Category: Young Adult


The Brilliant Death

Later posting this than I wanted to be. We started working on characters for my Saturday night game and that took longer than I expected it to. This one I actually won a review copy of through BookishFirst. Here’s Amy Rose Capetta’s The Brilliant Death. Enjoy!

The Brillian Death cover

Teodora DiSangro is her father’s secret weapon. A streghe just like out of the stories, able to turn her family’s enemies into music boxes and other trinkets. Family is everything to her. So when Vinalia’s new ruler, the Capo, sends toxic letters to the heads of all five families, killing all of them but her father. The Capo demanding that all five families send their heirs to his court might give Teo the chance she needs to find a cure if she can find a way to become the DiSangro heir, the son the Capo is expecting to arrive. For that, she will need to find a way to not only trust the streghe who delivered the toxic letter to her father but also convince them to teach her how to change her form like they do. As she grows to know the other streghe and uncovers the layers and layers of secrets in the Capo’s court will she be able to complete her mission and leave, or will Teo become trapped in a web of deception and danger?

Amy Rose Capetta’s The Brilliant Death is a book that feels a bit unbalanced in its content. The lore is lush and feels fairly deep, the myths that get talked about feel real to the world. There’s a weight to Teodora’s feelings and Cielo’s studied carelessness that works well. But then there are places where it feels like things could have been worked in much better earlier on to avoid stretches of what feels like over much exposition.  I am going to stay away from talking about the genderfluid  aspects of the protagonists. It seems well written, but that is from an outside perspective so I do not really feel qualified to talk too much about it.

The first segment of the book is all set up. The reader is introduced to Teo, her family, her life, her home, and her magic. It shows her frustrations with what seems like her inevitable lot in life as contrasted with how very much she loves her father and her family. The exposition here feels well done. There’s a degree of wonder shot through with frustration and grief when she realizes that Cielo is another streghe in addition to having been the one to deliver the letter that nearly killed her father. Characters feel rounded and like they have their own stories going on, they wind up being easy to get interested in. Even if one Teo’s brothers is cartoonishly cruel and the start to Teo and Ceilo’s mutual attraction feels a little rushed, the first half of The Brilliant Death is pretty fantastic.

It is around the end of the first half that the book started to lose me. Teodora learns how to shift into a male version of herself, to better pass herself off as the DiSangro heir, and is introduced to the other four houses heirs and the Capo’s court and all its intricacies. And the story hits a wall. This part might largely be due to events that drastically cut my time for reading, but the book became very easy to put down once Teo and Cielo reached the capital and their mission properly began. It felt like being pulled back to the start of the book, there were several new characters who needed to be introduced all at once and Teo had never been to the Capo’s court so that had to be expanded on. But the new characters and the court felt so much less fleshed out than the characters and places from the first half. It was like pausing in the middle of a book and starting another book from much earlier in the author’s career.

I confess, in addition to the slowdown in the middle of the book, The Brilliant Death also suffers from an ending that disappointed me greatly even as I saw it coming. It felt very much like Capetta didn’t want to tie any of her major plot threads up. The end felt less like the protagonists heading off into another story than them running away to the sequel. Which is a shame because it could have had a good ending that still offered room for a next book to exist and felt like a complete story had been told in this book rather than the first in a series. There was so much introduced right before the end and no page space for it. That took me way more out of the reading experience than the loss of momentum from entering the Capo’s court did, that had a clear purpose and provided character introductions the reader needed at least. This just leaves me with a disappointed shrug and a vague disinterest in the next one because now I don’t trust her to tie up any of her important plot threads there either.

So that brings me here. The Brilliant Death is by no means a bad book and I quite like the ideas present in the setting, but I feel like it could have been written more smoothly. I feel like my major complaints are ultimately forgivable in light of how much I enjoyed the first half of the book. And while I am left with no plans to go out and buy the second book, I would likely read it if it was gifted to me. I will likely take another look at Capetta’s work on another series too, I think she is capable of writing something really good. For now though, The Brilliant Death gets a three out of five.

I think this book might have kicked off my recent reading streak. I enjoyed it a great deal and very much appreciate Entangled Teen’s providing me with a copy for review. Here’s Pintip Dunn’s Malice. Enjoy!

