Monday, December 30, 2013

YA Guy Recommends... Books from Darkly Delicious YA!

YA Guy's joined a new group, Darkly Delicious YA! A collective of traditionally published YA authors, we're into genres like paranormal, urban fantasy, contemporary, and science fiction, and we're all about telling stories that will keep you wanting more. Check out our website for a full listing of authors and titles--and see below for Darkly Delicious YA titles available for purchase now!

Curl up with today's hottest YA novels!

 .99 cents

Read EMBRACE today: Amazon | Barnes&Noble
How for would you go to save the people you love? 

Madison is familiar enough with change, and she hates everything about it. Change took her long-term boyfriend away from her. It caused one of her friends to suddenly hate her. It’s responsible for the death of a local along with a host of other mysterious happenings. But when Madison meets a hot new guy, she thinks her luck is about to improve.

Madison is instantly drawn to the handsome and intriguing Isaac Addington. She quickly realizes he’s a guy harboring a secret, but she’s willing to risk the unknown to be with him.

Her world really spins out of control, however, when her best friend becomes delusional, seeing things that aren’t there and desperately trying to escape their evil. When the doctors can’t find the answers, Madison seeks her own.

Nothing can prepare her for what she is about to discover.

Read REAPING ME SOFTLY today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Ever since a near-death-experience on the operating table, seventeen-year-old Arianne Wilson can see dead people. Just as she’s learned to accept her new-found talents, she discovers that the boy she’s had a crush on since freshman year, Niko Clark, is a Reaper.

At last they have something in common, but that doesn’t mean life is getting any easier. All while facing merciless bullying from the most powerful girl in school, Arianne’s world is turned upside down after Niko accidentally reaps the soul of someone she loves. This sends them both into a spiral that threatens to end Arianne’s life. But will Niko break his own Reaper’s code to save her? And what would the consequences be if he did?


Read A SHIMMER OF ANGELS today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Sixteen-year-old Rayna sees angels, and has the medication and weekly therapy sessions to prove it. Now, in remission, Rayna starts fresh at a new school, lands a new job, and desperately tries for normalcy. She ignores signs that she may be slipping into the world she has tried so hard to climb out of. But these days, it’s more than just hallucinations that keep Rayna up at night. Students are dying, and she may be the only one who can stop it. Can she keep her job, her sanity, and her friends from dying at the hands of angels she can't admit to seeing?

Read EMBER today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
When Candra Ember wakes up in hospital after a dangerous encounter with a red-haired woman, she is shocked to discover that seeing a winged boy wasn't her imagination. Candra is exposed to a world of rivalry and sacrifice she never knew existed, and the aftermath of a war to save humanity thousands of years ago. Soon she finds herself relentlessly stalked by Sebastian, a beautiful and arrogant Watcher Angel and romantically pursued by his darkly seductive rival, Draven. Ultimately, dubious about her own goodness, Candra’s very existence compromises a tentative peace in the city of Acheron.

Read HOLD TIGHT today: Amazon Barnes&Noble
What’s one little spell?

When you’re new to magic, one spell can be the difference between getting what you want...and ruining the lives of everyone you love.

Sixteen-year-old Madison has just embraced her magical powers. The trick now is learning how to control them. She and her boyfriend -and fellow witch- can’t even enjoy a simple kiss without getting shocked when their powers collide. Instead of mastering her new skills, though, Madison is stuck watching her kid brother and doing chores.

But being a witch does have its benefits. With a simple spell, Madison instantly conjures the help she needs around the house. Or so she thinks. Her idea of “help” invites trouble of its own as a pair of dangerous yet enticing beings enter her life. When a classmate disappears soon afterwards, Madison discovers she's the next victim of a threat she's powerless to resist...and there’s nothing it won’t kill to make her surrender.

Caught in the crossfire between two dashing but deadly creatures, Madison must figure out which one to trust and how to rid her world of the other—before one of them destroys her and everyone she cares about.

