Spontaneous

by Aaron Starmer
Reviewed by SA

When I started this book, I was laughing every five seconds. When I finished it, I was in tears. There’s just so much to say about Spontaneous, so much that makes me want to shove it at friends and tell them to read it now. It’s a brilliant, touching book which I can’t believe affected me so much.

Summary

23587115Mara Carlyle’s senior year is going as normally as could be expected, until—wa-bam!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden explodes during third period pre-calc.

Katelyn is the first, but she won’t be the last teenager to blow up without warning or explanation. As the seniors continue to pop like balloons and the national eye turns to Mara’s suburban New Jersey hometown, the FBI rolls in and the search for a reason is on.

Whip-smart and blunt, Mara narrates the end of their world as she knows it while trying to make it to graduation in one piece. It’s an explosive year punctuated by romance, quarantine, lifelong friendship, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bloggers, ice cream trucks, “Snooze Button™,” Bon Jovi, and the filthiest language you’ve ever heard from the President of the United States.

When seniors at Covington high start spontaneously combusting – more like, spontaneously exploding – life starts falling apart. No one knows what’s setting people off, what’s safe and who’s next. It’s a little hard to keep things together when you could be a pile of goop one second later.

Mara takes it all in stride. A witty, intelligent young woman, her perspective on the disaster is incredibly refreshing. She’s not a moper, instead she tells the story as it is, infusing the horror with funny moments and sharing a memory worth having of the person who just departed. She’s incredibly relatable, one of the most human YA women I have ever read, and I found myself reading thoughts of hers and wondering if the author somehow saw into my brain. So many of my fears and anxieties ring true through Mara’s point of view.

She’s not perfect, she’s incredibly human, and I think that’s why she’s so much fun to read. She’s also snarky and crass. She swears a lot and lives a very healthy sex life. She deals with this dark subject in her own way, mourns without tears, and suddenly you’re wondering why it’s so funny. How can it be so entertaining?

You begin to really care about the people in the novel. Mara and Tess have such a fantastic friendship, and I’m a sucker for well written girl friendships. Dylan, the romantic interest, is such a fascinating and complex character. Their relationship is far from perfect, and I think we need more imperfect couples in our lit.

But here’s the thing: two thirds of the way into the book, there’s a twist that made me actually scream out in anger. And then everything just falls apart. I was going to talk about great adults for the seniors to look up to and trust, but no, they’re all assholes. I was going to talk about growth, but growing up also means growing apart. The author is constantly reminding us that life can change spontaneously, and that it doesn’t care at all.

Spoiler alert: you won’t get any catharsis from this novel.

The blurb says: Aaron Starmer rewrites the rulebook with Spontaneous. But beneath the outrageous is a ridiculously funny, super honest, and truly moving exemplar of the absurd and raw truths of being a teenager in the 21st century . . . and the heartache of saying goodbye. I Think it’s also the heartache of not being able to say goodbye. Of not being able to do what you think you’re supposed to. One of the hardest parts of growing up is learned that you can do everything right and still fail: that life owes you nothing. This book is a powerful reminded of that.

Spontaneous is the most human novel I’ve read in a long time. A book where I have so many questions left unanswered, and I’m going to have to live with that. A book that broke my heart and has me constantly looking over my shoulder in fear of the unexpected happening and taking everything away.

It’s also a book with characters that don’t fall into single categories. A book where everything is unpredictable. A book where you’re laughing out loud at moments that are grim and morose because Mara’s reaction scares even herself.

Yes, I absolutely loved it.

Thank you Penguin Teen for sending me a copy to review. You’re the best.

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Untamed

by Madeline Dyer
Reviewed by SA

Sometimes a book comes along that catches you off guard. You finish reading it and just think: wow, wow… That book was fun, exciting, everything I wanted in a book. Can I get another? Well, Untamed was that book for me. It’s the perfect book to pull you out of a reading slump and remind you that a good plot can take you anywhere. And did I mention it’s exciting, and impossible to put down?

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As one of the last Untamed humans left in the world, Seven’s life has always been controlled by tight rules. Stay away from the Enhanced. Don’t question your leader. And, most importantly, never switch sides–because once you’re Enhanced there’s no going back. Even if you have become the perfect human being.

But after a disastrous raid on an Enhanced city, Seven soon finds herself in her enemy’s power. Realizing it’s only a matter of time before she too develops a taste for the chemical augmenters responsible for the erosion of humanity, Seven knows she must act quickly if she’s to escape and save her family from the same fate.

