YA Romance

Thrall

Thrall
Published: June 1, 2012
Author's Twitter: @jennq
When 16-year old Braedyn learns she’s a descendent of Lilith–the mother of all demons—she is swept into an ancient war with no easy answers.   Welcome to Braedyn Murphy’s life. She’s a typical—if shy—sophomore navigating the slings and arrows of high school life with her two best friends, Royal and Cassie. Then a new boy, Lucas, moves into the house next door, and Braedyn finds herself falling in love for the first time. But Braedyn’s normal life comes crashing down around her ears when she learns she’s a descendent of Lilith, the mother of all demons – and that she might play a critical role in an ancient war between the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Lilith. Turns out the right answers aren’t always clear or easy. And as for “good” and “evil” – it all depends on how you choose to act. Inspired by the ancient Mesopotamian myths of Lilith and her offspring, Thrall explores first love, strong friendships, and taking on adult responsibilities against the backdrop of powerful supernatural forces and life-and-death stakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Losing it All

Losing it All
Published: March 8, 2013
Author's Twitter: @marshacornelius
Frank Barnes is content living on the streets of Atlanta. A soup kitchen and a makeshift shanty sure beat his days as a POW in Vietnam. But Chloe Roberts can’t handle the eviction that sends her into the hell of homelessness. With no family or friends to turn to, Chloe and her children are sucked into the traumatic world of night shelters, and dangerous predators. When they bump into each other at the soup kitchen, Frank offers Chloe a glimmer of hope that she can pull her life back together. She rekindles his lost sense of self-worth by taking his mind off his own problems. But they will not meet again until Frank is riding high as a working man, and Chloe has hit rock bottom. By helping Chloe rebuild her broken life, Frank banishes the demons from his own past. Unfortunately, the past comes strolling back into their lives, threatening to destroy the happiness they have finally found.

Reviewed by Richard Bunning

 

5 Stars

Cornelius sets the reader right into the tough trough of a city’s squalid underbelly. We can imagine ourselves looking into the concrete underpasses of whatever modern urban environment we may know, as a similar story could be written there a thousand times. The ending may be less kind, less relieved by love, but the story will be much the same. True life, sadly, often reads like this.

We are made to see how easy it is to fall so low that an unexpectedly dry corner in the most derelict of landscapes can come to feel like a treasure, a blessing even. Life can be so much worse than living in the shelter of a sturdy cardboard box with just enough mouldy bread or a nearby soup kitchen.

This is a story of continuing hope despite the worst of what life can throw at us, of dealing with whatever damage we are responsible for drawing onto ourselves, of dealing with the consequences of physical and mental abuse; a love story despite the engulfing scum. We are made to see how long and how tough the march from true poverty truly is.

Beautifully written, completely believable, a story that is often paralleled in some way by the real lives of societies all too real outcasts. The end was a great relief. We must finally remember that very few such badly blighted lives end with so much fulfilled hope. This third novel by Cornelius is as different as was each of the first two. Each one is of the same high quality. I will be reading Marsha Cornelius’s next work, whatever ‘genre’ she picks.

Eternal Destiny

Eternal Destiny
Ariel and Nick face their deepest fears and their greatest challenge as they search for the Master Demon who holds the key to the future of mankind. Slay him and the world goes free; fail, and it falls irrevocably into violence and chaos. Guided by a wisdom master of a mystical tradition that uses mind power as the basis of powerful magic, the assault party travels from the ancient granite walls of the Hermitage, up the Steps of Death, and through a labyrinth of shifting gorges to the Palace of Skulls. Even if Nick wins his struggle with the scars of his past and defeats the green-eyed head of the Cogin clan, they still must cross the scree slope, where the bones of Ariel’s father lie, to get to the ice caves beneath the summit where the Master Demon awaits. The journey is extraordinary, the enemies are deadly and the ending is mind-blowing.

