What is it about high school that brings out the worst in people? The hormones, the pressure to know your future, the mind games? Probably all of the above. Zachary Ryan pens his first book in a series, High School Queens set at Johnson Prep, and complete with all the rich, narcissistic, angst filled teens that any drama queen could ask for. This story delves into a darker, edgier version of high school antics, with exhortation, blackmail, physical and emotional abuse. A One Tree Hill meets Lord of the Flies vibe.
High School Queens packs a deep emotional punch and the depth of the character’s issues are interesting and intriguing. The book tackles a myriad of issues: Alcoholism, eating disorders, self harm, family loyalty, abuse and a whole gamut of complex issues that face youth today. Zachary Ryan attributes the necessary attention to these issues with detail and heart equally. However, I felt that there was detail lacking in certain places? What does Johnson Prep look like? The picture of the story feels incomplete for the lack of setting.
Johnson Prep has a lack of diversity, which is not surprising, but the one Spanish character is poor and the one Indian character is trapped in a ultra traditional family. The cliche here is painful because the author has a clear knack for creating intriguing and well defined characters otherwise. Readers can relate to Andrew, Danielle, Aman and Delilah, root for them and become invested in their characters. The endless cattiness and shallowness by the Marked Queen starts as fun and entertaining but gets repetitive where I would have liked to see creative twists.
The climax of High School Queens is set against the back drop of prom, but the character’s stories don’t all end on the same note and there were some surprises that were developed and unveiled superbly. There is a cliffhanger that sets up for the continuation of Johnson Prep’s students but for next installment of High School Queens to match the high bar set here I expect to see more flavor, humor and twists.
Pages: 311 | ASIN: B07PXFZVLF
Choker by Bob Moseley is the “coming of age” tale of basketball-obsessed Mark Chamberlain who, in the course on one year went from being the black sheep of his high-school’s basketball team to team captain.
A Clifton High student, Mark Chamberlain misses an all-important throw in the final seconds of a game, which costs his team a championship victory and gets him the nickname “the choker”. However, with help from coach Antonelli and his new girlfriend Su Metha, Mark is slowly getting over the setback and dedicates himself to training hard for the next season. His love for basketball helps him deal with heartache and pain and, after becoming team co-captain, he gets better and better at the game and ends up leading his teammates to victory.
This Young Adult book deals with a lot of issues that are important for teenagers nowadays: race issues, balancing school work and sports, bullying along with social media bullying, and dealing with loss, but also touches on the positive aspects of life, like the book hero’s first love, overcoming obstacles, bettering yourself through hard work. It definitely holds a lot of lessons for the reader, and teenagers and young adults will relate to the characters. The writing is alert and quite visual, and keeps the reader connected to the characters and interested in their evolution. Some of the pages are quite moving, such as the chapters that describe the death and the funeral of Mark’s father. I liked Mark’s character development, but I felt that the other characters were black and white, they were either good or bad. I would of appreciated more nuance.
The abundance of details related to basketball was a little overwhelming at times, for instance the descriptions of some of Mark’s games, a lot of information about game strategies and techniques, or about famous players. Any avid fan of basketball will appreciate the interesting facts and minute by minute break down of the games. This is an engaging and thought provoking coming of age basketball story that is sure to appeal to teens and sports fans.
Pages: 193 | ASIN: B07GX8B4T2
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Four Years of Despair by Jalesa Morrison is a youth/teenage story that touches upon sensitive topics, such as mental health, bullying, and family issues. Jaunell Morris is a teenage girl that doesn’t fit in at school or at home, and has a lot of issues. She has trouble communicating with her family, her teachers and with making friends. Everyone around her is baffled by her outbursts and her violent episodes. Her school gives up on her and she is transferred to a different school, where things get even worse.
Jaunell is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and she is in and out of hospitals all the time. Her situation is made worse by her parents’ bad marriage, her poor relationship with her older sisters and the rejection she feels from her extended family. Her only ally is her grandmother, and one of the nurses from the hospital where she’s treated. Eventually, the nurse is the one that helps her secure a place at a much better mental health treatment facility. These are heavy emotional issues, but the book ends on a hopeful note.
