Category Archives: Young Adult

Cross, K. (2014). Miss Mabel’s School for Girls. (Network I). Antebellum Publishing.

Cover by Jenny Zemanak

Without strings attached, K. Cross offers a free copy of Miss Mabel’s School for Girls to any and all on her website.

I stared at the lavender flowers on the white china and willed my heart to stop pounding. Papa’s advice whispered through my head like the balm of a cool poultice, settling my nerves (p. 1).

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is a fun installment in the young adult serial The Network. Miss Mabel’s School for Girls was Cross‘ first installment in the story about Antebellum, a magic world ruled by a government called the Network consisting of five nations with a High Priestess and High Priest as their leaders. Miss Mabel’s school lies in Letum Woods in the Central Network (led by the High Priestess).

I spent years preparing for this. It won’t frighten me now.

I was a terrible liar. Attending Miss Mabel’s School for Girls did frighten me, but so did staying home, forfeiting my only chance at freedom (p. 6).

Given the author’s place of residence (Idaho, US) it comes as no surprise that this is a story about good (Bianca’s side) vs. evil (Miss Mabel’s side). The story is told from the main character’s (i.e. Bianca Monroe, 16 years old) point of view. The reason for Bianca’s desperate need to get into the school and become Miss Mabel’s pupil and assistant is revealed early on. We soon learn that she has been honed for that purpose for many years by her family. During her interview with the Watcher, Bianca is warned that she must not underestimate Miss Mabel.

“This is the third-year corridor. Don’t go in there!” Camille said, pulling me back when I stepped across the doorway. “They get really picky about first-years in their area. Especially Priscilla.” She lowered her tone and spoke behind her hand. “She gets really upset. Her dad is rich so she gets away with it.” (p. 11).

In addition to being a good vs. evil story, Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is also about finding one’s place in the world. On her first day at school, Bianca gains two first-year friends (Camille who has a hard time concentrating on her studies and Leda who is always studying). Bianca enters the Competition for the spot of Assistant and her main competitor is Priscilla, who is from a powerful family. Priscilla also seems driven to win the competition and is terrified of the consequences of losing. Only one person may win, and I expect all of you to know who that person will be.

Most likely it is due to compatibility problems between Kindle and whichever publishing program Cross used that the text sometimes has a stapled underline beginning with a number and the word “Highlighters”. Several authors have commented on similar  problems.

The three friends have three girls as opponents. Beautiful Priscilla from a powerful family and her plain friends Stephany and Jade. Reading about these two groups makes it obvious to me which other authors Cross has been influenced by. In Bianca’s case, the threesome’s characteristics are very similar to Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron. Priscilla’s threesome isn’t as obviously so.

Miss Mabel is the beautiful wicked witch. At times her behaviour becomes stereotypically so, but fortunately, Case manages to steer away from stereotype most of the time. There is no cackling. She is probably the character I liked the most.

I glanced up at Letum Wood with an uncertain eye. Nothing in that forest would make this as simple as it sounded. The eerie darkness crept about like a lazy fog, filled with unknown shadows and creatures you couldn’t always anticipate. (p. 52).

I really enjoyed Bianca’s ventures into Letum Wood and Priscilla’s troublesome last trial. I really liked Leda’s courage.  Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is a dark story and Cross does a good job creating the atmosphere and emotions required. Thankfully, the author generally manages to steer clear of telling and instead lets us find out things on our own.

Despite similarities and Miss Mabel’s sometimes stereotypical behaviour, the characters are believable for its US readers. Those who worry about explicit content (violence or sex) need not worry. For readers who enjoy young adult good vs. evil stories Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is a good read.

If you wish to read the stories in chronological order, you should begin with Mildred’s Resistance or you could buy the entire Network serial in one go.


Reviews:

Huff, Tanya; Valor’s Choice (Confedation of Valor I)(2000)

“If space is big and mostly uninhabited, it should be safe to assume that any life-forms who really didn’t get along would avoid spending time in each other’s company.

Unfortunately, the fact that said life-forms could avoid each other doesn’t necessarily mean that they would.

