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Three middle-schoolers p0wn the superhero community — if you liked The Incredibles then this book is for you.


Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain

Curiosity Quills Press, 2014, 374 pages




Penelope Akk wants to be a superhero. She's got superhero parents. She's got the ultimate mad science power, filling her life with crazy gadgets even she doesn't understand. She has two super powered best friends. In middle school, the line between good and evil looks clear.

In real life, nothing is that clear. All it takes is one hero's sidekick picking a fight, and Penny and her friends are labeled supervillains. In the process, Penny learns a hard lesson about villainy: She's good at it.

Criminal masterminds, heroes in power armor, bottles of dragon blood, alien war drones, shape shifters and ghosts, no matter what the super powered world throws at her, Penny and her friends come out on top. They have to. If she can keep winning, maybe she can clear her name before her mom and dad find out.


A superhero novel for the true superhero fan. )

Verdict: A fun, light-hearted adventure for anyone who loves superhero comic books, especially those aimed at the younger set. Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain surprised me with how much I liked it; I plan to get the soon-to-be-published sequel as soon as it's out. 9/10.





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A girls' adventure in World War II.


Code Name Verity

Disney-Hyperion, 2012, 343 pages




Code Name Verity is a compelling, emotionally rich story with universal themes of friendship and loyalty, heroism and bravery. Two young women from totally different backgrounds are thrown together during World War II: one a working-class girl from Manchester, the other a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a wireless operator. Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly and before long become devoted friends. But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in Verity's own words, as she writes her account for her captors.


Stories with Nazis rarely have happy endings. )

Verdict: Code Name Verity gets most of its mileage from being about daring girls doing dangerous things, and as a World War II story it's quite good, if decidedly juvenile. Not too juvenile — it's grimmer than most YA. But while ideal for a teenage reader, it probably will not satisfy an adult reader of war stories.




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Yes, it's basically Harry Potter fan fiction. If you like that kind of thing (ahem).


The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin

Palomino Press, 2013, 368 pages




Supremely curious Rachel Griffin yearns to know everything. Arriving at Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts — located in New York’s Hudson Highlands — she discovers a world more secret than the World of the Wise that hides magic from the Unwary mundanes. Rushing forward where others fear to tread, Rachel finds herself in the midst of wraith attacks, duels, and evil, fire-breathing teachers. Whoever imagined so much could go awry in just the first week!


Somebody is writing a series about a teenage witch in the American wizarding world? )

Verdict: A delightful if not unflawed work of professional fan fiction, I enjoyed The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin very much despite and because of my biases, which were many. This would almost get my "Highly Recommended" tag except that my recommendation is too qualified; if the premise appeals to you, then definitely give it a shot, but I am basically recommending a book based on a Harry Potter/Narnia roleplaying game. So, I leave it up to your discretion whether you think "Holy crap, that sounds really cool!" or "What the hell are you smoking?"




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A post-apocalyptic epic poem for Young Adults.


Thaliad

Phoenicia Publishing, 2012, 103 pages




Thaliad is a post-apocalyptic tale, orchestrated in verse. Part novel, part fantasy, and always compelling, it tells the story of a group of children who make an arduous journey of escape and then settle in a deserted rural town on the shores of a beautiful lake. There, they must learn how to survive, using tools and knowledge they discover in the ruins of the town, but also how to live together. At the heart of the story is the young girl Thalia, who gradually grows to womanhood, and into the spiritual role for which she was destined.

Following in the great tradition of narrative poetry, Thaliad tells a gripping story populated with sharply-drawn, memorable characters whose struggles illuminate the complexity of human behavior from its most violent to most noble. At the same time, through its accessible language and style, the epic presents wholly contemporary questions about what is necessary not only for physical survival, but for the flourishing of the human spirit.

Thaliad is decorated throughout with original collages by the renowned Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins.


YEAR 1 AFTER THE FIRE. The endless mourning of a boy. A highway, drear or harrowing. A moment of wild thoughtlessness that sealed the end of innocence. )

Verdict: I loved this. Who the hell writes a post-apocalyptic YA novella in blank verse? Obviously, someone inspired by a non-commercial muse. Thaliad is beautiful and touching and deserves a wider audience. Highly recommended!

Also by Marly Youmans: My review of The Curse of the Raven Mocker and Ingledove.




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September goes to the Moon, learns a few things about Fairies, confronts a Yeti, and wrestles with predestination.


The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

Feiwel & Friends , 2013, 248 pages




September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.


Oh September, you are growing up so fast. But Catherynne Valente, you need to slow down. )

Verdict: I don't want to say slump or slide or, Black Cosmic Dog-forbid, disappointment, but the very high bar set by the previous two Fairyland books was not quite cleared by this one. I loved The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, but with a love that had already been stoked by expectations and a large amount of forgiveness. The wit and humor and tenderness is still there, and so is Catherynne Valente's incomparable imagination, and the life lessons for our girl September are getting harder and richer, but I hope that for the fourth Fairyland book, Ms. Valente's editor borrows September's Stern Mask.

