Category Archives: Young Adult
A once-elegant resort hotel in Upstate New York is hosting a rehearsals and a concert to be performed by talented high school kids, and one of them, a true prodigy with a flute, goes missing. Her roommate, one of a pair of fraternal twins, finds her hanging from a pipe by the neck, duplicating the scene of a murder/suicide of a bride and groom exactly fifteen years before. But is it what it looks like? After the roommate runs for help, the body, and all signs of a hanging, are gone. Is the young flutist really dead? Did she stage a suicide to escape her domineering mother? Maybe the girl who witnessed the events of fifteen years ago and has returned to dispel lingering demons has something to do with it. Perhaps the elderly and peculiar hotel concierge is somehow involved. Or the teacher who once shot and killed a former student who broke into her home, or the Scottish orchestra conductor who has one and a half hands… All of them seem to be hiding something. They are all interesting characters in that they are bent or broken in some way. I can’t say I’d want to be friends with any of them. They’re undoubtedly a high-maintenance lot, but as fictitious suspects in a contemporary whodunit, they’re fun. I quite enjoyed this one.
A fairly average high school boy in central Florida lives next to an unbelievably uncommon girl of about the same age. She’s endearingly clever, but she’s also totally self-absorbed, casually inconsiderate, socially domineering, recklessly adventurous, and inexplicably popular. He is, of course, infatuated with her. It surprises no one when she goes missing just before graduation. She’s done that kind of thing before. But there are circumstances that suggest this time may be different. Fearing that she might be emotionally unstable enough to off herself, the average kid recruits a few friends to help him follow clues she’s left behind, seemingly for his benefit, to try to find her… or maybe her body.
I picked this up at my local library mainly because I recognized the author as the guy who did the entertaining and informative Crash Course videos on YouTube. I had no idea at the time: 1. That it had been made into a movie (so the sticker on the cover claims), 2. That it is set very near where I currently reside (a norther suburb of Orlando), or 3. What a paper town was (actually, I did, but I had never heard them called that).
Because of the age of the characters, the story is shelved as YA, but it’s not juvenile. The prose and pacing are both quite good. The crazy girl may not be overly likeable (although she is, in a way, admirable), and her imaginative pranks may be unbelievable, but her story is quite entertaining.
I read several Andre Norton books when I was a kid. She wrote well over a hundred, mostly pulp space operas that were just what kids in the ‘space age’ wanted. Her tales of human space exploration, discovering other worlds, and meeting with strange aliens were simple but inspirational. We expected such tales to become a reality in the Twenty-First Century. Alas, things did not turn out so.
This Baen edition contains two of her earlier works: Star Guard (1955) and Star Rangers (1953).
Star Guard follows a platoon of “Archs,” human soldiers who serve as mercenaries in low-tech conflicts. They are hired to serve in a “police action” on a distant planet, which turns out to be much different than they expected, and they uncover secrets about humanity’s relationship with other galactic species and about human expansion to other worlds.
In Star Rangers (AKA The Last Planet), the multi-planet human empire is declining. Earth (Terra) is just a legend, its location forgotten. One of the last remaining Stellar Patrol ships crash lands on an unknown planet, and the survivors discover other castaways and the remnants of a lost civilization.
Although both stories were written over half a century ago, they stand up well. Some of the ‘high tech’ might seem antiquated to us now, but the characters remain believable and their adventures are still captivating (although serendipitous events do stretch one’s ability to suspend disbelief at times). With just a little rewriting, these would equal or surpass most of the popular science fiction adventure stories being published today.
What I tend to like about Norton’s books is that they often focus more on discovery than conflict, and they provide hopeful endings. These two stories do. Yes, things are bad, but there is hope for the future, and people can go on to do great things.
This is how many of us felt about the real world when these were written. The threat of nuclear annihilation hung over us, pollution clouded the skies of major cities, and there were fears of overpopulation and exhausting natural resources, but somehow we expected we’d overcome these challenges and go to the stars. Maybe we still will.
This free Baen edition for Kindle has some pretty sloppy editing, though. Both books have formatting issues and I noticed about half a dozen typos. There are so many well-written and well-edited free and low cost eBooks from indie authors, I find myself appalled when a traditional publisher cannot produce something with equally high quality.