When the Others attacked systems on the borders of Confederation territory, Parliament sent out a team of negotiators to point out that expansion in any other direction would be more practical as it would not result in conflict. The negotiators were returned in a number of very small pieces…”

The Confederation and the Others each consist of several sentient life forms wanting a piece of the other side’s action. Unlike the Others, the Confederation had been at peace for long enough to evolve an inability to kill species they defined as sentient, leaving the Elder races desperate for someone to protect them. As Humans had, already, ventured out into their own solar system, they were uplifted on the condition that they, in effect, become the military arm of the Confederation. Once the Krai and di’Taykan were included into the Conferation, that military was expanded.

Valor’s Choice takes us to a world where another warlike species has been discovered. The Silsviss are tough enough that the military want them to join the Confederation and not the Others. Enter  the Human Torin Kerr, staff sergeant for the Sh’Quo Company. General Morris, who has never been in a ground battle, orders Kerr to recall the battleworn Sh’quo Company, supposedly to serve as honor guard for the diplomats. On top of that she is given a brand new  second lieutenant, the di’Taykan di’Ka Jarret to train. Their relationship is part of the humour of the story, but not for the reasons one might suspect. Jarret is not a bumbling fool. Instead the humour lies in their preexisting relationship.

Neither Kerr nor Jarret are fools. Both of them know that General Morris is planning on something unpleasant for them. Nothing they can do other than be as prepared as they can. On to diplomat-sitting duty they travel. Fortunately, Huff does not fall into some of the tempting traps that are available to authors. Male and female characters are not stereotyped. Nor are the other marines portrayed as stupid fighting machines. Granted, the extras do not have in-depth personalities, but Huff has tried to bring them somewhat to life. Huff manages to blend the three fighting species into a unit all the while maintaining species-typical behaviour. Valor’s Choice is told in third person from Kerr’s point of view and  she is the person who is most three-dimensional. I found myself liking her. Another character I really liked was the envoy from the Silvsniss, Cri Sawyes.

There is definitely entertainment value in Valor’s Choice. In the sense that it draws me in and keeps me reading, it could be called escapist. Yet, escapism isn’t all there is to this story. Power and politics are major themes of Valor’s Choice. General Morris is a political general, i.e. he wants advancement at whatever price others have to pay. I strongly dislike people who intend to use other people’s lives to get there. Even when fighting is inevitable, war-hawks tend to up the tally of dead.

Valor’s Choice is also about specieism. Colourism or culturism are inevitable. Humans are programmed to use pre-existing information upon meeting people who look or behave different from themselves and their contemporaries. Humans, Krai and di’Taykan are all war-like. Disparaging remarks are made about the Silvsniss by the marines, but they aren’t said in the same spirit they use on each other. The three military species have worked out their differences (with the help of translators) and joke about those species-specific behaviours (like eating your grandmother). In many ways they find  Silvsniss easier to understand than the Elder races the marines babysit. Nor are the Elder races able to comprehend how bloodthirsty the three military species.

Valor’s Choice is a military sci-fi space opera with fighting on the ground. Except for the last bit. Fighting does not begin until after page 100. For me it was easy to get into and was interesting even when action was slow.

Halstead, Jason; Voidhawk (2011)

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1397213139l/21607512.jpg

Longing for his own spaceship, Dexter Silvercloud drags his friend Kragor away from his life as a married man to fix a space derelict called Hawk’s Talon. The space ship is stuck in the asteroid field off their planet. Two nights a week are spent fixing up the vessel and Dexter will do anything to buy it. The rest of the week is spent getting enough money together to buy Hawk’s Talon.

One day while traversing the Playground to fetch his friend Dexter stumbled into an ambush. Contrary to stories told around hearths with mulled ale, most ship to ship encounters in the void do not involve catapult shot and ballista bolts flying. Even the rare bombards so often talked about in the story are seldom seen, let alone fired. Only the Federation and the Elven Armada ships are prone to fire at the slightest provocation. Repairs and even ammunition are too expensive for the private ship owner to run the risk.

