Tag Archives: Young Adult

Rooting Out Evil: A Review of Secrets of the Under Market

Secrets of the Under Market by Krysten Harlow book cover. Image on cover shows a glowing yellow coin with yellow lights orbiting it and some sort of archaic writing on it. Title: Secrets of the Under Market

Author: Krysten Harlow

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 73 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Mortal Instruments meets Hellboy in this riveting urban fantasy series that is a prequel to the Visions of Darkness Trilogy.”

He was born into a rare demon-hunting lineage…

All his life, Max Damiano has trained with his family and waited for his arcane talent to awaken. On the morning of his fourteenth birthday, his wish is granted: he is a telekinetic.

Now he can fully take part in the family’s Work of keeping the world safe from demons, remnants of a long-gone universe, the Qlippoth, whose very existence is inimical to our world’s reality. His first assignment? To investigate the disappearance of a dozen children in the New York City area. In the center of the disappearances is the New York Under Market, a market for the arcane community run by the transglobal Underwood Corporation.

Concerned that their Market is at the center of these alarming disappearances, the Underwood Corporation hires Max and two of his siblings, Tom and Sadie, to investigate. Will they be able to catch the demonic malefactor in time?

One thing is for sure, it will not go quietly.

Review:

Content Warning: spiders, the kidnapping of human children, and the killing and dismemberment of demons. I will not mention these topics in my review.

Never underestimate a demon.

Character development is one of those writing things that can be trickier to display in a relatively short work like this one than it would be in a full-length novel. I mentioned this first so that my next sentence would have some context to it. Seeing how Max changed as a result of his adventures was delightful. He behaved just like any fourteen-year-old should as far as his emotional and cognitive development went, but I also saw exciting glimpses of the adult he would soon become. Honestly, that’s all that’s needed in the beginning of a series. I’m glad the author included them while still leaving plenty of room for further development in future instalments.

I would have preferred to see a faster pacing in this novella. There were times when my interest in it wavered because of how long it took for the next action-heavy scene to appear. Introducing the characters and setting was obviously important, but I did find myself wishing that those descpritons and conversations had been broken up more often by conflicts with demons or similar events. The author had plenty of material to work with, and I would have happily gone with a much higher rating if the pacing had been sped up.

The world building in this novella was extensive and impressive. I actually stopped reading a few chapters in to confirm that I hadn’t accidentally started halfway through the series. There was so much attention paid to the countless little details that make a fictional world come to life in my imagination that it was hard to believe this was the introduction, and I mean that in the best possible way. This isn’t an easy thing to accomplish in a prequel by any means. Ms. Harlow should be proud of how seamlessly she wove everything together.

Secrets of the Under Market made me smile.

Hidden in Plain Sight: A Review of A Terrifying Fact About Ants

A Terrifying Fact About Ants - Science Fiction Short Story by Adam Leon book cover. Image on cover shows a colony of ants crawling on each other and on some red soil. Title: A Terrifying Fact About Ants – Science Fiction Short Story

Author: Adam Leon

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 11, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 24 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Review:

“I discovered a strange relation between ants and another fascinating insect; spiders. Specifically, the Myrmarachne formicaria; the spider that looks exactly like an ant that was discovered by researchers back in 2001.

How strange it must have been to be the researcher suddenly noticing their colony of ants becoming cannibalistic. The Myrmarachne formicaria’s evolutionary convergence had the primary purpose of mimicking their prey to allow the creature to invade anthills without being attacked, allowing the creature to burrow deep into their homes and devour the larvae of their undeveloped children, and then walking away as if nothing ever happened. Terrifying, yet unbelievably fascinating.

Not only would the spider have to evolve to look exactly like the ant, but the species would also have to understand the simple psychology of ants, matching pheromones, behaviors, antennae communication etc. just to pull off this horrifying heist. How could random evolution be responsible for such deliberate manipulative complex action?

Of course, in recent years, it’s been understood that the Myrmarachne formicaria is not alone in its formation, countless other spider species have mimicked ants so well that researchers were only able to recently discover their existence through the use of DNA testing.

I started to wonder if a similar case could be applicable to human beings. Are there people among us who are not people? Are there psychological manipulators camouflaged as their prey so expertly, for the sole purpose of devouring our young and bleeding the public dry as if we were nothing more than livestock? And I’m not just talking about politicians here.

Be careful who you trust.

I have two quick notes to share about this short story before I jump into my review. First, be sure to read the introduction. It contains some important information that readers will need in order to understand what’s happening. Second, I also wanted to mention that the original Spanish version of this story is happily included in this version, too, for readers who understand that language.