Malice cover

In a shattering flash of electricity Alice was visited by a voice claiming to be from the future. A voice that would go on to inform her that one of the students at her school is the creator of a virus that, in her time, has killed all but a third of the human population. A voice that charges her with finding out who this person is and stopping them before it is too late. But the voice’s orders often feel contradictory or nonsensical and Alice finds herself questioning if following its orders is really the best way to save the future. Is there anything that she can do to save the future outside of the voice’s orders? And why is it so insistent that she avoid one specific boy?

There is a lot to recommend Pintip Dunn’s Malice. The concept is interesting, the idea of a sort of indirect time travel and the implications of that fascinate me. So does the way the story was laid out, with Alice being pulled in different directions by the voice and her own feelings and fears, but it does so while laying out a solid path to who the virus maker might be and building layers of characterization for most of the cast.

The characters for the most part felt like characters. They felt like they existed for more reasons that to support the romance sub plot between Alice and Bandit and, more importantly, most of them felt like they could have been the protagonists of the book if it had been written from a different angle. Even the nameless background students feel like they could have been characters. Alice notes people interacting in the background as part of describing her surroundings. The only real exceptions here have their reasons for being comparatively out of focus, though there were a couple of characters that I found myself wishing we had seen more of.

The plot is well laid out, a reader can pretty easily catch on to where things are going. Though enough unexpected happens that the book never gets boring. Even the romance subplot is well done, it feels like Alice is actually getting to know Bandit rather than just them suddenly being in love. It fits well with the plot too, supporting and complementing it rather well.

One of the only things I have a real complaint with is how the confrontation with the virus maker was handled. It felt rushed in an odd way, almost like Dunn only had so many pages she was allowed and was running out of them. There was all this set up baked in for the virus maker, right up to the climax where the virus maker sounded both heartbreakingly young and so far gone that it sort of made the rest of the ending not work for me. It was not the worst ending that I have ever read by any means, but I would have liked for it to have been given a little more space to settle in.

I had a lot of fun with Malice. There were moments when I wanted Alice to go ahead and figure out what was going on so that we could get into the fighting back part. There were moments where something clicked and I just knew where things were moving. It was a book that I was willing to go with the flow on and see how things fell into place. The writing was well plotted and, while Malice is vehemently a standalone book, I find myself looking forward to what Dunn writes next. So, this earns a four out of five from me.

 

Selected

So, this came out later than intended. I admit, I kept putting both the book and the review aside for other things. It has been a fun weekend for me though. This one is thanks to the kind folks at Entangled Teen, here’s Barb Han’s Selected. Enjoy!

Selected cover

Easton Academy is a prep school for the elite of the elite in New Maine, the kind of school where Legacy students from old money families go to make connections before heading off to college and whatever their parents expect of them. Victoria Aldridge is not old money. Is not nouveau riche. Is not typical of the students that walk Easton’s hallowed halls.  She’s part of the new Selected program, lower class students with high IQs or brilliant athletic performance backed by rich patron families. As long as she does as well as expected, as long as she is the best, her family has food and a safe place to sleep and she has a shot at a bright future. At least that’s what she has been telling herself for the last three years. When one of her friends is caught passing her a mysterious note everything in her life at Easton starts to crack. If she wants to figure out what’s going on she’ll have to learn to trust the Legacy boy who’s started showing interest in her out of the blue. If she cannot, she might not make it out of Easton alive.

Barb Han’s Selected is a book that feels very much like it knows that it is the first in a series and so does not bother telling a compelling or complete story on its own. Which is a shame because the premise is really interesting. The nation is split in fifty countries and Maine has developed a rich/poor divide that would make a cyber punk dystopia salivate. Our protagonist has to be the best of the best at the fancy school she’s been selected to attend so that her family can have a better life, even as she’s the target of resentment from many of her classmates. But then the most attractive boy in school shows up and we toss that right out the window until the final third or so of the book. Let’s start there.