Still, the stories are good, and I would recommend this compilation for all space opera fans. If you want to read more of Andre Norton’s books, several are available free from Project Gutenberg.
In this comic space opera, several misfits band together through some serendipitous events to become comic book style heroes and space venturing Robin Hoods who pit themselves against corporate forces and their incompetent minions. The plot, the setting, and the characters make just enough sense to avoid being too silly.
It’s a fun story in a slapstick farce kind of way. I liked that the good guys really were good. They had ideals. They had ethics. They had concern for others. They are certainly a better grade of hero than some you see in kids’ fiction, and because of that, I would recommend this as a fun read for teenage boys into comics and superheroes.
Professor Wainwright, a brilliant scientist working for Ibridan Life Sciences, is engaged in a secret project to see if animal DNA can be manipulated to produce human-like intelligence. He discovers it can.
Doguar and Ruby may be smarter than your average dog, but they have led sheltered lives in the Professor’s (sic) lab as his ‘pets.’ They are not part of the official project for Ibridan, with which the Professor has grown disillusioned. He has come to believe Ibridan wants to create intelligent animals to become soldiers and slaves. After he goes to the media to reveal part of what is going on, the company sends its thugs to invade his lab and abduct him.
With the assistance of well-meaning but largely clueless animal rights advocates, his two genetically enhanced dogs escape. Later, they obtain assistance from the Professor’s sister and his Buddhist monk friend in order to find the secret lab where the Professor is being held in order to rescue him.
I found this an enjoyable story with simple prose suitable for MG readers. Doguar, the protagonist of this novel, is likable. It’s hard to go wrong with a talking dog. The human characters are not developed as much, but the good guys are good enough to cheer for, and the bad guys are bad enough for the reader to want them to fail. Underneath it all are good moral lessons about violence and respect for others — and one possible answer to the question, ‘Does a dog have Buddha nature?’
This is a fun light read. I recommend it for fans of MG Sci-Fi, talking dogs, and happy endings.
Sally Lockhart is a rare woman in Victorian England. She’s a single mother, competent, independent, and a successful and prosperous business owner. She has never been married, so when she is served with divorce papers, she cannot understand how such a mistake could be made. It soon becomes clear it is not a mistake. The details about her in the document are correct — all except one. She has never met the man claiming to be her husband, the man who wants to take custody of her daughter.
I would not have labeled this a YA book. There is nothing juvenile about it. It is a suspenseful Dickensian story of vengeance, greed, cruelty, and corruption, which vividly captures the social conflicts of the time. The images of Victorian London are detailed and clear. The contrasts between rich and poor, worker and owner are sharp. The only YA aspect may be a carryover from the first book in the series, The Ruby in the Smoke, in which Sally is first introduced as a 16-year-old orphan. I didn’t see that book as specifically YA either, though.
My only criticism, and it’s not a strong one, is that I thought Sally should have been a bit quicker on the uptake in identifying the real force behind her troubles. I figured it out long before she did, but then I, as a reader, understand this is a novel and therefore must make sense. Real life, of course, is not like that.
I highly recommend this book to all readers, especially those fond of Victorian mysteries. It’s a great story.
Book Review – The Ruby in the Smoke
This is the first of Philip Pullman’s Victorian mystery novels featuring Sally Lockhart. She is 16-years-old in this story, her father has just died in a shipwreck, and she finds herself in the middle of nefarious dealings involving a missing ruby, criminal gangs, fraud, piracy, and the opium trade.
Because the protagonist is young, this is often considered a Young Adult novel. Don’t let this mislead you. This is a well-crafted tale of mystery, murder, and intrigue. The characters are engaging. The prose is exceptional.
Victorian England is a great setting for stories because of the sharp contrasts it provides — from the largely illiterate poor working in sweatshops or grubbing a living on the streets of London, to the cultured gentry living on returns from investments of inherited capital. The extraordinary portrayal of this time and the details scattered throughout the scenes in this book make it seem as if they were written by someone who lived there, or who is, at least, intimately familiar with it and can bring it to life for those of us who are not.
