Book Review: Young Adult: Blightborn by Chuck Wendig


Cael McAvoy is on the run. He’s heading toward the Empyrean to rescue his sister, Merelda, and to find Gwennie before she’s lost to Cael forever. With his pals, Lane and Rigo, Cael journeys across the Heartland to catch a ride into the sky. But with Boyland and others after them, Cael and his friends won’t make it through unchanged.
Gwennie’s living the life of a Lottery winner, but it’s not what she expected. Separated from her family, Gwennie makes a bold move—one that catches the attention of the Empyrean and changes the course of an Empyrean man’s life.
The crew from Boxelder aren’t the only folks willing to sacrifice everything to see the Empyrean fall. The question is: Can the others be trusted?
They’d all better hurry. Because the Empyrean has plans that could ensure that the Heartland never fights back again.
Chuck Wendig’s riveting sequel to Under the Empyrean Sky plunges readers into an unsettling world of inequality and destruction, and fleshes out a cast of ragtag characters all fighting for survival and, ultimately, change.

Title: Blightborn
Author: Chuck Wendig
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia
Publisher: Amazon Publishing (Skyscape)
Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Ebook
Length: 528 pages
ISBN-10: 1477847707
ISBN-13: 978-1477847701

Series or Standalone: The Heartland Trilogy #2

Literary Awards:

Themes: Environmentalism, Terrorism
POV: 3rd Person, Multiple POV
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Why I Read It: Despite my disillusionment with the dystopian genre in the past few years, I decided to give this book a shot after receiving a digital review copy from the publisher through NetGalley. I have no regrets.


Chuck Wendig demonstrates his powerful storytelling abilities in his Heartlands series. Both Blightborn and the previous book were page-turners with interesting characters and a beautifully crafted setting in the Heartland of what used to be the United States, and is now the dominion of the Emyperean. Corn has spread like a weed across vast swaths of the old Midwest, and the economy is based on the trade of corn derivatives with the builders of great floating cities in the sky.

Mild spoilers for Under the Empyeran Sky follow:

Following Gwennie’s ascent into the flotilla of Ormond Stirling Saranyu as a Lottery Winner, Wendig introduces us to Gwennie’s new protector, Balastair, and are slowly introduced to the rest f the Empyrean cast. We also start to get some hints of what happened to Cael’s sister Merelda. And it’s quite an interesting story, too.

We also get to learn more about the world of the Heartland and Empyrean. Some of the history and the secrets come to light during Cael’s journey. The reasons why the world is the way it is are pretty well constructed, and they add wonderfully to the (urban) mythology of Wendig’s world.

I would say Blightborn is an improvement on Empyrean Sky, instead of the slump that many middle books in a trilogy tend to be. The action ramps up, but it’s not filler. There are no training montages or sitting around waiting for the enemy to make a move. Wendig has created one of the more proactive dystopian MCs in a long while, and he takes full advantage of it.

Now, with all that said, there are some things that are not so great about the book. For example, Wendig still hasn’t really explained the reason for the Obligation ceremony. The ceremony serves to drive much of the story, both in the form of the conflict over Gwennie between Cael and Boyland, and in the character arc of Wanda. The idea of the Obligation certainly provides some convenient tension and motivation for Wendig’s characters, but it’s rather unclear why the Empyrean have imposed it on the Heartlanders when their own society is so much more free in terms of sexual and romantic relationships. Perhaps Wendig has some answers, but he hasn’t seen fit to share them with his readers, and I found it a bit frustrating.

Something of a bit more controversial nature is the relationship between Merelda and her friend from the Provisional Depot. I won’t spoil it here, especially this close to publication, but it’s something that would certainly push this towards the 14+ crowd if you went by the standard media ratings systems. I haven’t actually decided how I feel about it. It fits with the way many teenagers think, and it creates one of the most interesting sources of tension in the novel. But it did make me rather uncomfortable in a way not a lot of YA books do. In some ways, that’s actually a compliment to Wendig. If I just hated it, or wasn’t at all bothered, it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful of a situation, and it would probably mean it was just handled poorly.