Yet, as one of the most powerful Seers that the Untamed and Enhanced have ever known, Seven quickly discovers that she alone holds the key to the survival of only one race. But things aren’t clear-cut anymore, and with Seven now questioning the very beliefs she was raised on, she knows she has an important choice to make. One that has two very different outcomes.

Seven must choose wisely whose side she joins, for the War of Humanity is underway, and Death never takes kindly to traitors.

The novel throws you right into the action, even from the first line. We follow Seven, a young woman who lives in this dark future where most of the population is addicted to mood enhancing drugs. The drugs, or Augmenters, can also make you more beautiful, stronger, faster, smarter… at the cost of your humanity. You feel no negative emotions, and your eyes glaze over with a mirror-like sheen. Those who are augmenter free live in constant fear of being converted, and are called Untamed.

After Seven is captured and then saved from the Enhanced, her life is constantly torn between the two camps. She’s addicted, to put it mildly. This makes her a fascinating character, as she tries to make the right decisions for her camp, while at the same time craving something she knows she mustn’t have.

The world that Dyer has created is just so dang fascinating. It’s a world in which not only we have these two opposing forces, but spirits are loose as well. Spirits that can influence Seven’s visions, or physically hinder the gang as they try to escape the clutches of the Enhanced. It’s pretty brilliant the way the author intertwines reality with these spirits, making you wonder just how they came into being and why they hold so much importance.

But I have to say what sol me on this novel was really the author’s effortless style. It’s perfect, making it easy to get sucked into the story and yet impossible to put down. I found myself eagerly turning the pages until I was outraged that there were none left to turn. The plot could easily have come off as being something seen before, but instead I felt like I was reading something entirely new, which plot twists I definitely did not see coming.

If you need a kick-butt story with amazing characters and outstanding world building, pick up a copy of Untamed. You deserve it.

Foul is Fair

by Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
Reviewed by SA

This week we’re tackling an amazing fantasy novel for Self Published Saturday, a novel you’re sure to love: Foul is Fair, the first novel in the recently concluded Fair Folk Chronicles. It’s a brilliant book that takes you deep into the heart of Faerie, full of magic and danger… and dancing, too.

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Lots of girls play Fairy Princess when they’re little. Megan O’Reilly had no idea the real thing was like playing chess, guitar, and hockey all at once. Megan had known for a long time that she wasn’t an entirely typical girl. But living with ADHD—and her mother’s obsessions—was a very different thing from finding out she wasn’t entirely human. Somewhere out there, in a completely different world, her father needs help. There’s a conflict, revolving around Faerie seasonal rituals, that could have consequences for humanity—and if Megan’s getting the terminology straight, it sounds like her family aren’t even supposed to be the good guys. As she’s further and further swept up in trying to save her father, Megan may be getting too good at not being human.

When Megan discovers her dad – as well as her best friend – are mythical, she takes it all in one stride: she’s got a quest to follow! She has her father to save, let alone the whole world, the balance of which rests upon him being able to attend a dance that changes the seasons. She’s focused and determined, even without her medication, and she’s ready to take on this challenge if it means making things right for the world.

Megan is a skilled artist (thought she might be addicted to doodling) and begins to slowly see the power of music and signing. She’s got a knack for it, which some might call a little magic. I loved Megan as a character, and her friend Lani just as much. Their friendship is a powerful drive in Megan’s life and gives her strength and determination, as well as support as her world is turned on her head. And I’m such a sucker for female friendships in great novels.

My favorite characters, however, were not the main ones: no, I loved Cassia and Ashling a whole lot. Ashling might be my favorite pixie of all time: she’s sassy, funny, and crazy witty. Not to mention she’s technically living with a pixie disability, and her ‘service animal’ is a crow named Count who’s a personality all to himself. I’ve NEVER read a book like this before! Ashling’s comedic responses to Megan’s whole slew of questions – especially her variety of answers as to why Count is names Count  or where fairies come from – had me rolling on the floor laughing.

While some parts of the novel were exposition heavy, I found the overall creativity of the novel to make up for that. I loved the use of other myths from around the world that I had never heard of: Lani, for example, is part Menehune, which (I only just learned this) is a myth from Hawaii. This gives her a talent for engineering and creating things.

To recap all the amazing things about this book: great representation, love of art and music, love of science and creativity, the world of Faerie, myths from around the world, great adventure… and did I mention it’s a great read for any age?

“I’ve been a huge mythology nerd most of my life, so getting to play with the old myths, and have a series centered around the 4 treasures of Ireland, the 4 lost cities of the fae, and the 4 big seasonal events of the calendar was a lot of fun,” The author told me when I asked about his inspiration, “Thor #279 was one of the first things I ever really read, when I was 5. It sent me scrambling to learn the real myths. So I liked the idea of writing something where readers, especially teens, maybe could, or even would occasionally go running to google some of the things in the books, or read Celtic myth, Hawaiian myth, etc.”

