After a serious car crash, Stefan comes round from a coma with a case of amnesia. Eva, his younger sister, is the only one who can see that Stefan is not really Stefan at all…When a strange letter arrives, written in gothic handwriting and addressed to Stefan, saying there has been a terrible mistake and signed by a mysterious ‘Hyacinthe’, the puzzle starts to unravel. Along with Eva, Stefan’s friends, Kim, Thomas, Harry, and Andrew must try to solve the mystery but to do that they will have to take part in a dangerous race, called The Game of Life.
Anna Musewald’s A Game of Life is a YA fantasy and mystery novel which draws you in from the first page. The prose is so easy to read; it is witty and enchanting and feels perfect for a YA audience. In spite of the simplicity of the language, it doesn’t feel at all patronising or one-dimensional. The ‘game’ from the title is quite complex, with lots of imaginative systems and challenging tasks set for the players which really immerses the reader in the experience. I loved the inclusion of Greek myth, such as Apollo and the Sirens, woven through the narrative. The plot is in the vein of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire which could make it seem derivative, but with an original and inventive spin, it manages to feel fresh and exciting. Meaningful themes of friendship, loyalty and bravery flesh out the fun storyline.
The pacing is excellent; I was instantly engrossed by the opening chapter and the book never let me go! We are drawn in by the question of what has happened to Stefan and led through a number of rabbit holes and strange happenings. The revelation isn’t made until the end which kept me greedily turning the pages, and there are also plenty of action scenes to keep the reader hooked until the final page.
I had total belief in the characters, who all have distinctive personalities, and I loved the way that the friendships and rivalries are portrayed, showing the tangled and complex nature of relationships. The relationship between Stefan and Eva is particularly poignant and depicts the protective and intuitive nature of sibling relationships. The dialogue is funny and clever, and the conversation seems very authentic for a group of young people.
One of the aspects that I enjoyed the most was the setting of Parsi and the fully formed ‘underground’ city created by the author which is full of fantastical and magical detail. Musewald excels at writing surroundings and conjures up place in a beguiling and descriptive way so that the reader feels as though they are on the journey with the characters.
This is a great addition to the young fiction genre, full of twists and turns, mystery and suspense; I enjoyed the journey immensely. I gobbled it up in one go, and I can’t wait for another riveting story from Anna Musewald.
Pages: 202 | ASIN: B01M0ZBKXP
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From Frights to Flaws, by Sunayna Prasad, is the first in the author’s Magical Missions series and follows the plight of Alyssa McCarthy as she discovers a magical world complete with a talking marble statue and fantastic creatures bent on saving her from a newly-discovered nemesis. Alyssa is a twelve-year-old girl living with her cousin and uncle–a man who cares for her but provides a highly regimented life of homeschooling, chores, and virtual seclusion from the outside world. When Alyssa begins to find peculiar notes around their home addressed to her, she strives to make herself noticed and validated by her uncle. Her life, and the lives of her family and friends, go from humdrum to fantastically frightening in a matter of moments.
As the first book in a series of fantasy stories, From Frights to Flaws has the potential to be a memorable read. However, as a teacher who often uses literature from all genres in my classroom, I can’t help but notice some issues with character and plot development. On several occasions throughout the reading, I felt that unique situations were brought to light too quickly without sufficient background and build-up. The author is aiming at an audience who is still developing a schema as they read, especially in the fantasy genre. It is important to be as descriptive as possible to draw in readers with elaborate explanations. I feel those explanations are missing as the setting moves from the everyday to the land of mythical creatures and magical beings. The author takes for granted that the reader is able to follow quickly and make assumptions.
I was struck early on in the reading with the similarities to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Alyssa, a wonderfully written character, is thoroughly described in the initial chapters, but loses some of her uniqueness as the book progresses.
The setting of the book is one of its more appealing aspects. The author has chosen to set Alyssa’s adventures in present times with references to tablets, iPhones, iPods and GPS navigation. This alone will attract a younger audience. The fantasy element interwoven with this modern-day setting makes for an appealing read for preteen readers. I was impressed with the growing number of fantastic creatures as the story line progressed. From dermaidens to the centidile and from Regulus, the marshakeet, to the ash-breathing adder, the author has laid out a long list of beings who can easily compete with those in any fantasy novel for preteens.
Prasad has the base for a strong work of literature for young readers, but lacks some of the well-developed background and detail I would like to see in this particular genre. Sunayna Prasad has created a story that is enthralling in many ways.