My final nitpick has to do with a world-building issue. Considering the technology obviously available to the Empyrean, it seems a bit odd they would have so much trouble creating the pegasus that drives so much of the first part of the novel. They Empyrean clearly has access to some incredible genetics and bio-engineering technology, as you’ll see if you read the book. So why do they find this one issue so difficult? I note this as an example of the cracks that run through Wendig’s world-building. As long as you are pulled along by the story itself, and keep turning pages, you might be able to ignore these cracks. But for those who do care a bit more about the world-building aspects of the story, I want to be honest about my feelings on this issue.

Still, despite a few reservations, I did enjoy this book, and I’m sure there are many others who would also enjoy it. I can’t say everyone should go out and buy this book right now, but neither can I let anyone dismiss it out of hand. Certainly, anyone who enjoyed the first book in the series will find this a worthy successor.

Conclusion: 74/100 (Very readable)
Premise: 9/10 (Convinced me to read the series, no problem)
Plot: 7/10 (Coherent if unambitious)
Setting: 8/10 (Well constructed, intriguing, mysterious)
Main Character: 8/10 (Well-crafted, engaging)
World-building 7/10 (Great base, shaky details)
Romance Sub-plot 5/10 (Cliche and forced)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Well-constructed, engaging)
Writing: 7/10 (More than competent, kept me reading)
Themes: 6/10 (High aspirations, low execution)
Resolution: 9/10 (Action-packed)

Buy Or Borrow: Worth buying if you love YA Dystopia.

About the Author:

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He’s the author of BLACKBIRDS, DOUBLE DEAD and DINOCALYPSE NOW, and is co-writer of the short film PANDEMIC, the feature film HiM, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsylvania with wife, taco terrier, and tiny human.

Similar Books:
Divergent series by Veronica Roth
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
Matched by Allie Condie
Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Other Reviews:
Michael Patrick Hicks – Author Website
Bones, Books, & Buffy
Melanie R. Meadors – Author Website

Buy Links:
Barnes and Noble

iBooks Not available
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo Not available
Google Play Not available
nook Not available


Please Welcome Atsiko Ureni, Our Speculative Fiction Reviewer

While both Marisa and I review YA fiction only to avoid confusion, we both also love various forms of speculative fiction. Sharing both of those loves with us is Atsiko Ureni, who also has his own blog a Atsiko’s Chimney, discussing spec fic, ya, and literature in general. And now I’ll let him introduce himself.


Nick, Marisa, and I have actually known each other for quite awhile, but we’ve only recently come back into communication thanks to our shared love of literature. I’m very grateful that Nick has invited me to contribute to this blog. I’ve always wanted to get into book reviewing, but I’m afraid I’m not so great with the administrative side of things, such as networking with publishers and obtaining review copies. Especially being busy with the Chimney and my writing.

Much like Marisa, I think I’ll eventually find my own voice for reviewing, but until then, Nick has a fairly thorough review template for me to follow as I get used to the job. While I do love YA, my first love has always been speculative fiction, so I’ll be focusing on that and leaving the rest to Nick and Marisa.

Part of the reason I’m excited about doing this is that I think it will push me to read books I otherwise might not. For example, after my first review–Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Nick has managed to snag a copy of Richard Morgan’s The Dark Defiles, the third book in his A Land Fit for Heroes series (forthcoming from Del Ray Spectra). Normally, this would be a bit dark for my tastes, but since he has it, I’ve been preparing by reading the rest of the books in the series. I’ve finished the first so far–The Steel Remains, and I enjoyed it more than I expected, although it’s nowhere near being one of my favorites.

The later books in a series tend be improve, so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy The Dark Defiles much more.

That review doesn’t come out for a few months, though.  MY first review on Notes will be Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.

