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"We read to know that we are not alone." — C.S. Lewis

Archive for the category “Young Adult”

New book release with a discount!

Catching Jaime, gay romance new adult book by DJ JamisonIt’s release day for “Catching Jaime,” my new adult gay romance! This is my first full-length novel to release in the m/m genre, so I’m pretty excited to see what readers think. It’s also a bit more serious than my Ashe Sentinel Connections series, which have most often been described as cute, sweet romances.
Even better, Catching Jaime is part of a huge summer sale at Smashwords, so I can offers readers a 50% discount right out of the gate!
Buy the book here, and you can get the discount when you enter the code SSW50 at checkout. It’s a site-wide sale, and many other books are discounted besides just mine. You can click here to see the full catalog of books included in the sale.
Here’s the book blurb for Catching Jaime
When Jaime Harris is outed at a party, his quiet life starts to fall apart. His best friend avoids him like the plague, and his younger sister blackmails him in exchange for keeping the truth from their mother. The only bright spot, strangely enough, is Tony Espinoza, who relentlessly pursues his friendship. Why Tony cares at all is a mystery, and as their friendship evolves into something more, it seems too good to be true. Can Jaime trust his heart to the cutest, sweetest straight boy he’s ever met?Tony Espinoza is angry and confused. His brother’s betrayal cuts deep, even after amends have been made, and he’s torn about the direction he should take with his future. In the midst of it all is Jaime Harris. Fixating on Jaime’s problems makes a great diversion, but the more he gets to know Jaime, the more he realizes the guy is more than just a distraction. He’s slowly becoming everything. Now, if only Tony could get him to believe it.

Catching Jaime is available at most online bookstores. Click here to find it on aRe and Amazon.

Happy reading!

