Meddling Kids

by Edgar Cantero
Reviewed by SA

 

This review is very hard to write, just because I’m so excited about what I just read. And by just, I mean I read it weeks ago, and have been putting off reviewing it because I don’t know where to start. It’s got everything you could ever want. It has a detective club that’s grown up with you. It’s got magic. It’s got science. It’s got lore. It’s got heart stopping thrills. It really is the perfect book.

Summary32905343

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.

Musings

It’s been a decade since a small summer detective club has caught a masked fraud in their local town, pulling a Scooby-doo. But in the years since, nothing has been the same. Depression and anxiety have been following them around, pushing one of the team to take his own life. It’s been, in a word, hell. So when the masked fraud is found to be more of a fraud than initially thought, it’s time to put the team back together and return to the scene of the crime, to finish what they started.

The most exciting part about this book, to me, is that it feels like you already know the characters, and have been a fan of their books for years. The tropes are all there: the intelligent girl, the smart leader, the nerdy boy, and the girl who goes by a boy’s name and is desperate to prove girls are just as good as boys. Which detective series am I talking about? Yeah, It could be any of them.

But the characters have grown. The trope of the wanna-be-boy is explored through one of the characters, and done in such a fun, brilliant and inclusive way I was overjoyed. I love having characters like Andy and I want more of them in the books I read. And the relationships are so perfect. I was so happy with the ending. No spoilers here, of course.

I also loved the way the author broke the fourth wall (is it called the fourth wall in literature?) by playing with the form of the words on paper. For example, he draws attention to narrative elipses and dramatic chapter breaks. It’s hilarious. It ads a depth to the book, remind you the characters are only people on a page, and playing with the novel in a way I’ve never seen before.

I also have to admit this book had me genuinely scared. When they were in the mines, I found my heart literally pounding in my chest. I was terrified! I got so attached to the little club that I was really, really drawn into the story.

And speaking of the story, it’s insanely creative. It has pirate captains and ancient sea monsters (very Lovecraftian), different eras, all details tying together beautifully. It made sense, played with science, and with magic as well. I have to wrap up the review, but there’s more I want to touch on briefly. First off, remember the bully trope? The kid that always steps in the way of the detective clubs? Well, the bully problem is addressed and faced and feels good. Mental health is also something that’s talked about in a healthy, open way.

It’s really the book you loved as a kid, but gown up. I’m hooked! I need more books like this!

No Plain Rebel

No Ordinary Star, Book 2
By M.C. Frank

Have I told you recently how I’ve fallen totally, and irrevocably, in love with this beautiful series? Well I can say with certainly now that the love for book one – No Ordinary Star – extends into book 2. No Plain Rebel delves deeper into the world Frank has created, and into the true meaning behind the mysterious clock that has captivated not only the people of the One World, but every reader as well. Potential spoilers from here on out if you haven’t read No Ordinary Star!

Summary30970438

In No Plain Rebel, Felix finds out the truth.
Or so he thinks. He’s trying to come to terms with that, as well as with the fact that the Clockmaster’s shack has been discovered by his fellow-soldiers, but he can’t exactly concentrate. The match girl’s fiery curls appear before his eyes every ten seconds, distracting him, and then he starts talking to her in his head.
Because she’s no longer there.
The Stadium is looming in the distance.
It’s ten heartbeats to midnight.

Musings

It’s ten heartbeats to midnight – my favorite line of so many fantastic lines in this gem of a novel. It’s incredibly short: I started it as my plane taxied out of Tampa airport, and finished it before we began our descent into Baltimore. But I definitely needed that time before landing to reflect on what I just read.

While the first book read more like a love letter to humanity, the second feels like it has more like a manifesto. It has gusto, ambition, and drive: just like its main characters, Felix and Astra. The two of them, secluded in the North Pole, are slowly discovering what mankind has lost to the past,  as well as discovering what it’s like to be close to another person. But they’re also seeing what they’re about to lose to the future, if no one steps up to take charge and change things.

