Young Adult

Super Nobody

Super Nobody
Michael is just an ordinary, average, normal, every day middle schooler in the perfect town of Lincolnshire, a town that happens to have more superheroes per square mile than anywhere else on the planet. What could possibly go wrong, surrounded by so many people capable of destroying the town with a snap of their fingers?

Reviewed by Tahlia Newland.

November 28, 2013

5 Stars

 

It Was Clear From The First Sentence

It was clear from the first sentence of this book that the author knows what he’s doing. Super Nobody grabs your attention straight away and holds you there in a fast moving action packed story about super villains, superheroes and a not-super reluctant teenage hero. There’s a few YA superhero books about, but this one has a particularly real central character who isn’t so super and not such a hero, at least to begin with.

The story begins with Michael being bullied. It seems a normal enough situation, but things soon start turning very strange. Kids are turning into Actives, the name for super beings, and soon everything goes pear-shape. Michael may be a nobody, but he’s just the kind of nobody the town needs to save it from a madman, or is he? If plan A fails, there’s no plan B.

Mr Meske doesn’t just deliver a great action story, he delivers on the characterisation as well. Michael, Charlotte and his mother are very real people, and Michael grows through his experiences as characters should. The language was such that I never had any doubt that I was looking at the world through the eyes of a 12 yr old boy. I particularly liked the ‘shrug shield and grunt armor.’ The prose is clean and clear, well aimed for a young young adult audience, a great read for boys and girls.

Highly recommended. 5 stars. It well-deserves its AIA Seal of Excellence.

 

Thorn

Thorn
Categories: ,
Published: May 15, 2012
For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed. Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future. But powerful men have powerful enemies–and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

Reviewed by Kate Policani.

June 11, 2013

An enjoyable, rich read

 

The King from the neighboring land of Menaiya pays a visit to the humbler land of Adania. Princess Alyrra assumes they visit for trade reasons, but soon the naïve and reclusive princess understands that the king’s visit to her widowed mother is for the purposes of marriage negotiation. She will marry prince Kestrin and there is no argument she can make. Is this her escape from the troubles of her life or a trade-in for even greater problems? Alyrra doesn’t feel equal to the  increase in importance and responsibility.

Magic intrudes, first in the appearance of a mysterious mage one night in Alyrra’s room. He has but a moment to speak to her before his malevolent enemy, The Lady, appears with terrible and vague threats to her or to the Menayan prince.

All her fears turn on their heads on the journey to Menaiya and marriage, when her lady companion, Valka, appears in the forest with The Lady, who steals her identity. Switching bodies with the princess, Valka enters Menaiya as the bride. Alyrra must endure her displeasure as the superior power and is sent off to tend the geese. Now living as the Goose Girl called Thorn, is this the escape Alyrra longed for or is it condemnation for the people of Menayia? Can she ignore her duty as princess, or must she face the dangers together with Prince Kestrin?

Intisar has written a thoroughly enjoyable, beautiful story. Retelling the classic tale of The Goose Girl, she broadens the horizons of the story and adds depth to places one might not expect it. I especially liked Alyrra’s struggle with the relief of casting off an oppressive identity versus the responsibilities it still holds over her heart. I also loved the exploration of The Lady, her motivations and grievances, and how Alyrra appeals to her for mercy.

I read the same tale re-told in “The Goose Girl” by Shannon Hale, but it was entirely different. I truly believe that each author will write a completely different tale even if given the same plot as a basis. Thorn demonstrates just that.

The ending expanded the heart of the tale, in my opinion. The character of Alyrra was forced to wrestle with her yearning of a simple, peaceful life of obscurity, and the great need of the helpless people around her for someone to stand for them. A terrified, reclusive girl becomes a true princess and hero. Her heroism grew from her strength of heart and her compassion, and I really love that. Thorn is a truly enjoyable, rich read, both entertaining and challenging.

 

The Bone Knife

The Bone Knife
Rae knows how to look out for family. Born with a deformed foot, she feigns indifference to the pity and insults that come her way. Wary of all things beautiful, Rae instantly distrusts their latest visitor: an appallingly attractive faerie. Further, his presence imperils the secret her sister guards. But when the local townspeople show up demanding his blood, Rae must find a way to protect both her sister’s secret and their guest. Even if that means risking herself.

Eden at the Edge of Midnight

Eden at the Edge of Midnight
The Vara of Yima, the original Garden of Eden, sealed from the rest of the world and populated with the fittest of men and women. A secret paradise that 150 years ago became ravaged by smog that choked out the skies.   All good stories have a hero. “The One” who arrives to save the realm from darkness and evil. But what if the wrong person takes their place by accident? Now the Vara exists in a permanent state of darkness and its people need a champion, a chosen one to save them from the smog that threatens to fill the realm and poison its inhabitants. That’s what they needed. They got Sammy Ellis instead. She isn’t important enough for her dad to stick around for, never mind saving a realm or junk like that. Her only responsibility was to help the chosen one open the gateway into the Vara, but not only has she entered the realm in their place, she’s also locked them out in the process. Stuck in a twilight land of giant mushrooms, pursued by dark forces and still in her pyjamas, being unimportant back in the real world is starting to seem way more attractive.  

