens into hypnotized soldiers. Alone and suddenly unable to speak, Kaylee must figure out how to survive in this new world, find her father, and help bring peace back to the world.

One thing I love about YA sci-fi is how imaginative it can be and “Transfixion” is no exception. Since binge-watching Netflix has become a national past time, the “take-over-the-air-waves” scenario is the perfect balance of far-fetched and believable to suck readers in. It definitely sucked me in. I wanted to know how the characters were going to stop a force that they can’t really touch or pin down and the curiosity held me until the end of the book.

Unfortunately, Kaylee was my guide on the journey. I don’t think she’s a bad character per say, she’s just not interesting enough to be the protagonist. For the first half of the book she has the strangest set of priorities I’ve ever seen in a post-apocalypse book, which was off putting. Not only that, but she’s incredibly disengaged with the world around her. By the time she comes around, there’s not enough book left to make her anything more than a Katniss Everdeen-Tris Prior wannabe. If a key component of a story is going to be survival, the protagonist needs to be interested in surviving most, if not the entire course of the book, not just the second half. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the focus should have been on one of the boys, either Lucas or Dustin. Some of her issues, however, might have been due to the writing.

Usually, I give writers a lot of slack when it comes to mechanics. If the story and characters are strong I let the actual writing slide, but the characters were so weak and the narration so sloppy that I was constantly being distracted. I was constantly being told what was going on rather than being shown. Humans rely on a lot of avenues to communicate what they’re thinking and feeling and there are a plethora of ways to describe settings and action, but I don’t think Giambrone really took full advantage of that. Telling us everything was just easier. In the end, that really hurt what could have been a phenomenal book.

All and all, I think “Transfixion” could have been great if Giambrone had a beta-reader or two look at it. Maybe then Kaylee and the writing would have been stronger. The premise really lends itself to the genre and I’m quite disappointed it didn’t live up to its potential. However, I’m still glad I gave it a try, so if you like to focus on ideas rather than characters and you don’t pay much attention to writing, “Transfixion” just might be your next YA sci-fi fix.