This book has the courage to shed light on a lot of difficult issues: mental health in teenagers, dysfunctional families, poverty, lack of access to proper education, social services and healthcare. It’s an authentic and powerful radiography of our society and how its most vulnerable members (youth, minorities, poor people) have the cards stacked against them.
The devastation that mental health issues bring into a person’s life is depicted well inJaunell’s story. However, sometimes I felt that the insights into Jaunell’s motivations, actions and reactions are not detailed enough. The book would have benefited from a deeper incursion into the complexities of Jaunell’s mental issues. I would’ve also liked to have read more about Jaunell’s mother and her relationship with her grandmother. The details of their relationship could’ve provided more insight on the family dynamics and how it affected Jaunell.
As someone who has experienced living with a person who is bipolar I would definitely recommend reading Four Year of Despair by Jalesa Morrison as this book is a real eye opener as to what people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder go through in their day to day activities. This book would be a great influence to teens who are going through this but may be confused as to why they handle their emotions different than others.
Pages: 234 | ASIN: B07R5DKMMZ
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The Scented Bones follows a young forensic anthropologist thrown into the middle of a feud between vampires and werewolves. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thrilling story?
The Godfather by Mario Puzo. When I was in college, taking an English class, most essays and books were boring until the professor chose his book. The book inspired discussions and gained attention of the students. It had power and I wanted to have similar power over my readers with my writing.
This book has been in the works for more than 5 years. It has gone through 5 drafts, including Angel being a university student and main character to be Rayne and not Gage. However, that draft seemed to read more like about street gangs and so I worked hard to make it more like mafia families.
The Scented book is the first in the series and in every book I’ll introduce more characters and families. Hopefully, my books will inspire readers to read more and even try their hand at writing.
Angel is an intriguing character that I enjoyed following. What were some themes you wanted to capture in her character?
I didn’t want her to be perfect. I wanted her to be smart but timid. Serious but with surprising funny moments. I wanted her to tread carefully when it comes to relationships and focus on the job. But, what I wanted to show was how she looked at magic. Of how she was afraid of what she was and what she could do.
I enjoyed the backstory and mythology embedded in this world between the vampires and werewolves. What were some sources of inspiration that helped you create this world?
Most inspiration came from the characters themselves. Originally all characters were mundanes and as the book progressed into the paranormal, the characters became their other selves. When I was re writing them, I was thinking that if they weren’t paranormal born, how would they shift if bitten? How would they act if they were born?
I tried staying away from other paranormal books about vampires and werewolves to keep my characters original.
Where will the next book in The Svabodina Case Files pick up and when will it be available?
The next book will pick up a couple of weeks after the last scene in The Scented Bones with a new case. The new case will involve a serial killer.
At the moment, I have about 20 chapters written. I’m going back to editing these chapters before finishing the book because I have to add information to the already written ones in order to write the scenes with the actual killer. It is a lot of work and I have a chapter summary file that I go back to for each chapter. I’m tracking dates, character appearances, etc.
I’m not sure when it will be out, hopefully next year. The Scented Bones has been republished by a publisher! So, I’ll work closely with the publisher for book 2 as well. It’s super exciting! Book 2 is titled – The Puzzle of Bones.
Angel Svabodina is a rookie forensic anthropologist, enjoying the beginning of her new career. That joy comes crashing down when she figures out the skeleton she’s working on is not human and then it vanishes.
She throws herself fully into the case without thinking about the parties involved, a psychopomp associate, and paranormal mafia families made up of vampires and werewolves—or the consequences.
When she sees there’s no avoiding the inevitable, Angel has to suck it up and work with the werewolves to solve the case but can she trust them?
Werewolves and witches are in a centuries-old feud, but that doesn’t stop the shivers running down her spine from one wolf in particular. Rights and wrongs become blurred, as she is tormented by her past and accepting who she truly is while searching for the skeleton. What’s more, nothing comes for free, including information. To get what she needs from the werewolf don, Angel has to meet with the fae queen. Can she meet her without repercussions and solve the case?
