Book Review: Young Adult: The Harvest by Chuck Wendig

The Harvest cover

It’s been a year since the Saranyu flotilla fell from the sky, and life in the Heartland has changed. Gone are the Obligations and the Harvest Home festivals. In their place is a spate of dead towns, the former inhabitants forced into mechanical bodies to serve the Empyrean—and crush the Heartland.

When Cael awakens from a Blightborn sleep, miles away from the world he remembers, he sets out across the Heartland to gather his friends for one last mission. As the mechanicals, a war flotilla, and a pack of feral Empyrean girls begin to close in on the Heartland, there isn’t much time to make their next move. But if they can uncover a secret weapon in time, Cael and his friends might just find themselves with the power to save the world—or destroy it—resting in their hands.

Title: The Harvest
Author: Chuck Wendig
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Dystopian/Near-future SF
Publisher: Skyscape
Publication Date: July 14, 2015
Format: DRC
Length: 437 pages
ISBN-10: 1477830022
ISBN-13: 9781477830024

Series or Standalone: The Heartland Trilogy #3

Literary Awards: N/A

Themes: Power Corrupts, Evil for Evil, Family
POV: Third Person, Multiple POVs
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Where I Got It: A digital ARC from NetGalley.  Since I reviewed the second book, I figured I might as well see what’s changed.

Review:

(The first thing I want to say is, normally I leave cover commentary to Marisa, but the whole set of covers for this series were fantastic.  The whole design, even.  I really enjoyed the visual look of the series.)

There were a lot of things to love about this book.  The supporting cast is complex and well-drawn.  They have goals beyond helping the protag do whatever he’s doing.  The villain was lovely.  Sort of a secret, but worked brilliantly with the themes of the book without sacrificing narrative consistency.  You can totally believe all the characters’ motivations while simultaneously seeing the trainwreck they are leading up to.  Cael’s opponent and allies all have their own goals, and are often blind to each other’s understanding of the world.  The Empyrean are more than just villains or dupes.  They may not care much about the Heartlanders, but they care a lot about each other.  It’s rare to see characters reflect the way that everyone is the hero of their own story and has their own narrative through which they view the world.

You learn a great deal about the world of the story that was always in the background but unknown to the readers and characters.  As usual, Wendig’s world-building is beautiful.  Not only is it rich without info-dumping, but it really draws you into the setting.  In so many ways, it seems like it could be real.  Many fantasy and science fiction authors don’t and will probably never have the ability to create a world that seems like it exists beyond the confines of the story.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a MacGuffin in the book.  But it’s a beautiful one.  It does so much more than just provide a quest object for Cael and his enemies to fight over. It reveals things about many of the supporting characters, the way the world of the Heartland is built and functions, and to what lengths the main characters are willing to go to achieve their goals.

The book also has another SFF staple: the Epilogue.  Personally, I felt this one was a bit more of an easy hook to leave space for writing other stories set in Wendig’s world.  I don’t think it was necessary for the story told in this novel.

The themes of the novel, and the series, are both clear but not ham-fisted.  The events of the story just naturally seem to support them.  The structure of the novel just fits these things in so well.

But, as a book, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have.  I was constantly putting the book down at the slightest opportunity.  And it was often hard to make myself pick it back up.  I admire Wendig’s skills as a writer in a lot of areas.  But novel pacing is not very high among them.  There was far too much down-time, often unnecessary.  Then all the action would be packed into tiny little bits of the book.  Perhaps that lack of focus was the thing that allowed Wendig to do all the things I loved in this book.  But as strictly a reader, it made it hard to keep reading.

I’m just waiting for Wendig to take all the things he does so well and tie them in with a well-paced story that keeps me reading.  From a writer’s standpoint, this book was incredibly interesting as something to analyze for craft, but as a novel, it was eminently put-down-able.  That may seem odd given the score I gave it.  But I know I have a bit of an odd view on what makes a good book, and I think many readers will have an easier time keeping their eyes on the page than I.

Conclusion: 80/100 (Lovely in its parts, quite flawed as a whole)
Premise: 9/10 (As nifty as it was in the first book)
Plot: 7/10 (Some cool twists, but nothing brilliant)
Setting: 10/10 (As usual, Wendig delivers)
Main Character: 6/10 (Kinda dull, also a douche)
The Villain: 8/10 (Worked brilliantly with the theme)
The Weapon: 8/10 (Loved it)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Well-drawn and interesting)
Writing: 8/10 (Well above competent)
Themes: 9/10 (Favorites well-executed)
Resolution: 7/10 (Cool, but coulda been better)

Buy Or Borrow:  If you liked the rest of the series, you’ll probably love this.  If not, it might be better to borrow from a friend.