Free short story: Hunters’ Sacrifice

I wrote the story below as a flash fiction prompt in the YA LGBT Books group on Goodreads.
It was a beautiful sunset.
Large swaths of burnt orange and amethyst swept across the sky, and all I could think was: I hope it’s not our last.
Kevin faltered to a stop, breathing hard. His normally pale complexion was flushed a deep red from exertion and his long limbs trembled with exhaustion.
“I don’t know if I can keep going,” he said.
I wanted to tell him he could rest. I wanted to pull him close, and let him lean on me until his heart calmed and his breathing slowed. I wanted a of things, but I couldn’t have them.
Not if we wanted to survive.
“You want to be the their dinner?” I asked in a harsh tone. He flinched, and I hardened my heart against those wide blue eyes so full of fear. “They won’t stop, so neither can we.”
“But, I don’t hear anything. Just for a few minutes? Please?”
“No.”
I adjusted the pack on my back, attempting to ease the ache of straps digging into my flesh and the weight of supplies that grew heavier with every step. Without checking on Kevin, I started trudging down the mountainside.
He would follow. He’d follow, or he’d die.
Sometimes, it seemed as if I’d loved Kevin forever. Surely longer than our 17 years of life. Longer than the decades of hunts. Longer even than the war that prompted desperate villages to agree to sacrifice two adolescents every year to the Hunters who dwelled in the woods in exchange for peace.
The Hunters that were half fact and half myth and entirely a mystery.
Some said they were primitive men and women, raised in the woods as survivalists and trained in the art of hunting and tracking their prey, be it animal or human. Others said they were beasts, wild animals that hungered for flesh and could be appeased only by a sacrifice of fresh meat.
The most frightening rumor, though, was that they were a blend of man and beast, with the appetite of an animal and the intellect of a human.
Whatever they were, no sacrifice had ever returned to our village, or any of the others, as far as I’d heard.
But I wasn’t hopeless.
If we survived this, we would never return, either. I’d take Kevin far away, and I’d protect him from the people who forfeited our lives.
He’d never love me back. I’d come to terms with that a long time ago, even before I started pushing him ruthlessly, berating him cruelly if it would yield just one more step.
“We’re gonna die anyway,” he muttered behind me, as we stumbled our way through the trees.
I whirled on him and clutched his arms. “Shut up! You’re going to freaking live if it kills me, Kev. Just. Keep. Going.”
“I can’t!” he wailed, sagging in my grip. I had to release him or fall to the ground, too.
He collapsed in the dirt, between limbs covered in prickly pine needles that itched like the devil. He leaned back into a low-hanging bough and closed his eyes.
“Just leave me. You can make it, Aidan. You’re tough. I’m … not. Never will be.”
“Well, toughen up!” I demanded. “I’m not leaving, Kev. If you stay, I stay. If you die, I die.”
He groaned. “Why? You hate me, so … why?”
It shouldn’t have surprised me he believed that, yet it did. I loved him so hard I lived in terror he would see it shining out of my eyes, even as I said cutting, mean things to him to hide my feelings.
“I don’t hate you.”
He scoffed. “You told everyone I wet my pants in fear of the Hunters.”
His voice broke on the last word, and I winced. I’d had no idea he’d be facing the Hunters when I made that taunt years ago.
“We were just kids. I was a brat,” I said.
“You avoid me,” he pointed out. “When I walk into a room, you cross to the other side.”
I sighed. “What it does it matter now?”
“Because!” He shouted, working up a good fit of anger. “You make my life miserable!”
It was a relief to see his temper. The anger would pump adrenaline into his veins, and he’d find new stores of energy.
He lurched to his feet, adjusted his pack awkwardly and stomped past me. Smiling, I moved to follow, and he threw out his arm, nearly clothes-lining me.
“You go your way, and I’ll go mine.”
“Kev–”
“Don’t Kev me,” he growled. “Leave me the hell alone. I’ll either live or die on my own. I don’t need my last minutes to be with someone who can’t stand me.”
He pushed ahead, walking too fast. The sun had set while we argued, and this dense section of woods blocked out the few rays of light still fading in the sky.
“I don’t hate you,” I called. “Will you slow down?”
He stumbled over a fallen log, his hands flailed at his sides, and then he was gone.
My breath caught in my chest. “Kevin?” I called.
I strained to hear his voice, or some sign of his movement, as I hurried forward. The normally peaceful chirp of birds and the sighing of wind through tree limbs was anything but soothing now.
“Kevin!” I shouted again, even as my heart sank in my chest.
Ahead of me was the log that tripped him, and just beyond that, the crevice in the earth that had swallowed him.
I dropped to my knees at the edge, and peered down. It was darker than night at the bottom.
“Kev?” I called again. “Are you okay?”
I held my breath, praying to hear his voice once more, vowing to the Gods I’d tell him the truth about why I’d treated him so harshly, if only I got the chance. If only he lived.
“Ow. Oh Gods,” he groaned. Then a moment later, a loud shout: “Aidan? Are you out there? Aidan! I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Gods, I’m so sorry. Help me!”
“Kevin! I’m here! Are you hurt?”
He shuffled around, cursing and making pained noises.
“It’s too deep to climb out, but only by about a foot or so. So, um … 7 or 8 feet deep, I guess? I’m bruised, but fine. Do you have rope?”
No, I didn’t. But I wouldn’t leave him there. If I could get to the bottom, I could boost him to the top, and then hope I could figure out some handholds to climb out myself.