And it worked! I ended up by starting to google “Menehune”and spend a few hours just browsing the interwebs, using this book as a guide. And I learned so much!

If you want a fun and creative take on the world of Faerie, then you’re going to love Foul is Fair. There are four books to this series, all available on amazon. The ebook for book 2 is on .99 sale on kindle through this weekend, as it is the summer solstice!

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Moxyland

by Lauren Beukes
Reviewed by SA

Prepare yourselves for an insane thrill ride, not for the feint of heart. This novel is everything a science fiction novel should be an more, and you’re going to fall in love with Beukes’s writing. And you’ll probably come out hating humans, but we all need a good dose of that from time to time.

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A frighteningly persuasive, high-tech fable, this novel follows the lives of four narrators living in an alternative futuristic Cape Town, South Africa. Kendra, an art-school dropout, brands herself for a nanotech marketing program; Lerato, an ambitious AIDS baby, plots to defect from her corporate employers; Tendeka, a hot-headed activist, is becoming increasingly rabid; and Toby, a roguish blogger, discovers that the video games he plays for cash are much more than they seem. On a collision course that will rewire their lives, this story crackles with bold and infectious ideas, connecting a ruthless corporate-apartheid government with video games, biotech attack dogs, slippery online identities, a township soccer school, shocking cell phones, addictive branding, and genetically modified art. Taking hedonistic trends in society to their ultimate conclusions, this tale paints anything but a forecasted utopia, satirically undermining the reified idea of progress as society’s white knight.

Moxyland is very character driven. All four characters live in South Africa, and their lives all intersect and their paths cross in interesting ways. And each of them are just so incredibly relatable: they’re all a little hot-headed, maybe entitled, self absorbed, and cynical about the world they live in. Whether they like it or not, they all have an important role to play.

We have Kendra, the artist, who’s trying to be independent: she joins a nanotech research program/marketing scheme, which will change her life forever. There’s Lerato, who’s trying to climb the corporate ladder while still hating the corporations. Ten, a activist who slowly begins to cross the line into terrorism, and Toby, a gamer and blogger who just wants to live his comfortable lifestyle. They all have different views of the world they live in, many too comfortable to do anything to change it, while others may try and do too much. it can all end in tears.

The future that Burkes imagines for South Africa is a very plausible one. Everyone is very dependent on their smart phone, as it carries their identity, their bank account, and will even be used in riot control or police arrests. Losing your phone is being tossed out of society. This, and other cool technologies I won’t spoil for you, made so much sense for the world of tomorrow.

The plot itself is a little complicated to get into at first, to see how everyone fits together, but it grows until a climax that is absolutely heart stopping. Seriously, I could not put this book down. It was so exciting, and terrifying… but no, no spoilers!

The novel is also a bit of a social commentary on us (well, a lot of a social commentary), about the power of consumerism and corporations, about complacency, about giving up our freedoms for perceived comfort. It’s not exactly eye opening, but still an amazing study. It kind of makes you hate us current humans.

For fans of Snow Crash, and cyberpunk, who love classics like Brave New World. This book will leave you breathless.

A new paperback edition comes out 16 Aug 2016 from Mulholland Books.

 

The Crown’s Game

By Evelyn Skye
Reviewed by SA

I have been excited for this book for ages: I mean, magic in imperial Russia? Yes please! And I was so thrilled that it did not disappoint. I couldn’t put it down: quite literally, actually, as I sat down and read it in about two hours, and didn’t see time go by.

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Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love… or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear… the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

I loved the world the author created, melding a well researched imperial Russia with the promise of magic and enchantment. The descriptions of not only St Petersburg, but also the Steppe, and the islands truly made you feel transported there. I could almost feel everything around me as I was reading, which is what made it so difficult for me to pull away.

The magic itself is something beautiful. Evanescing, the enchanted way to travel, is something described in such a gorgeous way that I wished I could travel like that, too. However, I was disappointed when I realized there would not be strong magical battles (Like in A Gathering of Shadows) but that was quickly remedied when I was sucked into the beautiful creations of our two heroes. At each turn of the game, they compete to outshine each other, and the result is quite beautiful.

As for the characters themselves, well, some I loved, some I hated, and some I loved and hated through the novel.  I did relate to Vika and Nicolai, and quite enjoyed their difference in magic (one being more elemental, the other more technical) and how they complemented each other. Vika’s fiery and fierce, headstrong and independent. Nicolai was more book loving, a bit Nerdy, but a bit of an artist. While some of their decisions seemed illogical, I’ll put that down to them just being young. I make irrational decisions too.