Read IRIDESCENT (Ember Bk 2) today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Candra Ember used to dream of saving the world one person at a time. She never expected to become an angelic weapon and the last hope in the battle against ultimate darkness.

Falling for a Nephilim wasn’t part of Sebastian’s plan. Distraction is something he can’t afford when his rival, Draven, wants what Sebastian has.

Lies, manipulation, and corruption are twisting the lives of the citizens in Acheron. The Arch is missing from Heaven, and a demon is intent on claiming the city. At a time they should be growing closer, grief and paranoia is driving Candra and Sebastian apart.

If the price of restoring the Watchers to Heaven is a human soul, who deserves to be saved?

Read JANUARY BLACK today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Sixteen-year-old genius Matty Ducayn has never fit in on The Hill, an ordered place seriously lacking a sense of humor. After his school’s headmaster expels him for a small act of mischief, Matty’s future looks grim until King Hadrian comes to his rescue with a challenge: answer a question for a master’s diploma.

More than a second chance, this means freedom. Masters can choose where they work, a rarity among Regents, and the question is simple.

What was January Black?

It’s a ship. Everyone knows that. Hadrian rejects that answer, though, and Matty becomes compelled by curiosity and pride to solve the puzzle. When his search for an answer turns up long-buried state secrets, Matty’s journey becomes a collision course with a deadly royal decree. He’s been set up to fail, which forces him to choose. Run for his life with the challenge lost…or call the king’s bluff.

Read MY SISTER'S REAPER today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Sixteen-year-old Zadie’s first mistake was telling the boy she liked she could bring her dead sister back to life. Her second mistake was actually doing it.

When Zadie accidentally messes with the Reaper’s Rite that should have claimed her sister Mara, things go horribly wrong. Mara isn’t the same anymore—Zadie isn’t even sure she’s completely human. To top it off, a Reaper is determined to collect Mara's soul. Now Zadie must figure out how to defeat her sister’s Reaper or let Mara die … this time for good.

Read OPPRESSION today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Elyse knows what it means to keep a secret. She's been keeping secrets her whole life. Two, actually. First, that she ages five times slower than average people, so that while she looks eighteen years old, she's well over eighty. Second, that her blood has a mysterious power to heal. For Elyse, these things don't make her special. They make life dangerous. After the death of her parents, she's been careful to keep her secret as closely guarded as possible. Now, only one other person in the world knows about her age and ability. Or so she thinks. Elyse is not the only one keeping secrets. There are others like her all over the world, descendants of the very people the Greeks considered gods. She is one of them, and they have been waiting for her for a long time. Some are waiting for her to put an end to centuries of traditions that have oppressed their people under the guise of safeguarding them. Others are determined to keep her from doing just that. But for Elyse, the game is just beginning-and she's not entirely willing to play by their rules.

Read PRETTY DARK NOTHING today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
It’s time to choose: Love or lies, faith or fear, darkness or destiny.

Seventeen-year-old Quinn hasn’t slept a full night in twenty-three days. She’s terrified of the demons that stalk her dreams, pull her into a deep dark nothingness and whisper hauntingly of her death. Exhausted, Quinn dozes off in the school hallway, and Aaron, an amnesiac with a psychic ability, accidentally enters her nightmare. If Quinn can learn to trust her heart, and Aaron can discover the secret locked away in his fragile memory, their combined power could banish the darkness back to the underworld for good. That is, unless the demons kill them first.

Read SHADES OF ATLANTIS today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Since the death of their parents, Triona Pryor and her brother, Ben, have lived with their aunt and uncle in Camden, Maine. Now in her senior year of high school, Triona loves her family and friends, but she has always felt that she didn't quite fit Camden, or anywhere else. Enter Caleb Wallace, the devilishly handsome man who has recently moved to Triona's small town. While their attraction to each other is instantaneous, it also proves to be dangerous...and deadly. When tragedy strikes, Triona flees to London for solace and to start her life anew. It's there she discovers from an unlikely source that her family has been keeping secrets from her - secrets about not only her birthright, but her ultimate destiny as well. Armed with this knowledge, Triona finds herself thrown into a whole new world and into a battle to save the lives of everyone she loves.