Reviewed by Richard Bunning

5 Stars

We reach the top of the climb, having started up the `spiritual’ mountain of Newland’s metaphysical creation in the first book in the Diamond Peak series. Life’s path is never easy for anyone if they are to fulfil their potential, the greater our gifts the more that others’ normally expect us to give. So it is with the heroine, Ariel. In the end, this was not so much of the story of Ariel’s struggle to conquer the blackness threatening her and the lives of those she cared about, but rather about her determination to help the `all’ of humanity. The serpentine Ariel has to destroy is just as binding in landscape we all know as it is on her mythical mountain; a massive peak which seemingly buds from some part of urban Australia. There is a true moral theme, the idea of a saviour, the dream of resetting the clock back on all corrupting evil. This work draws on the powerful allegory of writers like C.S. Lewis, whilst remaining free of his well chiselled, establishment, religious tow.

This is a superb read, in which for me the true peak of creativity was in the all too brief return of Ariel to the `real’ world. In this section we are rewarded by glimpsing the very dark childhood shadows from which Nick, Ariel’s ever closer friend, had to emerge. Of course, the fulfilling of the prophecy was most certainly the summit of excitement. Perhaps the `homecoming’ chapter had a particular resonance for me as it brought to the fore the inventive speculative fiction angle of the book to a degree not seen since the opening chapters of book one.

In my opinion, a perfect rounding of Newland’s `Diamond Peak’ project would be an omnibus addition, an amalgam of all four books in one fat volume. This would allow a huge amount of stripping of retold background and re-established character traits. Going over old ground in each book of the series is so necessary to readers’ understanding in any true serial with a defined `quest’. All four of these books work very well as standalone reads. However, written as one script of perhaps 300,000 words, even if still split into `books’, this could become a modern classic of YA fantasy.

Destiny

Destiny
Author:
Published: October 4, 2014
Author's Twitter: @SMSpencerAuthor
Set in Australia this YA paranormal romance is the story of Lili who, while looking for her destiny, finds herself in a world filled with vampires and ghosts. Destiny: ‘The predetermined or inevitable path a person must follow.’ When nineteen year-old Lili McIntyre decides to trade her California summer for a mid-winter visit to Australia, it’s in hope of finding inspiration and direction in the country where her father was born. But when she arrives in Melbourne, the first thing she finds is the last thing she’s looking for—a brooding man who makes her heart race every time she sees him. Against her better judgement, Lili finds herself drawn into a relationship that tests her very beliefs about life, reality and fantasy. But the real test is how to follow her destiny as she faces some of the hardest decisions of her life.

Reviewed 

4 Stars

Lili McIntyre just ended a difficult relationship and is now on a much-needed summer vacation to Melbourne, Australia for a few months. Her aunt Debs welcomes her Down Under and provides her with a chance to clear her head. On the plane, Lili meets Claire, and that new friendship introduces her to more than she dreamed of. Though Claire doesn’t know it, her new boyfriend, Tom, has an enormous secret. The oblivious Claire introduces Lili to Sam, Tom’s close friend. As a natural double-date, Sam and Lili find themselves thrown together and soon discover a growing attraction.

Soon, Lili discovers why Sam and Tom behave so strangely. They are vampires! Suddenly a world of the supernatural opens up to Lili and her heart will lead her to help Sam keep his secret identity and defend the city from conflicts begun in ages past.

Destiny is an enjoyable book with a fun take on the vampire genre, full of characters created with affection and care. Lili’s struggle to determine her future and the pressures from home struck a chord with me. She feels the urgency to decide her future and move forward, although the hugeness of the decision overwhelms her.

The American/Australian crossover made me wonder through the tale about the author’s origins, but I think I know. Some telling word choice clued me in. I loved hearing about life in Melbourne and all the interesting trips the characters took nearby. Though some of Melbourne’s history appears in the book, I would have like to learn more.

I appreciated the potential for the tale to discuss the subject of abuse. I think that young women, especially, need reinforcement that abuse is real, encouragement that they don’t have to endure it, and illustrations of what it really looks like. Plenty of speakers and nonfiction writers share about abuse, but tales of people enduring and overcoming it reach us in a different, sometimes more personal way.

Lili wonders through the tale why she isn’t scared that Sam is a vampire. I know why: it’s because none of the vampires in this book are the slightest bit scary. Romance and good looks trump blood-drinking. Any slip of the teeth is slight and polite to the extent that Claire never once discovers their identity. Even the scenes that should be thrilling and terrifying lose their teeth because of the detached and passive way the author describes them. My take is that the trouble lies in the author’s unwillingness to make the characters suffer. She loves them too much. Any problem is short and quickly resolved without the pain that blood-drinking romantic interests should pose.