Posted in Interviews
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My Name is Erin, and my Mom’s an Addict by Amy Voltaire is the story of Erin Whitaker, a fifteen-year-old girl whose mother is a heroin addict. Erin went to live with her grandparents when she was five, after her mother left. When Erin got home from school one day, her mother was gone and never came back. Ten years later Erin’s mother has reentered her life. She’s finally gotten clean and wants to have a relationship with her daughter. Though reluctant, Erin allows her mother back into her life. But when she relapses, will Erin’s anger cause her to lose all the other people in her life as well?
This story focuses on the effects of drug addiction, not just on the addict, but on the other people in their life, children especially but also siblings and friends and even parents-in-law.
I really enjoyed reading this book. Despite the dark theme of substance abuse and drug addiction, there were bits of humor in the story. The author had an engaging writing style. And I really liked the main character, Erin. The whole book was written from her point of view, so I always knew what she was thinking and feeling and why she acted out at times. I didn’t like that Erin kept getting angry about the situation with her mother and taking it out on other people, who were not the source of her anger. But the author offered compelling motivation for her actions, and Erin worked to improve her anger-management issues.
I liked the relationships portrayed in this story, especially between Erin and her best friend, Grace, and Erin and her boyfriend, George, who also acted as a good friend to her. And Erin’s grandparents did not just see caring for her as a duty. Even when she was difficult, they loved her, and they enjoyed having her living with them. Their interactions were funny and sweet. I loved the way Erin acted with Sweetie, a chihuahua poodle mix.
Although the story did not have a conclusive ending, it was hopeful. I believe this story is a realistic portrayal of the realities of life for children affected by drug addiction, and even though it is a work of fiction, this book will resonate with people who are going through a similar situation.
Pages: 250 | ISBN: 1939696496
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What starts off as just another teenager-focused bully story quickly shows its teeth to reveal something decidedly darker. The fear and emotion felt by the main protagonist seem both plausible and real, and the dysfunctional home life that he is forced to live through is also crafted to feel quite genuine.
We learn early on in this dark urban fantasy novel that Davey was forced by his difficulties to mentally escape into worlds of movie characters that he looked up to. He imagined himself overcoming his difficulties in a similar way that heroes from his favorite movies had, and it made him feel good to think that he could live in someone else’s shoes.
It doesn’t take long for Davey to find the escape he was looking for. What he found was something he never would have thought possible.
The world that Davey finds seems perfect to him. He cannot see any of the violence, abuse, or bullying that tortured him up to the point of finding ‘Cardboard City’. What he does see is a tight-knit community of kids living free from adult oppression. They govern themselves and seem to have a good hold on how to get things done, their way. Davey quickly feels right at home with his new friends. Friends that he would change his life forever.
As time goes on, Davey and the other kids grow up, but they stay connected to one another in a variety of ways. The connections that show up throughout the story between characters, and how their individual stories interconnect is impressively crafted.
Lord has a talent for characterization and building believable interactions between characters like no other. The reader is taken for a ride through several lives as they search for a deeper meaning and it is a pleasure to follow them and experience what they do.
The writing is simple yet has plenty of the details necessary to set a scene and show the inner-workings of the characters. One can easily get a feel for where you are, who is involved with each scene, and what events are unfolding. The pace is steady, as well, making for a story that is difficult to put down.
Myrrendryl by Kirby Lord, is a first novel by the incredible author, but you would never know that. If you like dark fantasy stories that questions the fabric of our reality, Myrrendryl is a must read.
Pages: 400 | ASIN: B07MXZQ9QW
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Soul Dark: Chosen thrust readers into the middle of a war between deities and demons that determines the fate of mankind. How did the premise for the story begin and how did it change as you were writing?
As we began, it started out as a simple good vs evil story. But it had to be more. What if you weren’t sure who was good or who was evil? Caught up in a world of hurt, can a person be expected to see through the pretenders? By the end, we realized that at a cosmic level, we are all just pawns of our beliefs, but also that those same beliefs can make us stronger or carry us through our darkest moments in life. We wanted something close to home, in rural Iowa. For our setting, we used memories of our grandparents farm.
