YA Review: The Wolf and the Water (Deluge #1)

Title: The Wolf and the Water (Deluge #1)
Author: Josie Jaffrey
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Inspired by the legend of Atlantis, The Wolf and the Water is the exciting first instalment in Josie Jaffrey’s first non-vampire fantasy series.

Kepos is an isolated city, surrounded by impassable cliffs and the Eastern Sea, and protected by a high wall at the head of the valley. The Priests maintain the wall – the barrier, they say, between the valley of the living and the souls of the dead. Kepos is ruled by the Dekocracy, ten aristocratic families who share control of the wealth, power, and politics, from the respected Tauros clan to the tenth-level Glauks. Their children are expected to marry into other aristocratic families, and raise their status if they can.

Kala has two disadvantages in Kepos. She’s a Glauks – the lowest of the Dekocratic families – and her damaged leg means that she walks with a cane. The other Dekocrats would have disowned her, but her father refused. Instead, he taught her to read, and recognised her intelligence and humanity. Everyone agrees that she will never be able to marry. As a disabled girl from Glauks, she knows that none of the other families would allow the match. She spends her time in her father’s library, or escaping to swim in secret, sustained by her relationship with Melissa, one of the Glauks slaves.

When Kala’s father is killed, everything changes. As his only child, she is the Glauks heir, and a possible marriage partner for the younger son of another family. Her mother’s remarriage casts doubt on her status, and brings a cruel stepfather into her house – along with a new step brother and sister who both embrace Kala as a full member of their family.

But Kala is preoccupied with solving the mystery of her father’s death. She suspects the priests, and her questions bring her closer to the wall that protects everything she knows. Is it really holding back the souls of the dead, or is there something more dangerous behind it? Discovering more about her own family only raises more questions about Kepos, its place in the world, and the threat building behind the wall.

It’s a complex story, with plenty of effective worldbuilding and character development. Kala is a sympathetic protagonist, and following her journey from rejected child to Glauks heir and beyond is an emotional experience. Her relationships – with Melissa, with her mother, and with the new members of her family – are vividly drawn and entirely engrossing. She faces constant danger from the other Dekocrats, and constant uncertainty about her own status and safety, but her determination to survive matches her determination to find a place for herself in Kepos in spite of her disability.

The action and the tension build throughout the book, coming to a heart-stopping climax as Kala puts the pieces of her story together. The books ends on a spectacular cliffhanger, opening up enticing possibilities for the rest of the series. I can’t wait for book two!

Have you read The Wolf and The Water? What did you think of Kala’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: 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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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: The Forevers

Title: The Forevers
Author: Chris Whitaker
Edition:
Audiobook
Rating:
3/5

This is a UK-set high school novel with a difference – the world is probably ending, and the characters are living their lives against the clock. It’s a powerful idea, following a group of teenagers as they navigate an uncertain future in a world that is slowly falling apart.

The asteroid has been headed to earth for ten years, and so far every attempt to divert it has failed. The final mission might succeed, and life might go on – but what if it doesn’t? Will the teenagers of West have the chance to live before the end?

Mae, a girl with a reputation as a troublemaker, searches for the truth about her friend’s death. Did Abi Manton kill herself, or did someone in town have a motive for murder? As normal life begins to unravel, Mae uncovers her classmates’ secrets, finding friends, allies and enemies in unexpected places.

With this setup, readers might expect a complete collapse of law and order, or a sense of apocalyptic panic, but that’s not story the author sets out to tell. As the end of the world approaches, the characters definitely become more brave and less law-abiding, but they still go to work and school, practice for concerts and make plans for the final school dance. This could have been a book about what people do when their actions don’t have consequences, but if the final mission succeeds they will all still have to get up in the morning and navigate the rest of their lives. The threat of success is a clever twist, adding balance to the story and allowing normal life to continue as the clock counts down.

I didn’t get on with the book at first. The author introduces a large cast of characters, and jumps straight into their relationships, rumours, crushes, and cliques. To begin with I had trouble remembering who was who, who was rumoured to be sleeping with whom, and who liked or hated the protagonist. While Mae’s sister and her best friend are well drawn and rounded, the other characters were harder to tell apart, and I found myself struggling to care about their stories.

The plot develops slowly, with fragments of evidence about Abi’s life and death surfacing among all the other secrets and lies. Every character is hiding something, and it feels as if Mae is constantly sidetracked by the scandals she uncovers in her classmates’ lives. There is an answer, and all the pieces fall into place in the end, but not before we’ve heard about every other scandal in town.