Frank carefully weaves in mystery through the plot, leaving the reader wondering why things are the way they are. New discoveries answer questions but new ones arise just as quickly: while the world Felix lives in becomes clearer (both to us as well, as well as to him, now completely off the pills) confusion about their current predicament takes over. Twists and turns arrive at an increasingly rapid pace, until at the end they’re staggering and putting the reader in shock.

There’s so much character growth, too! While I do miss Ursa (where’s my big bear when I need her?) the focus is drawn on Felix and Astra completely – as well as their lineage. The way Frank writes complex characters is astounding: Astra dealing with the trauma from the Box and the tests that went on there, panic attacks as she tries to cope with simple things like showers. Or the way she writes Felix wrestling with the betrayal he’s feeling from the people he’s been trained to protect. Or the way they’re feeling towards each other – feeling they don’t have words for.

One thing is clear: everything hinges on this crazy clock. And it’s ten heartbeats to midnight. And ten heartbeats until my heart explodes.

I need the finale NOW!

 

Ash and Quill + EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR RACHEL CAINE

Surprise! It’s Ash and Quill’s release day, so fans of the Great Library series can finally know what happens next in this exciting series. I had the opportunity to read Ash and Quill, and reviewed it just last week – you can read it here. But today, just in time for the launch, the amazing Rachel Caine dropped by to answer all of our questions!

15292R: I bet you get this question a lot, but where did the inspiration for The Great Library series come from?

RC: Various pieces of this story have been kicking around in my head for near on 15 years; I’ve renamed characters, changed historical periods, added magic, removed it, shifted genres … and it wasn’t until I saw a news story on TV about a man carrying a stack of books out of a city being bombed that I realized what I was really looking for was him … a man dedicated to saving knowledge. At first, I thought he was fleeing the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, but then I realized that he was from the Great Library, saving books instead of people. And then it all came together.

R: The series won’t be a trilogy, but five books – so exciting! That ending was so exciting, and threw the entire series on its head. Any clues you can give us about what to expect from the next two novels?

RC: It really was a head-spinner, wasn’t it? Sorry about that, but then again, I think it definitely takes the whole story in a brand new direction. If the first volume was Boarding School, and the second was This is War, then the third is Escape Death, and the fourth is Spy Game, with the fifth and final being Save It All. That’s as broad as I can make it, but I think that’s pretty accurate!

R: The world is quite different in this series than our world that we know. As an author, you’ve probably imagined quite a few details to the worldbuilding that never made it into the books. Are there any you’d be willing to share with us?

RC: Absolutely! Yes, I did quite a bit of back-end worldbuilding that only exists for my own entertainment, to be honest, and to help build out the world in my imagination. I did end up using some of it two short stories I’ve posted on Wattpad, “Stormcrow” (about Scholar Wolfe’s earlier years) and “Tigers in the Cage” (about his Obscurist mother and father). I had built in a history of the Library of Pergamum (in Turkey), which was a key rival to the power of the Great Library at Alexandria; they were rivals in almost everything, including acquisition of key scholars and their works. I got to slip in a bit of it in Ash and Quill as a story that gets told to illustrate the lengths Scholars will go to, to save knowledge. I’m still building the world, adding inventors and suppressed discoveries, satellite libraries, all manner of stories that help keep things interesting.

R: How do you see exploration in this alternate universe? Has Australia been 309563561discovered, for example? If you could explore one country in your world, which one would it be?

RC: That’s an amazing question, and I think exploration would be more aggressive, not less; the preservation of knowledge means that word of discoveries gets quickly disseminated, innovations in regard to shipbuilding and sailing and navigation all become easily discovered. Trade becomes more important. But, of course, the Great Library is also at the same time suppressing information, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find that some key places might never be revealed at all.

I’d love to visit Alexandria. I’ve always loved the history of Egypt, and to see it preserved and modernized at the height of its innovation and power? That’s a can’t-miss trip.