What was the collaboration like between you and A.M. Wade on this novel?
I ( E. L. ) wrote the first draft, then we ripped it apart and put it back together. I am a terrible typist and have created a great number of useless words, which made it all the more fun. But We’re also weave-writers. We like to blend our ideas and changes. We also edited one another’s work and caught the plot holes. It was a lot of work but it was fun.
Lukas is an interesting and well developed character. What were some obstacles that you felt were important to his character development?
We kind of formed him after ourselves as teenagers. In HS we were quite often oblivious to the attention of others. With the tremendous powers Lukas had at such a young age, we wanted to make his every obstacle either challenge that power on equal or greater footing, or be a challenge where such gifts did not matter. Otherwise he could easily have grown into quite the psycho–though I doubt Sabine would have allowed that.
Do you plan to continue this story in a second book? If so, where would that book take readers?
We’re knee-deep in book two. The first act is about letting Lukas know exactly how much help he had in book one. (To build his character and to attract the attention of his new teacher, we had to make him feel quite alone, abandoned by all – Sorry bout that, Lukas.) The rest will tell us about his Grandma Helen, when she first came to the farm, fell in love, and first battled an all too familiar demon. Also more background on the mysterious stranger who tried throughout Soul Dark: Chosen to warn Lukas and Helen of what was to come.
War is coming between Lukas’ Goddess and an ancient Demon Lord. But the death of his parents shakes his faith, and with the loss of his remaining family it is shattered. Blinded by rage, Lukas turns away from his friends and trains under a deceptive, yet formidable master to hone his magic and prevent the demon’s final objective–obliteration of all life on earth.
War begins! A forged weapon, Lukas rejoins his friends and sets after the Demon King. From a hidden crypt, where evil lies waiting, to the Iowa countryside, they battle to prevent the end of all they know. Lukas must overcome his doubts and allow the Light to work through him–to defeat both the foe of his Goddess and a new more familiar one.
Soul Dark: Chosen is a coming of age tale in the modern-day world when a war between ancient deities and demons culminates in a winner-takes-all battle that could determine the fate of all mankind.
Posted in Interviews
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Amika is a senior in high school, looking forward to graduating and being done with high school. She is the run of the mill kid, not in with the cool kids, not the kid that gets picked on. Everything is status quo, till the Welkins family arrive. Soon Amika, and her friends Nikki and Andrew, become friends with Rhayne, Quade, Damien and Trinity, as well as their “aunt” Suzanne. But Amika finds out that the family is not as it seems, they’re actually vampires. Dating and falling in love with Rhayne introduces Amika to the fact there are multiple worlds that coexist on different planes. From these worlds different creatures like demons can enter the human world and cause trouble. How can Amika and Rhayne develop a relationship being so different? Can Amika understand the unique situation that Rhayne and his family are in?
When I started reading this novel, my first thought was oh, another vampire book. Oh, look this family shows up out of nowhere and they are amazingly attractive. However, after this introduction to the Wilkins family, the similarities to other teen romance vampire novels ends. I was pleasantly surprised to find unique character makeups, a completely different plot structure than I usually see with teen romance or vampire stories. Celeste Eismann has developed a world where vampires and other paranormal figures exists but the twists, she puts into it with Forgotten by the Sun makes her novel unique. This is also the first in a series, so I’m interested to see where the next book takes readers.
The is a relationship between Nikki, Andrew, and Amika is similar to what you would find in close knit friends. Nikki and Andrew are always at each other and Amika is the peacemaker. This sets up the story for how Amika ends up interacting with characters later in the novel. Amika wants to help, she wants to fix things. It is in her nature to go out and ignore her own well-being. Amika is a very complex character and the foreshadowing in the novel indicates she is going to do important things in later books.