I’ll probably be cross-posting these reviews to goodreads, but I’ll only be linking them over at the Chimney.

Book Review: Young Adult: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins


Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion…she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit–more sparkly, more fun, more wild–the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket–a gifted inventor–steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Dutton Books
Publication Date: September 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
Length: 338 pages
ISBN-10: 0525423281
ISBN-13: 9780525423287

Series or Standalone: Series: Anna and the French Kiss

Literary Awards:

Themes: drug addiction, family
POV: 1st Person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa Greene

How I Found It: I read the first book in this semi-series because everybody was raving about it. It wasn’t awful, but I didn’t really connect with it beyond a cute love story. But the writing wasn’t bad, and I liked the characters okay, so I thought I’d give Perkins another shot. I’m glad I did.

Cover Notes: I used the photographic cover because I felt like the other covers for this “series” imply they’re more connected/similar than they really are. I prefer the individuality in the photographs.


(Note: This is my first review here on Notes, and I’m still struggling to get used to the format.)

I’d read Anna and the French Kiss a few months before reading this book, and although I knew intellectually they were part of the series, I wasn’t expecting Anna and Etienne to show up quite in the way they did. I know it’s weird to start a book review talking about another book, but with this series, you can’t really help it. I suppose it’s going with the crowd, but it’s a topic I noticed in all the reviews I read before deciding to pick this one up. If you’re looking for more lovie-dovie from Anna and St. Clair, you’ll be disappointed. This is definitely Lola’s story. Which is another difference from Anna: This time it’s the MC with a decision to make, and Lola is much more strongly together with Max than Anna was with Toph.

I realize writing the above paragraph that I’m going to ahve to review Anna right after this!

Anyway, there are two obvious things that have to be said about this book, and neither of them have to do with Lola’s deadbeat mom, or her gay “uncles”. I really enjoyed this book. If you like contemp romance, if you liked Anna and the French Kiss, you’ll probably like this book, even if Lola is quite a different character. But I did have a few issues with it.

Lola’s boyfriend Max is a very… interesting character. There’s a lot of noise made about his age compared to Lola, and I really believed her claim that age doesn’t matter at the beginning of the book. But later, I started having some doubts. There’s a kind of tension between Max being pretty much just a bigger teenager, and simultaneously pressuring Lola to be older than she really was. There are definitely benefits to dating older men, and I wish Max had made a better case for it.

The second issue is the apparent insistence that your one true love exists, and should always be easy to be with. I can’t read Stephanie Perkins’s mind, but it seemed like there was a bit of authorial intrusion pushing that ideal, and that Max’s character was treated a bit shabbily to make Cricket seem like that one.

I believe in being transparent in my reviews, and so I wanted to get that out of the way before continuing.

I love Lola as a character. She’s a bit self-centered, and very dramatic, and just a perfect example of many girls I knew when I was that age. And I mean that in a good way. I liked that she had some quirks, including her love off off-beat fashion, or costume, as she is careful to distinguish. I also thought Perkins did a good job of developing her character throughout the novel. She did some growing up, but not too much.

Naturally, the main thing here is: who did she end up with and how was it? I think that, given only two choices, she definitely made the right one. Personally, I would have been fine with her being single, too. That’s a bit heretical when talking about a romance story, but I felt there were some possible issues with either guy.

Max was much older, and had different priorities than Lola. And she pushed him to date her, even though there was some initial reluctance. Given the beginning of their relationship, I think there was plenty of tension and a suggestion that they could make it. I even, in isolation, liked the development of their relationship, and that the sexual part of it was handled so well by Perkins. Obviously, Lola’s dads were against it, especially considering some of their family history. But Lola actually handled her sexual relationship with Max more maturely than maybe anything else in the book. I don’t think Perkins could have had a better set-up for the beginning of the story.

