YA releases abound in March and this month I am featuring four debut novels. The Holders by Julianna Scott is a YA urban fantasy about children with special powers. Wasteland is a YA dystopia from the writing team of Susan Kim and Lawrence Klavan. Pretty Girl-13 is a YA contemporary with mystery/thriller/crime aspects by Liz Coley. Finally, The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett is a YA fantasy set at the creepy Arkwell Academy.
Christal’s Review - 4 Skulls – A
The Holders by Julianna Scott was a wonderful surprise! I really enjoyed this book and think it will appeal to a large variety of YA readers. I’ve seen the story compared to the X-Men comics but, for me, the similarities are very surface-level. We have a school that enrolls people with special powers, called Holders, and there is a battle between those that want to protect the status quo and those that want the Holders to rise up and claim control of the human race. Other than that, I didn’t see enough similarities to complain about. (Nota bene: Yes, I have read many of the X-Men comics and have seen the TV shows and movies.)
Really, my only gripe with this book was the slightly shaky world building. Since it is the first book in the series, it had a lot to set up and sometimes the explanations weren’t all the way there, but I’m okay with that. Hopefully we will have plenty more books in this series where all the little details can be ironed out. The storyline could get a little predictable here and there, but I was having so much fun with the characters and Ms. Scott’s wonderful story that it didn’t bother me at all.
I loved all of the characters, but especially Becca, Alex, Chloe, and Jocelyn. Becca is very likeable, plucky, and well-rounded and Alex makes a nice counterbalance to her personality in many ways. They complement each other and every scene where they are together was very sweet. Chloe was a great friend and added a bit of comedy and normalcy into Becca’s life. We have so much more to learn about Jocelyn, and I think he is going to be a very interesting character. This is a very exciting beginning from Ms. Scott and I cannot wait to read more books in The Holders world!
Thank you to Netgalley and Strange Chemistry for providing an ARC copy of this book!
Christal’s Review - 2 Skulls – C-
Wasteland has left me feeling pretty neutral. It wasn’t a horrible book, but it didn’t wow me in any way either. The story was a basic dystopian where everyone is struggling to survive, but we aren’t given any type of setting context to ground the story. Why is the rain poison? Why doesn’t anyone live past 19? Why is the world so destroyed? None of that is explained. Instead, this felt more like an installment from a larger series, like one TV episode taken from a much longer, complete season.
Esther and Caleb are the main characters and of course they had a case of insta-love. Caleb was given a desperate back story, but we really don’t learn anything about Esther or why she behaves and reacts as she does. All we know is that she is friends with Skar, a variant or mutant, and that their friendship is forbidden. The story revolves about Levi, the villain, and I never got a true read on him. The reasons we are given for his behavior didn’t seem like enough justification for his actions and all in all, they didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I did like the ending of the book and was satisfied enough with it to not feel the need to carry on in this series. Recommended for die-hard lovers of YA dystopia, but for anyone else, I’d say give this one a pass.
Thank you to Edelweiss and HarperTeen for providing an ARC copy of this book!
Christal’s Review - 4 Skulls – A-
Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley is somewhat hard to characterize. It is a YA contemporary but has elements of the crime and mystery/thriller genres as well. I found it to be a very different and satisfying read. Angie was abducted when she was 13 and she shows up on the doorstep of her house three years later with no memory of that time. She doesn’t remember what happened to her or anything having to do with the time she was away. It’s like she went to sleep a thirteen year-old and woke up sixteen.
It is discovered very early on that she has dissociative identity disorder and has created alternate personalities as a way to separate herself from the fear and pain she experienced. Angie was pretty much checked out for those three years and instead, her “alters” ran the show – Girl Scout and Little Wife mainly. The book focuses on Angie’s attempt to recall what happened to her during those three years and her decision to either integrate with or eliminate her alters.
This book had some very tough subject matter, but I found it fascinating. Angie had a perfect narrative voice; you empathized with her but you never pitied her. I loved that therapy was presented in such a good light as well. Sometimes therapists become demonized in fiction, but not here. I thought the characters surrounding Angie and the situations she had to face upon her return were realistic. All of the alters were unique and very interesting. I didn’t them to become as real as they did. It was almost like reading about completely separate characters. The story was very gripping and suspenseful and I found myself reading all of it in one night. I had a few little nitpicks here and there, but I found this story to be fascinating and am eager to see what Ms. Coley writes in the future. Because of the subject matter, I would recommend this one for older YA readers.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books for providing an ARC copy of this book!
Christal’s Review - 4 Skulls – B+
The Nightmare Affair was pure, unabashed fun! This novel is filled with interesting and unique lore and the world-building is very good. I especially liked the story behind the Nightmares and how they derived their power and interact with the world. Nightmares feed on dreams, the energy from them called fictus, and then use the power of their imagination to cast magic. It was very interesting and an idea that I haven’t seen presented before. Nightmares are a member of the darkkind, along with demons and vampires. The other two types of magickind are naturekind, faeries and dryads among them, and witchkind, witches and wizards and the like. It was a fairly well fleshed out society for a debut novel, but I am interested in learning more about how the three races interact.
Dusty is a Nightmare and then some; she soon finds out that she is a dream-seer and can enter someone else’s dreams to see the future. The only catch is that someone else is one particular person, studly bad boy Eli, and that they must now work as partners. I really liked Dusty. She was smart-mouthed and stong-willed, but she really cared for those around her and was deceptively fragile at times. I thought she had a pretty quick mind and I enjoyed all her quips. Eli was great as well. He started off a little rough, but it was nice to see him come around and accept Dusty as a relatively permanent fixture in his life. The rest of the characters varied from very developed, like Dusty’s mom and her best friend Selene, to little more than a passing reference here and there. There were a lot of colorful characters in every scene and I hope we get to see more of them in future books.
The plot was pretty fast-paced overall, but definitely flew in the second half. I liked the mystery behind the killer and the inclusion of Arthurian/Merlinian lore. I can’t say I was shocked by the big bad, but I still liked the way the climatic battle played out. All in all, I think this is a very promising start to a new series and I can’t wait to see what stories Mindee Arnett will tell in future novels!
Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Teen for providing an ARC copy of this book!
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