Tag Archives: young adult fiction

Review: The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert

The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert

The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert (2021)

Anyone who’s ever asked why bad things happen to innocent people will relate to orphaned teenaged Briar Bishop. While the rich in the kingdom get richer, she’s raising her younger brother in the worst of the slums.

When she receives a mysterious invitation to a contest promising to grant the winner’s deepest wish, she ignores it—until desperation leaves her no choice.

The thing is, she gave up wishing long ago. Then gave up believing in the Wish Keeper (her world’s most powerful magic figure).

The contest will pit her against 11 others, all equally determined. One of them is High Prince Leopold Davenbrook. Leo’s public persona is a daredevil thrill-seeker, but Briar remembers him as a grieving 8-year-old watching the execution of Briar’s mother—for the murder of his.

The characters and their interconnections are richly developed, as are the events of the contest and its settings. The world itself has more technology than I often find in a fantasy novel. They have underground transport and personal communication devices, antibiotics (for the rich), and a form of television. Magic, while still a part of the world, is forbidden due to a past disaster.

One thing that might save you the confusion I had: some chapter titles include a date. That date only applies to that past timeline. Anything without a date at the beginning is the story’s present.

Favourite lines:

Iris screamed—louder this time, as if they all knew the answer but were withholding it from her and if she just raised her voce to the right decibel, they might finally explain. [Kindle page 142]

Good would win. Good had to win. And if good wasn’t winning, then it wasn’t the end. [Briar’s papa’s philosophy. Kindle pages 362-363]

Author K.E. Ganshert describers herself as “an award-winning author torn between two genres.” She writes YA fantasy and contemporary inspirational fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit katieganshert.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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The Trojan Horse Traitor, by Amy C. Blake

Amy C. BlakeAuthor Amy C. Blake visited earlier this year to talk about her novel, Whitewashed. (You can read that interview here.) Today, Amy returns to tell us about her newest release, The Trojan Horse Traitor.

Amy says:

I’m excited to share with you about my latest release, The Trojan Horse Traitor, a young adult fantasy novel about 13-year-old homeschooled pastor’s kid Levi Prince. Levi heads off to Camp Classic, a summer camp on Castle Island in the middle of Lake Superior, and instead finds himself in Terracaelum, a haven for mythical creatures that’s suspended above the lake.

As a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four, I love to read, and so do my children. We especially enjoy fantasy novels, but none of the books we read have homeschooled heroes. When Levi and Terracaelum entered my mind (I don’t remember exactly what made me dream them up), it was only natural that Levi be a redheaded, homeschooled pastor’s kid like my own children. Camp Classic came into being because we follow a Classical Christian educational system for our homeschool, and I thought it’d be intriguing to incorporate a story from Classical mythology into my plotline. I also thought it would be fun to make my runty main character tackle archery, fencing, canoeing, and wrestling, along with the torments of Latin verbs and History dates during summer break.

Here’s the blurb for The Trojan Horse Traitor:The Trojan Horse Traitor

Left on Castle Island to attend Camp Classic, thirteen-year-old homeschooler Levi Prince finds himself at the center of an enchanted world of amazing abilities, cloudy motives, and wicked beings that will challenge his very spirit. He begins to form friendships, but life at camp becomes more confusing as questionable activities and uncertain agendas bring about conflict that tests his character in ways he never expected. Finally, faced with a friend’s betrayal, Levi is forced to confront true evil. Will he find the courage to stand his ground, and to become the hero he was always meant to be?

The Trojan Horse Traitor is available in both e-book and paperback formats from Amazon. It’s also available from Barnes and Noble and Books a Million. I’m hosting a giveaway of two paperback copies of The Trojan Horse Traitor on Goodreads. You can enter now through December 14th.

