Early YA Mini Reviews: The Holders, Wasteland, Pretty Girl-13, & The Nightmare Affair

Mini Reviews

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.


The Holders by Julianna Scott
Book #1 in the Holders series
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Publication Date: 5 March 2013
ARC Provided by Netgalley and Strange Chemistry

Synopsis from Goodreads: 17-year-old Becca spent her whole life protecting her brother from, well, everything. The abandonment of their father, the so-called ‘experts’ who insist that voices in his head are unnatural and must be dealt with, and the constant threat of being taken away to some hospital and studied like an animal. When two representatives appear claiming to have the answers to Ryland’s perceived problem, Becca doesn’t buy it for one second. That is until they seem to know things about Ryland and about Becca and Ryland’s family, that forces Becca to concede that there may be more to these people than meets the eye. Though still highly skeptical, Becca agrees to do what’s best for Ryland.

What they find at St. Brigid’s is a world beyond their imagination. Little by little they piece together the information of their family’s heritage, their estranged Father, and the legend of the Holder race that decrees Ryland is the one they’ve been waiting for. However, they are all–especially Becca–in for a surprise that will change what they thought they knew about themselves and their kind.

She meets Alex, a Holder who is fiercely loyal to their race, and for some reason, Becca and Ryland. There’s an attraction between Becca and Alex that can’t be denied, but her true nature seems destined to keep them apart. However, certain destinies may not be as clear-cut as everyone has always believed them to be.

Becca is lost, but found at the same time. Can she bring herself to leave Ryland now that he’s settled and can clearly see his future? Will she be able to put the feelings she has for Alex aside and head back to the US? And can Becca and Ryland ever forgive their father for what he’s done?


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!

Rating: ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠ 


Wasteland by Susan Kim & Laurence Klavan
Book #1 in the Wasteland trilogy
Genre: YA Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic
Publication Date: 26 March 2013
ARC Provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen

Synopsis from Goodreads: Welcome to the Wasteland. Where all the adults are long gone, and now no one lives past the age of nineteen.

Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan’s post-apocalyptic debut is the first of a trilogy in which everyone is forced to live under the looming threat of rampant disease and brutal attacks by the Variants — hermaphroditic outcasts that live on the outskirts of Prin.

Esther thinks there’s more to life than toiling at harvesting, gleaning, and excavating, day after day under the relentless sun, just hoping to make it to the next day. But then Caleb, a mysterious stranger, arrives in town, and Esther begins to question who she can trust.

As shady pasts unravel into the present and new romances develop, Caleb and Esther realize that they must team together to fight for their lives and for the freedom of Prin.



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!

Rating: ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠ 


Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley
Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: 19 March 2013
ARC Provided by Edelweiss and Katherine Tegen Books

Synopsis from Goodreads: Reminiscent of the Elizabeth Smart case, Pretty Girl-13 is a disturbing and powerful psychological mystery about a girl who must piece together the story of her kidnapping and captivity.

Angie Chapman was thirteen years old when she ventured into the woods alone on a Girl Scouts camping trip. Now she’s returned home…only to find that it’s three years later and she’s sixteen-or at least that’s what everyone tells her.

What happened to the past three years of her life?

Angie doesn’t know.

But there are people who do—people who could tell Angie every detail of her forgotten time, if only they weren’t locked inside her mind. With a tremendous amount of courage, Angie embarks on a journey to discover the fragments of her personality, otherwise known as her “alters.” As she unearths more and more about her past, she discovers a terrifying secret and must decide: When you remember things you wish you could forget, do you destroy the parts of yourself that are responsible?

Liz Coley’s alarming and fascinating psychological mystery is a disturbing-and ultimately empowering-page-turner about accepting our whole selves, and the healing power of courage, hope, and love.


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!

Rating: ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠ 


Best of YA Mystery
The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett
Book #1 in the Arkwell Academy series
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Date: 5 March 2013
ARC Provided by Netgalley and Tor Teen

Synopsis from Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Dusty Everhart breaks into houses late at night, but not because she’s a criminal. No, she’s a Nightmare.


Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder.

Then Eli’s dream comes true.

Now Dusty has to follow the clues—both within Eli’s dreams and out of them—to stop the killer before more people turn up dead. And before the killer learns what she’s up to and marks her as the next target.


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!

Rating: ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠ 


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