Young Adult

Mapping and Intrigue

Makiia Lucier is known for her historical fiction writing and she’s proved her strengths with her newest book. Isle of Blood and Stone revolves around an 18-year-old mystery of two missing princes and new clues have come to light. There are a couple of gripes people have shared in their own reviews, and I would like to address them and why those things didn’t bother me.

There were some complaints of there not being enough adventure. On the contrary, there is adventure, albeit not the type we might have expected. The protagonist, Elias, is a map maker. This world is largely untraveled and in the city of St. John del Mar, boys are trained to become geographers, preparing them to travel for months, if not years, at a time to chart not only unknown territory but areas recently affected by natural disaster. These maps are copied and sold to traders, showing them the best sailing routes, the best dock stations, and even what coves to expect pirates laying in wait. When we meet Elias, he’s just returned from a trip to Hellespont, charting their changed landscape after a recent earthquake. This might have been the story some people believed they would be reading. I think it does sound like an exciting adventure to follow. The dangers of sailing, visiting new lands even the protagonist doesn’t know. While the story Lucier tells us is a slow burner, it still has its adventures. The mystery is political in nature with two missing princes, but it certainly doesn’t all unfold in a stuffy chamber room. Lucier has a lot of world building to get through first. Which brings me to the next complaint.

There seems to be a bit of contradiction with how people feel about the world. Most agreed the world building was great and imaginative, but they were confused at times where characters were, where they were traveling to, and who characters were. None of this bothered me much. This is probably a personal thing, but I don’t pay too close attention to where characters are traveling or how long it takes them to get there. I’m more interested in what’s happening during the journey and what will happen when they reach their destination. When books include a map in the beginning (this ARC doesn’t include one but I fully expect something beautifully detailed, being a story about map makers after all) I don’t bother studying it until I’ve finished the book. Before I know the names of cities and towns or have a preliminary image in my head, the map means nothing to me. It becomes more interesting after the fact. As for the characters not being explained enough, that didn’t bother me expect for some names being similar. I had a writing teacher in college that always cautioned when you have several characters, keep their names distant, even to the point of not starting them with the same letter. When authors name their characters too similarly, that’s when I get confused. But this only happens here with two characters’ names starting with A. They were different enough in their personalities that if I didn’t skim over the name too quickly, it wasn’t a problem.

There is something enduring about Isle of Blood and Stone. It’s been a while since I’ve truly liked the strong female character and didn’t hate the romance. I criticize the romance in stories harshly, but I was rooting for this one to work out. It’s a romance based on years of friendship and it feels earned when Lucier finally give it to us. Mercedes is the strong female I’ve felt to be missing from my reading lately. She’s true in her loyalties and relationships while being fully capable of taking care of herself. The best part, she doesn’t spend every conversation reminding people of that. Of course, it happens a couple of times, but those times were legit reasons for her safety. And the one time you would expect her to have to fight about being capable, she is given trust and understanding. There were many moments throughout the story that were real and pure and it made me like the book that much more.

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman

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What Makes Us Human?

Adrianne Finlay tackles a big concept with Your One and Only in only 320 pages. There is a vast amount that happens in this story, and there is even more that could happen.

As humanity is slowly killed by a plague, a group of scientists build a quarantined community in Costa Rica and tirelessly work on creating clones. As the original scientists die and the clone population grows, their views of humanity grow more perverse with each new generation. The originals intended for these clones to reproduce in a natural, sexual way, but the clones have their own ideas for such matters.

After 300 years of cloning the same DNA the structure is breaking down and becoming unstable. Using the archive of additional human DNA curated by the Originals, the clones create a human. Jack is treated with disgust and disdain for being different and not a perfect copy of one of the originals. He is left mostly isolated and introduced to the group of clones his own age when they are in their mid-teens. Naturally it doesn’t go well. One clone, Althea-310 sympathizes with Jack as she has a scar on her wrist, setting her apart from her flawless Althea sisters. And this sympathy is the beginning of the end.

Finlay dedicates much of the beginning of the novel to world building, thus giving it a slow start. She alternates POVs from Althea-310 and Jack and it helps greatly to round out not only the characters but the stores overall. The clones have bizarre customs, but we’re given a chance to understand them with Althea’s POV. Jack’s rage and violence wouldn’t have felt as sincere if we didn’t see his POV, either.