I often find myself uncomfortable putting novels in predefined genre cubbyholes because the best of them often don’t fit. This is one. I think the YA categorization of this particular book and the rest of the series is most inappropriate. Sally is not a typical teenager and she is not a typical Victorian young lady. Neither is she a role model many people would want their kids to emulate, although I, as and adult, found her admirable. She defies convention, questions authority, and does her best in a bad situation.
The story is dark, at times, darker than I normally prefer, and although a hopeful conclusion comes a bit unexpectedly, it is not a case of “and they all lived happily ever after.”
In my opinion, this ranks among the best Victorian mystery novels that I have read. The story is suspenseful, the characters are well portrayed and believable, and the protagonist is likeable. I highly recommend it — for adults. (Some kids may like it, too.)
(Note: A T.V. adaptation of this book starring Billie Piper (Doctor Who) was produced for BBC One in 2006. (I haven’t seen it, yet.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ruby_in_the_Smoke)
School stories have been popular since at least the 19th Century when Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes was published in 1857. I suppose that once school, and therefore childhood literacy, became common, young people wanted to read, and the one setting they all shared and could relate to was school. Such stories became a sort of genre, which I’ve heard labeled ‘English Schoolboy Stories’ or, alternately, ‘British school novels,’ although they can take place in any part of the former British Empire or other English-like setting. The main character in these is normally a student, often an outsider or social outcast, exceptionally talented or clever, and possibly an orphan.
I’m not an expert, although I have read a few books like this. I’m sure everyone reading this review is familiar with a recent offering that falls into this category — the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Stories set in schools continue to be written and read because all of us can relate to them. If you can read this, chances are you learned to do so in a school.
Whatever the genre is called, Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks definitely falls into it. The story is set in a private school in Australia. The protagonist, Cadel, lives with emotionally distant adoptive parents. He is exceptionally brilliant and is skipped ahead in public school, which of course makes him younger than his classmates and consequently a social outcast. He is seeing a counselor because of perceived emotional problems and past discretions. He comes to regard this man as more of a father figure than he does his adoptive father. His counselor offers him a spot at a relatively new private school for ‘exceptional’ students. Cadel does not yet know that this school was founded a few years ago specifically for him, to train and mentor him in the skills needed to become a criminal mastermind — like his real father. To avoid spoilers, this is as much of the plot as I will reveal.
The story is well constructed, the plot is complex but clear, the prose is exceptional, and the characterizations are good (but not great). There is a bit more here than in many YA books I’ve read, and the points are made more subtly. It touches on human behavior, social exclusion, emotional depravation, and various other sociological and psychological topics. It especially contrasts the behavior of people who truly care about others with that of those who regard them only as tools, and it shows the likely consequences of each.
The premise is a bit outlandish for something that turns out not to be quite as funny as one might expect from the title, although there are some humorous bits. Cadel is almost unbelievably bright, and his deviations into mathematics and the wonders of the periodic table may loose a few readers. At first, he is mean, vengeful, and thoroughly unlikeable. He disrupts things and causes distress to others just to see if he can do it. I could not force myself to care about such a person or about what happened to them. The story was intriguing enough that I stuck with it, though. Through a few encounters with people who accept him, he grows and becomes a much better person, especially in contrast to those around him who are responsible for his care. He learns the value of friendship when all his mentors tell him it has none other than as a means of manipulation.
This is an engaging, well written, and enjoyable story. It may not appeal to younger readers, but I can recommend it to most adults and young adult geniuses.
Joe Hills lives on a farm in Australia. There is a drought. The sheep are dying, and his family does not have the money needed to do anything about it. They are literally a day away from losing the farm when they get help from a very strange visitor. Enter Oom, an alien whose people consider this particular chunk of land something close to sacred for reasons not entirely clear to them or to us (until the end), but it has to do with ‘Ascension.’ Oom helps Joe’s family find water and save the farm. He befriends Joe and helps him understand more about himself and the universe.
One thing I especially liked about this book is that it doesn’t treat kids that might read it as ‘children,’ that is, incapable of thinking. There is a bit of philosophy, value lessons, a little science, and a lot of encouragement to consider big questions about life, the universe, and everything.