Pages: 216 | ASIN: B00EO8U7O8
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Upon entering the book, The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies, the reader is immediately greeted with an acceptance letter. Wolfgang Edwards uses this as a sort of introductory to foreshadow what is to come: you are literally stepping out of our own reality and into this new one and this letter serves to summarize that. What follows is the collections and stories of various students and characters who attend this university. Set in a fictional, sometimes bizarre, universe, Edwards explores various facets of the supernatural, blending fantasy with characters who have very human traits.
I think an interesting way to categorize this book is like taking Harry Potter to the next level. You sort of get that feel because of the setting that it’s in. It’s not magic per say, but exploring otherworldly things, some of which I was unfamiliar with before learning about it. So that’s really the closest way to describe it, although it goes far beyond that. I learned a lot because certain things piqued my interest which I honestly have never heard about before. The book is intriguing and I became more interested the more I read. One such example was a chapter titled ‘The Oneironaut’ which is based off a concept called oneironautics. I learned that this is the concept of lucid dreaming, or being able to control your dream, whether it is trying to wake up from a dream or make something happen within the dream.
The actual story is divided up into a number of different perspectives from each character. Some had more relatable stories and more developed characters than others; some were truly fantastic. It reads like a dark adventure of disconnected people that the author is able to draw together for a bigger purpose – much bigger, and much more dangerous. Throughout the various chapters, we learn of different schools within the University, from which the different characters attend. There’s the School of Coin, School of Metallurgy, School of Engineering, etc. Each school is headed by a dean; and one sticks out in particular. Dean Merkea – an unpleasant man with an ugly, tattered demon dog who even urinates on a character’s shoe at one point. My favorite chapter, Prisoner from Beyond, ties together Dean Merkea, a curator, and unravels the launch of a very unique exhibit at a museum.
Despite its setting, the author manages to piece together a few solid pieces of insight every so often that can be just as intriguing as the story. One such example was of Arakatzeko, a character who can be related to someone like Socrates today: deceased, but full of wisdom. As Araktzeko is studied, we learn alongside the characters: “the true rulers of the royal palace were the cats, who were said to live through every change in royal families without incident”. Such tangible reliefs are welcome and help humanize an otherwise crazy setting.
As the book progresses, you get a feeling it’s heading towards something – just not sure what. The unique stories of each of the characters has surely got something for everybody, admittedly some more than others. It is guaranteed to stay fresh and new until the very end, which may leave you wishing that the author could’ve just kept going.
Pages: 720 | ASIN: B01MUAKPM3
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The Sky Throne, by Chris Ledbetter, is a tale set in Ancient Greece. Zeus, a youthful prankster, finds himself entangled in a conflict that reaches the slopes of Mount Olympus itself. Living a life as an unknown, Zeus’s world changes entirely with the violent attack by an Elder deity, Hyperion. Zeus, seeking an answer for this attack, finds himself at Mount Olympus Preparatory Academia. He finds sanctuary and a temporary reprieve from the sorrow that haunts him, but trouble still follows him. Students and faculty begin to vanish from Olympus, which leaves Zeus and his peers to solve the mystery.
Ledbetter takes the best pieces of contemporary YA and gives them their own mythological flare. The academia of Harry Potter becomes the independent schools of the Mediterranean and Aegean. The survival of The Hunger Games is embodied by Zeus’s ingenuity throughout the story. Even tones of Red Rising can be felt in the opening pages of the very humble beginnings of a character we have known about for thousands of years. The breadth of the world is very thorough, and will please any Grecophile. Ledbetter covers everything from Crete to Tartarus, and all that lies in between.
These very familiar characters from mythology are made a new by being “made young” and formed into literal student roles. The twist on these old figures was one of the reasons why I kept turning the page. This, and the mystery of Zeus’s parentage, kept me enthralled with the character; especially since Zeus is a character that not only grows and changes throughout the book, but becomes endeared to the reader. For example, he consistently struggles with how to flirt with girls!
The actual pacing itself is done quite well. Within the first dozen pages, the reader feels the very real consequences of violence and aggression and the plot only gathers speed from there. It especially begins to escalate when the real threat against Olympus Prep arises and Zeus begins to show the true core of his character, to the delight of the reader.
If anything negative can be said against the plot and world building of the book itself, I would say that Ledbetter’s technical skill could use a bit of Olympus grace. While reading, I found some of the sentences awkward, while others were quite unnecessary based on context. This forced me out of the story. Beyond that, I found the dialogue to be inconsistent along the lines of pushing melodrama or self-deprecating humor. This is not to disregard the appreciation I had for his presentation of different cultures that actually did have their own way of speaking.