Read TASTE today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
At Barinkoff Academy, there's only one rule: no students on campus after curfew. Phoenix McKay soon finds out why when she is left behind at sunset. A group calling themselves night students threaten to taste her flesh until she is saved by a mysterious, alluring boy. With his pale skin, dark eyes, and mesmerizing voice, Demitri is both irresistible and impenetrable. He warns her to stay away from his dangerous world of flesh eaters. Unfortunately, the gorgeous and playful Luka has other plans.

When Phoenix is caught between her physical and her emotional attraction, she becomes the keeper of a deadly secret that will rock the foundations of an ancient civilization living beneath Barinkoff Academy. Phoenix doesn’t realize until it is too late that the closer she gets to both Demitri and Luka the more she is plunging them all into a centuries old feud.

Read UNREAP MY HEART today: Kindle | Amazon
Only a villain can save the day.

During his thousand year banishment in the Nethers, Balthazar thought of nothing but taking over the Crossroads from Death.

On the day he puts his plans into action, Balthazar finds the Crossroads on lockdown. Death has been stabbed by Brianne’s Bitterness, a blade that slowly leaches him of his powers. In order to challenge Death for his seat and prevent utter chaos, Balthazar is forced into a mission to find the Redeemer, the only being capable of pulling out the blade from Death’s chest. The only person who can identify the Redeemer is a human girl in the Crossroads whose soul is still attached to her body.
Meeting Arianne Wilson pushes Balthazar’s patience to the limit. In a deal he makes with Death, he must protect Arianne during their journey through the Underverse using all the resources available to him. He soon realizes the one he needs to protect is himself. For as much harm as it inflicts on Balthazar's body, trekking through the Underverse with Arianne is proving more dangerous for his heart and soul.

Can the villain remain a villain when love gets in the way? 

Read UPRISING (Children of the Gods #2)  today: 
Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Elyse has done everything she can to protect her friends from The Council's reach. As long as they believe she's dead, she has time to rest and train for war. And war is inevitable.

When Kara arrives with the news that Anna and Chloe have been captured, Elyse is faced with the realization that no one is safe until The Council is stopped and Christoph is destroyed. She doesn't need a prophecy to tell her to lead an army. Christoph has done the one thing that ensures she'll fight to the death. He's threatened the people she loves.

It will take more than the words of an oracle to help them fight against the most powerful Descendant alive. To break The Council's oppression and rise up against a plot so many years in the making, Elyse will need to get dangerously close to her enemy. So close, in fact, she may not survive.

More great deals!

Read ASCENDANT today: Amazon | Barnes and Noble
When I was twelve, my mother disappeared. I was the first person to never find her. I’m sixteen now and she has never been found, alive or dead. I’m not the girl I should have been.

When Charlotte Stevens, bright but failing, is sent to stay at her mother’s childhood home in Somerset England her life is changed forever. While exploring the lavish family manor, Gaersum Aern, Charlotte discovers a stone puzzle box that contains a pentagram necklace and a note from her mother—clues to her family’s strange past and her mother’s disappearance. Charlotte must try to solve the puzzle box, decipher her mother’s old journals, and figure out who is working to derail her efforts—and why. The family manor contains many secrets and hidden histories, keys to the elegant mystery Charlotte called mom and hopefully, a trail to finding her.

Read PHANTOM TOUCH today: Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Bridget White just wants to be an average girl, but the car accident that killed her sister took away everything normal in Bridget’s life. Now she spends her days talking to unhappy ghosts and helping them move on to the afterlife. But dealing with death on a daily basis is too much for one girl to handle, so when she finds a way to get rid of her supernatural sight, she jumps at the chance.

There’s just one more job standing between her and normal. When a missing local girl turns up as a freshly murdered ghost, Bridget realizes she’s the only one who can find the killer. Worse still, he’s not done killing. Now Bridget may have to sacrifice her only chance at being normal to stop him from taking another innocent life.