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:

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Michael Patrick Hicks – Author Website
Article 94
Froggy Chemist
Dantastic Book Reviews

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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On John Green and How YA Authors Interact with Their Fanbase

Just recently, there’s been a huge dust-up over someone saying some things about John Green, and him responding to those things in perhaps not the best manner. I’m not going to take sides in this, or give my personal feelings on the opinions of John Green expressed in the tumblr post or thread. Instead, as a book reviewer who reviews YA literature writing on a blog that reviews YA literature between half and two-thirds of the time, and finally, as a person who is no longer a Young Adult, I want to talk about something else. I want to talk about how our society views adults who interact commonly with children and Young Adults, especially men, but also women. And then I’m going to give my take on the most positive ways for adults involved in the literature community to interact with their young adult co-fans.

Young Adult literature is an odd duck. It’s written mostly by people who are no longer young adults, though they may know many due to being parents or their day job. It’s read by both actual young adults and also adults, who for various reasons enjoy it as much or more than a lot of adult literature. There are many reasons why an adult might get involved in Young Adult literature as an author, fan, or occupationally connected person. The two mot obvious categories are librarians–especially school librarians–and authors. There are many writers who would be classified as young adults, but very few of them get published while they are that age. The vast majority of YA writers are adults, either in their early 20s and 30s or much older. The possible writing-related reasons for this aren’t relevant to this post. This is the reality we are dealing with.

Now, adults who interact with kids are often in a delicate position in our society. Biologically, adults are more mature thank kids in terms of thought processes and socialization. (Actual behavior is another story!) This, as well as other aspects of our society, give them a form of power over children and young adults, and in many cases, a lot of power. That power can be and all too often has been abused. That abuse can be sexual, but it can also involve many other things. Stoking egos, getting monetary favors, or convincing kids to do something that benefits the adult and not the child, etc. We’ve become so much more aware of those power dynamics in the last few decades. This is a good thing. It means people can no longer get away with exploitative and abusive behavior the way they could only 20 or 30 years ago. But there are also false positives. Or smaller issues getting magnified. There are various statistics on how common these false positives are versus false negatives, and I won’t debate the ethics issues involved here. These false positives happen, and they can really suck for the person they happen to. Especially in this Internet Age where the tiniest rumour can be magnified into a dog-pile or a witch-hunt. it’s hard to tell when such a thing will happen.

All this leads up to my first point: even mature, well-socialized adults can make mistakes. Especially when they are dealing with the transient rules and murky social systems of young adults, who are transitioning between child and adult socialization.

As a creator with a huge fanbase, John Green has more power than many adults, and also more ardent defenders. For these reasons, it’s on Green to be the more responsible party in interactions with both his fandom and his haters.

This article from The Mary Sue gives a good example: http://www.themarysue.com/john-green-female-ya-readers/

This could have been a chance for John Green to take a moment to discuss why while he’s attempting to do something positive for teens, it’s still important for teens to keep an eye out for possible red flags. As a public figure who has courted (in a neutral way, this is not an implication of creepiness) his target audience who happens to be mostly teenage girls, it’s his responsibility to make sure that the relationship between himself and his fans remains appropriate. And I think he’s done a good job of that overall, and I have not a single suspicion there’s some ulterior motive behind his behavior or his writing.

John Green may have privilege, but he is still merely human, and he responded as a large majority of people might have responded to such comments. But, there are other ways he could have responded to create something positive out of this:

  1. He could have chosen not to respond.  That’s hard when you’ve been tagged into the mess, but he could have chosen that path.  In which case this would have been just another tempest in a tumblr.
  2. He could have posted on his blog without linking to the specific tumblr post and talked about how he may not have misused his platform to groom and/or assault teenagers, but that it does happen and gone on to describe the issue of power differentials between adults and teens, creators and fans/consumers, men and women.
  3. He could have talked about how creators have to deal with negative publicity in various forms, and how to keep a thick skin and deal with those issues.  I’m sure that would have been an interesting topic for many of his fans and for his friends, writers and otherwise.
  4. He could have used it as an opportunity to talk about the differences between the cafeteria table and the Internet, and how a social media network like tumblr is not really private, even if you have strong privacy settings.
  5. He could have talked about the dangers of snowballing on the internet, and how one voice alone may not be that big of a deal, but how the nature of the internet encourages people to pile on, to engage in social signalling and how in-group/out-group posturing plays out online.  In this case, Greenies and non-Greenies.  He could still talk about that, except in this case he started the snowball rolling and his fans and friends piled more snow on it until it may have crushed the original commenter.  A fate that person probably did not deserve, despite the contentious issues involved here.
  6. He could even have talked about how he chooses to engage his fanbase and why, and the pros and cons of this approach, both for him and for others considering making themselves into such a brand.