“Get back. I’m coming down.”
“Aidan, wait–”
I swung over the edge, extending my full length so I could drop only the couple of feet left to the bottom. The soil pulled loose in my hands, and I fell into the darkness.
It should have taken only seconds to hit the bottom, but it didn’t happen. I fell, and fell.
When I hit bottom, a sharp pain shot through my ankle and I collapsed with a shout of pain.
“Aidan?”His voice floated to me in the darkness.
It was damp and cool in the chasm — and so dark I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
A touch whispered over my arm, and I flinched from it before I realized it was Kevin’s hand.
“You okay?” He asked.
“Seven or 8 feet? Really?” I asked in a sharp tone, before I remembered my resolve to tell Kevin the truth. To be kinder.
He sucked in a breath. “Sorry. I tried to tell you before you jumped that it was a blind guess. I’m such a screw-up. No wonder you hate me.”
“I don’t hate you.”
He laughed humorlessly. “I’ve basically gotten us both killed. Of course, you do.”
Exasperated, I reached out a hand blindly, fumbling it over his face until I felt the shape of his cheek under my palm.
“Why do you think I wouldn’t leave you, Kevin?” I said.
“I don’t know.” He sounded confused. “That’s what I can’t understand.”
I sucked in a breath to tell him, but the words lodged in my throat. I had to tell him, though. I’d vowed to the Gods I would, and everyone knew a broken vow brought only the worst misfortune.
Of course, in our present situation, misfortune seemed a given.
I wasn’t sure I could handle Kevin’s rejection as my last memory of him before death. I wanted to remember him as I’d seen him every day of our childhood: a golden-haired, blue-eyed, vibrant angel.
He was slender and a little gangly, yet somehow still graceful in his movements, and though he thought he was weak, I’d watched him long enough to know he was resilient.
I admired him, though I worked hard every day not to show it.
“Aidan?”
Laughter rang above our heads, and twigs and pine needles crunched under feet.
I clapped a hand over his mouth, as I strained to listen. I hoped they’d pass us by, but I suspected this chasm was a trap meant to deliver us into their hands … or paws.
This was my fault. Had I honored my vow, we might have yet escaped.
A lamp swung out over the chasm, and light filtered down between the rocks to shine in my eyes.
“Hello, boys! Nice of you to join us!” a deep voice bellowed.
So, they weren’t beasts. It was yet to be seen if they were entirely men.
Quickly, frantically, I turned to Kevin. If I wanted us to survive the night, I had to honor my promise to the Gods and pray they took mercy on me.
“I love you,” I blurted. “I was a brat because I didn’t want you to know.”
And then, unable to face the horrified expression that would cross his face any second, I pressed my lips to his in a brief kiss.
My heart raced and my palms sweat and it wasn’t at all what I’d dreamt when I’d imagined kissing Kevin.
There was too much fear and shock in me. I barely registered the sensation of his lips against mine.
“Climb the rope,” the voice from above called, and a moment later thickly braided rope thumped against the wall at our sides.
I turned to inspect it, finding that it had a large loop at the end for raising a rider. Good. I didn’t think my arms, or Kev’s, could handle a tough climb.
Grabbing it, I turned to him. “You first. Climb in.”
He leaned on me as he raised first one leg, then the other and slid into the makeshift seat.
“Aidan …”
I shook my head. “Not now,” I said. “I only told you because I made a vow and I had to honor it.”
Tugging on the rope, I called up to the men. “He’s ready!”
Kevin slowly ascended the wall, and then the rope was tossed back down to me. I wasn’t sure we’d made the right choice to put ourselves into these men’s hands. We could have died naturally, together, of starvation or thirst. It might have been better than what was in store. But it wasn’t in me to give up so easily.
I adjusted the rope under me, and began the ascent.
Minutes later, I was on firm ground beside Kevin. I couldn’t look him in the eye, and my ankle throbbed with every step, but we weren’t dead yet.
“What will you do with us?” Kevin asked in a shaky voice.
“Same as always, kid. Don’t look so frightened. You’ll thank us when it’s over.”
“Are you going to eat us?” he blurted.
I turned stunned eyes on Kevin as he stared down the huge man before us. He was a brute, I saw now that I was free of the darkness. He was tall, at least 7 feet, with broad shoulders and muscled arms. His hair was curly and wild, sticking up in all directions, and a thick beard covered his face.
A feral smile split his face, and my hopes sank in my stomach like a stone. There was a beastliness to this man that couldn’t be coincidence.
“You hear that, Hart,” he said, with a deep laugh. His eyes sparkled over his sharp grin as he turned to another hulked-out man beside him. “They’re telling them we eat them for dinner now.”
“So, you don’t?”
“Gods no, boy.”
“So, you kill us then,” Kevin said flatly, and it hurt my heart to hear the acceptance in his tone.
Unable to help myself, I grabbed his hand and squeezed it tight. He didn’t look at me, but he didn’t pull away.
“Relax, boys,” Hart said, his tones more civilized than his partner’s. “We’re not going to harm you. Come, we’ll tell you everything once get back to camp. You two look like you could use a meal and a rest.”
We had no choice but to follow. Thankfully, the camp wasn’t far, but it was still agony on my sore ankle. Kevin fell back to one side, wrapping an arm around my waist to lend support, and Hart yanked me gracelessly to my feet whenever I tripped and fell.
“What could they want?” He asked quietly.
“I don’t know.”
“They don’t need to lie. They’ve already won.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “But let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth, huh? We’re still alive.”