Read SPEAK OF THE DEVIL today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
What happens when falling in love and falling from grace collide?

High school junior Lily Tyler dies along with her two best friends in a car accident, but miraculously she comes back to life several minutes later. Unable to deal with her loss and her survivor’s guilt, she moves to her dad’s. While there trying to heal from this tragedy and come to terms with the event, she meets some people at her new school who are all too eager to help her. Struggling to fight her feelings for two of these strange new acquaintances, Luc and Mo, she finds out their true identities.

Lily must move on from the past, reconcile her feelings for Luc, and find a way to stop a divine war with the fallen angels, all while trying to pass the eleventh grade.

Read SON OF A MERMAID today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Shea MacNamara’s life just got complicated.

After a freak tornado devastates his Oklahoma farm, the fifteen-year-old orphan is whisked away to Cape Cod. Struggling to make sense of his new surroundings, he’s trying hard to deal with feelings of abandonment… and the emotions stirred by a girl he meets along the shore.

Kae belongs to an undersea world hidden from drylanders. The daughter of royal servants, she knows the planned marriage of her Princess to the foreign King should put an end to the war between the clans. But two things stand in the way of lasting peace: the ambitions of the foreign King’s regent, and rumors of the Princess’s bastard child.

Sparks fly when she meets Shea, but could the cute drylander really be the Son of a Mermaid?

Read STALKED BY DEATH (Bk2) today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Jodi knows that any slip-ups made by the Ophi--a special group of necromancers born under the 13th sign of the zodiac--will fall on her shoulders... and that Hades is just waiting for them to screw up so he can wipe out the Ophi line.

Unfortunately, Jodi has only convinced one Ophi to join her school: A hot guy named Chase who jeopardizes her relationship with Alex. Jodi loves Alex, but Chase can enhance her powers with just a touch—making her stronger than any Ophi has ever been.

Her mixed emotions send her powers surging out of control, and the dead start rising without her conscious summoning—exactly what Hades doesn't want! If she chooses Alex over Chase, she may lose the battle to Hades, leading the Ophi race to extinction. If she chooses Chase, she might be able to stop Hades for good… but lose everything else.

Jodi needs to figure things out fast--because death is stalking her at every turn.

Read TOUCH OF DEATH today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Jodi Marshall isn’t sure how she went from normal teenager to walking disaster. One minute she’s in her junior year of high school, spending time with her amazing boyfriend and her best friend. The next she’s being stalked by some guy no one seems to know.

After the stranger, Alex, reveals himself, Jodi learns he’s not a normal teenager and neither is she. With a kiss that kills and a touch that brings the dead back to life, Jodi discovers she’s part of a branch of necromancers born under the 13th sign of the zodiac, Ophiuchus. A branch of necromancers that are descendents of Medusa. A branch of necromancers with poisoned blood writhing in their veins.

Jodi’s deadly to the living and even more deadly to the deceased. She has to leave her old, normal life behind before she hurts the people she loves. As if that isn’t difficult enough, Jodi discovers she’s the chosen one who has to save the rest of her kind from perishing at the hands of Hades. If she can’t figure out how to control her power, history will repeat itself, and her race will become extinct.

Keep them coming, pre-order today:

Pre-order BURN OUT today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
A futuristic blend of Beth Revis's Across the Universe and Lenore Appelhans's Level 2, Burn Out will satisfy the growing desire for science fiction with a thrilling story of survival, intrigue, and adventure.

Most people want to save the world; seventeen-year-old Tora Reynolds just wants to get the hell off of it. One of the last survivors in Earth's final years, Tora yearns to escape the wasteland her planet has become after the sun turns "red giant," but discovers her fellow survivors are even deadlier than the hostile environment.