The fact that he did not do this doesn’t make him an evil monster.  But his response was a bit like like destroying a damn above a little ant-hill because one ant bit him thinking he might be attacking the nest.  He must know by now that no matter what he says, his fans and friends will leap to his defense, even if it’s unnecessary and possibly excessive.  That’s something I hope he’ll be thinking about when situations like this arise in the future.

We’re Back!

Due to a combination of personal and professional reasons, we’ve been MIA since the beginning of October. But as of the middle of July, we’ll be back to reading books and posting reviews here on the Dark Net. These will be a combination of previously scheduled reviews and new reviews, depending on whether we feel it’s still worth reviewing ARCs which are well past their release date, and whether a given ARC is still available to us. We apologize to our readers and the publishers who so kindly approved us for review copies. It’s mostly likely we will be posting a combined review per week, although depending on what ARCs we get, we might publish more or less in a given week. We really enjoyed our previous review period, despite a bit of stress from a busy review schedule, and we feel we’ve better organized our time this go around.

We will be following our traditional format for the most part, though a book review here and there might diverge a bit.

Book Review: Young Adult: Dead Zone by Robison Wells

Dead Zone Cover

The invasion has begun—and a group of teens are caught in the crossfire.
I volunteered to be a spy, not an assassin.
I know this is war . . .
but I just want to do what’s right.
If you ask me, none of us should be here—but no one gave me a choice.
And I won’t blindly follow orders.
I am essential to the plan.
And I will be a hero for my country.
If I were normal, I wouldn’t be
old enough to join the army.
But I’m not normal. I’m a weapon.
We’re a perfect match—
on and off the battlefield.
I hope that means we’ll both survive.

Title: Dead Zone
Author: Robison Wells
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller/Action Adventure
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 373 pages
ISBN-10: 0062275046
ISBN-13: 9780062275042

Series or Standalone: Blackout #2

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Following Orders, Greater Good
POV: Multiple 3rd person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Nick

Where I Got It: Thanks to Atsiko for finding a trove of 2014 ARCs. We’ve both spent time listening to Brandon Sanderson’s Podcast, Writing Excuses, on which Wells was often a guest, so we were very excited to have someone reviewing this book. For scheduling reasons, that someone ended up being me.

Review:

This was a difficult review to write. I knew about a third of the way through this would not be a favorite of mine. I like the premise. Superpowers, especially limited and diverse superpowers, are inherently a fun idea for me. But, because I enjoy the idea so much, I might be more inclined to a tough rubric. There have been several well-known books/multi-media franchises based on the concept of large numbers of people with starkly varying super-powers. X-Men is probably the most famous. The TV show Heroes also achieved a good deal of success with this premise. Going further afield, there have been several anime and manga series using a similar idea: Gakuen Alice, and more recently Tokyo ESP. None of these stories are perfect. And neither is Dead Zone.

One of the major issues I had with the book was the characters. They were, to my mind, very cliche representations of teenagers. The character voices and their behavior didn’t feel natural to me in many scenes of the book. The supporting characters were more complex than the main characters, while being more cliche stereotypes. The main characters, while less cliche, were also much less complex, and I had trouble buying some of their emotional quandaries. You’re going to have a certain amount of apparent cliche in any YA book, just because your average teenager has fairly similar experiences to their peers, and also because of media stereotypes popularized by well-known television shows and movies. It can be very hard to break out of those narratives, especially for older authors who may be more distant from their teenage selves.

The plot of Dead Zone was also a fairly standard war plot. I felt like I saw quite a few of the plot twists coming. They followed a common pattern.

To be fair to Wells, I can definitely see why a publisher picked this up. It’s got that high concept and breakneck pace that makes thrillers so popular. The problem-solving ability of the main characters was great fun to see in action, and he created that sense of righteous indignation at the way the characters were co-opted by various groups that can lead to a strong emotional investment even in weakly-drawn characters.

I haven’t read Variant, or any of the books in that series, so I can’t say how Dead Zone stacks up. It is an improvement on Blackout, so readers who enjoyed the first book in the series will likely enjoy this one. I personally wouldn’t have bought this book after reading Blackout. I don’t mind the few hours it took to read it, but I think I would have minded the money I’d have had to spend to buy it.

Conclusion: 66/100 (Readable, but not compulsively so)
Premise: 6/10 (Done before, sometimes better)
Plot: 7/10 (Cliche)
Setting: 7/10 (Decently-drawn)
Main Character: 7/10 (Nothing special, but nothing terrible)
SF Elements 6/10 (Cliche)
Mutant powers 7/10 (Cliche, but well-used)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Cliche)
Writing: 3/15 (Competent, but no more)
Voice: 2/5 (Not great)
Themes: 7/10 (Common and mediocre execution)
Resolution: 7/10 (Cliche)

Buy Or Borrow: Worth buying if you like super hero stories, otherwise borrowing might be the best option.