R: The duality of the library is really important in the third book. Our little crew are lovers of books and learning, but the institution they work for has become corrupt. If you lived in this world, would you work for the library, or side with the burners? Or something entirely different?

RC: I like to think I’d be a Librarian. I wouldn’t know anything about the knowledge that’s being held back, but I would care deeply about the preservation of knowledge. I’m certainly not cut out for High Garda work, and certainly if I got information about the Black Archives and the vast discoveries the Library was holding back, I might certainly defect along with Jess’s group! But I can’t see myself on the sidelines.

R: Morgan is starting to become a little scary in this last book. Or, at least, leading towards something dark. Just how powerful can Obscurists really become?

RC: I think that’s the question: how dangerous is she going to be? Because Obscurists have been circumscribed by layers and layers of rules and rituals, and Morgan’s rogue gift was already very strong. Now that she’s gone places that Obscurists are expressly forbidden not to touch, what’s she going to become? And how does that change the Iron Tower, and the Obscurists inside it?

I know I’m answer questions with questions, but it’s such an interesting journey, and certainly dangerous, that I believe the answers will be murky for a while. Morgan’s heart is good. But I’m not sure it can hold out against the power she’s wielding now.

R: What place do fiction authors have in your world?

RC: They have a fantastic life. The Great Library pays their salaries and provides them with living quarters in Alexandria, should they wish to move there. There’s quite an author community there. But, of course, the Library also controls fiction, just as they control non-fiction. So there’s certainly a tradeoff, if you as a fiction author venture too close to forbidden territory.

R: What is your favorite part of writing? And what’s you’re least favorite part?

RC: I love the process, even though it can be physically tough on the body (it’s very desk-bound!) and it’s also kind of hell on your social life. But I wouldn’t trade for the opportunity to create these worlds and live in them for a while, all by myself. That’s just sheer fun. (And agony, when it isn’t working. But mostly fun.)

Getting to hang out with readers and other authors is also fantastic fun. Tours can be exhausting but they’re so rewarding.

I guess the only least favorite part of writing for me is the time I don’t get to do normal social things. My friends all know I try to keep up, but often I go weeks without seeing anyone but my husband and the people living in my head.

Okay, sometimes being able to time money coming in and out is aggravating, because there are no such things are regular (or even predictable) paychecks in the writing business. But still. Such freedom!

R: Any tips for readers out there who might want to become writers and authors?

RC: Mostly, I tell people to just write. There’s no better way to start than to just … start. Write something. Then write something else. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s publishable, because it almost certainly isn’t when you first start out. Entertain yourself. Passion shines through.

When you’ve reached a level where you feel you’re ready to get feedback, start with friends, then graduate to strangers. Then move on to a writer’s conference or groups to get semi-pro or professional feedback, and learn more about the business you’re entering … because it is a business, not just an art. You’ll need to understand the industry, and how you fit into it, to really make your way and make good decisions.

But never stop writing.

R: If you could meet any of your characters (from the Great Library series) face to face for coffee, who would they be?

RC: Without a doubt, Scholar Wolfe. He’d probably bring Captain Santi, which is also fine. They’d have amazing stories to tell, though Wolfe would probably insult me half the time. They seem like good people to get to know.

Thanks so much for letting me talk about The Great Library! I’m off to read … and probably write.

 Rachel Caine

Thank you, Rachel Caine! Her latest book, Ash and Quill, hits shelves today, July 11th! And if you want to start at the very beginning, pick up Ink and Bone anywhere books are sold.

Divided

The Untamed Series, book 3
By Madeline Dyer

Madeline Dyer has done it again! She has crafted a perfect YA novel, one that kept me turning the pages until the very end. It’s got action, it’s got love, it’s got heart, and it’s got yet another punch-to-the-gut ending. Seriously, Dyer is the master of crafting the most emotional endings.