Aside from the pressured calm of the tale, I enjoyed the book and look forward to the second book in the trilogy to find the answers to the problems that Lili hasn’t solved yet. Four stars.

Demon’s Grip

Demon's Grip
Series:
Publisher:
Published: November 13, 2013
Author's Twitter: @TahliaNewland
At the University of Sheldra, Ariel discovers that her travelling companion, Nick, is a respected translator with little time to spare. Now that he isn’t at her side all the time, she wishes he was, and when she finally admits her love, powerful emotions sweep her away. The demon lord Emot takes advantage of her inexperience in matters of the heart and preys on her desire, setting off a struggle with addiction that threatens to break Nick’s heart and turn Ariel into the demon’s mindless slave. She must reach deep into her soul and find the mystical power she needs to kill the one who promises pleasure but delivers only pain. Fail, and she will lose the one she loves and spend an eternity in the demon’s grip.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies 

July 25, 2013

5 Stars

Demon’s Grip is the third (of four) books in the Diamond Peak series, and it is the best so far, both in terms of the action-packed storyline and the quality of the writing. I had the impression throughout the book that the main characters (Ariel and Nick) had grown up a bit since the previous book. This was probably because they were dealing with issues of greater importance (greed and craving, their developing romance, deceit and honesty and more besides). The emotions of the characters as they struggle with these is very well-portrayed, particularly with regards to addiction.The main story is counterpointed nicely with updates on the predicament of Nadima, Ariel’s mother, who is trapped in the demon’s lair (quite literally, at times, in its grip). The demon in question is developed as an important character in its own right, and the interactions between the demons themselves are quite amusing.It is more than a standard YA fantasy story, though; the characters’ internalisations and dialogue, and the progression of the plot itself, lead the reader to be more contemplative, even meditative, about the emotional issues involved. So it is certainly for readers who want greater depth in a novel.

Overall, a nicely-paced novel, well-written, with memorable characters and the chance, perhaps, to reflect more deeply on life while enjoying the story.

 

Reviewed by Clive S Johnson

5 Stars

A most exemplary work, a real joy to read. The colour, depth and vitality of both the writing and the narrative is stunningly good: the exploration of motives, outlooks and hopes of the characters quite intoxicating. It ranks as a true work of literary accomplishment.

 

Stalking Shadows

Stalking Shadows
Series:
Publisher:
Published: 11 Dec. 2013
Author's Twitter: @TahliaNewland
In order to find the key to her mother’s release, Ariel must negotiate a forest of evil spirits, escape a mind-numbing city of sparkling towers, travel through the treacherous gullies of Minion Hills, and avoid an attack by a demon lord intent on killing her. Ariel hopes that the great library at Sheldra holds the key to rescuing her mother. But in order to get there, she must negotiate a forest of evil spirits, escape a mind-numbing city of sparkling towers, travel through the treacherous gullies of Minion Hills, and avoid an attack by a demon lord intent on killing her. At the same time, a battle rages between her heart and her mind. A relationship with her travelling companion, the enigmatic Nick, is just too tempting, but can they be together without Ariel losing her focus and falling to the demons? Her life is at stake, but also her heart. She risks encasing it in stone and denying herself the very sustenance she needs. Will they make it to the safe haven of Sheldra, or will Ariel die at the hands of the yellow-eyed demon?  

Reviewed by Evie Woolmore

June 16, 2013

5 Stars

This second volume in Tahlia Newland’s YA series picks up just where the first volume, A Lethal Inheritance,

The will-they-won’t-they of Nick and Ariel’s relationship is well written, and we see the situation from both sides. Ariel worries, as many girls her age do, that having a boyfriend will distract her from what she needs to do to succeed, but will also turn her into someone who is less able to focus on what’s important because they are always worrying about how they look. In Ariel’s case, Newland makes it easy to sympathise with her worry about being distracted – rescuing their mother is the most important goal anyone might have – but she also shows well how contradictory our feelings can be, when we are inching into a new relationship. Nick himself is confused about how he feels, managing the conflict in his own feelings and his life before Ariel with the tension she brings. He wants to impress her, protect her, look after, but he also is overwhelmed at times by how she makes him feel. Often YA fiction sees things from only the girl’s point of view, so this is a welcome addition to the novel.