I feel like this is a case of the author having solid ideas but either not enough of them to give the story substance or she just really wanted to write a romance story and slotted the dystopian ideas around it. A fair amount of that is down to the protagonist, Tori. The reader is introduced to her in her Junior year of high school at Easton Academy and despite, as we are told her having a really high IQ and breaking the curve for all of her tests, she is desperately worried that she has not done well enough on a recent test. Fair enough, her family relies on her Selected status for a better life, but we never really see her struggle with her classes or her dancing in any meaningful way. Classes are easy, she’s brilliant. Tests are easy, she’s brilliant. Dancing is easy, she’s been doing it all her life.

Maybe the book was meant to focus more on her social struggles, her friends disappearing, but so much of the text focuses on her relationship with school golden boy Caius that her friends fade into the back ground. There wasn’t really time put into making the reader care about her friends or friendships, so when things started to go wrong it had no impact. Tori’s friends are, in fact, consistently pushed to the side either in favor of more focus on the romance aspect or because Tori just can’t talk to them about her feelings and what’s going on, they would never understand.  Similarly, so much focus was put on her relationship with Caius that it both seemed to swallow up everything else and left me hoping that something would happen just to get him off the page for a little while. Plus, there were enough moments of Caius talking about his feelings for Tori that just felt super uncomfortable and manipulative, not liking her having a male friend, repeated angry moments early on about her thinking a Legacy like him would have an easier life than her, and other more minor stuff. It made it really hard to buy in to the romance to start with.

If the romance was cut out of Selected it feels like all but around a third of the book would be gone.  This remaining third or so of the book, much like the setting, has some solid ideas and could have made for a really awesome book. Unfortunately, it takes half or more of the book for the plot to really get going and by that time I had long sense stopped caring about the characters or what happened to them. There are some moments from early on that, in retrospect, were setting up elements for a reveal later but they fell flat because the intervening text failed to support any of Tori’s friendships enough for the characters to feel like proper characters. It is frustrating. It is frustrating because there are so many ideas here that could have been good with a little more work, really good if some of the focus on that work was moved to letting the other characters be more rounded.

That is about all that I can say about Selected. There was a lot of potential in both the setting and the ideas behind the plot. But it got sacrificed for a frankly bland instant romance that had a lot of red flags early on. I will not be there for the next book in this series or, likely, the next several books Barb Han writes. Selected shows that she has solid ideas, but the writing lets them down badly.  It earns a two out of five from me.

Hey, all, just a brief check in before the main event. My stop is fairly early on the blog tour, so it is definitely worth it to stop in and see what other folks are hosting. I’ll include the schedule again in the week’s House Keeping post. For now though, I have an excerpt for you all. Enjoy!

The Cellist's Notebook cover

Nana Rose’s house sat upon a hill, with a river at the bottom, trees down along the paddock and a rugged stony road leading to the door. It was miles from anywhere and, in the summer, the front door was permanently open welcoming any number of visitors, cats, birds and wildlife into the hall. The herb garden, pungent with dill and sage was overgrown and as wild as the meadows above the house. The Peters family travelled every year to see Nana but it was Emily who always insisted on staying the whole summer long whilst everyone else wanted to jet off to somewhere hot or exotic sounding. For Emily, seeing the paddock from the main road, was just the first hint of adventures to come and she was brimming with excitement for what lay ahead.

It was the first day of the summer holidays. As always, ten year old Emily had her rucksack packed the night before. She had her hair brush sticking out of the top of the ruck sack so that it was handy to brush her long brown hair whenever she wanted to. Her full water bottle was neatly tucked into the side pocket ready for the journey ahead. Emily’s sister Lizzie however, who was five years older, was sitting on the floor in her bedroom with what appeared to be her entire wardrobe piled high around her wondering what to pack.

‘Do you need a hand?’ Emily asked standing at the door.

‘I think I do,’ Lizzie sighed.

Emily started to extract various items of clothing from the ring around Lizzie. ‘It’s a French exchange you are going on in Paris Lizzie so I’m thinking where will you be going and what will you be doing?’ She held up a dress, ‘Louvre,’ a pair of jeans, ‘Eiffel Tower,’ a pale blue skirt, ‘evening restaurant.’ This process continued amidst lots of giggling and in no time at all, Lizzie’s suitcase was full, zipped and secured with a shiny pink padlock attached. Both girls headed downstairs with their luggage to the front door where their Dad was already packing up the car.