While Pasha seemed fantastic to me, his family seemed quite two dimensional. Actually, most minor characters seemed to suffer this lack of depth, some of whom can be written up into just one word. The secondary villain (if you can call her that) actually built up great, but then just kind of fell flat and stopped being the threat we expected her to be. She fizzled.

But boy, did I like this world. I loved how the magic worked, I loved the enchanted mountain, the idea of volcanic nymphs, the beautiful descriptions. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, actually.

I think you’ll like it too!

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A Magic Dark and Bright

by Jenny Adams Perinovic

Reviewed by SA

This book made me mad for all the right reasons. Let me just start by saying that. Why? Because the ending is amazing. Really, incredibly, painfully amazing; and so is everything leading up to it. I was spellbound, from start to finish.

Summary

She meant to help a ghost…not unleash a curse.

Amelia Dupree hasn’t seen the Woman in White since the night her brother died.  The ghost seems to have disappeared from the woods surrounding Asylum, Pennsylvania—that is, until Charlie Blue moves into the creepy old MacAllister House next door. Amelia can’t help liking him, even though she spent her childhood thinking his grandmother was a witch. And she definitely can’t ignore the connection between his arrival and the Woman in White’s return. 

Then Amelia learns that the Woman in White is a prisoner, trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead. Devastated by the idea that her brother could be suffering a similar fate, Amelia decides to do whatever it takes to help the Woman in White find peace–and Charlie agrees to help her.

But when Amelia’s classmates start to drown in the Susquehanna River, one right after another, rumors swirl as people begin to connect the timing of Charlie’s arrival with the unexplained deaths. As Charlie and Amelia uncover the dark history of Asylum, they realize they may have unleashed an unspeakable evil. One they have to stop before everything they love is destroyed.

This is a trope breaking novel: as soon as I felt it turning towards the familiar, it changed its direction and gave me something new. Like with the character of Amelia, a young woman recovering from a very painful and traumatic event. She could easily have become obnoxious, but she instead went through incredible growth over the course of the novel. Or with her relationship with Charlie, which at some times seemed to take precedence over the plot, but then defied expectation by turning into something, well, different. And there I must stop, to avoid spoiling anything for you. Suffice to say, this is not your normal YA.

The plot is oddly paced: at times, it feels like not much is happening, while at others, it’s action after action. But it adds to the tone of the novel, where it feels as if the characters are allowed to return to a normality before being thrown back into horror. It also adds to the suspense, the mystery of it all, and its slow resolution, which is sure to raise anticipation, and leave you with a few questions… It all leads through amazing twists and a roller coaster of an ending, leaving you breathless, and craving for more.

From the first line – A woman haunted the woods behind my house. – you know you’re in for something amazing, all the way to the end… and hopefully beyond, because, after a cliffhanger like that, I am going to NEED a sequel!

A great and thrilling novel about life and death, about ghosts and magic, about the dangers of prejudice and jumping to conclusions, A Magic Dark and Bright is a must read for paranormal lovers everywhere. Beware – chills included.  Comes out April 28th.

Hold me Closer

By Tiny Cooper David Levithan 

Reviewed by SA

Get ready to sing! Tiny Cooper, the not-so-tiny and incredibly gay teenager who stole our hearts in Will Grayson, Will Grayson (David Levithan and John Green, 2010) is back, and this time… it’s musical. A companion piece to Will Grayson, this fabulous book brings to life the play Tiny has spent his life writing, filled with song, heartfelt truths, and intricate choreography. And the ghost of Oscar Wilde is there too.

Summary

Jazz hands at the ready! Tiny Cooper (“the world’s largest person who is also really, really gay”) stole readers’ hearts when he was introduced to the world in the New York Times bestselling book Will Grayson, Will Grayson, co-authored by John Green and David Levithan. Now Tiny finally gets to tell his story—from his fabulous birth and childhood to his quest for true love and his infamous parade of ex-boyfriends—the way he always intended: as a musical! Filled with honesty, humor, and “big, lively, belty” musical numbers, the novel is told through the full script of the musical first introduced in Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

I will start right here by saying that your probably have to have read WGWG before reading Hold Me Closer  to really enjoy it. A lot of the themes from the original novel are evoked, and there are many references to events that transpired, and characters we met before. There are also a few inside jokes (if you want to call them that) that will have you laughing out loud… if you’re in on them. So drop what you’re doing and read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which is also a great book, but I won’t be reviewing that right now.