Holed up in an underground shelter, Tora is alone--her brilliant scientist father murdered, her mother and sister burned to death. She dreams of living on a planet with oceans, plants, and animals. Unfortunately, the oceans dried out ages ago, the only plants are giant cacti with deadly spines, and her pet, Trigger, is a gun--one of the bio-energetic weapons her father created for the government before his conscience kicked in.

When family friend, Markus, arrives with mercenaries to take the weapons by force, Tora's fury turns to fear when government ships descend in an attempt to kill them all. She forges an unlikely alliance with Markus and his rag-tag group of raiders, including a smart but quiet soldier named James. Tora must quickly figure out who she can trust, as she must choose between saving herself by giving up the guns or honoring her father's request to save humanity from the most lethal weapons in existence.

Pre-order WANTED:  DEAD OR IN LOVE: Amazon
Impulsive high school senior Monroe Baker is on probation for a recent crime, but strives to stay out of trouble by working as a flapper at her father’s Roaring 20’s dinner show theater. When she cuts herself on one of the spent bullets from her father’s gangster memorabilia collection, she unwittingly awakens Bonnie Parker’s spirit, who begins speaking to Monroe from inside her head. 

Later that evening, Monroe shows the slugs to Jack, a boy she meets at a party. He unknowingly becomes infected by Clyde, who soon commits a crime using Jack’s body. The teens learn that they have less than twenty-four hours to ditch the criminals or they’ll share their bodies with the deadly outlaws indefinitely. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

YA Guy Hosts... Jimena Novaro's BLUE RABBIT Blog Tour!

Today, YA Guy is distinctly honored to be hosting Jimena Novaro, whose debut novel, BLUE RABBIT, comes out on December 28th! A talented writer and a thoughtful reader, in today's guest post Jimena weighs in on gender bias and flawed characters. At the end of the post, there's a chance to win one of five free copies of BLUE RABBIT.

And now... Here's Jimena!

What a Bitch: Female Protagonists

Thank you so much for hosting me, Josh! Hello, readers of Josh’s blog--thanks for stopping by!

Sometimes it seems like male characters can get away with anything.

The world of fiction is full of men who win the admiration of thousands of readers and viewers through their charm, charisma, or some other likeability factor while committing some annoying or outright terrible acts. Sometimes it’s just basic layered characterization, as is the case with Thorin from The Hobbit, a complex character with a lot of darkness who makes some tragic decisions. Sometimes it toes the morality line pretty drastically, such as Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries, who spends a lot of time murdering, raping, and mind-controlling people and still has legions of fans.

On the other hand, finding a female character that people won’t call some disparaging thing or other seems hopeless. If she’s too assertive, she’s a bitch. If she’s too kind and accommodating, she’s a pushover. If she complains, she’s whiny. If she’s stoic and determined, she’s unbelievable. And if she’s sort of in the middle, she’s bland.

Sure, people complained about how whiny Harry was in Order of the Phoenix, but it didn’t exactly hurt the book’s or series’ popularity. On the other hand, take Fire by Kristin Chasore, which portrays the much shorter-lived (and less shouty) angst of the female protagonist and gets criticized for it right and left.

Sadly, the truth is that in real life, it can be a pretty similar situation. There are some nigh-impossible standards set for girls and women to follow in terms of looks and behavior. Just think of how many times a girl or woman is called a “slut” for leading a sexual life that, if she were male, would be perfectly acceptable.

So when I sat down to write my book and discovered just how flawed my female protagonist was, I started to worry. Would she turn readers off? Erika’s a high-maintenance, self-centered, self-righteous kind of girl. She makes some pretty bad mistakes that almost cost her friendships--and friends’ lives. One of her friends, Sandra, who gets almost as much page time as Erika does, is right up there with Erika in terms of flaws. All told, they’re both antiheroes.

Let’s consider that word, “antihero.” Who’s the first character fitting that description that pops into your mind? It’s probably a guy. In fact, I remember quite a few articles on writing romance that remind you that, while it’s okay to write a flawed hero, you shouldn’t make your heroine as flawed, because readers have less patience with heroines in general. And I don’t think that applies only to the romance genre.

