Wednesday, January 18, 2017

YA Guy Celebrates... QUEEN OF CHAOS by Kat Ross!

One of YA Guy's favorite recent YA fantasy series, the Fourth Element trilogy by Kat Ross, wraps up today with the release of QUEEN OF CHAOS! If you've read the first two books--or even if you haven't--you should definitely check out this wildly imaginative, richly detailed historical fantasy. (And to make it easy on you to start reading the series, the first book, THE MIDNIGHT SEA, is available on Amazon for free.) Read below for more information about Kat and her books!

Persepolae has fallen.
Karnopolis has burned.

As the dark forces of the Undead sweep across what remains of the empire, Nazafareen must obey the summons of a demon queen to save Darius's father, Victor. Burdened with a power she doesn't understand and can barely control, Nazafareen embarks on a perilous journey through the shadowlands to the House-Behind-the-Veil. But what awaits her there is worse than she ever imagined…

A thousand leagues away, Tijah leads a group of children on a desperate mission to rescue the prisoners at Gorgon-e Gaz, the stronghold where the oldest daevas are kept. To get there, they must cross the Great Salt Plain, a parched ruin occupied by the armies of the night. A chance encounter adds a ghost from the past to their number. But will they arrive in time to avert a massacre?

And in the House-Behind-the-Veil, Balthazar and the Prophet Zarathustra discover that they have more in common than meets the eye. But is it enough to salvage the necromancer's bloodstained soul and thwart his mistress's plans?

As a final showdown looms between Alexander the Great and Queen Neblis, the truth of the daevas' origins is revealed and three worlds collide in this thrilling conclusion to the Fourth Element series.

Book #2, Blood of the Prophet:
Book #3, Queen of Chaos:

About the author:

Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She's the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day, the Fourth Element fantasy series (The Midnight Sea, Blood of the Prophet, and Queen of Chaos), and the new Dominion Mysteries. She loves myths, monsters, and doomsday scenarios. For more information about Kat's books, come visit her at or check out her Amazon author page. You can also find her hanging around in these places:

To celebrate her launch, Kat’s giving away 10 ebooks of The Daemoniac!

It's the summer of 1888 and a bizarre killer is stalking the gas-lit streets of New York. But are the murders a case of black magic--or simple blackmail? From the high-class gambling dens of the Tenderloin to the glittering mansions of Fifth Avenue, consulting detective Harrison Fearing Pell follows a twisted trail of lies, treachery and madness that might end much closer to home than she ever imagined.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

YA Guy Talks about... Diversity in YA Literature!

YA Guy originally planned this post for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but then I decided to celebrate the holiday with my family instead of blogging. So….

The movement for diversity in YA literature is going strong, with readers, authors, and publishers searching for stories that feature characters representing various racial and ethnic groups, sexual identities, physical and mental abilities, and more. That’s great, and YA Guy hopes the movement continues to grow.

Lots of questions remain contested, however. Can writers from one racial/ethnic/other group write about (or from the perspective of) characters from another group? Should books that play into stereotypes (about Muslims, for example) be published—and when they are, should they be protested? What about when reviewers, as in the recent scandal involving VOYA magazine, reinforce stereotypes about non-dominant groups? Must all YA books strive for diversity?

I was thinking about this when I read a Kirkus review of S. L. Duncan’s latest book in the Gabriel Adam series, a YA fantasy trilogy about teens who discover they’re reincarnated angels, just in time to save the world from demonic forces. The reviewer, clearly missing the fact that one of the teen archangels is Iranian and another African, sniped that the cast consists solely of characters who are “apparently white.” I found a similar misconception in a Kirkus review of my most recent novel, Scavenger of Souls; writing of the biracial character Mercy, the reviewer opined that Mercy is “notable for her dark skin in an otherwise predominantly white cast.” Clearly, this reviewer missed the fact that Mercy’s mother is African, and her brother and sister biracial; that the character Wali is described as bronze-skinned and curly-haired; that the character Soon has an Asian name; that the character Nekane has a Hispanic name; and so on. I was striving for a multiracial, multiethnic cast in this novel, my reasoning being that, after the wars that decimated much of the human population, the few who survived would likely represent a spectrum of races, ethnicities, and nationalities. I had hoped that readers would pick up on this, but this reviewer, at least, did not.

