Monday, July 27, 2015

Charming and Cute

Source: Author Website
Owl in Love by Patrice Kindl (1993; HMH Books for Young Readers, 2004, 224pp.) 

Owl Tycho, age 14, is not your average teen. Her parents make a modest living selling magic potions from their back door, and thanks to a unique blend of magic genes, Owl is a wereowl. When she’s not attending school with her unsuspecting human classmates, she takes nightly flights around the woods and spends long evenings perched outside the window of Mr. Lindstrom, her science teacher and long-time secret crush. While watching over her beloved’s home one evening, she spies a strange boy lurking in the woods nearby. At first, she suspects that this boy is up to no good…until it soon becomes apparent that Houle—as she decides to call him—can barely take care of himself, much less harm anybody. Using her owl form to hide her identity, Owl gradually transfers her attentions from Mr. Lindstrom to Houle, but there are questions that soon demand answering: who is this boy? And why does he insist on living in the woods behind Mr. Lindstrom’s house? Owl in Love is a sweet, charming, and very cute stand-alone novel. I would recommend it to female teens of any age looking for a light, quick read to pass the time.

I also made a book trailer for this novel, as seen below. Let me know if you like it!


Monday, July 20, 2015

A Satisfying YA Romance Novel

Source: Author Website
Firelight (Firelight #1) by Sophie Jordan (HarperCollins, 2010, 352pp.)

Jacinda, a teenage draki, is considered special among her pride. Like other draki, she’s descended from dragons and able to take on human form to disguise herself among mankind. What sets her apart, though, is that she’s the first fire-breather born in over 400 years. Eager to breed more fire-breathers, the pride's leaders propose to have Jacinda married off at 16. This kind of medieval thinking does not sit well with Jacinda's mother at all. Desperate to save her daughter from life as a brood mare, she uproots their family from the lush mountain wilderness to the stifling desert landscape of urban Las Vegas. Moving away from the wilderness will eventually cause the family’s draki spirits to wither and perish, leaving them trapped as helpless mortals. This is a fate that terrifies Jacinda, but it’s something that her mother is willing to let happen if it gives her daughter a chance at “normal” teenage life. Then Jacinda meets and falls in love with Will, a handsome boy from her new high school whose physical proximity gives off enough nourishing power for her draki spirit to thrive. The problem with this, though, is that while Will is sweet and caring, he also comes from a family of vicious hunters, who make their living off harvesting the draki for their meat and bones. As she struggles to embrace her cumbersome new life, can Jacinda make things work out?

Sophie Jordan's Firelight takes the common dilemma of teen identity and self-discovery, interweaves it with fairy tale elements, and sets it against a high school backdrop. A strong protagonist, well-developed love interest, and realistic antagonists make this a very satisfying romance novel. Recommended for fans of Twilight and other supernatural YA romance, Ages 16-18.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Promising Fantasy/Mystery Hybrid

Source: Author Website
City of a Thousand Dolls (Bhinian Empire #1) by Miriam Forster (HarperTeen, 2013, 368pp.)

Nisha, a young woman abandoned at the age of six, grew up in the City of a Thousand Dolls, a state-sanctioned facility that takes in unwanted girls, provides them with training in one of several professions (scholar, healer, society wife, assassin, courtesan, etc.) and then later sells them to interested clients at the annual Redeeming. Nisha has never questioned the system—but when several girls turn up dead, she can’t let the matter lie. She sets out to find answers—and in the process, finds out bewildering information about her own past. With her debut novel, Forster adds to, if not out-right invents, a new genre: the fantasy/mystery hybrid. Her world, which borrows predominantly from Southeast Asian cultures, is well thought-out and interesting, and the heroine, Nisha, is an admirable protagonist. I wish the supporting cast had been a little more developed, and the ending wrapped up just a bit too neatly—but other than that, it’s a promising first installment in this new series.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Teenage Version of Black Swan, Minus the Crazy

Source: Publisher Website
Tiny Pretty Things (Tiny Pretty Things #1) by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton (HarperTeen, 2015, 448pp.)

Lead by three well-defined female protagonists, Tiny Pretty Things is a tale of jealousy and ambition set in the claustrophobic world of an elite Manhattan ballet school. Gigi, June, and Bette are all vying for a spot in the limelight as prima ballerina—but how far will they go to beat down the competition (and each other)? At first, the gossipy intrigue that saturates this teen soap-opera works well at drawing in the reader, making us want to know more about these girls, and what makes them so desperate to succeed. However, by the three-quarter mark, the story has become tedious, and the protagonists have run out of things to do, making the remainder of the story a chore to finish. Recommended for female teens, Ages 16-18, for sexual content, eating disorders, and drug use.

Another Generic Knockoff of Popular YA Tropes

Source: Publisher Website
Red Queen (Red Queen #1) by Victoria Aveyard (HarperTeen, 2015, 400pp.)

In a distant time and place, people are judged not for the color of their skin, but for the color of their blood. In the dual-class society of Norta, the magic-endowed Silvers rule over the lowly Reds—until a divergence appears in the form of the novel’s sassy, red-blooded heroine. When Mare Barrow defends herself with spectacular powers during a moment of unexpected peril, she draws the attention of the royal family. The royal family, in turn, decides to use her as a propaganda tool to quell their rebellious subjects, and bring her to the royal palace to pass off as a long-lost Silver princess. After Mare reluctantly allows herself to become integrated into Silver society, she is contacted by the Scarlet Guard, a Red rebel group that the Silvers see as a terrorist organization. At great risk to herself to herself, her friends, and her family, she agrees to help the Guard weaken the Silvers' malevolent death-grip.

Now, I am sure that there are hundreds of teen readers out there who are the perfect audience for this book. If you like The Hunger Games, read it! If you like X-Men, read it! If you have a soft spot for generic love triangles, then by all means, knock yourself out. But as to my own opinion as a writer and adult reader? I hated it. I was bored from start to finish, and I’ll tell you why.

Red Queen is nothing more than another knock-off of current popular YA tropes. The writer takes a generic, misunderstood heroine, drops her into a generic dystopian society rife with vague injustices, and then gives her superpowers. Meanwhile, generic high school villains crawl out of the woodworks to bully her. The story itself is powered by events ripped straight from the news and history books. Now, while it’s perfectly okay to model a story from events taken from the news or from history, a good story will be so seamless that the reader won’t be able to take the story apart piece by piece and tell you exactly where everything came from. So, if you dislike love triangles, Mary Sue heroines, and bland villains, steer clear. If you are, in general, an unquestioning fan of romance and dystopian adventure, give it a shot. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. Recommended for Ages 14-Up.