Cricket was more similar to Etienne than I would have liked, in the sense of his well-off family, but he did have his own issues, and I think that in the first half of the book, he was very well-written. I really liked his as a character and as a love interest. That said, as he started to get closer and closer to Lola, I started to like him a little less. Not that I thought he was a bad person, but that he had slightly more of a book-boyfriend vibe that I prefer. The reader was clearly supposed to think everything he did was so cute and romantic, and that’s often how it seems with young love (I can’t believe I just said that, they’re not much younger than I am). Maybe I’m just jealous. Anyway, Cricket is definitely endearing, and I can’t say I’m upset that Lola decided to be with him.

While there are many things I liked in this story, one I really noticed was the comparison between the family lives of Lola and Cricket. There’s an adorable scene where Cricket expresses frustration about his ancestor stealing the idea for the telephone (Yes, the Bells of the book are those Bells), and comments how he feels guilty for what his ancestor did that ended with with him having so many opportunities. And he should probably feel a little guilty, I think. But then Lola makes a heart-aching point about what that says about her, and her relationship with her mother. It can definitely suck for the kids to be declared guilty of their parents’ sins. Although it was an awkward moment, it definitely made me feel not only empathy with both characters, but that they were hitting a more mature point in the development of their relationship.

So I guess look forward to the Anna review, and now that this book has convinced me to try the third one, I guess I might end up reviewing that, too. I’d really like to thank Nick for giving me the chance to guest review on here. I don’t have the time to manage a blog myself, but I like that I can now say I’ve done a formal book review visible to the vast mass of the internet. I’m really looking forward to this being a regular thing.

Conclusion: 78/100 (A nice fun read)
Premise: 7/10 (Cliche, but fun)
Plot: 8/10 (Well-plotted, only a bit cliche)
Setting: 7/10 (Didn’t feel incredibly grounded in San Fran, but described well)
Main Character: 9/10 (Quirky, but not obnoxious; realistic portrayal)
Love Interest(s) 8/10 (Cute, fun, a bit arhcetypal)
Romantic Plot 8/10 (Cricket was a bit too perfect, but it’s a romance story, after all–in a good way)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (A little weak, but good enough)
Writing: 4/5 (Better than servicable)
Voice: 5/5 (Nailed it.)
Themes: 7/10 (The family trouble on each side of the romance was a nice contrast)
Resolution: 8/10 (Strong, but a little too perfect)

Buy Or Borrow: This story was definitely worth the buying. No regrets.

Similar Books:
The Sky Always Hears Me: And The Hills Don’t Mind by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Other Reviews:
Pretty Books
The Busy Bibliophile
Kirkus Reviews
Reading Lark
Alexandra’s Scribblings

Buy Links:
Barnes and Noble

Kindle UK
Kindle US
Google Play

Please Welcome Marisa Greene to the Dark Net Team!

I’d like to welcome my friend Marisa Greene to Notes from the Dark Net. I think it will be nice to get some slightly different perspectives on here, especially for areas of YA I don’t read as much. All posts will now be categorized by reviewer name, and I’ll be crediting each reviewer just under the book information section that comes after the cover and quote. And without further ado!

My name is Marisa Greene, and Nick has graciously asked me to contribute some reviews to his site. Since I don’t hang around much online, I don’t get to talk about books as much as I’d like to. So I’m glad to have the chance to do formal book reviews on this blog. I think I’m going to enjoy it.

I’m also hoping this will provide me with a push to read more and more recent books. I haven’t read as much as I used to lately, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to change that. Posting here could be my solution.

I’m starting off with Nick’s format for reviews, but I won’t know how I like it until I’ve posted a few. I might change it up a little after awhile.

Anyway, glad to be here, and looking forward to the experience.


Book Review: Young Adult: Saving June by Hannah Harrington


‘If she’d waited less than two weeks, she’d be June who died in June. But I guess my sister didn’t consider that.’

Harper Scott’s older sister has always been the perfect one so when June takes her own life a week before her high school graduation, sixteen-year-old Harper is devastated. Everyone’s sorry, but no one can explain why.

