YA Review: Break Out (Supernatural Prison #3)

Title: Break Out (Supernatural Prison #3)
Author: Aella Black
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

In book three of the Supernatural Prison series, Phoebe and Xander focus on uncovering the secrets of the organisation that locked them up for having superpowers – and on the origins of those powers.

Lansing Prison continues to be a cruel and dangerous place. Inmates with diverse superpowers fight each other in gladiatorial-style combat as their fellow prisoners cheer them on, encouraged by the warden and the guards. Xander finds himself trapped between the sadistic warden and his parents, who might have the power to get him out – if he can contact them. When Phoebe’s secret powers are revealed she must tread a careful line between keeping the warden happy, protecting her friends and family, and making sure she can live with her decisions.

Phoebe’s friends continue to provide the heart of this well-written series. Their relationships and loyalty to each other are inspiring, and it was a pleasure to pick up the book and find such sympathetic and rounded characters waiting. There is a romantic element to the story, but it is not the driving force of the plot. The strong friendships, and surprising betrayals, are essential to the reading experience. It’s a refreshing approach to writing a YA Dystopia, and I really enjoyed all the books in the series.

Have you read the Supernatural Prison series? What did you think of Phoebe’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Power Up (Supernatural Prison #2)

Title: Power Up (Supernatural Prison #2)
Author: Aella Black
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

In book two of the Supernatural Prison series, Phoebe, Xander, and their friends are picking up the pieces from the end of book one, and finding their feet in a new and dangerous environment.

Phoebe and her friends thought Leavenworth Prison was bad, but now they have to learn to survive in Lansing. Gone is the kind warden, access to the library, and protection from the most violent and deadly superpowers. Instead of keeping the teens with benign powers segregated from those whose powers can kill, all the teens with powers are locked up together following their evacuation from Leavenworth. The friendship group is splintered, new cellmates bring new threats, and a figure from Phoebe’s past complicates everything.

Regular testing of inmates’ powers at Leavenworth was particularly distressing for Phoebe, whose ability to come back to life was tested repeatedly by the doctors monitoring her abilities. At Lansing, it’s not the doctors killing her under laboratory conditions, but her fellow inmates in staged fights. The prisoners are paired up to pit their superpowers against each other – and when Phoebe is in the room, it’s a fight to the death. She quickly learns that a doctor inventing new methods of execution is nowhere near as traumatic as the threat of a violent death from someone she believes to be a friend, and that no relationship is the same after a murder – even if the victim has the power to recover.

While the cruelty of the superpowered fights is the driving force behind the story, Phoebe’s friendship group is the reason to keep reading. Once again, their interactions, personality clashes, and support for each other hooked me in and kept me engaged with the plot. Phoebe and Xander share the narration in alternating chapters, giving an insight into their feelings for each other, and a wider view of life in Lansing Prison. It’s an exciting story, with action and trauma neatly balanced with strong friendships and sympathetic characters.

Once again, the action builds towards the end of the book, and after the dramatic finale I moved straight on to book three. More great YA, with memorable characters, strong friendships prioritised over romance, and a well-paced plot.

Have you read Power Up? What did you think of Phoebe’s story? How do you fell about the characters’ lives at Lansing? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Lock Down (Supernatural Prison #1)

Title: Lock Down (Supernatural Prison #1)
Author: Aella Black
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

When Phoebe Atkinson survives a fire that should have killed her, she finds herself locked up in Leavenworth, a prison for teens with supernatural abilities. Some of the powers are deadly – super strength, werewolf shifting – while others are quirky – a girl who can talk to birds, a telepath, a boy who can change the colour of objects. Phoebe’s power is the opposite of deadly. When she dies, she comes back to life.

Prison life is boring and frustrating. There’s an exercise yard, a rec room and a library, but no education, no way out, and no views of the outside world. For most of the inmates, regular testing of their powers is uncomfortable and annoying. For Phoebe, is means dying over and over with no guarantee she will always wake up.

Phoebe is a sympathetic and relatable character. She does well at school, she is trusted as a babysitter, and she has been supporting herself since her father’s disappearance. No one knows that she’s living alone – her mother left years ago – and she is completely unprepared for the restrictions of prison life. To survive, she needs friends, and protection from the gang of violent bullies.