The issue here, clearly, goes beyond careless reviewing (which, to be fair, is a function of how many YA books industry reviewers have to keep up with). Readers schooled in dominant traditions and aesthetics often assume that all characters are white, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc. unless these characters are overtly “marked” otherwise. But if a character's "difference" isn't essential to the story, should such characters be so marked? If the writer doesn’t call attention to the skin color of white characters, should the writer invariably do so in the case of nonwhite characters? I wrestled with this question in the case of Scavenger of Souls, and eventually I decided that in Mercy’s case, I needed to “flag” her racial ancestry so that readers wouldn’t miss the fact that she and my protagonist, the blond-haired and blue-eyed Querry Genn, form an interracial team. In other instances, though, I left it to readers to draw their own conclusions. In my forthcoming novel Freefall, a science fiction story with a multinational cast including a central relationship between a white teen from the industrial West and an Asian teen from the developing world, I’m reasonably confident that no one will mistake the characters’ racial or cultural backgrounds. But readers were confounded—and in some cases outraged—to discover that Rue from The Hunger Games is black, so you never know.

I personally believe that writers have a responsibility to present the world in its actual diversity. But I also believe there’s an equal responsibility on the side of readers, who have to be willing to read against preconceptions and discover the diversity in the author’s invented world. Working together, authors and readers can help move us toward an acceptance of difference. I get the feeling we’re going to need this more and more in the coming years.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

YA Guy Reviews... The Revelation Saga by S. L. Duncan!

You’d think that, as YA Guy, I could predict which YA books are going to be big hits and which aren’t.

You’d be wrong.

Other than the obvious (books by well-known authors and/or those with enormous marketing budgets behind them), I’m often as puzzled as anyone by the fate of a particular YA book. Some that I think are mediocre or downright bad become bestsellers, while others that I think are fantastic gain only a modest readership. It’s just the nature of the game, I guess; different readers react differently to different books, and even the marketing folks in the publishing world don’t always know what’s going to take off and what isn’t.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s post: the Revelation Saga by S. L. Duncan, a contemporary fantasy trilogy about teens who discover that they’re reincarnated archangels, returned to the mortal realm just in time to battle the forces of darkness for the fate of the cosmos. I’ve read the first two books—The Revelation of Gabriel Adam (2014), in which the title character discovers his ancestry and joins the fight against the demonic hordes, and The Salvation of Gabriel Adam (2015), in which the teen archangels face an even more serious threat in the form of the demon Lilith—and I thought they were both terrific. But they’re not gaining the wide readership I believe they deserve.

There are lots of books out there about teen angels, most of them in the paranormal romance or urban fantasy subgenres, and maybe the Revelation Saga got lost in the shuffle. But in my view, Duncan’s books are superior to most of their competitors for at least two reasons:

First, Duncan is well versed in a variety of topics—biblical and apocryphal texts, early Church history, contemporary Vatican politics, the geography of the Holy Lands—that enable him to develop a convincing cosmology. There’s nothing preachy or pedantic about the presentation of this material—it’s all done in the service of story, so, for example, there are no long-winded history lessons dropped into the middle of the action—but the background of authenticity makes the Gabriel Adams books seem less like pure fantasy than like a plausible history of the End Times.

Second, Duncan isn’t afraid to delve into material that’s disturbing or, in some cases, truly horrifying. In the second book, for example, Gabe is traumatized by the violence he witnessed (and inflicted) in the first book, and he's also suffering a slow, painful physical decline. In this respect, Duncan's books remind me of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, which similarly refuses to shrink from the hideous realities of war, even if the war itself is fantasized.