As the car headed off down the road, Lizzie sat in the back seat and texted Lucille in Paris. Lucille was to be her French host in Paris, and the two had been pen-friends for over a year now. ‘I am on my way. I’m so excited. See you soon.’ Helped along with a snooze, the journey to Nana’s house seemed to go quickly despite the detour to the airport to drop off Lizzie.

Kittie Lambton 3

Kittie Lambton was born in 1975 in Norfolk, England. She is a cellist, and has been providing music tuition for over fifteen years. She is an advocate for all children being able to learn musical instruments from a young age. Her early learning of the cello with her cello tutor in Norwich, Norfolk has created warm memories that inspired the writing of this book. Kittie enjoys exploring the science behind how music can evoke and improve memory and the importance of music in our everyday lives. She was recently awarded second place in the Westgate on Sea Literary Festival Short Story Competition 2019.

Author Site    Goodreads     Amazon     Twitter     Instagram

Hey all, I’m a little later getting this up than I really would have liked, but I’m here now and we’re going to get this show on a roll. There’s a blog tour starting today for Kittie Lambton’s The Cellist’s Notebook. My stop is coming up on Friday, but definitely stop by the the other stops to see what they have going on.

The Cellists' Notebook Banner2

The Cellist’s Notebook is a charming, life-affirming tale of discovery surrounding an old family mystery. A young girl’s curiosity, her love of a little melody and the beauty of a cello evokes memories long forgotten.

Set in the present day, ten-year-old Emily Peters is spending the summer with her Nana Rose, a retired piano teacher, in rural Cumbria whilst Emily’s sister Lizzie travels to Paris for a French exchange.  When Emily notices an old photograph of a cellist dating back to the Second World War and discovers cellos and an old music manuscript in the attic, her Nana tells of the touching and compelling story of her brother Leni, a linguist, cellist and music composer, whose disappearance was marked ‘ultimate fate unknown’ following World War II.

Emily’s love of the unfinished cello melody, found in her Great Uncle Leni’s music notebook, evokes memories for her Nana Rose and Emily returns to Norfolk with a passion to play the cello and a determination to learn the long-lost melody. A series of events unfold that change the life of Emily and her family forever.

Kittie Lambton 3

Author Information

Kittie Lambton was born in 1975 in Norfolk, England. She is a cellist, and has been providing music tuition for over fifteen years. She is an advocate for all children being able to learn musical instruments from a young age. Her early learning of the cello with her cello tutor in Norwich, Norfolk has created warm memories that inspired the writing of this book. Kittie enjoys exploring the science behind how music can evoke and improve memory and the importance of music in our everyday lives. She was recently awarded second place in the Westgate on Sea Literary Festival Short Story Competition 2019.

Amazon   Goodreads   Instagram   Author Website   Twitter

I am so late getting this posted, but I can at least get it up on a day that isn’t stepping on any of the other stop’s toes. As ever, you should give them a check because each stop has something different to offer on the tour. This one’s thanks to David E. Dresner. Enjoy!

The Blighted Fortress cover

A Day in the Life of an Author

In writing this I came to think of myself as Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day. My days tend to follow each other like soldiers in a line.

Most of us are creatures of habit no matter how spontaneous we think we are. The best we can hope for is that we have more good habits than bad. I am definitely a creature of habit.

The serious habits got ingrained in me after graduate school. College and grad school permitted flexibility each day. Who didn’t cut a boring class to sleep late? Eating was fun and casual and done on an ‘as needed’ basis. Beer and pizza trumped the veggies most of the time.

My life habits changed dramatically after I decided to become an actuary. I was working full time at a consulting firm and had to find study time for the rigorous math exams. My everyday routine required getting up at 6 am to be in the office by 6:30 for two hours of study before work started.

Weekends followed the same timetable but with longer study hours.  After I passed the actuarial exams I found business required even more time. I was in the office every day by 7.

