Anathema by K.A. Tucker is the first of a new YA paranormal series, Causal Enchantment. The protagonist, Evangeline, is an orphan who grew up in foster homes. Just as she turns 18 she meets a mysterious, elegant woman who offers her a job. The woman flies her off in a private jet to New York. There she is moved into an amazing mansion where her employer and her two "friends" lavish her with gifts, money and attention. She begins to dream about an alternate universe inhabited by beautiful and strange people (including Caden, the quite acceptably mysterious romantic lead). She comes to realize that the dreams are real and the people in the alternate universe are somehow connected with her employers. And everyone is hoping that Evangeline will be their salvation.
This was a good start to a series. The characters are interesting and the setting, both in this universe and the alternate, are well described. It is an exciting book and ends in quite a satisfactory cliff-hanger.
My only quibble is that the character Evangeline suffers from what I call TSTL syndrome (too stupid too live). She's like one of those characters in the movies who are home alone, hear a mysterious noise and head down the basement stairs. She may be young, but given that she grew up in the foster care system, and volunteered with the homeless, it is hard to believe she would be as naive as she appears to be. She doesn't really question why these wealthy strangers are showering her with riches yet not asking her to do any work. And once she realizes they are trying to keep her in the mansion and manages to get herself out she doesn't try to escape or find help. She also remarkably obtuse about the feelings and motivations of other characters. Yet all these other characters develop feelings for her, try to protect her and are even willing to risk their lives for her. I found it a bit difficult to understand what they saw in her.
I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys YA paranormal romance.
Shelter (Blood Haze: Book One) by Tara Shuler is a YA vampire romance. The heroine, Alice, is a vampire who is attending a human high school for the first time after being home-schooled all her life. She is unsure how to act around the human teens and is shy and uncomfortable. However, soon she meets two mysterious guys and high school becomes a lot more interesting.
Tara Shuler writes her characters against the stereotypes of most vampire romances. Her heroine is strong and her male characters are more vulnerable (not the alpha male types we are used to in paranormal romances). The teenage social angst and confused romantic tangles are written in a believable way. The characters are interesting and multi-dimensional.
My only problem with the novel is the beginning: the story begins with a long expository passage describing what vampires are and how they live. It reads like a high school essay on vampires. I prefer the world building in a fantasy novel to be revealed more naturally during the development of the story and in dialogue with the characters. The exposition is more of an "information dump" which appears to reflect the inexperience of the author.
The is a promising beginning to a YA vampire romance series. The characters and situation have room to develop and the ending leaves the reader looking forward to the sequel. No inappropriate language or situations so I would recommend this book for younger teen readers.
Stray: Touchstone Part 1 by Andrea Host is a YA science fiction novel. Cassandra Devlin, an 18 year old Australian high school student just finishing her last exams, wanders through a "gate" or wormhole on her way home from school and finds herself in a strange forest. She walks for days, trying to survive and figure out where she is. Eventually she finds an abandoned village and makes works to make herself a comfortable home. She is rescued by "psychic ninjas" or Setari from the technologically advanced planet Tare, and there her adventures really begin.
I enjoyed this book very much. It is written in the form of a diary, which allows you to stay with Cass and learn about what is happening as she does. You get to understand and appreciate her as a character more and more as the story unfolds. Initially, I found her almost too calm, much like Alice after she tumbled through the rabbit hole. But she admits after the first few entries that she hasn't been describing all her emotional meltdowns and fears as they happen. This made the character even more believable. The author cleverly makes Cass a SF & F fan and an online gamer. This allows her to make educated guesses about what has happened to her and to cope with all the new things she encounters. It gives her a language to describe what she is experiencing. Spider Robinson is another author who has used this device well and Host's writing reminds me somewhat of his work. There are also many cultural references which add richness to the story, and which Cass uses to cope with her surroundings.
There is a very useful glossary as well as a dramatis personae in the appendix. This is especially helpful to understand the Australian and gamer slang as well as the invented language. There are many characters who are sometimes referred to by first names and sometimes last names, which can be confusing. However, one of the things I enjoy about SF & F is world building which includes invented language and mythologies. Host's world is rich and interesting and full of mysteries that keep you wanting to read and learn more.
I became so involved in Cass's story that I had to download the sequel as soon as I finished this book. Sadly I have to wait until December for the final book of the trilogy. I highly recommend this book for YA and adults who enjoy SF & F. Some strong language but no other content that would be unsuitable for younger readers.
Lab Rat One is the second book in the Touchstone trilogy by Andrea K. Host. It is a YA science fiction novel written in the form of a diary. Cassandra Devlin is an 18 Australian who walked through a "gate" into another world. In the second book she has been on the technologically advanced world of Tare for a few months. She is now a "touchstone": someone who enhances the psychic powers of others. She has become an invaluable weapon in the continuing war of the Setari (or "psychic ninjas" as she calls them) and the Ionoth, monsters in the shattered shadow worlds that surround Tare, and which encroach on and attack their world. Cass also becomes the key to unlocking many of the mysteries on the Tareans' original home planet Muina. As her powers grow, so does the danger she is in. She also deepens her relationship with some of the Setari, including some romantic complications.