Author Bio: Award-winning author Amy C. Blake is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four. She has an M.A. in English from Mississippi College and has written articles, devotionals, and short stories for a number of publications. She’d love for you to visit her website at amycblake.com for tips on homeschooling, advice for the rookie pastor’s wife, and helps for the Christian life. You can also find more information on her website about her novels–Whitewashed, Colorblind, and The Trojan Horse Traitor.


Review: The Unforgiving Sea, by Karen V. Robichaud

The Unforgiving Sea, by Karen V. RobichaudThe Unforgiving Sea, by Karen V. Robichaud (Word Alive Press, 2014)

When thirteen-year-old Logan Blanchard’s father dies in an accident, Logan loses not only his dad but his community. His mom drags him away from their military base home and his friends to a tiny seacoast town in Nova Scotia. And they don’t even get their own house. Logan is stuck living with his grandmother, who he loves, and her four special care patients, who drive him crazy.

Grief, resentment, and an anger at God for not keeping his father safe set Logan on a path of bad choices. He starts skipping school to work on a lobster boat, operated by a man who’s unstable and cruel.

The book’s greatest strength is the description of the sea scenes. Early mornings, fog, or storm, it feels like the reader is right there with Logan and his boss.

Its second strength is its characters. With all that he’s lost, and with the immediacy of first person, present tense, it’s impossible not to feel Logan’s frustration and pain. Occasional chapters from other characters’ points of view (his mother and a local police officer) fill in a broader perspective.

Logan’s “voice” sounds more like an adult, but his attitudes are definitely teen. I had some logistical concerns about the plot, mostly to do with how Logan could come home after a day’s fishing without his mother or grandmother detecting the smell of his activities. Or how neither of them grilled him that very first day when he returned after disappearing before breakfast.

Logan has no use for his grandmother’s clients, but it’s thought-provoking to see how his attitude begins to change as he gets to know them. There’s one scene in particular between him and Maxine, when he realizes she’s more than her surface behaviour.

The Unforgiving Sea is a coming-of-age novel with a lot of heart, and it won a Word Award (novel — contemporary) for work published in 2014. Canadian author Karen V. Robichaud‘s other books are An Evening Sky in Autumn and Where the River Flows.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: One Realm Beyond, by Donita K. Paul

One Realm Beyond, by Donita K. PaulOne Realm Beyond, by Donita K. Paul (Zondervan, 2014)

At 20 years old, Cantor is ready to step from apprenticeship into his role as a realm walker. His first solo assignment? Travel in another realm until he finds the mor dragon who will be his partner.

Cantor knows better than to accept the first dragon he meets, especially since the dragon manages to set himself on fire (while disguised as a haystack). But the dragon, Bridger, keeps following him.

Soon Cantor joins up with two other strangers to this realm and the three humans, plus the dragon and his cat, mount a daring attempt to rescue some imprisoned villagers.

Isn’t the cover art great?

Donita K. Paul’s worlds and cultures are always richly imagined and filled with lifelike details, and here she’s working with a number of different worlds—the different realms which the walkers access through portals.

One Realm Beyond is a good read for the YA market and for adults. The characters are engaging and they take on what looks like an impossible task in their desire to challenge the Realm Walkers Guild’s corruption. The book sets the scene for the series to follow. To me, it feels like two short episodes combined to reach novel length, and I found the transition between them a bit abrupt.

Within the story, the characters face issues and questions common to us here on earth: a ruling council corrupted by greed, places of worship with declining attendance, and the question of why a good deity would allow evil to flourish. For the characters, as for us, there are no easy answers, but Cantor and his friends will fight for justice and not accept the lie of “what can so few do against so many?”

Donita K. Paul is known for her young adult fantasy novels and the dragons she brings to life in them. I didn’t realize she’s also the author of a number of romances, under the names Kathleen Paul and Donita Kathleen Paul. Visit donitakpaul.com for more about the author, or click here to read a sample chapter of One Realm Beyond.

[A review copy was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was in no way compensated for this review.]