He nodded, and we fell into silence.
We were hustled to the fireside, and situated on a fallen log. Bowls of soup were pressed into our hands, followed by cups of water that we gulped greedily, dehydrated after our panicked flight through the forest during the heat of the late afternoon.
There were a handful of people in the camp, women and men. Not all of them were so intimidating as the two Hunters who’d caught us, but there was a sort of wildness to them.
“Hart tells me you’ve been misled about your fate,” a young woman with dark hair and intense eyes said.
“There are a lot of rumors,” I said carefully. “About who you are and what you do with the sacrifices.”
“They would call it a sacrifice,” she scoffed. “We call it a gift.”
Kevin stirred beside me. “A gift?”
A note of hope crept into his voice, and I hoped it wouldn’t be shattered before the night’s end. I was glad to hear some emotion from him. That flat, numb tone had torn me to pieces.
“Let me tell you a story,” she said.
I noticed the other Hunters gathering around and settling in with bowls of soup, as if she were about to tell stories by the campfire for their enjoyment and not share with us our fate, whatever it might be.
Kevin’s hand crept into mind, and I held it tight, bracing for the truth at last.
“A century ago, there were hundreds of our kind in this forest. We kept to ourselves, mostly. The woods provided what we needed to survive, and we were happy enough. Then the Hunters came–”
“What? But you’re the Hunters!” Kevin blurted.
The woman’s eyes widened in surprise, and one of the men cursed loudly, angrily. My hand tightened on Kev’s in fear, but no one made a move to hurt us.
“They call us the Hunters?” She said, sounding astonished, then let loose a sharp laugh. “That just figures, doesn’t it?”
It was a rhetorical question, obviously, and she continued to the tale.
“The Hunters came, and they started killing us. No doubt you’ve heard enough about us to know that we aren’t like most humans. We can call our beasts from within, and change into beautiful creatures that thrive in the woods, hunting and playing. The Hunters started killing us, mostly for our furs, but sometimes just for sport. It went on for years, decades. We tried to hide, we tried to relocate deeper within the forest, but the damage was done. We had to fight back for our own survival.”
“The war started,” I said.
She nodded. “Yes. And, it went on for ages. We had a tactical advantage. Our beasts are excellent trackers–”
“And hunters,” Kevin injected.
Did he want them to rip him to shreds?
I tensed beside him and cast him a look that conveyed my wish for him to shut up.
“Yes, I suppose so,” she said. “In that way, perhaps their name for us makes sense. We began to hunt them. But we were disadvantaged by our dwindling numbers, and so the war went on year after year, decade after decade. Finally, we’d all had enough, and a truce was made.”
“Each village sacrifices two adolescents to a tribe of Hunters each year,” I said.
“Each village gives up two adolescents, yes. To join us,” she clarified. “We neared extinction during the war, and we’ve been trying to rebuild our population ever since. Once we reach a stable number, the villages will no longer contribute to our pool.”
I stared, stunned. In all of my speculations, I’d never considered that the village sacrifices might be joining the Hunters.
“You mean we’ll become like you?” Kevin asked.
“Yes.”
This time, I blurted the question. “But how?”
She waved a hand. “That is a long story, and it is quite late. You two need to rest. The transformation doesn’t come without a great deal of effort. Come, I’ll get you settled for the night.”
She stood and led us to a tent, complete with sleeping bags inside. At my astonished look, she cracked a grin.
“We’re not entirely animals, you know. This is just a temporary camp. We could sleep in our beast forms, and some of us will, but the rest of us want shelter from the elements.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
Kevin and I crawled into our sleeping bags, close together in the small tent. I could hear his heavy sigh as we fully relaxed for the first time in nearly 12 hours.
“So, we’re not going to die,” Kevin murmured, mostly to himself.
“Looks that way.”
He cast a look my way. “Bet you’re regretting that confession right about now. Gonna go back to making my life miserable?”
I bristled. “I honored my vow, and we’re not dead,” I said shortly. “Hard to regret that.”
His hand landed on my shoulder and squeezed. “Aidan, I’m teasing.”
“It’s not a joke to me,” I said reluctantly.
He was right in a way. I hated that he knew my feelings, that he could use them against me. It felt like a weakness.
“Of course not. It’s just hard to believe,” he said.
I cleared my throat. “We don’t ever have to talk about this again, but I have to ask just once. Do you … I mean, do you want to–”
“No.”
“Oh.”
“I mean, not right now,” he clarified. “Right now, I still think you’re a jerk. And I’m still coming to terms with the whole not dying thing. Eventually, who knows? You did keep me alive, you and your vow to the Gods.”
He was teasing me again. I could hear it in his tone. He didn’t believe my vow had anything to do with our situation, and maybe he was right. But at least I wouldn’t have to face the idea that my cowardice had been our doom.
Kevin didn’t love me, didn’t want me. It was what I’d expected, and yet, he’d given me hope. Maybe, eventually he’d forgive the way I’d treated him while we were children. Maybe he’d come to love me in our new lives.
As men.
As Beasts.
As Hunters, giving new life to the packs that roamed these woods for centuries until our people came along to decimate them.
It was a sacrifice I was willing to make, especially with Kevin by my side.