Three small ships emerged from teh background of floating rocks to close with him. Dexter quickly identified an Ant, a Dart, and the third was little more than a skiff with a sail upon it. Dexter sped up his Gnat, risking the perils of the asteroid field and trying to lose the pursuing ships. Being a Federation scout ship, Dexter was correct in assuming that his was faster than the pirates. They were very familiar with the asteroid field; however, so he was unable to lose them.

The largest one, the Ant, slammed into a pony sized rock, sending one man flying into the void and another to the deck bleeding. Broken planks of wood drifted free, bobbing in the small vessel’s gravity plane. Seeing that gave Dexter an idea.

Yes. You read correctly. Space vessels with wood plating and sails. In space. Sail ships in space. Sorry. I just cannot comprehend why Halstead would choose to place sail ships in space. It makes no sense. Even if they have their own gravity wells. Even though I do not hold space operas to the same rules as most other forms of science fiction. There are  minimum requirements that I have, and Halstead keeps on breaking them throughout the story.

One of the reasons I think I kept on reading was because of a fascination with an author who completely disregards physical laws. Plus Halstead’s writing is halfway decent. If only he had chosen a stricter editor and science fiction beta-readers. Sadly, Voidhawk‘s characters suffer from the same lack.

I cannot say that I recommend Voidhawk. If only … I probably would have.

Garcia, Kami; Unbreakable; London, Little Brown Books, 2013

My mom lay on the bed, motionless.

Elvis crouched on her chest.

The lamp in the corner flashed on and off like a child was toying with the switch.

“Mom?”

Elvis’ head whipped around in my direction.

I ran to the bed and he leapt to the floor. (p. 21)

Unbreakable is about five families who seriously messed in 1776 by opening the door to the demon Andras. Apparently the Black Dove Legion wanted to use the demon to stop the Illuminati from taking over the world. They had planned to use the angel Anarel to hold the demon back. Alas. More than 200 years later, the descendants are still doing damage control.

After Kennedy’s mom is killed, identical twins Jared and Lukas turn up, in the nick of time, to save her life. Yes, yes. I know. This part is extremely predictable. Right away Jared and Lukas seem interested in Kennedy as more than the descendant they are convinced she is. Those who have read my previous reviews know how I feel about these love-triangles. Blech.

Jared and Lukas take her to a warehouse where she meets the other two Black Dove members, Priest and Alara. Warehouse living came about because of the unexpected deaths of the guardians of all five youth. Each youth has their own talent to contribute to the group. They decide to go on a hunt for a mysterious tool they think would drive Andras back to hell.

What do I think of the writing? Somehow I felt like there was too much telling. Or maybe there wasn’t. I think that the problem was in how the information was presented. The story went from a smooth flow to a stilted teacher rhythm. Other than that, the story was well edited and internally consistent. The encounters with the various types of spirits were fun. All in all Unbreakable is the same old, same old. But that is fine. It is a fast read.

I generally post links to well-written reviews of the novel I am reviewing. I don’t think I have ever seen Supernatural, but after all the comments about the similarities, I had to see what Wikipedia had to say. There are definitely similarities, but I think only someone who has seen Supernatural would be provoked.

Unbreakable is the first novel of the Legion trilogy. The second novel, Unmarked, was published in 2014. The third, and final, novel of this serial has not been published yet and I have not found any indication that it will happen anytime soon. Because of that, I recommend you wait before beginning the Trilogy as it is written in serial form.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Audiobook: Narrated by Candice Accola; Blackstone Audiobooks, 2013
  • Dutch: Onbreekbaar; Translated by Willeke Lempens; Full Moon, 2014 (Review)
  • French: La Légion de la Colombe Noire; Translated by Christophe Rosson; Hatchette, 2014 (Review)
  • German: Der Kreis der Fünf; Translated by Eva Müller-Hierteis; CBT, 2013 (Review)
  • Portugese: Inquebrável; Translated by Joana Faro; Galera Record, 2014 (Review)
  • Russian: Непобедимые; Translated by Ирина Тетерина; Азбука-Аттикус, 2014 (Review)
  • Spanish: Sin temor; Translated by Adolfo Muñoz; Anaya, 2015 (Review)
  • Swedish: Ondskan vaknar; Translated by Carina Jansson; Semic, 2015 (Review)
  • Turkish: Kırılmayan; Translated by Atilla İzgi Turgut; Epsilon Yayınları, 2014 (Review)

Dennard, Susan; Truthwitch (Witchlands I); London, Tor, 2016

 

Ultimately all stories (real-life or fiction) seem to be power. Mainly the power to control ones own and/or other people’s lives. Sometimes that includes war between nations on the pretext of one person. In the case of Truthwitch, that person is Safiya fon Hasstrel.