There are flaws, though. The prose is a bit choppy, amateurish in places (at least to my American ear), especially in the beginning, and it gets off to a slow start. There are numerous punctuation errors, especially the frequent omission of commas after introductory clauses, to set off participle phrases, and between independent clauses joined by a conjunction. (I’m basing this point on the Chicago Manual of Style, which is, of course, the American standard for fiction. I’m not familiar with the style guide that would apply in Australia.) There were also several formatting problems with the Kindle edition. These are hardly critical problems and do not detract from enjoyment of the story.
As a YA book, I liked this overall. It’s a good story with interesting and likeable characters. It could use a little bit of rework and editing, though.
This is second book of the Eddie Dickens trilogy, and it has many of the same zany characters as the first one, A House Called Awful. Like the first, the prose of this book reads almost as if it was written a century ago. The narrator actively speaks to the reader, reminding them that they are reading a book. Here is an example where he’s talking about a list of characters:
‘I’m beginning to wish that we’d had one of those lists at the beginning of this book, but what’s to say that we can’t have one over halfway through the adventure?’
He then goes on to provide one and congratulates himself for how ‘classy’ it looks. He does things like this often, explaining the meaning of words he used, asking the reader if they remember something said earlier, and providing a page number to check if they don’t, and things like that.
Modern books on writing tell us the author should avoid intruding on the story, but I find this style rather quaint and charming, at least in lighthearted books for kids. A.A. Milne did things like this often. Of course, Winnie the Pooh was published in 1926. The first American edition of Dreadful Acts was published in 2003.
This short book (128 pages) is mostly about Eddie, a fairly normal young gentleman, and his interaction with several very abnormal adults. The plot is almost secondary, so I won’t go into it much. It’s really just part of the setting, after all, but it involves escaped convicts, stolen jewels, and a failed magic trick. It’s a quick, fun read. I recommend it. I’ll get around to reading the third someday, but the only copy my local library has was checked out when I picked up the first two.
Some of my favorite books have been those ostensibly written for children. This charming little story reminds me of some of the best. The prose style is reminiscent of A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh…) and the characters remind me of some of those created by Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach / Matilda / Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…) with a little Charles Dickens thrown into the names and the settings. If you think I mean that as high praise, you’re right.
The story is set in a fictional and sillier-than-real Victorian England where twelve-year-old Eddie Dickens, a little gentleman, is being sent off to live with his Mad Great Uncle Jack and even Madder Great Aunt Maud so that he will not catch the terrible disease his parents have contracted, which makes them yellow and crinkly around the edges, and although this is a very long sentence and possibly difficult to grasp all at once, it should also give you some idea of the flavor of this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And that’s all I think I’ll say about the book because it’s short, so the review should be as well.
I’d like to thank my Twitter friend Rowan for recommending this. I enjoyed it and I, too, recommend it.
This is essentially the same story as told in ‘The Last Colony’ but from a different point of view. So why would I give it five stars? Simply because it is done so well. It caught my interest, made me smile, jerked my emotions, and reintroduced me to people and places that I became well acquainted with in Scalzi’s other ‘An Old Man’s War’ books.
Technically, this should probably be considered a Young Adult novel because of the teenage protagonist. There is nothing wrong with this. Other authors (myself included) have written YA spinoffs set in the same world and with overlapping characters from their adult novels. This, however, is not a spinoff. This is the same story related in ‘The Last Colony’ but from the perspective of John’s and Jane’s adopted daughter, Zoe. She was a great minor character in previous books and an exceptional protagonist in this one, which is told in first person, giving us insights into how she deals with being an orphan, the adopted daughter of the colony leaders of the planet Roanoke, and something like a goddess to the alien species known as the Obin.
The aspect of the book that feels a bit unnatural is some of the dialogue between Zoe and her friends. They are almost too witty, and Zoe and her friend Gretchen have more self-confidence than seems likely for two teenage girls. Of course, they are not normal teenagers. After all, who wants to read about hormonally powered, angst driven, girls whose major concern is how to attract a boyfriend? … Oh, right. Those. Do yourself a favor and read this instead. Zoe has angst, she has hormones, she even has a boyfriend, but she also has intelligence, common sense, and wisdom beyond her years.