“Secret” loses a little magic by trying to cover too much ground

“Secret,” the latest installment of the Elemental book series by Brigid ya book reviewsKemmerer, is an ambitious effort to tackle serious issues while continuing a fantasy story. All of the Elemental books have taken on themes of that nature — confronting a range of topics from domestic dysfunction to sexual assault, violence, bullying and questions of self-esteem.

In “Secret,” Nick — one half of the good-looking Merrick twins — must come to terms with his sexuality after becoming attracted to a dancer named Adam. As he begins a tentative and secret relationship with Adam, he struggles with the typical fears that come with coming out to his family. Meanwhile, Quinn — his former girlfriend — is aware of his feelings for Adam, but has made a deal with Nick to pretend to date him.

This book, unlike Kammer’s earlier installments in the series, tries to cover multiple relationship storylines. In “Secret,” you watch Nick’s story play out with Adam, while Quinn meets the Merricks’ enemy, Tyler, and discovers a more humane side to him.

I’m a fan of the series, so of course I enjoyed reading about the continuation of the storyline. But I think stretching “Secret” across two separate love stories did some of the characters a disservice. And it allowed for less development of those crucial issues Kemmerer tried to raise. Though Quinn’s home life — which includes violence and substance abuse — is quite serious, you get only a vague sense of what that’s like.

Her first two books — “Storm” and “Spark” — created love interests for the Merrick boys that were just as developed as the Merricks themselves. The last two books, in an attempt to drive the plot forward and cover more characters, lose a little of that magic.

After reading the novella focused on Nick and Adam — which came just before this new book — I was really looking forward to the story that would evolve from these two. It fell a little short of my expectations.

The series has one more book to go, which will focus on Michael, the oldest Merrick brother. I suspect it, too, will be more plot driven. But at this stage, I’ll read it because I have to know how everything works out.

And even though the later Elemental books don’t touch me quite as deeply as the author’s first two, watching previous characters make appearances and interact in the new stories always bring a smile to my face — much like spotting an old friend after a long absence.

‘Witchfinder’ a grim YA fantasy

Witchfinder, ya book reviewI don’t see “Witchfinder” by Ruth Warburton becoming the next YA blockbuster, but I enjoyed the book for the differences that will potentially make it slightly less popular on the mass market. For one thing, it’s set in London in 1880, giving it an old-fashioned vibe. Secondly, it’s a tad more grim than many of the YA books — even the dystopians — that I’ve read.

The book’s descriptor suggests it would appeal to fans of Cassandra Clare’s “Infernal Devices” series, and I suppose that’s true at some level. It’s the same time period, and it involves an element of fantasy, but that’s where the similarities stop.

Luke is a boy who’s grown up with the burning desire for revenge on the black witch that killed his parents before his eyes. To join a secret brotherhood of men devoted to hunting witches he must pass their tests, the last of which is to pick out a name at random, then hunt down and kill that witch within a month — or face death himself.

Luke, who has thus far worked as a blacksmith’s apprentice, chooses the name of Rosa Greenwood, a 16-year-old witch living in fading grandeur on the west side of town. Luke goes undercover as a stableboy to get close to the family, where it becomes apparent that Rosa is the last bargaining chip in her family’s effort to avoid bankruptcy. She’s about to be married off to a cruel and powerful witch, but Luke intends that she’ll never see her wedding day.

Outside of the fact that the book contains witchcraft themes, it’s almost more of a domestic drama that an adventurous fantasy. The story focuses on Rosa’s difficult position in the family and her ugly relationship with her mother and brother. She misses her father and longs for the way things used to be. Meanwhile, Luke is stressed by the responsibility he’s accepted and working not to give himself away as he pursues options that will bring him close enough to Rosa to kill — if he can make himself do it at all.

The more time they spend together, the more Luke senses the goodness in Rosa and the more he falls for her. In the end, he must decide whether he can kill the girl he’s falling in love with, and Rosa must decide if she can marry a man she detests.