In the Witchlands series there are three kinds of people: witches, norms and the Cleaved. You have to read the story to find out who the Cleaved are. Witches have all kinds of strange powers. Thus far, I know about Truthwitches, Sightwitches, Threadwitches, Bloodwitches, Windwitches, Earthwitches and Waterwitches. The types cover every degree and permutation within their category. The category witch people on the world of Truthwitch seem to know least about is Truth.

Truthwitches have not existed for about 200 years. That is, until Safiya became one. In the past, people in power wanted a Truthwitch by their sides because Truthwitches knew if people were lying. They were either loved or hated thing. Imagine politicians having to speak in front of congress/parliament knowing that a Truthwitch was there to “tell” on them. Or if you had a sister/father/daughter who happened to be one. Truthwitches were often murdered. Over those 200 years information about Truthwitches has been hidden or destroyed. All Safi knows about her powers is that they can tell whether any person is lying. Due to the danger, Safi tries to hide her witchery from as many people as possible. But she sucks at being inconspicuous. Fortunately, she has level-headed Iseult to hold her back. Sadly, there is only so much Iseult can do no matter how level-headed or good at strategizing she is.

Iseult is a Threadwitch. “Threads” are ties that bind people together and to life. Except for their own, other Threadwitches’ and those of Bloodwitches the world is filled with threads that Threadwitches can see. These threads bind people together to varying degrees, but can also be bound into stones to help members of a thread-family find each other. Unlike most Threadwitches, Iseult cannot make threadstones nor is she able to control her feelings (stasis) as much as a Threadwitch must to keep those around them safe.

Both women are trained in martial arts and fighting with various weapons. Both started fighting by themselves, but soon became an unbreakable team and later Threadsisters. The two of them have trained together for years, and that is the only thing that saves them when they are unfortunate enough to encounter the Carawen martial monk Aeduan. To make things worse for them, he happens to be a Bloodwitch, a type of witch no longer thought to exist. Bloodwitches can smell a person’s blood and the witchery within it. Like bloodhounds, they follow blood-smell across continents. It is debatable whether anything can kill them. Safi and Iseult fear Aeduan smelled their witchery and so they run, run, run. And they will need to run far as not only Aeduan, but also the guards, soldiers and Hell-Bards of Emperor Henrick end up being after them. And then, of course, come the Purists.

Purists are non-magical people who do not want others to have powers they do not have themselves. They are an odd and violent group. Real life history is full of what people like that are able to do in the name of “purity”.

Another important encounter for the two women is Prince Merik of Nubrevna who is a  Windwitch. Windwitches control air currents. Prince Merik has been sent on a diplomatic mission to Emperor Henrick, except he has problems with his temper. Not setting air on the Guild leaders he is meant to make trade agreements with is nigh to impossible. To make matters worse, he already knows that most Guild leaders have no interest in a trade agreement with Nubrevna. In fact, the opposite is more likely. Nubrevna is full of magic but empty of most other things that keep people alive.

Truthwitch is the first story in what looks to be a 4-novel & 1-novella series. Number two, Windwitch, has already been published. According to Goodreads the next stories are titled Sightwitch (novella), Bloodwitch, and untitled. The story is written in third person – my favorite POV and has been well edited. Considering the people Dennard works with, anything else seems impossible. Its musicality drew me in.

Plotwise, Truthwitch has been told many times – both in fantasy and in real life. War, peace, growing up, freedom, starvation, death, love and hunting others are all topics we have heard before. As is magic. But the refreshing thing is our main pair, Safi and Iseult. They are both amazing and annoying at the same time. Humour abounds between them. Their support of each other, even when blame could be placed on the other person, is not often seen in teen fantasy.