Antonio, the protagonist, and John, the gringo who had recently moved to the area, had a relationship that made me chuckle. Both of these individuals made assumptions about each other that may not have been as accurate as they assumed. I was also amused by how Antonio’s gentle and trusting personality was matched by John’s fierce independence and unwillingness to trust anyone with even the smallest scraps of information about his life until he’d known them for a long time.

The implications of what John had to say about why he left the Anglo world for such a remote Hispanic community were chilling, but I found myself wishing he’d shared more details about what his life had been like before the events that drove him so far away from his original home. I’m saying this as someone who loves analogies and solving the riddles authors sometimes share in their works. It simply would have been easier for me to emotionally connect with John if I knew some basic details about his past like the names of his loved ones or the precise location of English-speaking country he’d left behind.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that explored the cultural differences between Antonio and John. For example, John thought he should pay for help by the hour while Antonio thought it made more sense to pay by the task so that workers would finish the job as soon as they could. These sorts of cultural misunderstandings can lead to all sorts of amusing miscommunications that work so well in otherwise serious works like this one. The fact that their personalities were also so different from each other as I mentioned earlier only made this aspect of it even more memorable. They had so little in common, and yet I loved seeing how both of them worked together as John built up the courage to share a small sliver of his past.

A Terrifying Fact About Ants made me shudder.

Small Town Secrets: A Review of Haunted Love

Book cover for “Haunted Love” by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Image on cover shows a ticket with the words “Admit One” printed on it. The ticket is bathed in blood-red light. Title: Haunted Love

Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: December 13, 2011

Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 33 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Spirit, Texas, is a town of secrets, and as the new owner of the local haunted movie theater, Cody Stryker is juggling more than his fair share. When a mysterious new girl comes to town and runs afoul of the ghost that lives in his theater, Cody’s caught in the middle and needs to figure out exactly who he can trust. HAUNTED LOVE is a short story by New York Times Bestseller Cynthia Leitich Smith— set in the same dark universe as her novels TANTALIZE, ETERNAL, and BLESSED. This story includes a sneak preview of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s latest novel, DIABOLICAL, which unites characters from the previous three novels in the Tantalize Series along with a fascinating cast of all-new characters for a suspenseful, action-packed clash between the forces of heaven and hell.

Review:

Content Warning: Child abuse and murder. I will not be discussing these topics in my review.

Honestly, who wouldn’t want a beautiful old movie theatre to be revived by a new owner?

This tale was filled with creative plot twists. One of the things I liked the most about it was seeing how the author played around with the audience’s expectations as well as the tropes of paranormal vampiric romances. She was clearly well-versed in this genre and knew exactly how to acknowledge the reader’s expectations without necessarily giving us what we were expecting. That’s definitely something to take note of as I haven’t found a lot of authors who are willing to bend things quite as far as she does. Her flexibility made me curious to see what else she has up her sleeves.

There was very little character development in this story. Not only would I struggle to describe how the protagonist changed as a result of his experiences, it would also be difficult for me to talk about what his personality was like in general. I couldn’t even say if he were a shy or outgoing guy, much less anything deeper about who he was or what made him tick. This made it hard to connect with him and even more difficult to get to know the secondary characters who had even fewer opportunities to display their personalities and interests. Figuring these things out was crucial for understanding certain surprises later on, so this truly was a missed opportunity to help the audience bond with the characters and notice when certain individuals didn’t seem like themselves.

I was intrigued by the world building. Spirit, Texas was described as a place that seemed to have a lot of secrets. It was fascinating to begin to piece together who was aware of which secret, and there was still so much work left to be done here by the time I finished the final scene. Still, I was satisfied with what I’d learned about this little town while also intrigued by all of the hints that had been dropped but never pieced together in a way that made sense for all of them.

Haunted Love was an inventive pick for anyone who doesn’t mind a little spookiness in their romance.

Too Old for Santa: A Review of Christmas Presence

Book cover for Christmas Presence by Tony Bertauski. Image on cover is a closeup of a man who has a white beard and moustache and is  wearing a wool hat.Title: Christmas Presence

Author: Tony Bertauski

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 31, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Holiday

Length: 25 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Worst Christmas ever.

Christmas was about traditions. Currently, Zay and her mom had about five traditions, things like gingerbread cookies and tree decorating. Not going to work.

Zay has to stay home. On Christmas. Alone.

Mom said her boss felt real bad about the whole thing so he was sending a nanny. It just keeps getting worse. She’s fourteen years old. She doesn’t need a nanny. But then the nanny shows up. She’s not really a she. Or a he.

More of an it.