I still think Erika and Sandra might turn some readers off, some of whom wouldn’t mind as much if they were boys. Sure, I wouldn’t jump at the opportunity of being their friend in real life, but I wouldn’t want to be Thorin’s friend, either, and I still love him as a character. I tried to portray Erika and Sandra as human beings with real flaws that got in the way of their lives, just like the rest of us, which gives them something to learn , something to struggle with, and possibly something to overcome. And isn’t that what characters are supposed to do, whether they’re male or female?

Thanks, Jimena! Now, readers, why not go ahead and add BLUE RABBIT to your Goodreads shelf? By doing so, you'll be entering a drawing to receive one of five free copies of the book!


In Knoxville, Tennessee, there’s a bridge to another world.

When they first cross it, Erika and her friends feel like they’ve stumbled into a dream. Magical and mysterious, the other world becomes their little paradise, a place to explore and escape from their everyday lives. Until one night a boy from school, Mike, follows them to the other side--and he’s kidnapped by strange and powerful Creatures.

Back home, everyone thinks Erika and the gang are responsible for Mike’s disappearance. The dream has become a nightmare. How can they negotiate with these Creatures to rescue Mike and clear their names? And why are the Creatures fixated on Erika, who feels drawn to their world even as she senses the danger?

About Jimena:

Jimena Novaro always knew she would be a writer. It just took her a few years to realize that she wanted to do it full-time, and relegate things like going into outer space and being an opera prima donna to hobbies. She loves reading and writing science fiction, fantasy, and YA. A self-proclaimed geeky sort of nerd, she spends a lot of her time fangirling over her favorite shows, books, and bands and educating herself about super-important topics such as how to survive an arrow wound and whether or not you can shoot a gun in space. Sometimes she gets super serious and rants about some socio-political issue or other.

She’s a member of the awesome fantasy authors group Mystic Quills. You can find her free epic fantasy serial, The Withering Sword, on her website (a new chapter comes out every Sunday!). Her first book, Blue Rabbit, a YA urban fantasy, comes out this December! Find her here:

Monday, December 23, 2013

YA Guy Lists... His 2013 Top Ten!

As YA Guy (the blog) nears the end of its first calendar year, YA Guy (the person) decided to try something new: my top 10 novels of 2013!

A few notes about this list. First, it’s not in any kind of order; I find it entirely too stressful to try to rank-order 10 books I loved. Second, not all of the books on the list were published in 2013 (though some were); they just happen to be books I read in 2013. And finally, I decided not to list books I’ve already reviewed on this blog, so many of the books that might have appeared on this list--such as Chris Howard’s Rootless, Erin Bowman’s Taken, and Scott Blagden’s Dear Life, You Suck--didn’t make it. This has tended to skew the list toward fantasy and science fiction, since most of my favorite realist books of 2013--including Eliot Schrefer's Endangered , Benjamin Alire Saenz's Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and Nathan Filer's Where the Moon Isn't--have already been reviewed on the blog. I hope you’ll spend some time searching the blog for individual reviews of these (and other) great YA books.

And now, without further fuss… YA Guy’s Top 10 of 2013!

M. T. Anderson, Feed. An unbelievably (yet all-too-believably) dark and dire vision of a future in which everyone has the “feed”--the equivalent of the internet--implanted directly in their brains, turning us into a society of perpetual shoppers, trivia junkies, and entertainment addicts. In other words, what we already are. Anderson’s voice alone will blow you away.

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. Confession: I didn’t particularly like Green’s Looking for Alaska; I found the title character far less intriguing and mysterious than she needed to be to sustain the narrative. But TFiOS is everything it’s cracked up to be: hilarious, poignant, wry, quirky, fresh, real, heartbreaking yet unsentimental. If Green never writes another novel, he’ll have earned his place in history with this one.

Julianna Baggott, Pure. A nightmarish post-apocalyptic vision of a world in which thermonuclear bombs have fused people’s bodies with everyday technologies, bits of junk, and the landscape itself, this book will keep you riveted with its unsparing detail, harrowing plot, and hauntingly beautiful prose.

Meagan Spooner, Skylark. Spooner’s debut envisions a society in which magic has become a technology and a commodity, a source of power for a post-industrial city and a means of keeping people human. An appealing generic hybrid, Skylark combines elements of dystopian, steampunk, and straight-up fantasy. The sequel, Shadowlark, is pretty darn good too.

J. Barton Mitchell, Midnight City. I loved this alien-invasion novel in which the visitors to Earth control humanity via a device called the Tone, a telepathic signal that turns everyone over a certain age into a mindless slave. Creepy, original, and fast-paced. And the sequel, The Severed Tower, looks promising as well.

Heather Anastasiu, Glitch.  A bit like Feed, this dystopian novel concerns a society in which everyone is plugged into a network that controls their thoughts and behavior. But where Feed goes for satire and social commentary, Glitch moves more in the direction of action and romance. Call it The Matrix for the YA crowd.

Imogen Howson, Linked. This science fiction novel features great world-building, a driving plot, and a budding romance that’s truly earned through shared struggle and sacrifice. It also features a character who’s simultaneously sympathetic and scary, something we don’t see enough of in YA, where the line between good guys and bad tends to be more cleanly drawn.

Jerry Spinelli, Milkweed. A Holocaust story told through the eyes of a five-year-old street urchin, this book achieves what many such stories can’t: a genuinely na├»ve narrator whose dawning awareness of the horrors around him serves as an education for the young reader. And the spare, lovely prose will make you weep.

Markus Zusak, The Book Thief. Yes, it’s too long (about a hundred pages so). Yes, its language can be overly self-conscious. And yes, its attempt to humanize those who cheered on the Nazi war machine was a bit hard to take. But at the same time, it is breathtakingly beautiful, and its central characters, the book thief herself and her adoptive father, are among the greatest I’ve ever encountered in YA.

Aline Sax and Caryl Strzelecki, The War within These Walls. I realize this is my third straight Holocaust book, but so be it. Combining words and images, this novelization of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising will take you no more than a couple hours to read. But you’ll never forget it.

So there you have it. I’d love to hear your comments, and I’d love even more to hear your suggestions. What should YA Guy be reading in 2014?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


YA Guy wouldn't be YA Guy if not for J.R.R. Tolkien.

I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was twelve and thirteen, respectively. (It was right around the time Star Wars came out, which created a perfect storm of science fiction and fantasy.) What I loved most about The Hobbit was its essential YA-ness: it's the story of a small, seemingly insignificant person who grows up, finds his courage, and discovers his place in the larger world.

Which is why I so thoroughly despise what Peter Jackson has done to Tolkien's story in his three-part Hobbit extravaganza.

Now, look, I'm not dumb. I know movies are inherently different from the books on which they're based. I've taught both literature and film classes, published a book about film. I loved The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, different though it was from its source material. I thought Jackson and his crew made excellent decisions in those films.

I think they've made horrible decisions in The Hobbit.

I hated the first movie. (If you want to know why, see this post.) I didn't think I could hate the second one any more. But I did.

The reasons are many, but here's a start.

CGI madness. Jackson used to be a director who liked to work with actual actors and physical effects. For all the lavish CGI of The Lord of the Rings, he never forgot the humanity of his story--which started with relying to a great extent on actual people and actual places. But ever since King Kong, he's decided he doesn't want to direct movies anymore; he wants to direct video games. So we get computer-generated orcs, computer-generated actors, computer-generated settings, computer-generated action, computer-generated everything, all of it looking weightless and implausible and unreal (as when the dwarfs' barrels careen upright down raging rapids without tipping over once), all of it making a hash of Tolkien's lovingly crafted fantasy world.