If this sounds like your kind of thing, I advise you to run out and grab the first book in the Revelation Saga. (I recently ordered the concluding book, The Evolution of Gabriel Adam.) Together, maybe we can give Duncan's compelling books the recognition they deserve.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

YA Guy... Looks Back at 2016!

It's been an exciting year for YA Guy, writing-wise and otherwise. Before moving on to 2017, I thought I'd review some of the highlights from 2016.

Writing stuff. The big news this year was the publication of Scavenger of Souls, the sequel to Survival Colony 9. This novel completes the two-part Survival Colony series (though in the back of my evil little brain, I'm thinking of writing a prequel). If you're a teacher or librarian, you can still enter my great Scavenger of Souls giveaway, which runs throughout 2017. And if you're a reader of any kind, you can get pumped for the release of my new novel, the deep space adventure/romance Freefall, which comes out in 2017.

Other writing stuff. In addition to visiting schools and book fairs, I attended several very cool YA conferences this year, including YA Fest in Indiana and the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) conference in Pittsburgh. It was great meeting other YA authors, librarians, and fans!

Family stuff. I did a lot of vacationing this year, including a trip to Austin to see the X Games with my daughter, a family trip to Niagara Falls, and another family vacation to the U.S. Virgin Islands for a week of snorkeling, snoozing, and sunning. Plus, as research for a novel I'm planning, I drove down to Maryland to visit the Kennedy Farmhouse, where John Brown trained his troops prior to his assault on Harpers Ferry.

Random stuff. I went to some cool concerts this year, including the Who and Bruce Springsteen, which I attended with my son (his first rock concert). I also read exactly 50 books, many of them YA, the best of which are featured in this post.

I'm sure I did some other stuff too, but that's enough for now. Happy New Year to everyone, and YA Guy's looking forward to seeing you in 2017!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

YA Guy Gives Away... a Ton o' Books!

YA Guy reads a lot of books. (It's in the job description.) But alas, YA Guy doesn't have unlimited shelf space, so I give a lot of my books away. It's more fun to share anyway!

Today, as an end-of-year treat, I'm giving away TEN books (mostly YA, though a few would probably count as MG) to one lucky reader. (U.S. addresses only.) All you have to do is enter the Rafflecopter thingy below, which I've made as streamlined as possible so you don't have to plow through twenty-seven different entry options, and on December 30, I'll choose a grand prize winner. Easy-peasy, no?

Here are the great books you can win, listed in reverse alphabetical order by author's last name:

The Daemoniac by Kat Ross. A YA mystery/horror set in late 19th-century New York, where grisly murders that might be demon-inspired are investigated by a young detective.

Flashfall by Jenny Moyer. YA science fiction about a world in which radioactive fallout has produced a society sharply divided between the "naturals" who live in protected cities and the "subpars" who mine the minerals near the deadly flash curtain.

Incognita by Kristen Lippert-Martin. The second book in a YA technothriller series about a girl whose memories have been surgically altered and the hacker who assists her in tracking down the villains.

The Whisper trilogy by Dana Faletti. Three YA paranormal romance novels about teen angels, including Whisper, Wake, and War & Wonder.

The Salvation of Gabriel Adam by S. L. Duncan. The second book in a great YA fantasy trilogy about teen archangels. I'm finishing this book up now, and I'll have a review on the site soon.

Tangled Lines by Bonnie J. Doerr. An eco-mystery involving teens who investigate the slaughter of pelicans in the Florida Keys.

The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz. Based on a true story of two young boys from Guatemala who set out on a perilous journey to the United States

Scavenger of Souls by Joshua David Bellin (yes, that's me). I mean, why not? I've got extras, and it brings the giveaway to an even ten.

So here's the aforementioned Rafflecopter thingy. Enjoy, good luck, and see you in 2017!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 19, 2016

YA Guy... Says It with a Smile!

YA literature is full of cliches, and YA Guy's seen 'em all. (Wait, was that a cliche?)