 

Great YA freebies on Kindle

I love free reads. My pocketbook loves free reads. But the library in my small hometown can’t handle my appetite. That’s where I break out my Kindle and go schlepping through free offers like a virtual Dumpster diver. (No offense meant by the simile, but there are some real pieces of trash next to the treasure, if you know what I mean …)

So, this blog is for you. Bypass the sketchy reads and go straight for the freebie gems. (I hold no liability if their pricing status has changed by the time you read this!) And bear in mind that I am recommending these as good free reads, not for Pulitzer prizes for fiction. There will be fluff … but who can say no to free fluff?

ya book freebiesBrightest Kind of Darkness, by P.T. Michelle
I loved this paranormal romance, the first of a series that is followed up by Lucid, also a good read. In this story, Nara is a teenager with the odd ability/disability of dreaming the next day’s events — exactly. But she avoids using her gift to change fate after an ugly incident in her past, but one day she dreams a future she can’t ignore. A mysterious loner named Ethan is the only person who seems on the same wave length, but as their connection gets stronger, the questions about his past become more pressing. After reading the follow-up Lucid, I can tell you that this series only gets more deep and mysterious as it goes on.

Ya book freebiesAurora Sky: Vampire Hunter, by Nikki Jefford

Nikki Jefford is shaping up to be an author I can count on for an entertaining read. Aurora Sky is the second series I’ve found by Nikki — she lures me in with a free first book, and before you know it, I’m buying sequels. Luckily, those prices are generally in the $3 neighborhood. If you like vampire stories, you’ll enjoy the twists and turns of the Aurora Sky books (two so far). Nikki’s not afraid to transform her characters through pain, break hearts or shatter dreams. I’m not sure how long this freebie will last. Aurora Sky: Vampire Hunter is free via other venues as well through Nov. 22. Check out the author’s website to see how to get your copy.

YA Book freebiesEntangled, by Nikki Jefford

I’m jumping right into the other free offering from Jefford. “Entangled” is the first of the Spellbound trilogy about witches. The story is light, and keeps you intrigued as Gray dies, then suddenly finds herself sharing her (evil) twin’s body. Enlisting the help of a love interest, Gray must find a way to return to Earth permanently before her sister decides to purge her for good.

YA book freebiesDelirium, by Susan Kaye Quinn
Delirium is the first in the Debt Collector serial. Although it’s less definable as YA, it’s close enough, and I cannot say enough good about this one! I love Susan Kaye Quinn. The writing is polished and well-paced, and the story is fascinating. Debt Colletor is a gritty, future noir about a society that balances a person’s potential against their debt. It takes you into the world of sex workers, the mob and corrupt officials who snatch life from terminally ill children. It’s deliciously dark! Plus, I got a chance to interview Susan. Check out the interview/review here.

I don’t have time to write about all my finds. But here are a few more you should consider:

YA Book Freebies

Open Minds, Susan Kaye Quinn

YA Book freebies

Glimpse, by Stacey Wallace Benefiel

YA book freebies

The Mind Readers, by Lori Brighton

YA book freebie

Skid, by Doug Solter

YA book freebies

Everblue, by Brenda Pandos

 

Now go forth and multiply … your book downloads!

Dystopian malaise

I have the dystopian malaise.

I’m generally the ideal fan for the dystopian novel. I loved The Hunger Games, and the Legend and Divergent series. I enjoyed the first two books in the Matched series by Ally Condie — I’m sure I’ll get around to book three — as well as The Debt Collector serial on Kindle.

But the market has become so flooded that it’s difficult to find the quality gems mixed in with the wreckage of an over-saturated genre. And right along with the dystopian influx, is the overabundance of books told in the first-person perspective. If done right, both of these methods can still be a big win for authors. Unfortunately, the clutter in bookstores may turn off some readers. I, for one, could use a break.

Here’s a look at a few dystopian novels I picked up in the past few months:

Ya book reviewsContributor, by Nicole Ciacchella
This was one of the better dystopian novels I read — based mainly on the fact that I actually finished it. Not exactly high praise. This first book in a new series introduces the idea of a society that is highly motivated to succeed on a career path. If they do, they are greatly rewarded. If they do not, they are ostracized. And if they cannot contribute due to injury or illness, they are disposable. This type of society encourages brilliance — and also ruthlessness — as young people compete for coveted training spots that will position them for leadership in their fields. There was nothing exactly “wrong” with this book, but there was also no great drama or love interests to keep me really hooked. It felt a little ho-hum. The similarity it bears to a highly competitive workplace in America is an intriguing commentary on our society, though. 