Scalzi has become one of my favorite authors, and I would love to see more stories set in this universe he has created. How does Roanoke fare? How does the Colonial Union deal with the Conclave? Do they join them? Do they oppose them? Is the C.U. overthrown? And what about Earth? It’s an interesting world and there are many more story possibilities here. If he does continue with this thread, though, it will leave him with less time for his other writing, which would be a shame. Perhaps he could be cloned…
The revised editions of the first two Warden books are out now in e-book formats. It’s been an educational experience and an enjoyable one, for the most part. Okay, there were a few times when I wanted to bang my head on the keyboard and more than a few times when I swore at some of the software for having less than intuitive interfaces. In those cases, I got peeved when the programs did what I mistakenly told them to do instead of what wanted them to do. I believe I’ve conquered them all now or we’ve finally come to a mutually satisfactory agreement. Basically, this amounts to me not asking them to do anything terribly complicated and them not annoying me.
I can’t say how often I went through each of these books. It has been a few dozen times, at least. I would love to say that I have caught and mercilessly squashed every typo, misspelling, and grammar and punctuation error. I will tell you I’ve eliminated all of those I saw. However, I have come to suspect that such things are both sentient and malicious and reproduce once I close the document because they have a mysterious tendency to reappear. I did catch one error in one of the dictionaries I was using. The word is crenellated. Yes, it does have two Ls. The dictionary provided with Open Office has it with one, and it is WRONG!
With the revision of these books, I’ve updated a few other things. There are new blurbs and author bios for the books at both Smashwords and Amazon. Based on several articles and posts I’ve read, it I have finally been convinced that $2.99 is the appropriate price for them. Some suggest it should be higher, but I am resisting.
Another new feature with the relaunch is a dedicated page for each book on this website. You can find them under the “Novels” tab. Each of these provide a brief summary, pictures of the covers, some questions and answers, and the first scene from the book. There is also a tab called ‘The Warden’s World.’ Here you can find ‘wiki’ type information on some of the places and things mentioned in the novels, including maps, flags, and descriptions.
As for the books themselves, nothing is new and everything is better. The stories have not changed. All the great characters, insights, and humor that my first readers found so enjoyable remain. There is no change to the plot or the ending. What has changed is how the stories are told. The prose is tighter and more professional, and the manuscripts have been thoroughly edited and repeatedly proofread. The covers are also new, and I’d like to thank my son Alex for posing for the picture. He says he looks goofy, but I think he looks great! 🙂
My plan now is to make both of these available as trade paperbacks. I’ll post more on how that is going when I know.
In the meantime, I invite you to sample the first scenes, new covers, and other information I’ve provided here. If you’d like to see longer previews, they are available on Amazon.
Promotional copies are available for book reviewers. Please let me know if you are interested.
After spending far more time on this than I wished, I think I finally have a cover I can live with for the paperback edition of The Warden Threat. I thought I had this several times before, but I received multiple comments that previous versions looked too much like a Photo-shopped photograph (among other things). I hope this one overcomes that. Anyway, here it is. I welcome comments.
You may notice –how could you help not– that the title is in large font and bright colors. This is mainly so that it will show up well as a thumbnail, but it is also meant to convey that this book contains humor. The scene depicted, although not accurately, is one from about the middle of the book in which the protagonist, Prince Donald of Westgrove, is trying to animate the ancient and mysterious statue known as the Warden of Mystic Defiance. It sits high in the mountains of the neighboring Kingdom of Gotrox in a crater-like canyon with silvered walls. He is naked because the “spell” he has found, which he believes is the means to bring this huge enigmatic artifact to life and obey the commands of the caster, specifies that a prince, “naked to the Warden’s love,” must recite it. After his first failed attempt, Prince Donald reluctantly concludes that this line must be taken literally.
In other news, my edits and revisions of this book are now done. I would like to do one more proofreading before it goes to print, however. Look for the revised ebook in the next couple of months and the paperback shortly thereafter. The cover for the ebook will be pretty much the same as the front cover of the paperback.