All of this taken into account, the reader of YA literature will not be disappointed. Following in the footsteps of Rick Riordan, yet also striking out on his own when his path diverges, is not a feat to be taken lightly. Ledbetter achieves this with brilliant originality and a story uniquely his own.
Pages: 324 | ASIN: B06W5LXJFN
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“The Taming of Adam“ follows a prickly teen named Adam. While he attends college studying black magic he goes out of control, gets arrested and is forced to face his shortcomings. What were some themes that you felt were important to highlight in this story?
This might sound horrible (probably because it is), but I’ve always been kind of interested in the school-shooter phenomenon, especially the Columbine incident. I wonder what those two young men went through and why they decided to do what they did. Did life truly not seem worth living? Did counterculture somehow help them come to their decision?
By the time I wrote “The Taming of Adam,” I already did two novels, and I decided to try something unique and risky:
A story about a man who could become a school shooter.
It didn’t have to be an urban fantasy story, but fantasy is the genre I’m most interested in. Of course, Adam’s situation is very different from a typical real-world school shooting, but he is a very antisocial guy with sociopathic tendencies–someone who might think little of going on a carnage spree. The message of the book is that you can find friends even in unlikely places, and that it’s better to indulge in the love and care of friends and family than go at the world alone. It’s corny, yes, and I’m not sure it would reach a sociopath, but it might help more than hurt.
Are you a fan of the fantasy/paranormal genre? What books do you think most influenced your work?
I’ve read a lot of fantasy books over the last few years mostly thanks to my Kindle, which can get me obscure books right at home, but before I wrote ToA, I mostly read Stephen King books and a handful of fantasy books. The works of Stephen King were a great influence, as well as Harry Potter of course, but there’s also a bit of Star Trek in there, too. I love how fantasy and horror can make for very adventurous books that break the rules of reality to be fully realized. On the other hand, to be honest, I am a little disappointed to see so many fantasy stories rely on cliches such as “The Chosen One,” “The Great Holy Artifact,” and “The Prophecy That Gives Sufficient Motivation.” These cliches can more or less cheapen a story and rob characters the chance to be endearing and relatable.
Adam starts out as an unlikable character. He’s a jerk to everyone, even his friends. What is one pivotal moment in the story that you think best defines Adam? Did any of the characters development occur organically through the story?
Adam is a pretty sensitive guy who went bad due to a bit of a traumatic experience as a child. He wants to live in his own little world where nothing and no one can hurt him, and he keeps telling himself that not even his family is important to him. But when he makes his sister cry over a matter of his own making, he gives her a hug, realizing that he wouldn’t want to be treated as he had just treated her. Another pivotal moment is when he reveals his feelings about the opposite sex to Naomi. They’re feelings he’s always been aware of, yet this is the first time he’s put them into words to anyone. If Naomi simply got disgusted and called him names, Adam would have probably stayed the same and refused to open himself up any further. But just getting his feelings out and not getting a huge backlash gave him the opportunity to reconsider his position on life. I’m not sure if any of the other characters changed with the story, but I like to think Russell was pretty brave in talking to Adam, a guy who had just assaulted him, while other people would have advised against it.
This is part 1 of “The Taming of Adam” series. Where does the story go in the next book and where do you see it going in the future?
Parts 2 and 3 are now available for digital download. In Part 2, Adam attends a school in a new city. He gets serious with a woman named Amy who gradually makes him a better person without him knowing it. But there are some people behind the scenes with a sinister agenda, and they happen to have some connection with Adam’s past. There’s another character named Ricky whose unique perspective helps to clarify things.
Part 3 is the most ambitious and epic installment of the series, involving gods and time travel, and it puts a new spin on the title “The Taming of Adam.” Can’t say much more without going into spoiler territory!
Meet Adam Taylor. He is a black mage: a magic-wielder who draws power from the essence of shadows. He is also a loner who prefers only his own company and dreams of power simply to make a living with it. He shuns and pushes away others, making him an extremely rude and antisocial miscreant. On the inside, though, he is a sensitive soul who doesn’t quite know the meaning of love and friendship.
Gene London, meanwhile, is a famous attorney who has a knack for defending difficult cases. He is also a government lobbyist who speaks to lawmakers on behalf of corporations (a normally legal profession as long as he doesn’t give lawmakers luxurious gifts … which he regularly does). Lately, he’s been seeing a mysterious person whom he calls “the lady in the mirror.” This lady claims she is trapped in another dimension, and she says that if London finds a way to free her, she will be his forevermore.
Little did Adam know, on the day he did something foolish and horrific, that he was setting himself on a course to a meeting with the dastardly Gene London … and setting in motion a series of events that will change him for better or worse.
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