Tone deaf. Jackson used to know his way around a scene. Watch the arming of Theoden in The Two Towers, or Pippin's song in The Return of the King. Both of them contain brilliant combinations of poetry, arresting visuals, cross-cutting, lighting effects, and (yes, indeed) human emotion. But lately, Jackson doesn't seem to know how to film a scene with lyricism, restraint, humanity: all he knows is loud, louder, and louder still. It's less like watching a movie than listening to your next-door neighbor scream at his wife for three straight hours.

Everything but the kitchen sink. I could hardly keep track of all the stuff going on in this unholy mess of a movie. We've got orcs attacking Lake Town! Gandalf storming Dol Guldur! A romance between an elf and a dwarf! Political intrigue between Bard and the Master! A dwarf dying of a poisoned arrow wound! Thorin and company relighting their forges to fight Smaug with a giant golden statue! (Huh?) Orlando Bloom looking old and fat and tired and ticked-off that ten years after his career was supposed to blossom, he's back fighting cartoon ape-orcs while his CGI figure leaps from head to head of barrel-riding dwarfs (who, I hasten to remind, magically remain upright while their barrels fly over waterfalls)! The only thing we didn't see much of--in fact barely saw anything of--was Bilbo's development as unlikely hero. I guess that wasn't exciting enough for Jackson.

In short, everything in The Desecration of Smaug (did I say that?) cuts against what I love about Tolkien's story: its intimate scale, its humanity, its quirkiness, its heart. Jackson decided to tell yet another big, loud, scream-at-the-audience-for-attention amusement park ride of a movie, and in so doing he killed everything that makes his source material great.

God only knows what the final installment will be like. All I know is it won't be anything like The Hobbit.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

YA Guy Reviews... WHERE THE MOON ISN'T by Nathan Filer

YA Guy's got to be completely honest: I'm not sure Nathan Filer's debut Where the Moon Isn't (first published in England as The Shock of the Fall) actually counts as YA.

But it should. It's got a teen protagonist, a host of teen issues--parents, friends, siblings, school--and a perfectly captured teen voice: angry, apologetic, hopeful, despairing, sarcastic, shy, confident, confused.

I'm reluctant to classify it as YA only because it has such a literary feel to it, not only in terms of the quality of its language but in terms of its mind-bending structure. Narrated by a young man who's been hospitalized after suffering a schizophrenic break, it might be somewhat off-putting to a YA audience.

But then again, it might not be. It might be that it's time for YA/adult hybrids or crossovers that don't include characters named Katniss Everdeen.

I really loved Where the Moon Isn't. The story is poignant: narrator Matthew tries to pull his life together years after the death of his older brother Simon, whose presence or absence plays a key role in his delusions. The characters are well-rendered (with the possible exception of Matthew's mother, about whom I'll say more later). And the writing is absolutely lovely, in the loopy, intense, not-quite-lucid discourse of a man struggling with mental illness:

I have an illness, a disease with the shape and sound of a snake. Whenever I learn something new, it learns it too.

If you have HIV or Cancer, or Athlete's Foot, you can't teach them anything. When Ashley Stone was dying of Meningitis, he might have known that he was dying, but his Meningitis didn't know. Meningitis doesn't know anything. But my illness knows everything that I know. This was a difficult thing to get my head around, but the moment I understood it, my illness understood it too.

Through the character of Matthew, Filer does an excellent job of letting us into the mind of a person who "no longer owned [his] words, but [was] possessed by them." Recently, I read a post calling for more realistic representations of mental illness in YA, and I think Filer's novel provides just that.

If I have one reservation about the novel, it's in Filer's representation of the mother, an odd, somewhat caricatured portrait of the hot-and-cold caregiver 50s-era psychiatrists referred to as the "schizophrenogenic mother." Nowhere does Filer (or Matthew) directly blame the mother for his condition, but the suggestion is that, at best, she didn't help. Given the novel's otherwise realistic and sympathetic depiction of mental illness, I was somewhat disappointed by the appearance of this hoary cliche.

But in all other respects, I was impressed by Filer's portrayal of a character trying desperately to rebuild the fractured world around him, the fractured world within.