I’m in the middle of editing and revising the sequel, The Warden War. I don’t have a cover for this one yet but I’ve been corresponding with the cover artist, and I am optimistic about it. I sent some files to her yesterday for her consideration.
The first draft of my third book is complete and awaiting additional work until I’ve put the first two to bed. It is more Young Adult oriented with a younger protagonist. She is briefly mentioned in the previous books but this is her first appearance. Some of the characters from the first books appear in it as well though. The third book is more clearly science fiction and reveals more about the now defunct commercial enterprise established on this planet several thousand years ago by the Galactic Organic Development Corporation. I have not decided, but I am considering attempting to go the traditional publishing route with this one. Self-publishing may be more advantageous to authors, but it is a lot more work, and these extra duties take time away from what I really want to do, which is write more stories.
Shelby and Shauna Kitt are kids with special abilities and an abundance of “positive energy.” It is this unique energy that makes them the most suitable people on the planet to save not only our world but also the parallel world of Miriax from the Klodians who inhabit a third parallel world. Dimensional holes have opened between Miriax and Earth, and between Earth and Klodius. They must be closed and Shelby and Shauna are called on to help. These young heroes are engaging and likeable. The adult characters may sometimes seem childish or simplistic to older readers but I think younger readers would find them believable.
This wonderfully imaginative book is sure to appeal to Middle Grade readers. It’s a bit Little Prince, a bit Wizard of Oz, a bit Alice in Wonderland and a lot of fun. What I like especially are the lighthearted tone and positive mood that are carried throughout the book. The plot is strong enough to carry your interest and the tone is just silly enough that you know not to take it too seriously. This combination makes for a very enjoyable reading experience.
After the first few pages, this ebook reminded me of the movie “A Christmas Story,” which was based on a book by Jean Shepherd titled “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.” That story is also set in 1950s America and is also told from the perspective of a young boy, in that case one obsessed with getting a BB gun for Christmas. I’m sure you’ve seen the movie. It’s on TV almost continuously during the holidays. I only bring it up as a way to describe what A King in a Court of Fools is like. It’s like that movie.
In this ebook, young Harry Ryan has no overriding obsession like the kid in the movie although we learn he would like to ride shotgun in the pink Corvette he and his siblings find in the woods one day. But the pink Corvette is not so much a plot device of this book as it is part of the setting. There really isn’t much of a plot and no deep insights or big ideas. It is not that kind of book. It is a snapshot in time, a picture of suburban life in the mid to late 1950s seen through the eyes of Harry Ryan, the youngest child (about 7) in a large Catholic family living near Pittsburgh.
The reason this book earns 5 stars (from me anyway) is because the author provides a picture of 1950s America clearer and crisper than if it were made on Kodachrome film. The details he provides, from common phrases used, to the descriptions of various brands and products that serve as props, accurately fill out the setting and help highlight differences from today. What the characters see, how they talk, and how they look at things are vividly told, allowing readers of a certain age to recall the feeling of what it was like to be a kid at the time.
Those who grew up later than the 1950’s or early 1960’s may find it harder to relate to this story. It may be too far removed from the world they know but the descriptions are so well done, I think they may be able to as well. I will leave it for them to decide. All I would say to them is that yes, this is what it was like. Trust me. I was there.
Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help is a charming and humorous tale of a schoolboy who befriends the ghosts inhabiting his school. Milrose, an intelligent if somewhat sarcastic young man, is a great nerdy hero — smart, proudly unathletic and fascinated by new and strange things–the stranger the better. Unfortunately he is less than circumspect in his conversations with his ghostly friends, who remain unseen and unheard by the school staff, and he is sent to receive Professional Help along with one other classmate, Arabella who shares his peculiar affliction. The Professional Help however seems far from either professional or helpful and Milrose and Arabella learn that people who are sent there are never seen again by either the living or the dead.
This is not a serious book nor is it meant to be, as evidenced by the host of wittily named ghosts who wander the corridors. If you’re looking for a scary ghost story, this isn’t it but if you appreciate a quick, light read with lots of smiles, this is well work the 99¢ price for the Kindle version.