There are plot cliches (teen resistance leader, armed only with a medieval weapon, defeats the technologically-advanced Empire), character cliches (kick-butt heroine! brooding hero! implausibly motivated villain!), symbol cliches (parental hand-me-down with astonishing magical powers). There are also sentence- or word-level cliches, expressions so overused it's hard to find a YA novel without them. I pointed out one such cliche in a previous post ("I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding"), and I'd like to address another today.

This one goes something like: "His smile didn't reach his eyes," or "She smiled, but it didn't touch her eyes." Lots of smiles out there in YA Land that don't make it to the smiler's optic apparatus.

You know you've seen this before. Maybe you've even written it. (I have.) But I think it's time to stop.

I get what the writer's saying. I really do. It sounds silly--as if it were possible for the corners of one's lips to penetrate the cheeks and make physical contact with the eyes--but I do understand that's not what's being implied. The implication is that this is an insincere smile, or a smile without real joy, a perfunctory smile that conveys just the opposite. It's the kind of smile you give your boy/girlfriend when you're ready to break up with him/her, or the kind you throw at your companion right before you jump off a cliff, armed only with a medieval weapon, into a nest of flesh-eating guggernauts. Since it doesn't reach the eyes, and since the eyes (according to another cliche) are the windows to the soul, it's not a very smiley smile. I do get that.

But aren't there other, equally good, or even better ways to say this? Couldn't one describe the smile in more concrete terms? Or couldn't one dispense with the smile and describe some other, more interesting character action that conveys the same thing? Or, heck, if you've done a good job setting the scene and characterizing the characters, do we really need to be told that the character is less than delighted to be taking a plunge into that nest of guggernauts? Shouldn't we be able to figure this out ourselves?

YA Guy thinks so, anyway.

So let's save the smiles, genuine or not, for when they're really needed. Chances are you'll find they're not needed much at all. Surely, at moments of high tension, people can be doing something more captivating than smile at each other, whether they really mean it or not.

I'll make an exception, of course, for when someone's smile actually does reach their eyes. You never know with those guggernauts. They've got really big mouths.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

YA Guy Picks... His 2016 Top Ten!

It wouldn't be the holidays without YA Guy's yearly Top Ten list!

Here, in no particular order (and with no buy links, because I'm celebrating, not selling), are the 10 YA and MG novels I enjoyed most during this past year!

Kat Ross, The Midnight Sea. The first book in an exotic, wondrous alt-historical fantasy featuring genies and the handlers who control (and love) them.

Dianne Salerni, The Morrigan's Curse. The last and best book in the Eighth Day series. And the first two books are among the best MG fantasy I've ever read.

Amy Allgeyer, Dig Too Deep. A contemporary YA about mountaintop removal coal mining and one teen's crusade to stop it in her ailing grandma's small town.

Parker Peevyhouse, Where Futures End. Almost impossible to classify, this collection of linked sci-fi/fantasy stories is sure to surprise.

Jeffry W. Johnston, The Truth. A tense thriller about the cost of lies and the bonds of family. I sped through it in a single night.

Chris Howard, Night Speed. One of my favorite YA science fiction authors, Howard tells an exciting, morally complex tale of a teen special agent who hunts drug-enhanced criminals--and who has to take the same highly addictive drug to track them down.

Eliot Schrefer, Rescued. The third book in Schrefer's planned "ape quartet," this one focuses on an American teen who comes to recognize that his childhood pet orangutan deserves to be returned to the wild.

Margo Kelly, Unlocked. When the main character is hypnotized at a town fair, she starts to see and hear strange things. Is she going crazy, or are there even more sinister, demonic forces at work?

Siobhan Vivian, The List. This book wasn't published in 2016 (though another enjoyable Vivian novel, The Last Boy and Girl in the World, was). But The List, a story of how compulsory standards of beauty affect a group of high school girls, is the Pittsburgh author's best and most disturbing work.

Joshua David Bellin, Scavenger of Souls. Where is it written that I can't include my own novel in my Top Ten list? But seriously, I loved writing this concluding book in the Survival Colony series, and I couldn't resist!

So there you have it, folks! Happy reading, and I'll see you in 2017!


YA Guy