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

June 19, 2014

If one were to take the Chronicles of Narnia (take your pick which one), Alice in Wonderland, and then add in a dash of Stephen King, and put the whole thing in a blender, you’d come close to having Eden At the Edge of Midnight, the first book in John Kerry’s Vara Chronicles. Giant mushrooms, pink stegosaurus-like mammals, a roiling purple sky, carnivorous rhinos, and even more bizarre things await Sammy Ellis, the luckless and unpopular English protagonist who only wants her often-drunk, harsh father to recognize her for the soccer (foothball) genius she is. Instead, a bracelet catapults Sammy into Vara, where people have no idea what grass is, make furniture out of fungus, and where magic exists.

This book is a real page-turner. Past the first few rather interesting chapters, once Sammy lands in Vara it’s almost like the book reads itself. It’s chock full of an interesting backstory, the shattering history of the various secret societies, cities, and the order of the magi are all keeping secrets and trying to stay alive.

Of the three main characters, perhaps Hami is my favorite. You’re obviously supposed to root for Mehrak, and he’s the harmless, hapless and well-meaning comedy in the book, but Hami is the lone wolf with possibly dark secrets. All three are written well, and the dialogue serves to separate out characters fairly well.

Eden’s also got action sequences (handled well), full on army battles (mostly these go on offstage, but that’s okay) some creepy, thrilling portions with some kind of mysterious monster we should probably see more of in the second book, and all of these are written with great skill.

What’s most admirable about the book is the author’s ability to fully envision a three hundred sixty view of a completely alien world. Vara not only has cool creatures (lava pterodactyls, nice) and interesting locations (Honton Keep is great), but under the author’s watch they come to vivid life.

At about the eighty five percent mark, you begin to wonder ‘Okay, great, so far the book is really good, but it’s not going to end off at a cliffhanger, is it? The author wouldn’t do that to me… well, some authors would do that to me. Crud.’ Rest assured, the book does finally resolve itself, though the epilogue (and unanswered questions from the remainder of the book) leave a door standing open to the future of the series.

There are a couple of places where the book falters, however. The first is the propensity of the author to repeat sentences similar to ‘He turned away and said nothing.’ or ‘He just looked at her and didn’t speak.’ These mostly started to get to me in the middle of the book, where loyalties and motives begin to get questioned.

Second, there are a number of places and terms in the world of Vara that aren’t explained. My two hangups were The Fifth Azaran and Ahriman, which appear to have a lot of meaning to the author, but for which we receive no backstory. Are there four other Azarans? The reader has no idea. No lore is provided, not even a casual mention of the function of these things, which actually become very, very important later in the book.

Third, this book is categorized under children’s fiction, and parents need to take note here: this is, at best, a high level young adult book. There is swearing, there is alcohol use, and while generally these are not part of the YA canon, sometimes they slip in there. Both, in this case, serve the purpose of characterizing an important person in the novel, but neither are handled with the sort of delicacy one would expect of YA (the function would be to teach a lesson about why these things aren’t acceptable, or why people do them when they shouldn’t). While the instances of swearing and drinking are minimal, they are not in the slightest bit subtle.

Overall, AIA lists four stars as material you would find in a bookstore as published by a mainstream publisher. I believe this book stands on the very edge of that rating and the three star rating: books we at AIA recommend readers to buy, but which wouldn’t make the editorial cut at a publishing house. I’m awarding four stars because the writing was done very well, and the flaws were fairly minor, but parents are warned that this is much more an adult than a YA book.

 

Gang Territory

Gang Territory
Series:
Published: March 30, 2011
A wartime evacuee's tale of village gangs and first love: When a boy from London finds himself homeless after the orphanage where he lived is bombed during World War II, he is bundled off to the countryside to live with his only relative, a pious spinster aunt he barely knows. Her village of Widdlington would be a peaceful place to live; or so he imagined. The evacuee desperately seeks to understand his place in a bewildering, strife-filled world. He falls helplessly in love, but it's a passion that seems doomed, because the boy's aunt and the girl's parents are in bitterly opposing religious camps. He does, however, possess one treasure he's prepared to guard with his life; his go-cart.Lightning. He'd rather burn it than let it fall into the hands of the Nazis, should they invade, and he dares to wrest it back from a rival gang which has stolen it. Humorous yet thought-provoking, the Gang series explores the difficulties and rewards of forging relationships in violent times.