Ya book reviewsAberrant, by Ruth Silver
It’s possible I didn’t give this one a fair shot, but its similarities almost immediately to the premise of the well-known “Matched” series — in which society matches up spouses — bugged me. Also, the writing wasn’t at all on the same level. Almost immediately, our protagonist is being hauled away, for some unknown offense, and I really didn’t care. That’s when I decided to give it up.

ya book reviewsThe Elite (Selection series), by Kiera Cass
The first book of the Selection series drew me in a bit more than the others mentioned here. In this society, families are divided into scores — 3s, 4s, 5s etc. Girls can marry up, but men who marry someone higher than their rank bring their wives down a notch. Each level determines your profession in life — from servants to artists to the very wealthy. When a contest is held, similar to The Bachelor, to select the prince’s wife, America Singer finds herself in the running — despite being in love with a 6 who is below her station. Though the plot, at least in this first book, seems a little thin, it kept me interested — which is more than a lot of books in the genre do these days.

YA book reviewsDelirium, by Lauren Oliver
I’m still working my way through this one. Initially, I was intrigued by the concept: Love as a disease. In this world, the people have a procedure at age 18 that “cures” them of the ailment and ensures a peaceful life. As in other books I’ve read, they are then “matched” with a suitable spouse. There are “invalids” living in the wilds, however, who have never been cured and threaten the stability of their society. As interesting as the premise is, it took me a long time to connect with the main character, and this is one example where the first-person POV grates on me.

Lunar Chronicles a creative series worth exploring

YA book blogA series including cyborgs, androids, wolves, royalty, people of the moon … what more could you ask for?

In February, Marissa Meyer released the second of her series, The Lunar Chronicles. If you’re like me, you’re always in the market for a good series, and you can’t go wrong with this one.

I was hesitant to read it, at first, despite the good reviews the first book, “Cinder,” had received. The series has some decided fairy tale themes I wasn’t sure I would enjoy. For one thing, I’ve come across many other stories using this approach. “Wicked” and “The Ugly Stepsister” are highly successful examples of the fairy tale spin-off, and too many tween movies are the examples of how wrong it can go.

You can guess from the names what fairy tales “Cinder” and “Scarlet” draw from. Yet, I have to say, Meyer surprised me. Who in their right mind thinks, “I want to do a Cinderella spin-off. Hey, I know! I’ll write about a cyborg who meets a prince while there is a massive plague outbreak and enemies from the moon are trying to manipulate their way into a self-serving marriage alliance!” Meyer pulls it off with flying colors.

“Cinder” gripped me from the first line. There was something very real about Cinder, a cyborg who is treated like a second-class citizen by other townspeople, including her own adopted family. She works as a mechanic, fixing androids, to support the family. Prince Kai, having heard that Cinder was the best mechanic in the area, brings an android containing sensitive information to her for repair, and thus begins the saga of Cinder and Kai. They meet again after she is at the palace, having been drawn into a program working to find a cure for the plague.

As you might expect, there is a ball, though it will not go as you might expect. Cinder and Kai’s happily ever after won’t be as neatly foretold as in the classic, and you have to read on in the second novel to find out how their saga plays out as Scarlet and Wolf and introduced into the story line.
YA book blog Scarlet, a young woman desperate to find her grandmother after she goes missing, accepts the help of a stranger in town who goes by the name of Wolf. She knows she shouldn’t trust him, but he seems her only hope in tracking down the gang that stole her grandmother. There’s a larger plot at work, which includes secret lunar agents who have undergone genetic mutation. Meanwhile, the Lunar leader continues to make trouble for Cinder and Kai, unleashing violence on the kingdom in an effort to get Kai to marry her.

Even with the fairy tale parallels, the series never comes close to being anything but original. If you’re looking for a new series to read, I highly recommend it, even though you’ll be left waiting anxiously for the third book’s release.

‘Skin’ delves deep in emotional transformation story

YA book reviews“Skin,” by Donna Jo Napoli, is one of those special reads: One so full of truth and pain a book review simply cannot do it justice.

The book surprised me in its intensity as it pulled me into the heart and mind of a teenage girl on the brink of the biggest, most terrifying change of her life.  Sixteen-year-old Sep wakes up one morning with white lips, as in, completely absent of color. Naturally, she freaks out just a bit. But a bit of lipstick, and she can hide the oddity …until it spreads. Until she’s diagnosed with vitiligo, a rare skin condition for which there is no cure.