I’m not sure any of the characters are particularly likeable from the onset. But they are fun all the way through. Even when I think they ought to be drowned. But then drowning does not always help get rid of them. What seems inevitable is that a pairing off of at least two of them will happen. It would be nice if it didn’t, or at least if it did not happen in the usual YA-fantasy manner = love-triangle. Truthwitch is one of the better stories I have read.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Bulgarian: Сюзан Денърд; Веровещица; Translated by Александър Маринов; Егмонт, 2016 (Review)
  • German: Schwestern der Wahrheit; Translated by Vanessa Lamatsch; Penhaligon Verlag, 2016 (Review)
  • Polish: Prawdodziejka; Translated by Kołek Regina, Pawlak Maciej; SQN – Sine Qua Non, 2016 (Review Youtube)
  • Romanian: Vrăjitoarea adevărului; Translated by Andreea Florescu; Nemira, 2016 (Review)
  • Russian: Видящая истину; Translated by О. Грушевская; Издательство, АСТ, 2016 (Review)
  • Turkish: Doğruluk Cadısı; Translated by Murat Karlıdağ; Novella Dinamik, 2016 (Review)

Torr, Edwin; Blood, Bone and Coffin (Dead Means Dead 0); Obulus Books, 2017

The relative merits of my weapon of choice all became a little academic when my phone began to play the Mexican Hat Dance. I rummaged in my pocket, wishing I was better at technology so that I could change the ringtone or at least mute the damn thing. It’s hardly appropriate for a Specialist Funeral Director to have such a chirpy tune ringing out across a graveyard. I pulled the phone out and stabbed randomly at the buttons, trying to silence the thing. It was then I realized that in doing so, I had inadvertently stood up, revealing myself to the dead head.

“Hello?” Detective Inspector savage’s voice sounded incredibly loud. Somehow, I’d managed to put him on speakerphone. “Are you there, Coffin?”

The dead guy spun round. He looked fast for someone who had died a few weeks ago and just finished the impossible journey from six feet under the soil to the surface. He also looked like every one of the days of those weeks had taken its toll on him. His face was bloated and grey, the skin splitting around his forehead to reveal white bone and a lining of something creamy. He gave a low growl from his black lips which gave me a lovely view of his yellowed, uneven teeth.

“Hi, Savage, can I ring you back? It’s not a good time right now.”

Savage was one of those people who never took the hint. “It won’t take a minute, Coffin. We’ve had a report of an open grave in a place called Hampton Green…”

“I’m dealing with a lich, right now, Savage, I can’t really…” I didn’t finish the sentence. The dead guy launched himself forward and rammed his shoulder into my gut, grabbing me round the waist and forcing me backwards onto the ground. (ch. 1)

Blood, Bone and Coffin is a prequel to Demons. It is a novella about the Specialist Funeral Director whose job it is to lay the undead to rest. Sometimes the police give him work to do. Usually, they do not call him at such an inconvenient time as the one in the quote. Or perhaps Coffin learns how to silence his cell-phone.

What begins with the request to lay a zombie to rest, ends up being a search for the killer of residents at the Twilight Grove Nursing Home in Hampton Green, England.

BB&C is a fun little paranormal whodunit with odd people all over the place. Recommended.

 

Silvers, Shane; Obsidian Son (Nate Temple I); Argento Publishing, 2012

I completely agree with the criticism of some of the reviewers of Obsidian Son. Much in the way of the Paranormal Romances I have read, Obsidian Son has a bizarre view of looks and what attracts people to each other. Instead of big cocks, there are big racks. The main character is shallow, obnoxious and has few redeeming qualities. In addition, there is a lack of research. Finally, there are grammatical problems.

In spite of all that, I had fun. Imagine what Shayne Silvers could have accomplished with a better team. So many of the authors I read, or try to read, claim their stories have had editors and beta-readers. As does Silvers. Hmmm. Who are these editors and beta-readers?

I still had fun. This is an urban fantasy interspersed with mythological and magical creatures. The main character has magic, is wealthy and is extremely attractive to the opposite gender. Some of that attraction is because of out-of-control magic. There are dragons. They are the best part of the story. Really fun dragons.

Not recommended.


Reviews: