Thursday, October 29, 2015

YA Guy Reviews... Two Great Books!

YA Guy's drowning in paper, folks. I'm finishing up one manuscript, working on the copy-edited SCAVENGER OF SOULS, and reading a ton of freshman essays for my day job as a college teacher. Plus I've got some really cool news to report soon, and it's taking up a sizable chunk of my time as well. Hence the fact that I haven't posted anything here in a while.

But hey, that's the writer's life, right?

In addition to all of my writing projects, I've also been trying to keep up with reading. I read Ray Bradbury's classic The Martian Chronicles recently, and found it interesting--not really science fiction, since Bradbury has no real interest in the "science" part, and not at all accurate according to what we now know about the red planet, but very readable in an allegorical, philosophical kind of way. I recommend you check it out if you like thought-provoking fantasy.

I've also had the good fortune to read two amazing recent publications, one of them YA and one of them MG. Without further ado, my reviews:

It's a Wonderful Death by Sarah J. Schmitt

When the first page of a novel features the main character’s accidental death at the hands of a bumbling and overzealous Grim Reaper, you know the rest of the book’s going to be one wild ride!

And that’s exactly the case with Sarah J. Schmitt’s debut YA novel, IT’S A WONDERFUL DEATH. Chronicling the misadventures of RJ, a self-centered cheerleader who’s desperate to prove herself worthy of a second chance at life, the novel careens from laugh-out-loud humor to spiritual rumination to heartbreaking realism without missing a beat. RJ herself is a wonderful character, a teen who’s made some truly awful choices in the name of being popular but who longs to be the better self she knows she can be. The characters who surround her, including not only celestial and infernal beings but RJ’s high school friends (and enemies), keep the action rollicking and the twists turning. When RJ gets the chance to relive three key moments in her life in an attempt to show that she’s redeemable, this Dickensian (or Capraesque) plot device opens up a profound reflection on the seemingly insignificant decisions that make or break a life. But the narrative never bogs down into preachiness or pedantry; RJ’s vibrant personality and the constant one-liners keep the book fun and engaging even when it’s delving deep. And the twist at the end is both shocking and perfectly designed, closing the book on exactly the right note.

IT’S A WONDERFUL DEATH gets my highest recommendation. I can’t wait to see what other wonders Schmitt has up her sleeve!

The Inquisitor's Mark by Dianne Salerni

From a book about the afterlife, I now turn to a book about alternative time schemes. THE INQUISITOR'S MARK tells the story of Jax, an orphaned teen who discovers that he's a "Transitioner," with the magical ability to enter an eighth day situated between Wednesday and Thursday. Normal people can't enter the eighth day unless they're shackled to Transitioners, and there are other people, known as Kin, who have been imprisoned in the eighth day (thus they don't exist during the other seven) as a ward against their potential dark magic. The story delves into Arthurian legend--as well as Einsteinian relativity--to explain the origins and operations of the eighth day, creating an intoxicating mix of magic and science. And Jax's story is deeply compelling, as the parentless boy discovers the existence of a family he had no knowledge of, only to learn that they might be plotting the destruction of innocent people, normal and Transitioner alike. The moral dilemma that's set up by these revelations, as Jax and his newfound cousin must both choose between allegiance to family and responsibility to the larger world, will resonate perfectly with the book's target age group.

THE INQUISITOR'S MARK is the second book in a series that began with THE EIGHTH DAY (which I also loved); book three, THE MORRIGAN'S CURSE, comes out in January 2016. As a guy who's written a second book in a series, I know how tough such books can be; and indeed, for the first thirty pages or so, MARK is a bit overwhelming as Salerni tries to catch the reader up on not only the story's core mythology but the events that occurred in THE EIGHTH DAY. Once you get past that somewhat rough start, however, the story barrels along, delivering both excitement and pathos.  I've read many MG fantasy series, including (of course) the Harry Potter books, and I can truthfully say that Salerni's series is second to none. My son, who's in some ways an even tougher critic than I am, says it's his favorite series of all time. So there you have it.

You might not hear from me for a while (next month is NaNoWriMo, after all), but at least you'll have these two great books to keep you occupied!

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