Review: Destination Unknown, by Amy Clipston

Destination Unknown, by Amy Clipston (Zondervan, 2014) Destination Unknown, by Amy Clipston

You’d think Whitney Richards has the perfect life. In her high school senior year, she’s captain of the cheerleading squad, getting straight A’s and on track for a prestigious college. Until a D on her recent calculus test prompts her mother to insist on a tutor. Could it get more humiliating for a girl who’s a tutor herself?

Truth told, Whitney doesn’t want to go to her mother’s exclusive alma mater after high school. All her life she’s complied with her parents’ directions, with her friends’ expectations. Who is she, really?

Her calculus tutor, Taylor, is good looking. And he likes the same books she does. He’s also from the poor side of town, and she’s surprised at how her friends treat him. How could she not have noticed how shallow and cliquish they are?

Whitney’s always been a nice girl, but she’s been insulated by her family’s wealth. Meeting Taylor and his sister challenges her to discover who she really is—and who she wants to be. Along the way she discovers that objective, true-to-herself choices are more than just choosing against her mother’s wishes.

Destination Unknown is an engaging story, and I liked Whitney and Taylor. The dialogue is natural, but many of Whitney’s internal observations would have benefited from another round of editing to convert the “telling” into “showing”. Examples: “His lips formed a thin line illustrating his discontentment.” (p. 31) and “I narrowed my eyes as animosity rushed through me.” (p. 159)

I also felt things wrapped up a little too tidily at the end. Still, it’s a good read and it could prompt teen readers to think about others’ feelings and about choices.

Amy Clipston is the bestselling author of the Kauffman Amish Bakery series for adults, as well as the YA novels Roadside Assistance and Reckless Heart. Destination Unknown is a sequel to Roadside Assistance but can be read independently.

[A review copy was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was in no way compensated for this review.]

Review: Sinking Deeper, by Steve Vernon

Sinking Deeper cover artSinking Deeper: Or My Questionable (Possibly Heroic) Decision to Invent a Sea Monster, by Steve Vernon (Nimbus, 2011)

Fourteen-year-old Roland lives in the dying seaside town of Deeper Harbour, Nova Scotia. His parents have separated, and when he’s with his police-chief father, he sleeps at the jail while his dad does night patrol.

Except when his grandfather convinces him to sneak out for some prank-type vandalism. That’s how the story opens, and lest parents be concerned, there are consequences and restitution. There’s also, through a madcap series of events, the inspiration of how to revitalize the town’s tourist industry so Roland’s mom won’t make him move to Ottawa in search of a better future.

Roland, along with Grandpa Angus, 15-year-old Dulsie, and her father Warren, will create a sea monster. And they do—through spreading rumours and building an actual “Fogopogo” for the townspeople’s “sightings”.

The story is told in the first person with evocative descriptions like this one:

I … squoodged the sleep-sand out of my eyeballs with the sides of my fists. (p. 3)

And observations like this one:

The idea that had been sneaking around the basement of my imagination jumped up and smacked me directly between the eyes. (p. 30)

This is a fun novel, heartwarming in places, and with plenty of humour. It also has plenty of depth, which, sadly, makes for a more realistic ending than I’d hoped. But the characters are delightful, and Roland discovers new layers to these people he’s grown up with and thinks he knows.

I heartily recommend Sinking Deeper for young adult readers and adults who are still in touch with their 12-to-14-year-old selves. Sinking Deeper was nominated for the Silver Birch and Hackmatack Awards.

Steve Vernon is the author of four collections of Maritime ghost stories, the children’s picture book Maritime Monsters, and more. He and his publisher, Nimbus, are local to me, but I heard of this book through a blog giveaway (and won!) You can learn more about Steve Vernon at his blog and on Facebook.

[Review copy won from Polilla Writes.]

Review: Oak Island Revenge, by Cynthia d’Entremont

Oak Island Revenge, by Cynthia d'Entremont

Oak Island Revenge, by Cynthia d’Entremont (Nimbus Publishing, 2012)

It’s 1958. Fourteen-year-old Jonah Morgan and his best friend Beaz live on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia (Canada). Nearby Oak Island is forbidden territory, so naturally it’s a rite of passage to row to the island and search for the legendary treasure.