For as slow as the beginning is, the ending zips by. The action escalates as the story goes on, but I grew concerned as the number of pages dwindled and the plot seemed to lengthen. The ending is left opened but satisfying enough that I’m not expecting a sequel, but Finlay covers a lot of ground in a dozen pages. This leaves the whole story feeling off kilter. Finlay built an interesting world, giving us a unique clone story. Even with the unbalanced narration, it was still a fun read. It probably won’t make my top 10 for 2018 (there is a lot of year left) but I certainly don’t regret reading it.

 

 

By: Emily Coleman

What Will Disappear Next?

I haven’t been reading YA as frequently as I used to. The characters tend to get on my nerves and the sentences are more likely to bother me. While The Disappearances is far from perfect, it has a unique and refreshing premise. Murphy created a story steeped in mystery laced with literary references. The amount of research and prep that went into this stories structure is impressive. And as Murphy’s debut novel, she will only strengthen her style and voice.

Aila and her brother Miles are shipped off to live with her deceased mother’s childhood friend after their father is drafted into WWl. The siblings are treated with distrust and disdain because their mother left Sterling and never came back. Aila learns their mother was blamed for a curse blanketing the town and the surrounding towns for decades. The disappearances occur every seven years. Smell disappeared first. The stars. Colors from paint and pencils. A person’s reflection. Children born into these towns grow up without these senses. When Aila and Miles arrive, they lose all of them as well.

Each disappearance could be linked back to Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Murphy must have read Shakespeare backward and forward to pull out just the right lines to create a story around them. Using everything she’s learned from her mother’s personal copy of Shakespeare’s collected works, Aila helps the town inventor and her new group of friends to lift the curse that has plagued the town for so long.

The Disappearances is a story that suffers from “weak ending” syndrome. The ending seemed too easy. There were questions left unanswered. Not that the story rose those questions, but I wanted to know more about why that worked or how that didn’t work. It wasn’t explored enough for me to feel completely satisfied. My final feeling is that it was good; worthwhile premise but lackluster ending.

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman

Enchanting Sisters

The universe is sending me messages about sisters. I didn’t mean to read back to back books containing a strong sister bond but now that I have, my tear ducts are shriveled and dry. The tag line on the front of the ARC of Caraval is “Remember, it’s only a game…” but when it comes to your sister, it’s never just a game. The main characters Scarlett will protect her sister, Tella, from anyone and anything.img_2391

Scarlett has to be mother and best friend and older sister while protecting Tella from their manipulative, abusive father. Of course Tella has a wild streak that makes it difficult to protect her but Scarlett does her best making sure their father stays unaware of Tella’s actions. Scarlett doesn’t always succeed and it was startling to find out how their father, the governor of a small isle, punishes his daughters. Caraval is essentially an elaborate circus, with less animals, and a scavenger hunt twist. Legend is the ringmaster with plenty of performers to make the five night event feel like a daring adventure. The players are warned at the start “it’s only a game” but the performers encourage them to indulge during the game.

Each year Legend creates a game of tricks and clues for the prize at the end. This year it’s a wish, but to win you have to find the stolen item. Scarlett and Tella have a lot of things to wish for but Scarlett quickly learns she has more at stake when the stolen item to find is her sister. Scar has never been the daring one but she will risk her father’s wrath and her engagement to find Tella first. She has help from the sailor that got the sisters to Caraval but he seems to know too much about the game and has an awful lot of secrets for Scarlett to completely trust him.

Stephanie Garber wrote a magical tale not only of a sister’s love but of self-discovery and self-worth. I loved the world of Caraval. Magical, inviting, but dangerous and a little faded around the edges. Garber added wonderful details to make the island feel tangible. Some of my issues were with the clues Scarlett was searching for. Sometimes it seemed she forgot she was looking for clues at all, and the second, third, and fourth clues happened all at once. It didn’t feel like Scarlett had to work for them and it was really rushed, but then she still didn’t find her sister for some time. The plot structure in the middle was just a little of but I loved the cliff hanger at the end. The story wrapped up but it’s far from over. Hopefully we get to follow Tella on the next adventure.

Protect Your Own

On the back of the ARC, there is a blurb that says “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets Gone Girl” and it’s a pretty accurate description. I got more Dragon Tattoo than Gone Girl but I see what they’re saying. This is a solid story. It’s not that it took me by surprise because I expected it to be bad, but I surprised myself by how fast I drank this story in. Twists and turns and danger makes for some fast reading but it helps when you care about the characters.img_2363

Christina a.k.a. Tina a.k.a. Tiny Girl/Tiny is broken in so many believable ways. Fleeing the Congo as a young child with a single mother can’t be easy but who would have thought living in a gated estate is where she would end up being orphaned. Living on the street, learning to pickpocket is where she becomes Tiny Girl. The pickpocketing is just practice until she becomes stronger, faster, sneakier, until she can take on her revenge.