When I hit age thirty-three I made a big mistake. I got on the scales. My college swim weight of 165 pounds now started with the number 2. I refused to view the next two digits knowing it did not come from greater muscle mass. I became a late evening waddler, then jogger, and finally a runner.

With these habits fixed early in my adult life I am still locked into them. Here’s a typical day.

Every day starts around 7:30 with a real breakfast including fruit and a cup of Joe to get awake. No longer am I up at 6. It takes longer to get the various body motors up and running these days, but so what.

After breakfast it’s time to check all the email stuff and the news. The news is always bad news and I get rushes of adrenaline to jolt me into the day.

Now fully awake I head out for an hour’s fast-paced hike in the countryside. My knees can’t take the pounding of running but I hike 3-5 miles every day. I add weights three times a week to the exercise routine.

Back home I cool off, check the mail again, shower and start to write on the current series book. I find that I’m productive between two, but rarely more than, three hours a day. Somebody throws a switch in my brain and I’m done.

A lot of my writing time happens after I finish a first draft. The first draft takes maybe 5 months to complete the whole story. Then months of rewrites start. The final review, prior to submission, is grammar, punctuation, and story line editing. My wife Nancy does the heavy lifting on grammar and punctuation and is comfortable giving me critical feedback on the story.

After the day’s writing is over, all the other stuff required to be alive such as paying bills gets taken care of. Finally, I enjoy my friends and this is fun time for us to socialize. Dinner is typically early, either late afternoon or early evening.

My free time starts around 7. I enjoy consuming junk entertainment on TV. I watch a wide variety of movies and certain series. One favorite series is Supernatural. Once in bed I read until Morpheus shuts me down. I sleep extremely well, lucky me.

The next day starts over again. I can almost hear Sonny and Cher singing, “Put your little hand in mind…I’ve got you babe.”

David E Dresner author picture

David E. Dresner was born and raised in rural Ohio. He was an Eagle Scout and later high school president in both his junior and senior years. The social mores, the friendships, and the rivalries of his youth were character building and era defining and have stayed with him into adulthood. Dresner studied physics and mathematics at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon, earning a B.S. and M.S, before training to become an actuary. Dresner enjoyed considerable professional success, working at major business consultancy firms at CEO and COO level before taking early retirement and starting a family. He has since dedicated himself to giving back to his community, supporting small businesses, churches and schools by developing their strategic plans, as well as tutoring children in core academic studies. Having travelled extensively and lived in France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, today David and his wife Nancy live in a rural part of Virginia, near Charlottesville. He is currently working on the fourth instalment of The Allies of Theo series; he will publish his third novel in 2020.

The Blighted Fortress Banner

I’ve rewritten this at least three times. It was a lot of fun to think about and I kind of want to do a book vs series vs novella now, but I also didn’t want to just sit here comparing it to the web series. This one’s thanks to the awesome folks at Kids Can Press, via netGalley. Here’s Kim Turrisi’s adaptation of Carmilla. Enjoy!

Carmilla cover

When college freshman Laura Hollis’ roommate goes missing after a party she calls everyone she thinks might be able to help find her. Instead of help, she gets stuck with Carmilla, the roommate from hell, an aloof philosophy student who responds to seemingly everything with sarcasm. But the more Laura digs, the stranger things get. And the stranger things get, the more it seems like Carmilla knows much more than she lets on. The more it seems like Carmilla might be interested in her for less than nefarious purposes. What’s a girl to do with a mystery to solve, a very possibly vampiric roommate, and homework piling up by the day?

So, Kim Turrisi’s Carmilla is an adaptation of an adaptation, the Kinda TV web series of the same title started out in 2014 and has grown since. Being an adaptation can make things a little clunky at times, things that work well in video don’t always translate well to writing. But, it’s also not tied to a web cam anymore or just the initial script. The novel seems to tie in some things from parts of the web series’ setting that were introduced later as well as a few new scenes away from Laura’s updates regarding the missing girls mystery.