This summer vacation, Jonah and Beaz are set to hit the island, but they’ll be even more secretive about it than most teens. Jonah’s mom is overprotective since his older brother died, and he’s pretty sure Beaz’s mom is abusive.

What they find on the island piles secrets on secrets. Jonah doesn’t want to lie, but he can’t tell the whole truth. When missing 16-year-old Charlotte Barkhouse turns up dead, surely what Jonah knows wouldn’t make a difference. Would it?

His parents and his dead older brother seem perfect, and Jonah can’t measure up no matter how good his intentions. As he wrestles with how much truth to tell and how much to hide, he begins to suspect that everyone has secrets of one sort or another and that life is more complicated than it looks.

Oak Island Revenge is a coming-of-age story that evokes the feel of 1950’s small-town Nova Scotia in a mystery for young adult readers. It’s one of those satisfying novels where all the threads weave in perfect balance to make an organic whole.

Author Cynthia d’Entremont has a fresh, vivid writing style with a satisfying splash of humour. She’s also the author of the award-winning young adult fantasy novel Unlocked.

[Review originally appeared on the Maranatha News site. Review copy provided by the author.]
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Review: There You’ll Find Me, by Jenny B. Jones

There You’ll Find Me, by Jenny B. Jones (Thomas Nelson, 2011)

Two years ago, Finley Sinclair’s older brother Will died in a terrorist attack while doing humanitarian work. She’s 18 now, and still broken. Her family hopes that a year as an exchange student in Ireland will bring her some closure, as she follows the steps Will recorded in his travel journal. Visiting the sites he loved will help her finish the music she’s composing in tribute, which will be her audition piece for entry into the New York Conservatory.

Teen actor Beckett Rush offers to be her driver—if she’ll work as his assistant. Beckett has charm, good looks, and a bad-boy reputation. She can’t finish her music without his truck, but can she resist his charms? And survive the venom of a jealous classmate?

Although Finley tries to talk to God, He’s been silent for a long time. Her music teacher, Sister Maria, is one safe place in the chaos around her. Her school community service project, visiting a hostile senior citizen, is not.

There You’ll Find Me is a young adult novel, and I’m hardly the target audience. But I’d heartily recommend it for teen girls and women of all ages. An unexpected bonus for me is that Finley is Alex’s younger sister from the author’s adult novel, Save the Date. I’d forgotten her name and was part way through the novel when I put the clues together, and I was so pleased to see her again and to get some news of the rest of the family.

Teens would enjoy Save the Date as well, but it’s not required. Each novel stands alone. Where one follows the other time-wise, reading There You’ll Find Me first would give away one or two key aspects of the first novel’s ending.

Jenny B. Jones is one of my favourite authors. Her characters come to life with a mix of spunk, sass and wit. There You’ll Find Me is funny, touching, and real. And the Ireland it portrays is beautiful. The Thomas Nelson product page has links to a sample chapter and to a discussion guide.

You can find Jenny at her website and her blog. While she’s best known for her young adults’ “Charmed Life” series, (which are good fun for adults as well) she’s also written two novels for adults (safe for teens too). I’ve reviewed them here: Just Between You and Me and Save the Date.

[Complimentary electronic review copy provided by the publisher through BookSneeze®]

Review: Unlocked, a novel by Cynthia d’Entremont

Unlocked, by Cynthia d’Entremont (Word Alive Press, 2010)

“What if you lived in a world where killing was a rite of passage?”

Jaron, Devora and Benjamin have survived in Leviathon’s crowded Garbage Heaps for ten years, longing for the day they could leave. But the world outside the cinderblock wall is more dangerous than they know.

Abandoned in the Heaps as five-years, by the time they leave at 15 their innocence and hope are gone. Jaron still clings to memory fragments and his one possession: a key he must keep hidden.