The nanny shows her that it’s not really magic that makes Christmas special. It’s the adventure. And when it’s all over, she’ll never forget.

The best Christmas ever.

Review:

Teenagers don’t believe in magic, right?

Fourteen is a tough age. Zay was too old to truly get into many of the Christmas traditions she enjoyed as a little kid, but she was also a bit too young to understand why some adults get so excited to keep them going. Mr. Bertauski did a wonderful job of capturing this confusing stage of life and how it can affect not only the teenagers going through it but also everyone around them as well. I had compassion for Zay as she decided how to respond to her mother’s love of the Christmas holidays.

This short story was marketed as an introduction to a new series about retelling of classic holiday legends. Even though it was the first instalment of this series so far as I could tell, I still struggled to understand what was going on at times. There was never quite enough information about the nanny who showed up to entertain Zay or why he was so different from what she was expecting. While I did understand some parts of this universe, other portions were never quite clear to me.  I would have happily gone with a much higher rating if these things had either been explained in greater detail or if the blurb had been clear that this wasn’t necessarily something that was supposed to be a standalone read.

I was a huge fan of the author’s reinterpretation of Santa Claus as an individual as well as a mythical figure. This was where the science fiction elements of the storyline shone the brightest. They made me perk up and wonder how everything worked, especially once Santa began to reveal a little bit more about himself. There was so much creativity in these passages. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for what the author comes up with next based on how much effort he put into rethinking this classic character.

Christmas Presence was a lighthearted read that I’d recommend to anyone who is either currently a teenager or who has a teenaged loved one in their life.

Quiet Lessons: A Review of Foresight

Book cover for Foresight by Matilda Scotney. Image on cover is a planet with rings around it and three golden moons in orbit around it. Title: Foresight

Author: Matilda Scotney

Publisher: Off the Planet Books (Self-Published)

Publication Date: February 21, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Length: 61 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

 

Starlight, star bright,
The very first star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish, I wish tonight.

A metaphysical tale…

Review:

Not only are there two sides to every story, sometimes there are far more sides than that!

The subtlety of the first scene made me smile. There are precious few tales out there that are set in December but are purposefully not about Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or any other holiday that occurs during that month. I was impressed by the way the author captured the beauty that can be found at the end of the year, from the crisp, clear skies to the sharp nip of the wind as autumn slowly turns into winter. These descriptions might not seem to be related to the themes of later scenes at first glance, but give them time to grow. They have a message to share with any reader who is patient enough to keep going and to avoid making assumptions about what might happen next.

I would have liked to see more character development in this short story. It included such a large number of characters that it was difficult to get to know anyone well, much less to spend enough time with them to take note of the ways in which they were changing as a result of their experiences with the alien vessels. There was so much more space here to explore all of their personalities and backstories. If that had happened, I would have happily gone with a full five-star rating.

With that being said, I was delighted by the wide variety of perspectives the author included. I can’t say much about the alien vessels the characters were discussing without giving away spoilers, but it was fascinating to see how differently everyone reacted to them. Some characters viewed them as a threat while others had much more creative reactions to the idea that humans might not be alone in the universe after all. Absorbing everyone’s reactions to them was just as interesting as listening to the the reasons they gave for believing these visitors were anything from a security threat to a muse for creative expression.

Foresight is a must-read for anyone who appreciates thoughtful science fiction.

Family Business: A Review of Inheritance 

Title: Inheritance – A Halloween Urban Fantasy Short Story Author: Zoe Cannon Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 23, 2020 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary Length: 20 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author.  Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Lena’s grandmother defended her small town against the supernatural. So did her mother. Lena… Read More

The Loyal Companion: A Review of The Origins of Constantine

Title: The Origins of Constantine Author: D.C. Gomez Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: February 27, 2019 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 87 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: When the god Anubis needed a friend, the universe sent him the most unlikely companion: a feisty little cat.… Read More

A Review of Lux Terra – An Origin Story

Title: Lux Terra – An Origin Story Author: Zachary Hagen Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: March 9, 2021 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 10 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: This is a prequel and origin story for the world of Lux Terra featured in the upcoming… Read More

Bedroom Battle: A Review of The Teddy Bear’s War

Title: The Teddy Bear’s War Author: Alex Cross Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 17, 2021 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 9 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Every little kid is afraid of the dark in some way. The unknown scares us all to some extent.… Read More

The Last Minute Decision: A Review of Clocking Time

Title: Clocking Time Author: Mark McClure  Publisher: JFR Publishers  Publication Date: October 31, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult  Length: 31 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Two teenagers share a secret superpower: clock jumping. Confined to his house by the authorities, remote viewer Briann enters into… Read More