Title: Hounded

Author: Kevin Hearne

Release Date: Available

I did not really realize going into reading Hounded that it wasn’t strictly YA, and while at first I was disappointed, I soon realized that there were quite a few elements to this mythology-based fantasy that I actually quite enjoyed.

The greatest appeal to readers I think will be its gender neutrality. The main character, Atticus, is a smart and smart-ass druid. If anything, his narration will appeal more to guys than to girls, though I liked him a fair amount. Perhaps he was a little too much of a smart-ass sometimes… but I guess living for over 2,000 years could get to anyone’s head, right? Generally though, I thought he displayed a believable amount heroism and smarts, which made him a very real character to me. I also loved his dog, Oberon. He was hilarious and kind of a cutie (but don’t tell him I said so because it might offend his masculinity). For each character I was introduced to over the course of the novel, I had to evaluate who I could trust and who I couldn’t; it kept me on my toes in a more subtle way than if Hearne had thrown in a bunch of twists.

Yet, I’m doubtless that the main drive behind the book was its plot. The novel took place in urban Arizona, but had quite a few high-fantasy aspects thrown in in a way I think will thoroughly satisfy most people’s fantasy appetites. There was stuff that was disturbing like witches possessing pretty girls; stuff that was classic like werewolves; stuff that was new like the Celtic aspects; and stuff that was just plain cool, namely Atticus and his various powers, especially his connection to Oberon.

The most common problems with fantasy are pacing problems. Probably my favorite thing about the novel was that it did not suffer from these problems for the most part. I didn’t always have a strong urge to pick it up, but once I got into it, I never had the urge to put it down either, as I often do when books begin to drag. I do think, however, that because it wasn’t strictly YA I had a harder time personally connecting with Atticus. While fairly entertained throughout the novel, I felt a bit of a disconnect that kept me from being completely immersed. For that reason, I think that this book would appeal to upper YA readers or those who are interested in branching out into adult, especially the guys. I’ve also heard that the sequels are better, so I will be checking them out!

Review by Casey

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Black City

Black City

Title: Black City

Author: Elizabeth Richards

Release Date: Available

When I picked up Black City, I knew that there was a good chance it was going to be a bandwagon-jumper, but I held on to a hope that, even though vampires and dystopia are clearly getting to be overdone, it would have some unique or outstanding quality to add to the bandwagon. Unfortunately, I found that several scenes reminded me of other popular series out there and the world-building that’s gotten high praise from other reviewers was mimicking history with a supernatural twist.

The book follows Natalie and Ash, the daughter of the Emissary in their crumbling nation and a half-Darkling “twin-blood” boy. Though they can’t stand each other at first due to their conflicting backgrounds, they soon realize they’re Blood Mates when Ash’s dormant Darkling heart starts beating. The book alternates between Natalie and Ash’s perspectives as they uncover the secrets of the corrupt government, fight for an end to a deadly drug craze, and struggle to hide their forbidden love. The scenario obviously has potential, but the writing held it back.

From start to finish, I felt disengaged from the characters; I constantly had to check from whose perspective I was reading because the characters were underdeveloped and melded together. They lacked the three-dimensional complexity that engages me, which made me apathetic toward their fate. I also felt that the relationship (which was indubitably the dreaded “instalove”) and other emotional events happened too quickly, with no foreshadowing before or processing after something supposedly intense or shocking happened. Hopefully Richardson, who, granted, is a debut author, will nail down the fundamental “show don’t tell” rule in her sequels.

The setting and world-building have received some high praise from reviewers, but I noticed that it was strikingly similar to the Holocaust and WWII. There were ghettos, migration camps, concentration camps, a Doctor Mengele-esque character, a Nazi-esque group, and a dictator who used the Darklings as a scapegoat for the nation’s problems.  And though it was creepy at times, I thought it lacked the relentless horrors of a war book. It was also heavily inspired by other series, even if just in small scenes. For example:

Gregory stretches out a hand toward Natalie.

‘I’m Gregory Thompson,’ he says. ‘My father works for the Department of Subspecies Management, sorts out the Synth-O-Blood shipments to the Legion, that sort of thing. Maybe you’ve heard of him?’

Natalie smiles politely. ‘The name doesn’t ring a bell.’

He looks disappointed. ‘Well, it’s an honor to have you here. I’ll happily show you around the school—’

‘Day’s doing that, but thanks,’ she says dismissively.

‘You don’t want to be seen with her sort, she’s one of the Rise kids,’ he says to Natalie. ‘I’ll set you up with the right type of people to know.’

Day’s cheeks turn red.

‘I can make my own mind up about who the ‘right type of people’ are,’ Natalie snaps. ‘I’m already getting a pretty good idea of who I want to avoid’ (57).

Furthermore, there are several scenes that are likewise “heavily inspired” by Twilight and New Moon, as well as a President Snow of The Hunger Games. Sometimes these snippets are inconsequential to the plot, but they nonetheless occur too often for my taste.