Rhayne and his family are interesting, and we get some of their back stories of how they became vampires and where they’re from. They also have their own quarks, especially Quade. I suspect some of the internal conflicts that are eluded to will take center stage in later novels. Overall this novel felt like an introduction to a bigger series that is yet to come. You meet all the key players and get some background, but the novel ends just as the real excitement begins.
Pages: 1543955282 | ISBN: 1543955282
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Chasing the Red Queen opens with the recently turned 18-year-old Donja, a self-proclaimed goth who is uprooted from the normalcy of teenage life. Her mother remarries, giving Donja a new home, a new father and a new stepsister. What starts out as an angsty teens tribulations quickly shifts to darker elements as violent murders begin to hit close to home. New characters emerge, friendships are made, and lovers unite exposing a history of supernatural elements and family secrets Donja never expected.
Karen Glista offers an urban fantasy with a dash of crime, horror and steamy romance all set to the backdrop of vampire lore. A perfect weekend read for those favoring the genre. The author also provides new components to these otherwise over told stories with well researched historical content and fleshed out explanations for the mystical aspects. The mix of first nation cultural and detailed locational history give a fresh twist to this vampire romance which kept me intrigued to the very end.
I found Donja to be likable as the main character. Although the constant reminder of her gothic reputation is repeated one too many times, otherwise her emotional response and reactions are believable throughout the story. I adored the character development between Donja and her stepsister Makayla, from beginning to end they share a bond that unites them through a roller-coaster of emotional events.
Unlike Donja, where she shines in the first half of the book, her counterpart Torin unfolds as the main player towards the end of the book. Once Torin takes center stage I found myself more invested in his story and the account of his mysterious past as well as that of his kind.
I felt that the timeline was a little vague; how much time did everything take, was it days, hours, weeks? I also felt that their were quick leaps in character changes (ie. Frankie, I didn’t know what was happening to him until it was already over). These are the only minor things holding the book back.
However, the story surprised me with well thought out action scenes and gritty dialog. While some secondary characters faded into the background a few shown through and had my full attention. Chasing the Red Queen is a quick read with an equally fast-paced plot, yet will still give the reader enough time to establish a connection to the story, characters and paranormal features.
Pages: 277 | ASIN: B079KJFJW8
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There aren’t many books that I’ve read that I would have a difficult time placing within a specific genre, or at least spanned across a couple of distinct styles. The Fantastic Inner Life of an American Teenager, however, is a work that is in a class of its own, and that’s a good thing.
Part fiction, part reality, and pretty much all intensely inventive and imaginative, this real-life diary written by a teenage girl about some of the hopes and dreams that she had reveals multiple levels of the author’s reality. In fact, this book is the work of a girl named Desiree, AKA YAEL, who experienced a childhood and adolescence worlds apart from what many view as ‘normal’.
According to the editor, Regine Dubono (The author’s mother), YAEL suffered from mental illness from a young age and found family life to be a challenge. Due to those difficulties in coping with everyday events, the author was quickly labelled and placed within a mental hospital where she would be medicated to the point of losing much of her happiness and contentment that she had known before. What’s more is that due to the reaction of the medical staff charged with caring for Desiree, that same medication severely hampered her natural skill and talent as a playwright.
This book opens a window into the heart of the author and shows us just how incredibly talented she was. Her clarity in purpose while creating the scenes of her play are engaging and honest, and each line seems like a well-thought-out continuation of thoughts nurtured over time.
That said, it does take a bit of work to follow the trains of thought through to the end as there are several threads which are interwoven throughout the screenplay. There are references and concepts that jump in from out of the blue but once the writer’s mind and process is better understood, taking in this work becomes much smoother. It is different for sure, and it is eye-opening in many ways. If you are one to relish taking in the personality of the authors you read, The Fantastic Inner Life of an American Teenager will provide a full serving.
I would have appreciated footnotes and information from the editor that would have helped provide more background for certain times throughout the authors life while this diary was being written. I couldn’t help but think that I was missing pieces of vital information while reading. Other than that, this is an impressive work from an even more impressive teenage author.
Pages: 120 | ISBN: 9781312599161
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