This novel has a much stronger romantic element to it than the first volume but it doesn’t overshadow what is, once again, a well-driven, well-plotted voyage through well-drawn, well-imagined worlds. Twitchet, the talking cat, is wonderfully expressed, and although the sage Walnut is absent for the first part of the novel, Twitchet more than makes up for his absence in his cleverness and his mischief. There are new friends and enemies made, and some whose allegiance is not clear. Tension is steadily built as the novel progresses and we also learn more of the metaphysical vision of this world, of how infectious darkness and self-doubt can be, and how compelling and difficult to escape too. It is impossible to talk in any detail about the plot without giving it away, but suffice to say after a steady beginning, life gets increasingly more complicated and Ariel must test herself again and again and again.

If you enjoyed the first volume of the series then this will not disappoint and will leave you eagerly anticipating the next stage of their journey.

5 stars

 

Reviewed by Richard Bunning

5 Stars

Great stuff! I would suggest reading Lethal Inheritance first, though it is certainly not essential. This really is a pure fantasy book, written with an older teenager as the target audience. I’m 57, and don’t really believe that I would have enjoyed it any more or less at 17.

I didn’t like it quite as much as the first book. This is mainly because I’m eager to reach the end of the quest, thus find the middle somewhat of a frustration. The books overall quality is top draw, with a good pace and easy style. Unsurprisingly, some of the fantasy elements are very familiar to anyone that has read any of the genre but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good deal of originality as well.
We can see all the classical elements of the moral quest, the long road searching for the magic that will allow evil to be defeated. The dark forces are embedded in the suffocating, black serpentine. Ariel, the heroine is growing in skill, becoming immersed in the magic of her inheritance, whilst fighting her instincts to run, or fall into the strong arms of her worldly lover, or even to sink into the smothering, beguiling, evil. Arial is as determined to defeat the Rasama as I am to reach the end of book three. I don’t think Ariel really found anything but frustration in this difficult middle road either, all sorts of frustrations in her case, especially when this book started with her realising that her personal quest had so far failed.
I really need to move on from Sheldra, and Arial and Nick really need to get together with the job done. There are so many cravings that need ending, so Tahlia Newland, please don’t keep us waiting too long. Don’t give the serpentine over much time to grow, or else Arial will need a forth book in order to bring things to a head. Would Newland do that to us?

 

Reviewed by Katt Pemble

3 Stars

Stalking Shadows is the second book in Tahlia Newland’s Diamond Peak series.

It picks up right after the ending of book one, so really should be read in order. Having said that, the book could still be enjoyed (if a little confusing in parts) even if you hadn’t read the first.

 

This one didn’t seem as smooth as the first. There were passages that overwhelmed me in a spirituality sense, too much focus on inner light and radiance. There were only a few points where this happened, but it was enough to pull me out of the story.

The adventure was just as exciting as the first book, with intricate twists and turns sporadically placed so as to keep the reader guessing.

I look forward to seeing the relationships between the characters grow in the next book in the series.

**Note: I was provided an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review***

Pieces of Love

Pieces of Love
Categories: ,
Author:
Published: June 8, 2014
Author's Twitter: @pjsharon
Sixteen year-old Alexis Hartman wants nothing more than to smoke pot and play guitar. Getting high and escaping into her music seems the perfect solution when her world is shattered by her sister’s death. But when she’s arrested for possession a second time, life couldn’t get any more complicated. Her mother’s breakdown is the final straw that forces Lexi to spend the summer on the West Coast with her grandmother, Maddie. When Lexi steps over the line one too many times, she’s certain that she’s destined for juvenile detention—until Maddie decides that desperate measures are called for. A three week Mediterranean cruise—for seniors. Eighteen year-old Ethan Kaswell, the poster child for good sons, is stranded on the cruise when his father, a famous heart surgeon, is called away. With his own life perfectly mapped out, Ethan finds Lexi’s unpredictability irresistible. Although he’s smart enough to see that there is no future in falling for a “vacation crush,” Lexi’s edgy dark side draws him like an anchor to the bottom of the sea. As the two embark on the journey of a lifetime, will Lexi finally learn to love someone—even when she has to let them go?