There is certainly an audience for Black City; it was designed to appeal to Hunger Games and Twilight fans. Some will find it quick, readable, and entertaining. Even I like something a little fluffy every once and a while. Yet, while the book had a lot of potential to add something unique to the vampire/dystopia collection, the ideas were too underdeveloped and unoriginal to really grasp me personally. 2/5 stars.

Review by Casey

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Title: Fracture

Author: Megan Miranda

Release Date: Available

There is often a very distinct line between YA contemporary and YA science fiction/paranormal fantasy, and often you will find fans of one or the other but not both. I myself have always thought of myself as a paranormal-type, but the more I read the more I realize that my enjoyment of a book has little to do with the specific sub-genre or how unique the synopsis sounds, and has a lot more to do with the skill of the author in holding my attention and evoking my emotions.

When I picked up Fracture, it wasn’t the synopsis that intrigued me, really. Though science-fictiony concept of supernatural abilities due to brain damage did interest me, it was the way the excerpt was written that grabbed me and made me want more. Consistently, Miranda’s writing throughout the novel was skillful and her pacing was perfect. Though I generally have a hard time connecting emotionally with novels, (I mean, I didn’t even cry forThe Fault in Our Stars), the feelings of the characters in Fracture were so tangible that I could feel them myself. Altogether the novel was so real and reality is what we’re essentially looking for in fiction , isn’t it?

Breaking away from current trends, Miranda has created a unique blend of paranormal, contemporary and quiet horror that I just couldn’t get enough of. I recommend this to anyone who wants something new and immersive. Something not scary, but with a (pitch-perfect) small-town-horror tone. Something with a little romance and a lot of intensity. If that sounds good to you, then I can’t recommend this book enough. 5/5 stars.

Review by Casey

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Title: Pure

Author: Julianna Baggott

Release Date: Available

When I started Pure by Julianna Baggott, I really had no idea what to expect. I prepared myself for something entertaining but not memorable, and hopefully not too typical. What I got… completely blew me out of the water. I’m beyond impressed with the totally engaging world, complex characters, and the fact that it made me think, and like thinking, and reminded me why I love reading.

Pure primarily follows two characters: Pressia, who lives in a world completely devastated by the Detonations, where everyone is fused to whatever they were near when the Detonations went off (i.e. a baby doll for a hand, birds in a back, a fan in a throat, two people fused together) and Partridge, who is part of an elite, “pure” society in a carefully controlled dome that is safe from radiation and other effects of the Detonations, but subject to mysterious experimentations that possibly take away one’s humanity. Both characters were likable and three-dimensional, and over time developed a real relationship for each other that wasn’t romantic, which is nice to see among YA’s “instalove” collection. Even minor characters were very well fleshed-out and I genuinely liked reading from everyone’s perspective and how it would bring the story to different places.

The best part by far, however, was the world-building. The Detonations were a science fiction expansion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which is one of those morbidly interesting topics. Baggott is extremely skilled at developing her theories in several scenarios to make even the most unbelievable of things believable. Not to mention that it’s creepy! There is definitely some disturbing content, but it was all so very well done that I thoroughly enjoyed the being-creeped-out part. I also found it to be very neat, as in tidy, in that it’s organization and pacing held my interest until the end, at which point everything came to a (beyond) satisfactory conclusion. I was left wanting more, but NOT because of too many unanswered questions!

I really don’t know why I haven’t seen more about this book, because it is by far one of the best books I’ve come across since involving myself in the bookish world. It was fascinating, relevant, engaging and I just liked reading it without being distracted by annoying characters or “instalove.” I recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian, science fiction and a little bit of history, but is weary of reading something overdone, and most of all I recommend it to those who enjoy being told a good story. I feel that I can’t do Pure justice in words, but suffice it to say that I can tell it will always be a favorite of mine. 5/5 stars.

Review by Casey

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Title: UnWholly – Book Two in the Unwind Trilogy

Author: Neal Shusterman

Release Date: Available

I know what you’re thinking: What! Unwind has a sequel? Does there need to be a sequel? This will either be pure awesomeness or the biggest letdown ever.

To answer your questions: 1) Yes, it’s going to be a trilogy! And 2) No, Unwind is not in need of a sequel. It’s perfectly complete as a standalone. But that doesn’t mean that the sequel was not pure awesomeness. Because, without a doubt, it was.

In Unwind, we saw the dire consequences of a world where unwinding is substituted for abortion. UnWholly continues to explore these consequences without dragging on the story. Instead, there is fresh content: A boy made entirely of unwind parts, the perspectives of the three characters we know and love along with altogether new protagonists, antagonists (!) and those characters you just can’t make up your mind about, as well as the occasional omnipresent perspective that I personally find so unique and striking.

What I admire most about Neal Shusterman’s novels is that he leaves no question unanswered, no loopholes. No detail is ignored to convey the greater message. This is what makes his work so insightful. His work reveals truths applicable to humanity in any setting, one of them being “that people believe what they’re told. Maybe not the first time, but by the hundredth time, the craziest of ideas just becomes a given” (86) that is so relevant in more than just this novel. And though the intense plot kept me flipping pages, Shusterman’s commentary is the most fascinating part that keeps UnWholly far from being forgettable. 5/5 stars.

Review by Casey

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