Sep is horrified by the news, which has turned her expectations for the world upside down. But ironically, Sep’s new use of lipstick to hide her secret also draws out long-ago close friend Josh, who is suddenly offering her something good to hold onto as she confronts her changing reality. She engages in a whirlwind romance, eager to experience as much as she can before the vitiligo spreads and she has to let him go. Sep prolongs the inevitable as long as she can with concealers, scarves, lipstick and hand-drawn tattoos on her hand, but she knows she’s running out of time before she becomes the subject of ridicule.

Napoli holds no punches as she takes the reader on this journey into a very difficult chapter in Sep’s life. She makes you feel every moment of fear, of grief, of bittersweet love and happiness as biology catapults Sep toward a reality she cannot change. There’s something so real about “Skin,” you’ll be convinced that the searing heartache is your own.

Ultimately, Sep must find the inner strength not only to face her friends with this new condition, but to face herself. Her own hate and disgust is just as virulent, if not more so, than anything her loved ones or peers could ever throw at her. What she doesn’t expect, however, is that she may have underestimated the depths of the people around her, and in her fear of getting hurt, she may end up hurting the ones she loves.

The book is available for $3.99 on Kindle.

‘Notable’ takes YA series on adventurous detour from high school

Notable by Marni Bates“Notable,” a companion novel to “Awkward” and “Invisible” gets off to a slow start, but takes readers of Marni Bates’ Smith High novels on a new, exotic journey with plenty of adventure before they reach the final page. Though “Notable’ is a continuation of a series, it can also stand on its own.

Chelsea Halloway, queen of the Notables and top of the high school social ladder, is misunderstood by many people, including her own parents. When they attempt to give her a wake-up call, while conveniently packing her off to a trip abroad to Cambodia while they deal with their divorce, everyone gets more than they bargained on.

Chelsea is thrust into a totally foreign atmosphere that takes her out of her comfort zone. Rather than adoring high school peers, she’s traveling with college students who don’t take her seriously — and one who seems to hold her in particularly low esteem after hearing about her past indiscretions from her father.

Invisible by Marni BatesWhen their professor ends up on the wrong side of a drug lord, Chelsea discovers what she’s made of — plenty of spunk and a heavy dose of reckless good intention. She’s determined to save her professor from prison — and almost certain death at the hands of angry drug dealers. But it will require all the negotiating power she’s gathered on her climb up the social strata and then some.

“Notable” has a different vibe than “Invisible.” Chelsea is in a pretty dark place when the book starts, and her anger and discontent is a constant companion. Her complaining makes it a little more difficult to enjoy the story. But like “Invisible,” this book is also a story of self-discovery, and as Chelsea learns who she really is — outside of her classmates’ perception and her parents’ projection — she becomes an immensely more likable character. Throw in a little romantic tension with a judgmental college boy, and you’ve got the makings of a good YA read if you have the patience to get there.

“You Are Mine” a beautifully told journey from oppression to expression

You are MineWhen delving into a self-published work, you never know for sure what you’ll get. Books like “You Are Mine,” by Janeal Falor, are precisely the reason I take the gamble.

The beautifully told story of Serena, an oppressed girl in a society where women are the property of warlocks, captured me from Page 1. Serena is a fascinating character: a girl with a spark of independence barely held in check by her restrictive society. The strong voice in her head, and the silence she must hold to avoid painful punishments, are at odds.  Between the two, they form a strong young woman who, when given the chance, will fight for a different life.

Serena is promised to a young, talented warlock who she despises. When he dies during a tournament, with all his belongings going to a winner from a foreign land, the course of her future will change drastically. Serena will struggle to understand her new betrothed —  and whether she can trust his tolerance to last. In her experience, all warlocks are abusive and cruel, but he seems to be the exception. She’s lived her life being told that if she doesn’t follow society’s rules she will be tarnished — spelled to be bald, inked and ostracized. Now, as her warlock ignores her small infractions, Serena begins to explore a new way of life.

Not everyone will like the boundaries she and her betrothed begin to push. As with any society, fighting its restrictions comes with consequences and rewards.

Besides being extremely well-written — I never would have guessed it was self-published based on the high quality — I love the way “You Are Mine” sheds light on what it’s like to experience oppression. Sadly, there are still places in the world today where women’s voices are suppressed and their lives are threatened with violence.

Though “You Are Mine” is a fantasy with romantic undertones, it’s more of a journey from oppression to expression. Serena’s evolution from a fearful girl to the strong-willed, independent woman she is meant to be is beautiful to watch.

The book is the first in a series. It is available on Kindle for $2.99 or approximately $12.99 for paperback through Amazon.

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