Tiny Cooper is a young gay man with a huge heart and a whole slew of personal questions. Like most teenagers, he struggles with identity and, well, love. He has a whole slew of exes – a chorus of them, actually – and each has something to say about his inadequacies. Or sing. While Tiny shares his life story with us – from birth, to coming out, to his final ex up until now – he also shares with us his hopes, his fears, and the advice he has learned from people around him.

The lesson is clear: You must learn to love yourself before you love anyone else. Tiny learns this early on, but takes a while to actually live by it. There are a few amazing quotes which I think are perfect for teens to hear, as it is a lesson for the ages. This gave the book an honest quality to it, a certain reality that made it so approachable.

Hold me Closer is an actual script, a functioning script: just add tunes! It would be incredible to see a high school perform it. It’s fun to read the songs and put your own music to them; to imagine the musical in all the glory Tiny would have wanted it to have. The interesting thing is how Tiny speaks to us, the reader, through both his asides to the audience, but also his stage directions. Sometimes you feel a brutal honesty there, as if there is more going on that he would like to let on; it encourages an intimacy with Tiny, a glimpse into his mind, which we wouldn’t have if we were just watching the show.

All in all? A perfect companion piece, but also a great play in its own right. Tiny cooper’s story is about as tiny as he is. When reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson, it was Tiny who stole the show, and I’m so glad he finally has his spotlight and time to shine. I want to put this book in the hands of any young teen who passes my way.

Hold me closer, Tiny Cooper, and belt your song out for everyone to hear.

Bones and All

by Camille DeAngelis

Reviewed by SA

A Cannibal coming of age story – yes, you read that right. This is possibly the most bizarre young adult novel I have read in ages, full of life questions and gore, road trips and horror, and cannibals of all walks of life. It is, all in all, messed up – but I loved every second of it.

Summary – thank you again, Goodreads!

Since she was a baby, Maren has had what you might call “an issue” with affection. Anytime someone cares for her too much, she can’t seem to stop herself from eating them. Abandoned by her mother at the age of 16, Maren goes looking for the father she has never known, but finds more than she bargained for along the way.

Faced with love, fellow eaters, and enemies for the first time in her life, Maren realizes she isn’t just looking for her father, she is looking for herself. The real question is, will she like the girl she finds?

Imagine that there are people – they look just like you or me – who have an affliction, an addiction, that they keep hidden from the world. That there are people who need to eat human flesh, to devour an entire being, grinding the bones and all. This last bit makes things easier, since there is such little left of the body to actually find once someone notices they’re missing in the first place. These people are careful,under the radar, so much so that some don’t even know that others exist.

Maren is one of those people. It started with the babysitter when she was a baby, and now, it’s every boy who gets ever so slightly too close. She simply cannot stop herself from eating them whole. Her mother has been caring for her, moving from state to state, until one day, she decides it’s too much, and leaves. Now Maren needs to find her own way int he world – and figure out her place in it. She’s one of those characters you just have to root for, even if their principles are a little out of whack: she’s young, confused, but smart and independent, able to care for herself and reach her own goals.

I will warn you all right now: this novel is not for the faint of heart. People die, and it is presented as natural, light, an event which happens. I found myself reading along and realizing that the person we were just talking to was now in some character’s stomach. It neither glorifies nor vilifies the process, it simply is. And many could find this troubling. If you don’t find it at least disturbing, I’ll be worried we’re not reading the same book. One of the characters is particularly weird, and grows more and more unnerving as the book progresses, to the point of making you uncomfortable. Just goes to show you the extent of the character depth.

But DO NOT let this make you think that I did not enjoy this book. Gosh, you have no idea how much I loved it. Bones and All is a book you’re going to want to share and read over and over again. It’s unique in that it presents the messed up period of a teenager’s life were questions are asked and the search for self truly begins, while at the same time being a story about a messed up person with a really messed up problem. Everything in Maren’s life is a mess, but she’s gotten pretty good at cleaning those up, or hiding most of them. Just because she eats people doesn’t necessarily make her a bad person… does it? That’s a question for the reader to answer – and Maren too.

The ending I’m a little torn about. Does it feel rushed, both in a sense that the writer wanted it done, and that the book just wanted to reach its end? A little. Possibly. But it left me feel shivers, yearning for more, while simultaneously  wondering not only what the heck just happened, but why.

Yes, it’s odd. Bizarre. Sometimes the coincidences are just too huge, too unbelievable, but then again, you’re reading a book about teenage cannibals. But it flows effortlessly, the writing skillful and beautiful, something you’re not sure to forget. You’ll eat it up.