Similar Books:
Very similar to the X-Men franchise and also the TV show Heroes. Your standard kids with superheroes story.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
YA Books Central
This Blonde Reads
San Francisco Book Review

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Young Adult: Jackaby by William Ritter

Jackaby Cover

Jackaby sighed and drew to a stop as we reached the corner of another cobbled street. He turned and looked at me with pursed lips. “Let’s see,” he said at last. “I observed you were recently from the Ukraine. A young domovyk has nestled in the brim of your hat. More recently, you seem to have picked up a Klabautermann, a kind of German kobold attracted to minerals. Most fairy creatures can’t touch the stuff. That’s probably why your poor domovyk nestled in so deep.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Title: Jackaby
Author: William Ritter
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Mystery/Paranormal
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Format: NetGalley DRC
Length: 305 pages
ISBN-10: 1616203536
ISBN-13: 9781616203535

Series or Standalone: Standalone (as of now)

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Independence
POV: 1st Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Where I Got It: A digital ARC from NetGalley. I’ve been looking for good paranormal YA similar to The Monstrumologist, and this seemed like it fit the bill. Calling it “Doctor Who meets Sherlock” is a bit of a big fat fib, and sort of does a disservice to the book.

Review:

I’m a bit on the fence about this book. The WhoLock comparison had my hopes higher than they might have been otherwise. I don’t think the book really lives up to that. Rather, it’s a combination of some of the more common cliches of the mystery and weird/paranormal genres. Not necessarily in a bad way, but I think the WhoLock claim stems from a bit of a misrepresentation. It’s not that it’s incredibly similar to WhoLock, it’s that they both draw from the same venerable traditions.

However, this book is like WhoLock in that it relies strongly on its characters to carry the story. And they do a pretty good job. Abigail Rook, our teen girl protag is a very nice female character. I won’t insult her by calling her “feisty”. Instead, she’s strong-willed and very down-to-earth. She’s a great balance for Jackaby’s eccentricity, and it’s quite believable that he finds her useful to counter some of his absent-mindedness. But rather than a Doctor/Companion or Holmes/Watson relationship, it’s just a general funny guy/straight man buddy cop relationship. THen we have a certain police officer. I liked his character quite a bit, although it sometimes seemed a little to convenient how he assisted the main characters in moving the plot along. There’s no major romance angle in this book, but he and Abigail do have a certain chemistry.

The villain in the book is quite fun, as well. And he has a reasonable motivation for his actions. Further, for the first half of the book, you’d never suspect him, although somewhere aaround the halfway mark I did figure him out, and I was then stuck with that annoying feeling of knowing the answer while the characters are still struggling along. A really good mystery can put that feeling off without it seeming like the author used cheap tricks. Jackaby is a good mystery certainly, but not a really good mystery by that criterion.

One the thing the author does quite well is mimic the atmosphere of an early Holmes or Christie mystery. I loved the sort of foggy pre-electricity feeling I got from the book. It’s more of an homage than a cliche-fest in my mind. Definitely the best part of the book. The paranormal elements play right into it, and you almost get a sort of Jack the Ripper feel from this novel. In a very positive way. All the paranormal elements are quite well-researched.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. It’s not a literary masterpiece, but it’s a good book that both adults, middle-grade readers, and young adult readers will definitely appreciate. Assuming the like the genre, of course. (I interpret this book as YA, but it might be considered upper MG.)

Conclusion: 77/100 (A nice read)
Premise: 7/10 (Seen it before, but handled okay)
Plot: 8/10 (Not bad)
Setting: 9/10 (The old-time small town atmosphere was great)
Main Character: 8/10 (Not a stand-out character, but I really liked her spunk)
World-building 8/10 (Really felt a sense of the town and the world around it)
Mystery: 7/10 (I figured out the culprit early, only Jackaby could guess the type of creature)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Loved the characters Jackaby collects around him)
Writing: 7/10 (Not bad, but not brilliant)
Themes: 8/10 (Well-done)
Resolution: 7/10 (Made sense, but a bit too neat)

Buy Or Borrow: Worth buying if you like the genre, otherwise it might not hurt to borrow it from the library

Similar Books:
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Good Books and Good Wine
There Were Books Involved…
Jenny Blenk Reviews

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK Not currently available
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Young Adult: Blightborn by Chuck Wendig

blightborncover

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:
N/A

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.

Review:

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

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks Not available
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo Not available
Google Play Not available
nook Not available

Book Review: Young Adult: Saving June by Hannah Harrington

savingjunecover

‘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:
N/A

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

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Review:

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.

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

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