Reviewed by Awesome Indies Assessor

‘Pieces of Love’ by PJ Sharon is the story of a grief-stricken, grumpy and slightly wayward teen sent to her grandmothers for the summer to keep her out of trouble. Lexi has been busted twice for weed possession and her mother is in hospital due to a nervous breakdown, so her stepfather sends her off to give the couple time to get things on an even keel without having to worry about her.

Grandma decides to take Lexi on a cruise around the Mediterranean, and Lexi isn’t pleased about it, not only because she’s going to be stuck on a ship with a bunch of old people, but also because she suffers from motion sickness. But this is a romance, so, enter the handsome young man and things turn out better than expected.

This is a character driven story. Unlike Sharon’s dystopian series, you’ll not find much action, but you’ll find character depth and growth, as Lexi’s relationship with Ethan and her don’t-call-me-grandma-call-me-Maddie grandmother deepens, forcing Lexi to face things she’s buried in a haze of pot smoke.

Lexi’s family has been shattered by two deaths, her father and her sister, both for alcohol-related reasons, and—though not to blame—Lexi carries a lot of guilt over her sister’s death. She needs to move on and the events in the book help her to do this. This is a teen romance, so expect the usual sensuality in the descriptions of the kiss and their physical attraction, but it is not overdone.

PJ Sharon has great expertise in portraying young people and the issues facing them. This is a very real story. It doesn’t skirt the difficulties, but it does leave readers with a sense of hope. The author has the confidence that comes from authors with several books under their belt and knows how to pull together the elements required for a good read. Though not racy, the pacing keeps you reading by doling out just enough tension in the relationships at the right time. The cruise ship setting also adds an exotic touch and the drama at the end is a clever and very realistic catapult for Lexi’s growth.

Overall, the book is well enough written in plain language very suitable for the young adult reader, and it deals with relevant issues in a skilful way. Highly recommended.

An Animal Life: The Beginning

An Animal Life: The Beginning
Author:
Published: November 6, 2012
Author's Twitter: @HowardKrum
A nirreverent, romantic comedy with an animal medical mystery set in veterinary school. The best TV analogue for the tone and story is a cross between “M*A*S*H” and “ER.”    Millions dream of veterinary school, few make it in. The chosen discover an irreverent, romantically- charged, academic gauntlet that brings out the best and worst that humans can be. An Animal Life: The Beginning was inspired by the real-life adventures of four veterinary school classmates. This first book in the series opens as Dr. Violet Marie Green (a beautiful zoo vet extraordinaire) is darting a giraffe from the open cockpit of a helicopter. As the first veterinarian at the world’s largest zoo, Violet should be ecstatic but her self-medicated gastric ulcer warns that all is not right in The Peaceable Kingdom. Almost immediately a mysterious and invariably fatal neurological disease emerges. Horses, zebra, flamingoes, crows and even people are dropping dead all around the zoo. With her goofy-sweet and brilliant friend, Stan the Path Man, she and her vet students solve the case and reveal that the bully of a lead animal keeper (with obvious designs to bed Violet) has been in cahoots with a sport-hunting ranch in Texas (you won’t believe what he did…).

Worth The Time Of Any Reader Who Cares About Animals

4 Stars

An Animal Life: The Beginning by Howard Nelson Krum with Roy Pe Yanong and Scott Moore follows a group of students through their first semester at University of Philadelphia School of Veterinary Medicine in the 1980s. For readers interested in what vet school is like, this book offers a full experience of demanding class work, raucous parties, and sometimes painful personal growth.

The omniscient point of view is skillfully done. It gives the authors leeway to explain aspects of veterinary medicine in technical detail so readers can understand what the students are learning in class. But the analytical perspective on the action is less suited to expressing the characters’ emotional lives and motivation. Too often we are told rather than shown who characters are and what they want.

In an intensive and useful glossary, the authors define An Animal Life as  “A book series . . . [that] may be an upcoming blockbuster movie or TV series.” They offer a “Suggested Soundtrack” of popular songs to accompany each chapter. Their music selections are knowledgeable and clever, and the objective omniscient point of view has a cinematic flavor, but the story isn’t presented in a way likely to attract Hollywood.