The author gives Phoebe a warm circle of friends, each with a distinctive personality and superpower. Her interactions with her fellow inmates make her life easier, and form the basis of the story. I cared about Phoebe and all her friends, and I found their conversations and relationships realistic and engaging. The arrival in the prison of Phoebe’s crush from school complicates the dynamics of the friendship group, while his skills give their mostly harmless powers the boost they need to consider breaking out.

This is an engaging story, packed with well-drawn characters and effective world building. I was hooked from the start (the prologue is absolutely gripping!), and as the story unfolded I found myself completely invested in Phoebe, her friends, and their escape plan. I won’t spoil the ending, but when I turned the final page I headed straight to download book two. This is great YA, and I want to see where the story goes from here!

Have you read Lock Down? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Fourth Species (Tomorrow’s Ancestors #3)

Title: The Fourth Species (Tomorrow’s Ancestors #3)
Author: AE Warren
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

I’ve been waiting to read book three in this intriguing series, and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed coming back to the world created in the first two books.

After a future climate disaster, humans have created a superior species using genetic engineering. Unenhanced Homo Sapiens are held responsible for the historic damage to the planet and forced to make reparations, while the elite use their genetic knowledge to hold onto power and bring back extinct species. The first two books of the series are centred around Elise – a an unenhanced Sapien – and the newly resurrected Neanderthals she works with. Book three is told from the points of view of three different women with vastly different roles and experiences of the world they share, giving the reader a deeper insight into the politics and dangers at every level of society.

Elise, exiled from the official settlements, is working as a spy. Her team gathers information on the activities of the enhanced Potior and Medius classes, risking their lives and freedom to protect Uracil, their secret base. Twenty-Two is one of the Neanderthals rescued from zoo-like conditions and integrated into life in exile. Genevieve is a genetically enhanced Medius in Adenine, working to improve her social standing while she passes secrets to agents from Uracil. Together they shape the story, bringing different perspectives and insights into the events of the book.

It’s an effective structure. Elise and her team travel between the official bases, infiltrating the settlements and picking up information vital to the survival of Uracil. Twenty-Two is concerned with earning the trust of the people around her after the events of the second book. Her chapters are centred in Uracil, offering close observation of the personalities and politics of the secret settlement, and a front-row view of the dramatic events of the story. Genevieve’s chapters bring the view from the top of society, giving the reader a glimpse behind the scenes of the official settlements, and the cut-throat politics of the ruling Potiors.

There’s danger, action, adventure and excitement. There’s heartbreak and loss alongside community and determination. There’s manipulation, disappointment, and a few plot twists along the way. It’s a mid-series book, so there is no resolution to the story, but the ending sets the scene for the final book in the series.

I can’t wait to read it!

Have you read the Tomorrow’s Ancestors series? What did you think of The Fourth Species? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Quarton: The Bridge (Quarton #1)

Title: Quarton: The Bridge (Quarton #1)
Author: Ian Hornett
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

A clever sci-fi novel with an intriguing premise, the first book in the Quarton series sets the scene for an enduring interplanetary and intergenerational conflict.

On a dying planet, a group of scientists races to build a bridge across space. The plan is to escape from environmental disaster by sending colonists to other worlds using Quarton blocks to harness Dark Energy. But not everyone wants to see the bridge succeed, and an attack at the completion ceremony sees the destruction of the project, and the arrival of four aliens on Earth 5,000 years ago.

But they didn’t come alone, and the surviving Quarton blocks are scattered across the planet. As each block is discovered, the alien refugees are reborn to continue the search. Two of them are scientists from the team that created the bridge, and two of them are the terrorists behind the attack. Each of the four characters lives multiple lives, always remaining true to their original convictions. The mastermind and the engineer, fighting to rebuild the bridge and return home, and the rebels, seeking to destroy the Quartons before they can be used.

The story begins in 2067 in a war-ravaged London. Fen is a scavenger, searching for anything useful in the ruins. Her group pools their resources and trades them for food and other essentials. It’s a hard life, not helped by the cruel leader of her scavenging gang. But Fen has a secret – a block of stone that glows, and gives her dreams of other lives and other places.

Fen doesn’t remember who she is, or that the stone is calling the others to London – and she has no idea how her life is about to change.