Not being tied to one web cam in one room is both a positive and a negative. The new scenes can be a lot of fun and add to the feeling of the setting and to Laura’s relationships with other characters. But, it can also feel like there’s just not quite enough to them or of them. The library scene stands out for me on this. We get Laura and La Fontaine and Carmilla breaking into the library and Carmilla knowing things that make getting where they need to be easier. That’s great, it adds to her as a character, it’s something new. Then they get into the library and things play out and are described nearly the same as they were in the web series. It didn’t feel as exciting as the characters being attacked by a flaming card catalogue should have been. It felt like I was being told what happened rather than seeing them experience it. There was a lot of room to expand or to fill things in a bit, and it feels like the author didn’t take it.

The exception to this feels like Laura’s crushes on both Danny, the TA for one of her classes, and of course Carmilla. Being in Laura’s head instead of just seeing her actress react, the reader gets a lot more details on how she feels about these two. Being into Danny because she’s sweet and straight forward in standing up for the missing girls and Laura herself. The attraction to Carmilla while still thinking she’s a terrible person and how that mellows into being into Carmilla the person. There’s a lot of internal stuff added here that makes it flow well.

There was kind of a weirdness about how some of the speech tags were done, especially when it comes to Carmilla. Maniacal laughter doesn’t really mesh with the whole disaffected philosophy student thing, or the whole aloof vampire thing, either way. Some things with Kirsch coming across as whiny, almost wimpy, in a way that feels odd given his whole friendly frat bro character. If I had to put my finger on it, I’d say that the tags that take me out of the narration feel too big for their moments or even their characters. It isn’t a huge issue, but it is a notable one.

It’s an interesting thing. I know that a lot of my enjoyment of the novel comes from my enjoyment of the web series. I know there were moments where I was left waiting for a particular bit or where something filled in a little bit more and it feeling better tied in for that. Turrisi’s adaptation does feel unfinished in places, possibly as a result of working from the script rather than the finished series, or maybe just as a result of things not translating well between one format and another. There are places where I felt thrown off by knowing there was more, and that does knock the book down a little for me. But I also want to see novels for the next two seasons and the movie as well. I’m left hoping that this is part of the lead up to something new coming, something more. I enjoyed Turrisi’s adaptation of Carmilla.

And that leaves the final score in a strange place. As a fan of the web series and knowing what they already managed, I would be inclined to give the novel a three out of five. But I also know that if I was just reading the novel on its own, knowing that the romancy aspect is a fair sized part of it, I would be more likely to bump it up to a four. So a four is where I’m going to leave it with the hope that, if there is a next book, it does all the things this one could have made this one fantastic.

Sort of a one more thing that I hope was a result of reading an ARC rather than the finished book. In the original season one of the web series La Fontaine isn’t specifically said to use they/them pronouns, it’s possible they aren’t entire out at that point, though they do go strictly by La Fontaine or Laf. As a result of this, she/her pronouns are used for them in the first season of the web series. The novel introduces them as gender queer, but still uses she/her pronouns for them in some places where the character speaking would know to not do that. It seems like the kind of thing that happened as a result of just transferring things over, but is also a sign that this could have been looked over again. That’s a big mistake to glance over.

I’m later than I wanted to be on this. No excuses there, I just didn’t get it done on time. That aside, this one is thanks to Entangled Teen. Here is A. M. Rose’s Breakout. Enjoy!

Breakout cover

Lezah doesn’t know what landed her in prison, or really much of anything else about herself. With six days left before her execution the only chance she has to find out is to escape. And her only chance of escaping requires relying on strangers, possibly dangerous ones, and her former school rival. Can she trust anyone long enough to get out or will they all fall prey to the prison’s formidable defenses?

A. M. Rose’s Breakout is a book that I bounced around on how I felt about it, especially early on in reading it. But once it hit its stride, it worked really well.

The start was a little rough, with what’s nearly a new world entirely in the form of a California that’s been separated from the rest of the US by earthquakes. Special standouts on that were the WALTERS or Walking Computers, essentially robots that are meant to have free will, and the SOULS that everyone is supposed to have that are ID and phone and personal entertainment all rolled into one. SOULS do everything from let their users keep in contact to changing their appearances pretty drastically to being the main way the government kept tabs on citizens. It was all fed to the reader pretty bluntly at the start, which was necessary to a degree but also felt incredibly clunky.

