YA Review: The Stranded

Title: The Stranded
Author: Sarah Daniels
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

Refugees from a war-ravaged Europe have been stuck at sea for more than forty years, confined to the cruise ships that were supposed to bring them to safety. A fractured US refuses permission for them to come ashore, fearful of the weaponised virus that might lie dormant in the bloodstream of everyone on board. On the Arcadia, desperate passengers live their lives in the ruins of ballrooms, crew areas, restaurants, and empty swimming pools. Rival gangs maintain a fragile truce, overseen by a sadistic administrator from the Federated States, and the current captain of the ship. Passengers fall in love, start families, and educate their children within sight of the shore, with no hope of reaching land. It’s a brilliant dystopian premise, and a gripping read.

The story follows Esther and Alex, teenage passengers who were born on the Arcadia, as they train to be medics. The top students in their class will be allowed to go ashore to complete their training and begin new lives. Esther and Alex are planning to marry on board and leave together, finally completing their families’ journeys across the Atlantic.

Esther’s older sister, May, is working towards her own escape, as a member of the military cadets. If she keeps out of trouble, she will be recruited into the on-shore military, and given the chance to make her own new life on land. But her friend Nik is part of the resistance, and while May tries hard to protect her family, it is only a matter of time until Esther and Alex find themselves tangled in gang rivalries and rebel plots – everything they need to avoid if they are going to make it off the boat.

Narration is shared between Esther, Nik, and Hadley – the deliciously nasty administrator who is desperate to impress his superiors enough to earn a placement on land. As Esther’s experiences develop her understanding of the politics of the Arcadia, the reader learns along with her, and the complexity and fragility of her position in shipboard society become dangerously clear.

As the story progresses and the plot twists kick in, we follow the narrators through acts of friendship and bravery, heartbreak, betrayal, and adventure. The action sequences are tightly written and exciting, and there are no guarantees of safety for any of the characters. Esther and Alex are respected for their medical knowledge, and it doesn’t take long for their skills to be in demand.

I loved everything about this book – the excellent dystopian premise, the characters and their relationships, and their adventures as they try to make sense of the events of the story. Hadley’s narration is deliciously nasty, Esther struggles with the path she must follow in order to leave ship life behind, and Nik is doing his best to maintain his precarious position on board while protecting the people he loves. The ending is a cliffhanger, and I’m looking forward to the next book. I’m hooked!

The Stranded will be published on July 21st.

Have you read The Stranded? What did you think of the dystopian setting? 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: Four (Divergent #4)

Title: Four (Divergent #4)
Author: Veronica Roth
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

It’s been ages since I read the Divergent Trilogy – devoured it, in fact – but I never got round to reading Four. Following a recommendation from my YA-reading niece (thank you!), I finally completed the series – and I’m very pleased I did!

The final Divergent book contains four short stories, along with three pivotal scenes from the trilogy, all narrated by Four/Tobias. It’s a great insight into a favourite character’s perspective, feelings, and back story.

In ‘The Transfer’, Four tells the story of his Choosing Ceremony, and the home life that led him to transfer from Abnegation to Dauntless. His journey deliberately shadows Tris’s transfer in ‘Divergent’, but gives another perspective on why someone might leave their community to start a new life in another faction. It adds depth to his background and motivations, and provides new glimpses into the politics and dangers of life in Dauntless.

‘The Initiate’ develops the political insights as Four works to impress his instructors, hide his responses to the simulations, and find his place in his new faction. It’s another story that shadows Tris’s journey, while introducing political elements from her trilogy. Definitely a page-turner.

‘The Son’ explores Four’s inner conflicts as he navigates life in Dauntless while coming to terms with his own background. Turning away from his father, the leader of Abnegation, has consequences he hadn’t expected as Four repeatedly finds his loyalties challenged.

In ‘The Traitor’, Four’s experiences of the politics of Dauntless come together with his doubts about his loyalty and personal safety. We see his side of the developing relationship between Four and Tris, and witness the agonising choices he must make to protect the people he cares about.

In the three bonus scenes, it is a joy to see events from Divergent through Four’s eyes, and to read about his first impressions of Tris when she arrives in Dauntless to begin her training.

I’m so glad I read this book. Jumping back into the world of the Divergent trilogy was like meeting up with old friends, and the new perspective only added to the wonderful worldbuilding, and my sympathy and understanding of the characters.

Have you read Four? What did you think of Four’s side of the Divergent 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: 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: 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?

YA Review: Believe Me (Shatter Me Novella)

Title: Believe Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

When I finished Imagine Me, I predicted that Tahereh Mafi would write another novella to tie up the loose ends that explode in the final chapter, and happily I was right. I also predicted that it would be narrated by Kenji, best friend to the series protagonist Juliette – but on this prediction I was wrong.

Deliciously, the entire novella is narrated by Warner, offering the reader a vivid insight into his relationship with Juliette. It also highlights his resistance to building friendships with the people they worked with to survive the rest of the series, and his own dark assessment of his value to the other characters.

Believe Me has everything we need to feel a sense of closure for the Shatter Me series. Warner’s devotion to Juliette, and his ambivalence to everyone else in their compound. The struggle to bring about a sense of normality in a dramatically changing world. Juliette’s ability to bring people together, and the support she inspires in the people around her. And of course the romantic and very sexy scenes we have come to expect from this series.

It might be a short book, but it is full of big feelings – disappointment, jealousy, surprise and devotion. Warner’s journey is tough, but the author teases us with the possibility that his infuriating inability to connect with the people around him could be redeemed by his adoration for Juliette. The Bad Boy of the series tells us that he would do anything to make sure Juliette is safe and happy, and as he frequently wobbled in his resolve, I found myself willing him to demonstrate that she was genuinely the centre of his world. Warner and Juliette’s relationship might not be a healthy romance, but it is absolutely a convincing one. This is a frustrating, rewarding, emotional, and fitting end to the series.

Have you read Believe Me? What did you think of Warner’s narration? What about the ending? 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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