When her divorcing parents decide to split her sister’s ashes into his-and-her urns, Harper takes matters into her own hands. She’ll steal the ashes and drive cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going, California.

Enter Jake Tolan. He’s a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession and nothing in common with Harper’s sister. But Jake had a connection with June, and when he insists on joining them, Harper’s just desperate enough to let him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanour and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what she needs.

Except June wasn’t the only one hiding something. Jake’s keeping a secret that has the power to turn Harper’s life upside down again.

Title: Saving June
Author: Hanna Harrington
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: May 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
Length: 322 pages
ISBN-10: 0373210248
ISBN-13: 9780373210244

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:

Themes: Road Trip, Suicide, Sisterhood
POV: 1st person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Nick Morgan


Saving June is a pretty standard road-trip novel. Rather than post-graduation, though, it’s kicked off by the suicide of the main character’s big sister. I’ve randomly ended up reading a lot of sister stories recently, especially dead/absent sisters, and this one stands up pretty well in that area. Harper spends a lot of the book realizing that she didn’t know her sister quite as well as she thought she did before her suicide. I might be a bit biased, since I love the theme of finding out the truth about someone. Especially someone you think is perfect, like Harper thought her sister was.

The book does a pretty good job of exploring that theme, as well. What I reallly loved about the way Saving June handled it, though, is that there’s nothing crazy, no huge revelations. There were no secret affairs, no drug use, no murders. Just Harper’s slow realization that her sister tried too hard to be what everyone wanted her to be.

One of the obvious things to talk about with the book is June’s suicide. I won’t spoil it, but I thought it was very well-handled. I had a friend who killed herself when I was younger, and it’s hard to really imagine that kind of situation unless you’ve been through it. But Harrington gets the reader pretty close. June had her reasons, and although they may seem insufficient to some, they match what I know pretty well. And Harper’s reaction, and the reaction of her parents, was quite realistic.

And speaking of the parents, they were brilliantly-drawn characters. A lot of YA does the absent parent thing, or the clueless parent thing. But Harper’s parents are just like many of the parents I know. And her relationship with them is both a bit oblivious and very close–at least with her mother–all at the same time. Harper’s friend Laney has parents that fit more of the common tropes and cliches of YA, but it’s not as annoying because you don’t have to deal with them as much. Plus, while I think the commonness of such parents in YA is exaggerated, I did know people who had parents like Laney’s when I was younger.

Now, I don’t read a lot of Romance, and I didn’t read this book as a strict Romance novel, but technically it is. So it’s only fair to talk a bit about the Love Interest and his relationship with Harper. Jake is nothing special in the YA Love Interest category. He’s a bit mysterious, helps out the MC for what at first seems like no clear reason, and somehow has all the connections needed to get the protagonist where she wants to go. Obviously a bit of fantasy is inherent in any Romance novel, though, and I’m not necessarily the target audience of a YA Romance, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

What I do want to complain about a bit is the style of romance involved. I’m not a huge fan of the antagonistic relationship in fiction. Every now and then it can be interesting, but often it seems like it’s exploited for tension rather than being an organic development based on the characters. It gets a little better as the book goes on, but I think I would have preferred Jake having more of his ow desire in going on the road trip than him putting Harper’s goals first as much as he does. His relationship with June I think would have been strong enough of a motivation, as well as the other things you learn as the books goes on.

One of the best relationships in the book, besides Harper’s relationship with her memories of her sister, is her relationship with Laney. They’re bickering was much more natural than Harper and Jake’s and despite hitting some tough spots, they come across as really close friends. One of the best aspects of the relationship is how it highlights how self-centered Harper can be. For example, stealing her sister’s ashes and going on a road-trip with a guy she barely knows. There were a few weaknesses in Laney’s character arc. For one, when she has her own big reveal, it wraps up a bit too neatly, and her family situation, while probably shitty for her, gives her more latitude than I felt made the conflict work. But it’s hard to find a perfect book, so I don’t want to nitpick too much.