Summary29559221

Having been tricked into binding herself to the Enhanced Ones in the War of Humanity, Untamed human Seven Sarr has never felt more exploited or used. When Raleigh forces her to develop her Seer powers and use them on a most innocent target, Seven knows it’s only a matter of time before the Enhanced Ones use her to wipe out the rest of her people.

Certain that the only way to save the Untamed would be to get back full control of her soul, Seven must get the Gods and Goddesses to trust her again. Only they can destroy her Enhanced Promise Marks, and prevent her enemy from controlling her.

But these are the same Gods and Goddesses who have already branded Seven a traitor, and exiled her from the Dream Land, fearing she will cause their deaths. With no way to contact the Gods and Goddesses herself, Seven needs help. And she needs it quickly, before the war is over and she loses Corin, and the rest of the Untamed, for good.

Yet, in a world as dangerous as this, only one thing’s for sure: no one trusts a traitor twice.

Musings

Divided is a lot more psychological can the first two novels. The first two thirds take place in an Enhanced compound, where Raleigh is trying to convert Seven by any means possible. But she’s not going to make it easy for him, despite his total control over her through the promise marks. Jeb did indeed sell her soul to him, and she’s completely under his power. But she’ll fight him every step of the way.

I’m starting to see Seven, and this series, as being powerful feminist work. Not in an obvious, in your face way. But in the obstacles Seven has to face. What we saw with the Zharat were a tribe of masochistic men, a patriarchal society where they claimed to uplift their women while jamming them into the ground. And now, with Seven under Raleigh’s control, she’s constantly being told what’s good for her without having any say in the matter. It’s like an abusive marriage, really, where he gaslights her every movement, her every thought. Part of the reason I’m so hooked on these novels, and genuinely scared for Seven, is because it calls to the primal fears in my brain of being in that same situation. Despite being far into our future, people like Seven do exist today. And it’s terrifying.

What I loved most about Divided is how the author expanded on the spiritual lore she created. Seven has to unlock her Seer powers in order to save the Untamed – or doom them all. Raleigh’s methods to librate here, however, are just as awful as you can expect, and yet he justifies them all with cringe worthy reasoning. The ends justify the means, and he’ll make Seven show her Seer powers, even it it means manipulating her own mind.

The first two thirds are a little slow going, since more of the action is psychological. Seven has a very turbulent mind at the moment, and discovering latent abilities is making it a whole lot more complicated. But the last third speeds up exponentially, and ends in a final battle climax scene which will leave you breathless. Once again, a gut wrenching ending.

Divided is a powerful novel full of disturbing mental manipulation and a powerful protagonist who is determined to pull through. It’s highly addictive, and impossible to put down. Best cliffhanger yet!

I was lucky this time, I got the ARC of Divided right after finishing Fragmented. But now I have to wait for the next book and I don’t know if I can!

Divided is out TODAY! Get your copy here.

18870052_1680432231970487_2064226621_o.jpg

The Castaways

By Jessika Fleck

This book captivated me by the cover alone, so when the author offered me a copy to review, I pounced. I could not wait to read it. A combination of Lord of the Flies and maybe even Heart of Darkness, though set on the island from lost, dropped out of time. Sounds cool, right?

Summary30973550

The Castaway Carnival: fun, mysterious, dangerous.

Renowned for its infamous corn maze… and the kids who go missing in it.

When Olive runs into the maze, she wakes up on an isolated and undetectable island where a decades-long war between two factions of rival teens is in full swing.

Trapped, Olive must slowly attempt to win each of her new comrades’ hearts as Will—their mysterious, stoically quiet, and handsome leader—steals hers.

Olive is only sure about one thing: her troop consists of the good guys, and she’ll do whatever it takes to help them win the war and get back home.

Musings

Olive Maxi Gagmuehler has been bullied her entire life. Her name is the main source of her punishment, and a trio of mean girls at school have been tormenting her, even torturing her, using it as an excuse. When Olive lashes out, then runs in terror, she finds herself on a mysterious island, lost in time with other children from long ago.