Natalie Anderson not only created believable characters but wove together an intricate story of secrets. Anderson tore Tina’s world apart and let us watch her put it back together. She has a strong writing voice but my one critique of her writing was how American the characters sounded. These are teenagers and street thugs who grew up in the Congo or in Sangui City but sometimes is was hard to think of them as natives. And yet on the other hand, I completely believed her description of the area. Of course I’ve never been there to see it myself but nothing about her world building took me out of the story.

As the book worked up to the fast-paced resolution, I got nervous it would fall apart. It would have been easy with one minor change and I would have been disappointed. But I’m happy with how the conflict resolved. And then the last couple of pages happened. In my defense, anything to do with sisters gets me a little emotional but as I finished the book, I was on a plane to Minnesota for my sister’s wedding. Let’s just say I stared out the window until I got myself under control again. Not saying anyone else will end up an emotional mess like I did, but it is touching. Natalie Anderson did a great job for being a debut author and it’ll be fun to see what else she comes up with.

Going Down In Flames

Sarah Raughley drops us in the middle of this dystopian future, which include phantom (wraith-like beings with destructive power) and 4 teenage girls with elemental powers who are trained to protect the world from the phantoms. When a girl, an Effigie, is killed, a new girl receives those same powers and joins the famous Effigie group. At the start of the story, Maia knows she has been chosen as the new flame Effigie but hasn’t told anyone yet. The Sect (international organization in charge of the Effigies) will find her eventually and force her to reveal herself.img_2127

While the story grabs your attention, I had some trouble with the dialogue, especially in the beginning. Maia had a terrible habit of talking around what she wanted to say. I understand she’s only 16 and is more than a little uncomfortable with being an Effigie, but spit it out girl! Rhys is a Sect member and ultimately the love interest, and scenes between the two of them were difficult to get through. Rhys has a crush on Maia but won’t act on it, and also has an important secret to tell her but kept skirting around it until they were interrupted. Over and over again. We still don’t know what his secret is. Raughley did enough to keep my interested in the story as it went along but she withheld some information and I’m not sure it was necessary. Are those secrets going to play that big of a role in the coming books? I might be more inclined to continue the series if I understood more of what was happening.

I was disappointed with the characters as well. Nothing about them made them more than just stereotypes. Maia is quiet and awkward, Belle is the face of the Effigies but is cold and disinterested in anyone else, Chae Rin has been outcast by the Sect for being too destructive and now occupies her time as an acrobat in the circus, and Lake has PTSD from her last battle so she decides to try her hand at being a pop star. Belle comes the closest to breaking her cold hearted shell and having some character development, but Raughley pulls her back again and doesn’t give us the satisfaction to seeing beyond her exterior.

I’m hoping this will be a trilogy. Three books would be enough for this story. Raughley has done well with a diverse setting but there is a lot of work to be done building the plot. This could be a great story with more character development and continued plot development.

Endless Journeys

A Holocaust story is an ambitious endeavor for a debut author. Gavriel Savit wrote a historical fiction young adult novel centering around Poland as the Nazis invaded. What I really liked about the book is it wasn’t a story about the war but a story about a young girl on the run as the war is happening around her. Anna’s father leaves for a meeting at the University he teaches at and never comes home. The family friend watching Anna for the day doesn’t want to take the responsibility of harboring a child that might bring unwanted attention from the Nazis and leaves Anna on the street. Not having a mother anymore and no one willing to care for her, Anna is now alone in the world.IMG_0111
A tall, thin man sees Anna sitting in the street and questions what she is doing there by asking her in several different languages. Anna’s father was a linguistics professor and she has grown up with various languages spoken freely. Anna immediately feels a connection with the strange man because of his knowledge of languages and his knowledge of one language she doesn’t know, the song of a swallow bird. This mysterious man allows Anna to follow him out of Krakow and into the surrounding forest where Anna will grow up into a young woman. Anna and the reader never learn the man’s name so because of his connection with swallows, Anna names him Swallow Man while calling him Daddy when strangers are around. The Swallow Man teaches Anna how to survive on the run. He also teaches her the language of Road, a way to lie to the strangers you encounter while being sincere about it.
Gavriel Savit weaves a fairy tale-esk story with beautiful images of loneliness and wanting. Anna and the Swallow Man learn little about each other in their time together but they are caretakers of the other throughout their journey. The ending was left very open ended. We hope Anna will be taken care of but it’s hard to say what will become of her Swallow Man.