Disturbing Clockwork

Disturbing Clockwork
Categories: ,
Publisher:
Published: April 20, 2013
Not so long ago, on a planet not too far away, a quirky inventor washes up on a desert island and discovers devices that defy belief. They appear to be clockwork automatons, but he has never seen their like, and, brilliant as he is, he cannot imagine how they can do the things they do—which is pretty much anything asked of them. Such amazing technology! Where did they come from? How do they work? Benkin, a lifelong student of natural philosophy, sees them as a key to unlock scientific secrets and the wonders of the universe. Snyde, a dangerous fugitive from the king’s justice, sees them as a means to power.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies

August 15, 2013

David Morese knows how to write a good story. His plots and pacing are always excellent, carrying you smoothly from beginning to end without you ever being quite sure where he’s going to take you next. This novel, though very enjoyable, didn’t involve me emotionally. It’s an entertaining light fantasy with charming characters, told from the viewpoint of an omniscient narrator, and it has no sex and little violence, making it suitable for the whole family.

Although the novel stands alone, the world is the same one used in the Warden Threat and the Warden War. Trixie and Kwestor are the main characters this time, with Prince Donald making an appearance near the end. Mo, the android dog also has an important role. Trixie is a gutsy young lady and an endearing character, and Kwestor is … unique. I really like his dry observations on the nature of humankind.

The antagonist in the story is a sly creepy character who aims to find riches and a place for himself by manipulating the head of one of the Groves – a kind of borough within a Kingdom – and encouraging him in his bid to challenge the King’s power. He kidnaps a  scientist who found some very unusual and baffling machines that look like mechanical crabs and are capable of great destruction when directed by the wrong sort of person. Trixie, escorted by Kwestor, is carrying a message from Prince Donald to the scientist. She finds him gone and his friends don’t know where he is or what has happened. So begins their quest to unravel the mystery. At the same time, mechanical giant bugs are wrecking havoc in the town, and though there seems no logical reason for it, Kwestor wonders if the events are related.

The previous books in this series are sometimes listed as science fiction, but I consider them more fantasy, because the science fiction aspect of the world is hidden from most of the characters, and it rarely impinges on the story. The world we are presented with is definitely a medieval society. Although this book has some similarities with steampunk in so far as it has a spunky girl heroine and some wonderful machines, it  isn’t truly steampunk, because books of that genre are set in our world in an alternate Victorian era where steam power and clockwork have become highly refined.  Like much independently published fiction, this book crosses genre boundaries and, I think, is more interesting because of it.

Well worth a read if you want a light fantasy.

Amy’s Pendant

Amy’s Pendant
Publisher:
Published: March 9, 2013
Amy, the only child of a poor family living in the bustling city of Dolphin Point, is given an amazing and potentially dangerous pendant as a present for her fourteenth birthday. She does not know how amazing or how potentially dangerous it is. If she did, she would cherish it even more. She is that kind of girl. Through her investigations of the mysterious pendant, she uncovers an ancient mystery—the remnants of a vast alien commercial enterprise buried beneath surface of the planet. Unfortunately, the central computer for the complex is aware of her intrusion and it cannot let her escape with knowledge of its existence.

Hollow Moon

Hollow Moon
What is the secret of the hollow moon? Join intrepid young heroine Ravana O’Brien in a fast-paced and witty science-fiction mystery of interstellar intrigue. Having fled civil war sixteen light years away, Ravana and her father now live in the sleepy commune of the hollow moon, a forgotten colony ship drifting around Barnard’s Star. Yet the evil priest Taranis, the dark architect of destiny, has returned from the dead. What began as a minor escapade to rescue her erratic electric pet soon leads Ravana and friends on an incredible planet-hopping voyage into the shady dystopian world of politics, terrible music and rebellion! Hollow Moon is an adventure for all who relish a dose of humour and practical astrophysics with their fantasy, for young adults and adults young at heart.

HEALING WATERS

HEALING WATERS
As Lily’s abilities grow, can she fight her instinct to protect and heal the world, while taking down the madman bent on destroying it? After a failed rescue attempt, and no home to return to, Lily and Will reunite to join with her uncle and his Network of rebels, taking on Vice President Malevich and his army of agents, drones, and Guardians. With Malevich enslaving the city-dwellers who depend on the New Government for their survival—he’s made it clear he will eliminate anyone who stands in his way. Leading the rebellion while staying one step ahead of the Industry takes Lily, Will, and their friends on a harrowing journey from the desert southwest to the new Capitol in Chicago, where they’ll face a fight to the death. But Lily’s greatest gift—her driving instinct to heal and protect—may also be her greatest enemy. As Lily’s abilities grow, can she do what it takes to save humanity, while taking down the madman bent on destroying it?