Mae is an interesting protagonist. She doesn’t think twice about breaking and entering, particularly in the expensive part of town. She has no problem stealing from the rich kids to support her younger sister and the grandmother who is struggling to look after them, and she’s always top of the suspect list if anything happens at school. She’s learned not to care what other people think of her, and her only soft spot is for her sister. As the book progresses, she finds herself caring about the people around her. As she finds out more about their lives, she begins to understand that life isn’t plain sailing for anyone – even the families in the biggest houses in West.

The asteroid that might tear the world apart ends up bringing the teenagers of West closer together. If you’re looking for a slow-burn murder mystery with a large cast of friends and enemies, or a high-school gossip story with a twist, this is the book for you.

Have you read The Forevers? What did you think of the story? Would you be a Forever in the same circumstances? 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: One Of Us Is Lying

Title: One Of Us Is Lying
Author: Karen M McManus
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

A high-school locked-room murder mystery, narrated by the students suspected of the crime. One Of Us Is Lying is a cleverly constructed story that kept me guessing as the suspects slowly revealed their secrets and pieced together the evidence against them.

Five students find themselves in detention together – the athlete, the prom-queen wannabe, the gossip king, the high-achiever, and the drug dealer on probation – but only four will leave the room alive. The survivors find themselves questioning what happened during detention, and working together to understand what the murder means for each of them. All of them have something to hide – but which of them has a motive for murder?

The story unfolds gradually, with each survivor narrating their own chapters as the evidence builds. I was completely hooked, turning the pages to find the next twist and the next motive, and developing theories as each character confessed more about their lives.

Keeping secrets from the reader when the book is written in alternating first-person chapters is difficult, but the author manages to reveal her surprises and plot twists gradually, without making readers feel cheated or misled. We feel as if we’re getting to know the characters as they get to know each other, and this ensures that the first-person revelations feel entirely natural as the story unfolds.

The four suspects feel very different, with different concerns, ambitions, and family backgrounds. With each new twist, another character comes under suspicion, and the reader is constantly guessing who has a secret worth killing for. The supporting cast adds depth to the story, with friends, sisters, parents, teachers, and boyfriends and girlfriends adding to the tangled web of grudges, motives, and opportunities.

It’s a clever premise and a gripping story with a satisfying ending – and a sequel, which is definitely on my wish list.

Have you read One Of Us Is Lying? What did you think of the story? Will you be reading the sequel? 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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Friendship v. Romance

Let’s talk about friendship v. romance in dystopian fiction. Which do you prefer?

The Battle Ground Series is deliberately friendship based, centred around a lives-on-the-line-for-each-other male/female friendship. These are teenagers, fighting for their country and their lives – and they’re not taking time out to look for romance. They’re busy surviving, dodging soldiers and bullets, trying to be brave, and keeping each other safe.

Did we mention Book One is FREE today? Grab your Kindle edition now!

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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YA Review: Pretties

Title: Pretties
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Tally and Shay are living in New Pretty Town, but when a friend from their past arrives with surprising news, Tally is once again forced to decide how – and where – she wants to build a life, and where her loyalties lie.

Pretties is a great follow-up to Uglies, showing the reader life in New Pretty Town from the inside, and giving us an understanding of the characters’ choices – who chooses to become Pretty, who chooses to stay, and what might persuade them to leave. Once again, Tally provides a relatable point of view for the reader. We understand her motivations as we follow her life as a Pretty, and her surprise when she is offered an alternative to the easy, luxurious lifestyle of New Pretty Town.

The alternative proves to be more complicated than Tally expected, and as she discovers more about the world beyond New Pretty Town she begins to understand her place in the rigid structure of her society. Where the first book introduced Tally and her friends to the idea of living outside the society they grew up in, Pretties brings another dimension to the ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups, and what might make people reject the expected progression from Ugly to Pretty, and on to employment, family, and children.

There’s plenty of adventure and danger, and the ever-present threat of the Specials keeps Tally from fully enjoying her life, even in New Pretty Town. The bad guys are still scary and believable, and we learn more about their motivations as Tally uncovers the complexities of the wider world. Old friends return, and old grudges shape new relationships as the worlds of the Pretties and those who escaped collide.

Pretties is a fast-paced, gripping read with a breathtaking cliffhanger ending. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

Have you read Pretties? What did you think of Tally’s choices in the second book? Would you have done the same? 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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