The idea refreshing and bold; children, from different decades, end up on this mysterious island. Take Neverland, and turn it sour.  Each of them was running away from something, for the most part actual people, or in Tilly’s case the bombs if WWII, which sent them running for safety. And then, they were here. But while the Island might be safe from their bullies and fears, it offers new problems. Thirteen children trying to understand what put them there, and how to survive. Split into two factions at war with each other, Olive must find her place before she can hope to make a change.

The metaphor here obvious:  You can’t run away from your problems, you need to face them and move on. And this lesson has very physical repercussions on the island.  It might be a little preachy, but it’s an important one to learn.

While the plot was exciting and new, it was the clichés that got me. A friend posted a “YA trope bingo” the same day I started reading The Castaways, and I filled my squares quickly. Bullied MC? Check. Token minority best friend? Check. Olive falls for a boy that she shouldn’t fall for? Double check. There were a lot of cliché-ed lines that pulled me out of the story.

But while the clichés were there, they worked. The relationship between Olive and Will, while at first seeming forced, actually built into something healthy and supportive. And Olive being bullied, and growing and fighting back, was actually a major plot of the novel and so, so important to read. It’s amazing to see her strength grow!

I have to give it to Fleck, she sure knows how to write tension. There are some scenes in there that make me really clutch my tablet as I read faster and faster. She makes us really care about everyone, especially the tiny kiddos. And the lesson Olive learns is so important and profound. That, and the lesson Will learns too.

And it’s refreshing to see a well written, enjoyable novel that stands alone! With a happy ending! Gosh I love happy endings!

All in all, a fun read, if a little clichéd. Perfect for lovers of YA!

Published April 3rd 2017 by Entangled TEEN

Ash and Quill

The Great Library #3
by Rachel Caine

Great news, everyone! The Great Library series is not a trilogy anymore, but it will have five whole books. So this will not be the last installment! It’s time to throw yourselves once more into an alternate reality where the Great Library of Alexandria never burnt down, and instead grew to control most everything into the world. And for those of you who, like me, maybe didn’t enjoy book 2 as much, DON’T PANIC! Book 3 is exciting and thrilling and everything you want from this series.

Summary30956356

Hoarding all the knowledge of the world, the Great Library jealously guards its secrets. But now a group of rebels poses a dangerous threat to its tyranny….

Jess Brightwell and his band of exiles have fled London, only to find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia, a city led by those who would rather burn books than submit. But Jess and his friends have a bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine that will break the Library’s rule.

Their time is running out. To survive, they’ll have to choose to live or die as one, to take the fight to their enemies—and to save the very soul of the Great Library….

Musings

Jess and his band of librarian rebels are now in Philadelphia, base for the Burners who want to see the Library torn down. Even if they share a common enemy, they’re not to happy to see a bunch of librarians on their doorstep, even if they claim to hate what the library stands for.

They have one card to play: Jess and Thomas will build a functioning printing press, in order to make books a commodity and crush the strength of the library. But Philadelphia is under siege, food is lacking as well as resources, and the library is right at their doorstep. Bombs of Greek fire are frequently thrown over their massive wall, and could burn through them at any time. Jess and Thomas must work fast not only to make a functioning press, but also to find a way to save themselves and their friends.

Just like book two, this sequel is split into two distinct parts: Philadelphia, and England. The first half takes place behind the wall of the city, and the second half is a return to the Brightwells, in an estate Jess himself has never even seen. In both, the band of rebels are kept as prisoners, and must prove their worth to survive.

Once again, I found Jess to be a bit of a bland protagonist. He’s fantastic in that way because he’s a stand in for the reader: we can really take his place in the story, and interact with the amazing characters. Khaliah is AMAZING in this book, proving herself to be once again one of my favorite characters in fiction: bold, unashamed by her religion and standing tall against abuse, the smartest person you will ever read. Her relationship with Dario is growing, and I’m starting to like this Spaniard more and more. Thomas is struggling to recover from his time in Rome, but proves once again that engineering is an art. Wolfe and Santi seem a little sidelined, but we get to explore their relationship more, too. And I really, really like how they’re portrayed. It’s great to see this kind of love in YA literature.