Unlocked follows Jaron and Devora in their separate experiences outside the wall. Leviathon’s secrets run deeper and darker than its citizens know, and what the two teens discover puts them in mortal danger.

This is action-fantasy, as opposed to a slower-paced and longer epic fantasy. It’s a fast read, dark but not overwhelming. I appreciated the author’s light touch with heavy issues; readers know what happens, but the graphic parts occur “off-screen.”

It’s a novel that will appeal to adults as well as to the age 15+ readers at which it’s aimed. There’s Christian allegory for those who want to find it, but the faith element is subtle enough to make the book suitable for Christians and those of other or no faith.

The characters are believable: wounded by their environment but courageous enough to fight for what’s right. The setting, while not our own, has a city and countryside we can relate to. And the societal issues, while overtly different, include some that are very familiar: homelessness, violence and injustice.

Since I finished the novel I’ve been puzzling over the how and why of Devora’s encounter with her enemy. I think I have the “how” settled, and I have some ideas about the “why” but I’m still curious. To say more would be to spoil a key plot point, but it’s something I hope will be explained in the sequel.

Unlocked is the 2009 Word Alive free publishing contest winner in the fiction category and is now available online or through your local bookseller. You can learn more about the novel and about Canadian author Cynthia d’Entremont at her website.

Note: Cynthia is a personal friend. While that predisposed me to see the good things in the novel, it doesn’t account for how strongly the story and characters drew me in or how long I thought about them afterward. I’m now in danger of putting our friendship at risk by repeatedly asking how the sequel is coming along.

[Book source: I bought my own copy of Unlocked at the novel’s launch party.]

Review: Last Breath, a novel by Brandilyn Collins and Amberly Collins

Last Breath, by Brandilyn Collins and Amberly Collins

Last Breath, by Brandilyn Collins and Amberly Collins (Zondervan, 2009)

Last Breath picks up where Always Watching, book one in the Rayne Tour series, leaves off, and it’s been a long wait to find out what happens.

Shaley O’Connor is the sixteen-year-old daughter of rock star Rayne O’Connor. Book one took her through paparazzi harassment and even worse: the deaths of some key members of Rayne’s concert tour team. Shaley herself was in danger, and the villain’s dying words warned her the problems were far from over.

Then we had to wait for the next book to release!

Living the rock star life has stresses of its own, but Shaley’s biggest issue (apart from the danger she met in book one) is that she never knew her father, and her mother won’t even tell her his name. Mother and daughter have a good relationship, but Shaley needs to know.

When Rayne is hospitalized, Shaley won’t leave her side. Rayne overhears Shaley talking about the words the killer whispered with his last breath, and knows danger still haunts them.

Partly to distract Shaley while the police search for threats, Rayne decides to tell her daughter the truth about her father. This love story from the past alternates with scenes from the present as we watch suspicious characters plotting to reach Rayne and Shaley.

Last Breath is a young adult novel that adults will enjoy too. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters are all reading this series. I preferred Last Breath to Always Watching simply because there were no teen-girls-at-the-mall scenes (in my 40’s I don’t relate well, but I really liked both books).

This novel is both suspense and love story—and a bewildered teen trying to protect her mother, stay safe, and figure out life. I had the rare chance to read the entire novel in one sitting, and I’m glad—it would have been really hard to put down.

It ends with more closure than the first book, but I still want to read the last instalment: Final Touch comes out in May 2010. I have a feeling Cat, the malicious photographer, will find a way back into Shaley’s life.

You can read the first chapter of Last Breath here, but don’t read it unless you’ve already read Always Watching. The series is worth reading in order, with no spoilers. Also, check out an interesting podcast interview with the mother-daughter writing team at the Fiction Addict blog.

Thank you to Lena Nelson Dooley for offering Last Breath on her blog, A Christian Writer’s World. I won my copy there!

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