It’s a great premise – alien technology, reincarnated characters, and a central relationship that plays out in every generation. Sometimes the blocks are saved, and sometimes the rebels destroy them, but all four players are trapped by the Quartons and compelled to risk everything to find them. Keeping track of which character is which can be a challenge as we glimpse previous lives and previous conflicts. The author warns us up front that this is the case, but he also reassures us that everything will be clear in the end. It is a testament to his strong characterisation and storytelling that this is, indeed, the case. It might be confusing at times, but everything falls into place in the final action-packed pages.

This is an original and ambitious story, and the author skilfully steers us through the important events across time, space, and multiple reincarnations. Bring on Book Two!

Have you read Quarton: The Bridge? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: On The Edge (Dwelling Hunter #1)

Title: On The Edge (Dwelling Hunter #1)
Author: MJ Glenn
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Ebony Wick is a highwaywoman. She grew up in a cruel orphanage in the Dwellings, escaping to join the city’s street gangs at the age of ten. Now she lives alone in the forest, raiding carts and coaches for goods she can sell to survive. With the help of a friend who drives the carts, and the fairies who visit her campsite, she makes a living and evades capture by the Snatchers, whose job it is to send her back to the orphanage until she comes of age.

There’s a legend about the Shadow, a demon who lives in the woods, and Ebony uses the story to frighten the victims of her raids. She enjoys her reputation as the Shadow, and the effect it has on the people she robs. She is determined to survive alone, and avoid the orphanage, but when a stranger arrives at her hidden campsite, the life she has built is threatened.

On The Edge is an exciting YA fantasy with a strong, independent female lead. Ebony is an intriguing protagonist. She knows nothing about her past beyond the orphanage and the sadistic man in charge. She is clever, resourceful, and strong, and it is easy to sympathise when her carefully guarded life is challenged by an intruder.

From the first nail-biting page to the last, Ebony’s story twists and turns through friendship, loss, acceptance and betrayal. As she learns more about her past, she must decide who she can trust to protect her from the Snatchers, and whether she is willing to give up her independence in exchange for the protection of another gang. Working in a group might offer safety, but she will need to learn to work as part of a team. If she stays alone, she might lose the opportunity for revenge on the man who runs the orphanage. It’s an agonising decision – is Ebony ready to choose?

Book two in the series is coming soon, and I can’t wait to read it!

Have you read On The Edge? What did you think of Ebony’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Graduation Day (The Testing #3)

Title: Graduation Day (The Testing #3)
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

I’m giving book three of the Testing Trilogy four stars instead of five, mostly because the ending felt rushed. I’ve enjoyed the series, and I wanted more from the final book – or even another sequel so the author could give extra time to tying up all the plot threads!

And there are plenty of plot threads. Graduation Day pulls together all the personal and political relationships, and all the opposing factions and ideologies from the first two books. Cia and her friends face choices that affect not only themselves and their classmates, but the survival of the country they are helping to rebuild.

Cia’s actions become at once more personal and more political as she attempts to balance justice with survival. I really enjoyed seeing how her experiences and lessons from the previous books informed her decisions. The cruelties and dangers of the series so far are not wasted, but contribute to Cia’s confidence and abilities as she faces the final challenges. Decisions about who to trust continue into this book, and by this point in the story all the teenaged characters are carrying guilty secrets. Cia is constantly challenging her own judgements about the people around her, and as the story progresses she uncovers more secrets and greater threats.

I enjoyed the trilogy, but it feels unfinished. There are definitely more stories to tell and more questions to be answered about the government, the opposing factions, and the dramatic actions of Cia and her friends. That said, the series was an enjoyable read, with an engaging female protagonist, strong political and moral themes, and plenty of plot twists to keep readers guessing. A good, well-constructed YA Dystopia.

Have you read The Testing Trilogy? What did you think of Cia’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Independent Study (The Testing #2)

Title: Independent Study (The Testing #2)
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

Book two of The Testing Trilogy sees Cia and the other survivors enrolled in the Early Studies programme, designed to prepare them for their final training. Based on their performance in the Early Studies exam, each student is admitted to one of the five university departments and given the chance to help rebuild their post-war society. But this is a YA dystopia, so of course the author gives us more tests, and more danger for the characters to survive before they can concentrate on their studies.