As in the first book, Cass uses on line gaming, television and SF & F references to understand and describe her experiences. This is a clever device which helps explain Cass's ability to cope with all the strangeness around her in a humorous way. It is reminiscent of Spider Robinson's SF and Host's style is similar in many ways. There is a glossary and dramatis personae in the appendix which are helpful for those unfamiliar with Australian and gamer slang or who are not as familiar with reading fantasy fiction rich in its own invented language.
I think I enjoyed this book even more than the first. Cass really grows up in this book. Her relationships deepen and develop. We learn more about, and come to care about, the other characters. Cass has difficult choices to make and frightening discoveries about herself and her growing powers. The mysteries deepen, as does the danger. Unfortunately the last book of the trilogy isn't out until December!
There is some mild sexuality and swearing but no content inappropriate for YA readers. I would recommend this book for readers who enjoy SF & F from authors such as Maria Snyder.
Alone (Vampires and the Life of Erin Rose)
by Steve Perlow
Alone is a vampire novel with some romance and a lot of mystery. It takes place in an alternate world where vampires are well known. They are divided into two groups who are at war: the Spectavi vampires, who drink synthetic blood and the Sanguans, who feed on humans.
Twenty-two-year-old Erin Rose wakes up one morning with no memory of her past and a vampire bite scar on her neck. Her investigation into the mystery of her past takes her deep into the world of the vampires.
This book has many of the familiar elements of a vampire romance, but reads more like a suspense/mystery. The book centres around Erin's search for the truth of who she is and what happened to her. The book ends on a cliffhanger, leading to the next book in the series.
Although not badly written and with an interesting premise and world-building, this book was not as enjoyable as I had hoped. Neither vampire group were particularly admirable, and the human authorities seemed either corrupt or stupid. Erin herself was so naive and gullible that I found myself getting irritated with her. Even though much of her naivete could be explained by her lack of memory her gullibility was hard to believe. I'm a bit old-fashioned. To really enjoy a novel I have to like and care for at least one of the characters. A little violence and mild sexuality. Suitable for YA readers.
Cazandra by Andrea Host is the (sadly) third and last book of the Touchstone Trilogy. I am very sad to leave the world of Cassandra and her “psychic ninja” friends. The growing relationship between Cassandra and her “ninja” as well as her growing maturity and confidence was satisfying to read. The book was suspenseful and exciting and the conclusion wrapped everything up nicely so we weren't left worrying about any of these characters that we have come to care about. Highly recommended for people who enjoy YA fantasy or science fiction or anyone who enjoys a good sf&f tale well told.
Draykon is the first of a new fantasy series by Charlotte English. It takes place in a world in which alternate worlds, full of fabulous beasts and untold dangers, are accessible through gates. The “middle” world where the main characters live, is split into lands of perpetual day and perpetual night. This novel is as much a fantasy novel set in a unique and fascinating world as it is a rousing adventure and mystery. All the characters are interesting and rich and the reader becomes involved in their stories. Although the story alternated between the points of view of Llandry and Eva, this wasn't distracting and didn't take away from the building suspense. The story ended on a cliff hanger and leaves the reader anxious for the next instalment. Recommended for readers who enjoy fantasy with a bit of a mystery element. No material inappropriate for YA readers.
Three French Hens is a collection of three short stories by Gayle Ramage which I received through Librarything Member Giveaways. I must confess that I have a fondness for Christmas anthologies. I don't mind if the stories are a bit schmaltzy or silly. It is an indulgence that I can partake in once a year, like shortbread cookies or eggnog. These stories each take their names from a Christmas carol, but for two of the stories the name of the story, and the fact that the stories take place around Christmas time, were completely irrelevant to the plots of the stories. One of the stories was a spoof on an X Factor-like talent show and on Vampire stories They read rather like skits for Saturday Night Live or another sketch comedy show and were funny, short spoofs. The third included Santa in the story but the punch line seemed to be that Santa is a whiner. The purpose seemed to be to introduce the main character, a time-traveller, who is apparently the protagonist of a future series. Altogether the stories weren't bad, and were funny spoofs of the various genres. However, readers expecting a “Holiday-themed” anthology will be disappointed.
Dreamwater is a collection of three short fantasy stories. The first, Indra’s Return
is the story of a noble who returns to take revenge on the Elven King for the death of the woman he loved. The second, World of Shells is about a boy who bravely sets out to find his sister is a world where deadly giant lizards and hungry birds of prey make being out after dark fatal. The Wolf Game is a story about Mara, a shadow woman enslaved by a ghoul and a werewolf who may or may not be on her side. These stories are all short but even so, the worlds the characters inhabit are well developed. Thoma is a promising writer and worth keeping an eye on. It would be interesting to see what she would do with a longer format.