The book makes demands on the reader. It takes some knowledge of biology to understand the chapters about vet school classes. (Those pre-med biology courses back in college came in handy here.) The illustrations by Patty Hogan help, but they’re difficult to see in the Kindle book. The story, while interesting, isn’t exactly a page-turner. The narrative plods through that first semester of vet school, developing the various subplots sporadically. Despite the potential for suspense, there isn’t much.

On the other hand, a screenwriter might transform this promising raw material into the hoped-for blockbuster.

The story has several plotlines, but two stand out: a romance between two first-year students and a medical mystery.

Jack, a former cop, is attracted to Anna, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although she has feelings for him their personalities aren’t altogether compatible, and various missteps and misunderstandings keep them apart. Their story follows the conventional pattern of romance novels without the usual emotionalism. Both know Anna will die young, but the story is almost over before they become close enough to acknowledge it.

Because of the point of view, Jack and Anna occasionally seems like puppets, doing what the plot requires rather than acting from character-driven motivation. Jack’s infatuation with pet-food PR slut Avery is one example. We’re told that Jack resists sex with Avery because he’s waiting for “the one,” yet he’s sexually enthralled by Avery. That kind of paradox is certainly possible, but readers aren’t shown enough of Jack’s thoughts to understand why this intelligent, experienced man gives in to a juvenile infatuation.

The medical mystery begins when animals and birds in the area begin to die in startling numbers. A zoo vet and a pathology instructor work to discover why, but corporate interests at the zoo are less interested in the truth than in avoiding bad publicity. This conflict culminates in one of my favorite scenes as an Aussie thug employed by the zoo tries to intimidate the vets.

An Animal Life succeeds most completely on an intellectual level. I learned a lot about what veterinarians do and the challenges they face. The book raises the ethical dilemma of caring for animals while exploiting them for food, experimentation, and entertainment. An Animal Life offers no solution and has no ideological agenda – all the characters except Anna are unapologetic meat eaters – but it reminds us that humans and animals are part of the same ecosystem. Our treatment of animals has environmental consequences. On a personal level, the story depicts callousness and cruelty toward animals as character flaws, kindness toward them as a mark of goodness, and respect for them as essential in a veterinarian.

I noticed smatterings of punctuation errors concentrated in certain parts of the book, an uneven job of proofreading, but by and large an Animal Life is well written and worth the time of any reader who cares about animals and enjoys biology. 4 stars.

 

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Magic

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Magic
Published: October 10, 2012
Author's Twitter: @KatePolicani
Colleen is a normal girl. She loves shoes, chick flicks, and cute clothes. The only thing abnormal about her is that she’s just become a magician; not the disappearing bunny kind, but the power-shooting-out-of-your-hands kind of magician. Her problem now is that she doesn’t believe in magic. Well, she believes in it. She’s seen it shoot out of her own hands, but she opposes it in a moral sense; no hexes, no spells, no incantations, no potions, no amulets, no tomes, no casting circles, no eye of newt, none of that. She has to be very clear because people pressure her about it. Whatever they say about “how it’s done,” this is a morality issue for her and she will not cave in to their pressure. Join Colleen at Seattle Pacific Regional University, where she becomes a part of The Convergence. She’ll learn the freaky side of Work Study, Financial Aid, and Vyxhepiocht. Seriously, she’s never seen so many hot guys. It’s going to be wild!

Reviewed by Meredith

4 Stars

 

This was an enjoyable book for the most part – it made me laugh and smile a fair amount. It’s very light – not for someone looking for deep subject matter.

This story at first reminded me of K.M. Shea’s “My Life at the Magical Beings’ Rehabilitation Center” because of the age of the main character, the light/witty inner commentary, and having to learn the rules of a magical society. But that similarity only lasted so long – my one complaint about the book is that it quickly becomes focused almost solely on which guy the heroine will choose….there’s not much else driving the plot. Which is disappointing because I think there’s a lot that could have been made of this set up. That said, I truly did enjoy it. I’m not sure if I’ll read the next one or not.

Note – I received this book free from Awesome Indies Books in return for an honest review.