A series of harrowing induction challenges gives Cia and her new classmates the chance to demonstrate their leadership abilities, teamwork, and survival skills. Once again the students must decide who to trust, and who to protect, in an increasingly political competition. There are revelations about other students, about the testing regime, and the consequences of failure. When Cia attracts the attention of those in power, she finds herself having to choose between concentrating on her studies, and attempting to uncover the secrets at the heart of government.

While the first book in the series pitched Cia and her classmates against each other, Independent Study concentrates more on Cia’s attempts to find people she can trust – in the induction challenges, at the university, and in government – and on her suspicions about the system they are trapped in. It’s a page-turning story, and a solid mid-trilogy novel, building gradually towards a finale in book three.

Cia continues to be an interesting and engaging narrator. To begin with she is focused on survival, and on figuring out how to bring herself and her team through every test. As she discovers more about the testing regime and the different factions in the government, she begins to take risks in pursuit of justice, and as a reader I was cheering her on. There are some heart-pounding moments, and some chapters where I found myself shouting at Cia’s decisions, or gasping out loud at their results.

I’m fully invested in the story, and I’ve already downloaded book three!

Have you read The Testing Trilogy? What did you think of Cia’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Testing

Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

This book has everything you’d expect from a YA Dystopian novel, and it hits each beat perfectly. Teenagers taken from their homes to be tested for the next stage of their lives. Danger, manipulation, and cruelty at the hands of the authorities. A competition where success means a chance at an education, and failure means death. A glimpse of corruption and rebellion behind the scenes of the testing process, and a friends-to-lovers romance along the way.

The story takes place in a world almost destroyed by war and climate disasters. Isolated colonies are established by a central government to reclaim land from the poisons of war and the climate crisis. Teenagers with high test scores at their colony schools are selected to compete for a place at the university where they will be trained to become the leaders of the future. Cia’s colony hasn’t sent a candidate for testing in years, so it is a surprise when she is chosen along with three of her classmates. The testing proves to be more difficult – and more deadly – than anything the colonists had imagined, and Cia and her friends must work together to survive.

But there’s a twist, revealed early in the novel, which adds an extra dimension to the testing, and to Cia’s developing relationship with her school friend. With failure punished by death, and candidates encouraged to eliminate their competitors, Cia realises that she must hide what she knows from the authorities, and act extremely carefully at every stage of the process.

Cia is a sympathetic, brave, and intelligent protagonist. She quickly learns to be observant, to think beyond the tasks in front of her, and to conceal her knowledge from everyone who might use it against her. Her relationships with the other candidates develop throughout the novel as she finds herself constantly guessing who she can trust, who might help her, and who might prefer to see her fail. The other characters are well drawn and believable, and the friends-to-lovers romance feels natural in the context of the story.

The world-building is fantastic, with each location carefully described. The history and geography of the post-war continent builds throughout the book, and nothing feels forced or out of place. When I reached the end I ordered book two in the series and started reading immediately – I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next!

Have you read The Testing? What did you think of the story? Would you have succeeded in Cia’s place? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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Romance v. Friendship

It’s the Romance v. Friendship poll!

Do you like your YA Dystopia with a dash of romance? Maybe the romance is the point, and the story is all about getting your favourite characters together.

Or do you prefer stories based on die-for-each-other friendships? Maybe you enjoy an ensemble cast – groups of friends helping each other – or perhaps a strong central relationship that has nothing to do with romantic love?

We’d love to know what you think!

Romance or Friendship in YA Dystopia?

Give me all the romance!
It’s good to have a love interest as part of the story.
I don’t mind, as long as the story is exciting.
Die-for-each-other friends all the way!
It depends on the story (tell us more in the comments!).

Created with Quiz Maker

Of course, the Battle Ground Series is based around strong friendships. There’s some romance (mostly off-camera), but the survival of the central characters depends on a group of friends who look out for each other. Bex and Dan would die for each other, but their relationship is not romantic. Toph’s story begins with a romance, but he quickly finds himself fighting back against the society that destroys his relationship.

YA literature, and YA Dystopia in particular, is about growing up, challenging yourself, and finding out who you are. The characters might do this with a love interest at their side – or in their sights – or with friends they can trust.

Which do you prefer? And what’s your favourite example?