While I still find the relationship between Mogan and Jess forced, I adored her character growth in this book. She’s becoming something I wasn’t expecting of her, getting stronger and a little terrifying. I really can’t wait to see what the author does with her.

And then, there’s the ending. The reason I’m sitting here typing in the middle of the night, my heart racing. That. Effing. Ending. It’s INSANE. I couldn’t follow it half the time and had to go back and reread what just happened, not believing the words on the page. This is… this changes EVERYTHING.

My only questions is – WHERE IS BOOK FOUR?

Expected publication: July 11th 2017 by Berkley

No Ordinary Star

(No Ordinary Star #1)
by M.C. Frank

One of the best things about being a blogger is being a part of a ‘street team’. I had been seeing this book everywhere on Tumblr and Instagram, and the summary had me intrigued. So when the author asked if anyone was interested in reading, reviewing, and possibly joining their team, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to finally see what the hype was about. Oh gosh, I’m so glad I did!

Summary27419429

A soldier is summoned to the North Pole, days before the year changes, told to fix the great Clock for a celebration. He has no idea what to do. 
A girl, hunted for the crime of being born, almost dies out on the ice. She is rescued by the last polar bear left alive. 
A library waits for them both, a library built over a span of a hundred years, forgotten in the basement of an ice shack. 
The world hasn’t known hunger or sickness in hundreds of years. It has also forgotten love and beauty. 
The year is 2525. 

Inspired by the short stories of Ray Bradbury, this futuristic novel is set in a world where Christmas -among other things- is obsolete and a Clock is what keeps the fragile balance of peace. 

Written in three installments, this is the breathtaking and sensual story of how two unlikely people change the world, and each other, one book at a time. 

Musings

The year is 2525 (and yes, the song will get stuck in your head every time you read that number). The world is completely different to what we know now: men and women live apart, born from test tubes and raised on pills that stop them from feeling hunger, exhaustion, or even emotions. It is a world without love, or Christmas. Only one man is left from the old days: a clockmaker in the north pole.

When a soldier is called upon by the clockmaker, only to discover the man is his grandfather, who has recently been murdered, his world changes forever. And when a young woman, a felon, escaped her execution only to find herself at the north pole, she and the soldier must depend on each other for survival. It is together that they discover the clockmaker’s secret library, and together that they must discover what it means to be human.

The feel of this novel is so unique. It reminds me a little of “The Northern Lights”, but combined with “The Giver”, along with a strong foundation of dystopia. But it has something special to it that truly sets it apart from the massive sea of YA dystopians we have available. Some spark that makes it truly beautiful.

The characters are strong and relatable, despite their different world. Astra is one of those protagonists you just want to know more about. The author feeds us a trickle of information about her painful past, building the world Astra lives in and making us cringe at her torment. In many dystopians, women are reduced to their wombs, but here it’s even worse: they’re reduced to their eggs.

And yet, it reads like a love letter to humanity. A reminder of all things beautiful we need to cherish now. Like books, or like clockwork. Family and love. There’s a heartbreaking scene where the two read “The Steadfast Soldier” together, which stirred up emotions inside I didn’t expect: I didn’t think the novel would hit me so hard.

It’s a slow, silent beauty, like snow falling at night. It probably sounds incredibly odd for me to say this about a book, but hey, I’m as surprised as you are. If there’s one criticism is that it is too short: it really is “Part 1” and not “Book 1”, as we only get the worldbuilding and the beginning of character growth. I wonder if the author will release all three parts (when the third one comes out) as one book one day.

All in all, this series is going to quickly become my newest obsession!

A massive thank you to the author for sending me a copy of this book to review. She’s definitely got a new fan!