I had a bit of a similar issue when the male characters, Trip and Seph, were introduced.  It quickly became clear that Seph was our designated love interest, with his history with Lezah and his sad sad eyes and super competence. The build up to that felt like it took away from the immediacy of escaping the prison for a good bit. It felt like there were big neon signs telling me that this was going to be a huge part of the experience.

Here’s the thing though, both the rough bits from the start and Seph and Lezah’s whole thing, both worked out. The blunt early explanations felt weird because it was stuff that Lezah knew and wouldn’t have had much reason to explain to, essentially, herself but that smoothed out later once the characters were more in the action and things felt more focused. As to Lezah’s crushing on Seph? It wound up feeding character stuff for both of them as well as feeding in some bits of Lezah’s missing memories. The book hit a point in the action where the mystery and the full cast were more important than just those two characters, so it made the moments between Lezah and Seph feel more impactful. It wasn’t just the two of them and a world of card board cutouts.

This all said, the thing that made the book for me more than anything else was one of the antagonists. They were written in so well that I was genuinely caught off guard at the reveal. It was built in really well and makes me want to see how Rose handles other antagonists.

That’s about it. While I’m left wanting to see where things go for Lezah and company from the book’s ending on, it was still a satisfying ending that worked for the story. The things that didn’t work did well by the things I enjoyed. And, at the end of the day, I even wound up appreciating the romancey bits. So, Breakout earns a four out of five from me. I’m interested in seeing what A. M. Rose does in the future.

Not much to say here this time. It was really hard to write this without including spoilers and I have enough left that I want to talk about that I might do an “And Another Thing” post about it some time. That said, this one is thanks to the nice folks at Entagled Teen. Here is Rachel Rust’s 8 Souls. Enjoy!

8 Souls cover

Villisca, Iowa is known for murder. For the deaths of eight people in 1912. For the Ax Muder house.  The house that seventeen year old Chessie has been dreaming about her entire life, sometimes new and lived in, sometimes as it is now slowly falling in on itself across the street from her grandparents’ house. Across the street from where she’ll be spending the entire summer while her parents work out the details of their divorce. Amid nightmares and ghostly voices, Chessie finds herself stuck trying to figure out her connection to the Ax Murder house and David, the mysterious boy who knows more than he lets on and so, so many secrets.

So, I make no secret of the fact that I love haunted house stories and horror in general. The promise of a small town with dark secrets and a house that can’t forget pulled me to Rachel Rust’s 8 Souls. It’s a book that was pretty good for what it is and than just misses the mark for what I wanted it to be. Notable differences there.

This being a book published by Entangled Teen, I knew to expect a fairly large romance side plot. That’s just what they do as a publisher. The mysterious boy is mentioned in the blurb. It’s something that I was going to have to roll with. My issue, of course, comes not from the existence of this romance plot but from how much feels underdone in the face of and about it.

There were a lot of ideas that could have been fantastic if they’d been given more room or if they’d been introduced earlier. Most of the stuff about the haunting and David’s whole deal could have worked fantastically if they’d been worked in earlier and given more page space. Make that a thing alongside Chessie thinking that David and Mateo were pranking her with the whole ghost hunting deal. Spend more time with Chessie trying to figure out what’s going on instead of avoiding David and watching Netflix instead of looking into the thing haunting her. Even the romance itself felt rushed along once Chessie decided that she could trust what David was saying.

The antagonist gets hit with this harder than most other details. There’s a thread throughout the book about these little girls having gone missing and that there’s more disappearances and strange deaths in Villisca than most cities its size. But there isn’t much done with that until right at the end. It was almost to the point that I’d forgotten about it in a couple of places. There were a couple of characters who might have been antagonists or, in a more horror focused book, solid red herrings. But nothing came of them and the antagonist was left feeling like they’d been brought in out of left field. A last minute, one more thing, secret that David hadn’t bothered to mention yet. It was an idea that got introduced and used within pages so the story could rush on to the climax. That was frustrating for me, because the antagonist and the climax both could have been so, so good with a little tweaking and a little more page space.