Finally, there’s the issue of music in the book. A lot of YA in the last few years has had a focus on music. In Saving June, the role of the resident music expert is played by Jake. He loves classic rock, and spends a lot of the book trying to share that love with Harper and Laney. I’ve seen several reviews, of this book and others, criticizing the use of music references. Especially older ones, like Eric Clapton and The Kinks, as in the book. But personally, I think many of the references Jake makes are either familiar to readers even in this day and age, and if they aren’t they won’t detract a great deal from the story. And plenty of teens and young adults are music buffs in their own right. Everyone has favorite music, and even if the references are a bit obscure, I think most readers will be able to empathize with the characters in terms of loving music in general.

I would say I don’t regret having read the book, despite a few complaints. The theme is great, and it’s one of the themes in YA I think isn’t overdone. Plus, I love a good road-trip novel.

Conclusion: 76/100 (Worth reading)
Premise: 8/10 (Fun, but not shallow)
Plot: 6/10 (Too man convenient coincidences)
Setting: 8/10 (We;;-described and engaging)
Main Character: 9/10 (Realistic and complicated)
Romance Plot 7/10 (A bit convenient, and I dislike the tropes involved)
Love Interest 6/10 (Pretty standard)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Didn’t suffer by comparison to the MCs)
Writing: 8/10 (Captured the teenage voice well, wasn’t clunky)
Themes: 9/10 (Well-handled, nuanced)
Resolution: 7/10 (Seemed a bit easy)

Buy Or Borrow: Definitely worth buying, if you love romance and sibling relationships. Or if you just want a good road-trip novel.

Similar Books:
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart

Other Reviews:
Kirkus Reviews
YA Love
The Guardian
Dear Author
Young Adult Book Haven
Alexa Loves Books
Lauren Reads YA

Buy Links:
Barnes and Noble

Kindle UK
Kindle US
Google Play

Coming Attractions

I’m going to be adding two new features to the blog over the next few weeks.

One of them is a complement to the current reviews. As a reviewer, my goals in writing reviews are twofold:

1. To share my opinion about the books I read, and especially to evangelize for the ones I love.

2. To help readers find new books to read.

Anyone who might be reading a review blog is probably looking for help in finding new books to read. It’s the nature of YA (and literature in general, of course), that certain themes are most prominent in a given book. But for spoiler reasons, I can’t express my full feelings on a book in a standard review. So, to that end, I’ll be posting companion posts for certain of my reviews on here. Mostly to discuss the major theme of the book and how I think it was handled in more detail. I’ll probably bring in other examples of books on those themes, and how YA in general has dealt with those themes as it’s evolved. Obviously these companion posts will have a smaller audience, and they’ll be identified clearly to avoid spoilers for people who dislike such things.

The second new addition has to do with the type of books being reviewed on this blog. I said in my initial post that I would be reviewing both YA of all genres, as well as some literary and speculative adult fiction. However, I don’t want to confuse readers who may only be interested in one or the other, and to keep up with my YA review schedule, especially considering the addition of companion posts/extended reviews, I can’t make the time commitment I believe would be necessary to faithfully meet my reading and review schedule all on my own.

So, I’ll be introducing two new reviewers on the blog:

First, I’ll be inviting my friend Atsiko Ureni from Atsiko’s Chimney to review speculative fiction of the adult variety. I’ll still be handling any that’s Young Adult.

Second, the lovely and charming Marisa Greene will be joining me in reviewing young adult, and also reviewing some New Adult titles.

They’ll both be posting introductions in the next few days.

Finally, my next review will be up tomorrow. I’ve just finished reading Saving June by Hannah Harrington. This will be the first review with a companion post, where I’ll be talking about suicide in YA and the YA road trip novel. Following that will be, of course, Dangerous Neighbors, as I said in my previous post.