That’s pretty well where I land on 8 Souls. Rust did a good job with the setting, a small town that’s losing people as time goes on. The real world Villisca, Iowa was actually the scene of an ax murder of eight people, so that’s something that could be interesting to look more into after reading this. But it is very much a book that wants for a little more. A little more to the horror, and the characters, and the buildup. As a YA romance with supernatural elements, it’s functional. With more time to percolate it could have been fantastic, and for that I give it a three out of five. I would be willing to read Rachel Rust again, but I also want to see what she would do in another genre.

This feels like way more of an accomplishment than it really should. But, for this week at least, I’m back to book reviewing! This one’s courtesy of the nice folks at Entangled Teen. Here is T.H. Hernandez and Jennifer DiGiovanni’s Prom-Wrecked. Enjoy!

Prom Wrecked cover

Prom wasn’t supposed to end in a jail cell. Riley Hart is the co-chair, the vice president, the planner for more clubs and student organizations than anyone cares to count. But when senior prom is cancelled due to lack of interest and funding, she has to step up for the first time in her high school career. With the help of her gaming buddy, the utterly off limits Owen Locklear, she’s going to make prom memorable for everyone involved. Missing deposits, elderly musicians, uncertain community donors, missing deposits, or even venue destroying acts of nature or not there will be prom.

T.H, Hernandez and Jennifer DiGiovanni did a number of nifty things with Prom-Wrecked. The split point of view between advertised protagonist Riley and her former best friend Catherine showing the reader different aspects of prom planning and the various characters is used fantastically. Add on to that, both points of view feel like very different coming of age stories that complement each other well. It was a really fun read.

One thing that I think worked to the book’s favor was the bit at the beginning where the reader is shown how prom ended. All the major characters are in jail, a number of them are roughed up, and the reader knows nothing about how a high school prom went so wrong that it ended up like this. Roll back to the day that prom’s cancelation is announced and read every bit of everything going wrong and the kids in the jail cell trying to make it work anyway. It simultaneously takes away the worry about Riley and company failing while also promising ridiculous events on the way there.

The two separate coming of age stories thing that I mentioned earlier is also worth noting. Both Riley and Catherine are sort of stuck in their respective social niches. Riley is in everything but avoids leading anything until the prom committee, while Catherine is one of the popular girls but stuck with friends she isn’t really friends with and trapped by her mother’s expectations. One has to learn to lead and deal with other people’s expectations, the other has to learn to embrace what she enjoys despite expectations. It works. More so, it works while still feeling like a single cohesive  story rather than two partial stories stitched together.

Extra special bonus points to the Catherine chapters. As the former best friend who dumped the protagonist to hang out with the popular girls, she could have easily been a one note mean girl character. Having her be the deuteragonist neatly avoids that, gives the story a character who’s invested in prom happening and has the connections to attempt things that Riley couldn’t, and makes the love story bits more interesting and satisfying. She might actually be my favorite character.

The romance aspect that generally is something that elicits an eye roll and a fair amount of disinterest in both YA and contemporary novels is present here. And it did initially get an eye roll. But then something happened. Riley kept a lid on her crush on Owen and was as good a friend as she could be, supporting his relationship with Catherine and joking around with him, listening to his ideas for Morp and spinning them into something workable. It’s a lot of fun and leaves him the one pining for what can’t be. More even than that, on Catherine’s side of things we have her realizing that her relationship with Owen isn’t what either of them really wants. The lack of an antagonist within the romance narrative works for me really well, as does the way Riley and Owen and Owen and Catherine feel like friends who care about each other instead of points on a triangle.

If I have one quibble, it’s with a bit towards the end where better communication could have avoided a lot of stress for a number of characters. But that feels both in character and like it paid off pretty well, so it’s kind of a nothing issue. If I have a second one, it’s that some of the music references felt kind of forced. That might have just been because I’d only heard of a third or so of the artists referenced though.

So, Hernandez and DiGiovanni’s Prom-Wrecked is very much not my usual cup of tea, being a YA contemporary romantic tragicomedy about the rise and fall of a canceled senior prom. It’s not the kind of book I would usually pick up or, really, give much thought. But it was absolutely the book I needed to break myself out of my reading slump. Prom-Wrecked was just fun and I’m ready to look for other things either author has written. Five out of five.