Also by Catherynne Valente: My reviews of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, The Habitation of the Blessed, Silently and Very Fast and Deathless.




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Superheroes are the bad guys in Brandon Sanderson's rewrite of Mistborn.


Steelheart

Delacorte, 2013, 384 pages




Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart - the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning - and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed.

And he wants revenge.


Brandon Sanderson writes entertaining Brandon Sanderson fanfic. )

Verdict: Steelheart was a fun read. Brandon Sanderson doing superheroes will appeal to you if you like superheroes and/or Brandon Sanderson and are willing to overlook the limitations of both. It is not his best work, nor is it his worst, and likewise it's neither the best nor the worst superhero novel I've ever read (I have read quite a few).

Also by Brandon Sanderson: My reviews of Elantris, The Mistborn trilogy, The Alloy of Law, and The Way of Kings.




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The Newsflesh trilogy ends with more conspiracies, and the squickiest part is not what you think. (Or maybe it is.)


Blackout

Orbit, 2012, 659 pages




"Rise up while you can." (Georgia Mason)

The year was 2014. It was the year we cured cancer, the year we cured the common cold, and the year the dead started to walk. It was the year of the Rising.

The year was 2039. The world didn't end when the zombies came, it just got worse. Georgia and Shaun Mason set out on the biggest story of their generation. They uncovered the biggest conspiracy since the Rising and realized that to tell the truth, sacrifices have to be made.

Now, the year is 2041, and the investigation that began with the election of President Ryman is much bigger than anyone had assumed. With too much left to do and not much time left to do it in, the surviving staff of After the End Times must face mad scientists, zombie bears, rogue government agencies - and if there's one thing they know is true in post-zombie America, it's this:

Things can always get worse.

Blackout is the conclusion to the epic trilogy that began in the Hugo-nominated Feed and the sequel, Deadline.


Warning: Incestuous necrophiliac spoilers, and a lot of irritated swearing about a book I actually liked. )

Verdict: This was a pretty solid conclusion to the Newsflesh trilogy. Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire is not about to become my favorite author: this series was pretty much brain candy. But it's tasty brain candy, even if you aren't normally into zombie novels.

Also by Mira Grant: My reviews of Feed and Deadline.




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A girly YA romance pretending to be a superhero novel.


One

Createspace/self-published, 2013, ~ 76,000 words




When having two powers makes you a Super and having none makes you a Normal, having only one makes you a sad half-superpowered freak. It makes you a One. Sixteen-year-old Merrin Grey would love to be able to fly - too bad all she can do is hover. If she could just land an internship at the Biotech Hub, she might finally figure out how to fix herself. She busts her butt in AP Chem and salivates over the Hub's research on the manifestation of superpowers, all in hopes of boosting her chances. Then she meets Elias VanDyne, another One, and all her carefully crafted plans fly out the window. Literally. When the two of them touch, their Ones combine to make them fly, and when they're not soaring over the Nebraska cornfields, they're busy falling for each other. Merrin's mad chemistry skills land her a spot on the Hub's internship short list, but as she gets closer to the life she always wanted, she discovers that the Hub's purpose is more sinister than it has always seemed. Now it's up to her to decide if it's more important to fly solo, or to save everything - and everyone - she loves.


I was willing to give a self-published superhero novel a chance, but I got kissy-kissy-woo-woo. )

Verdict: For a self-published novel, One is not bad. It's not great, but I've read worse that was professionally published, so if the cover appeals to you, it's worth a few bucks. Be aware, however, that the cover is telling you exactly what you're going to get: a floaty girl in a YA romance. I wanted a superhero novel, and this is as much a superhero novel as Twilight is a vampire novel.




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A fun but dilute imitation of Heinlein, with extra gay.


Debris Dreams

Candlemark & Gleam, 2012, approx. 72,000 words




In space, one mistake can be deadly...even more so when you’re at war. After a terrorist attack, Spacer teen Drusilla Xao is drafted into a war fought in the cold of space, with no hope of relief or reinforcements. The only thing that keeps her sane is her correspondence with her earthbound girlfriend Sarah, and the dream of one day setting foot on Earth. The hardest part of being conscripted isn't learning to kill – it's learning to survive.


Someone has played a lot of Traveller and watched a lot of anime and Firefly. )

Verdict: This debut novel is a not-bad entry in the Heinleinesque hard SF YA genre (a genre I have no small amount of interest in), but as much as I wanted to like it a lot, the writing oozed too much self-indulgence for me to really, really like it. Debris Dreams is an action-packed romp, and the author definitely shows promise.




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Fat princess saves the kingdom. Many descriptions of food.


The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Greenwillow, 2011, 423 pages




Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.


Why why do I keep YAing? )

Verdict: Better writing than the average YA novel, with a genuinely intelligent and engaging protagonist and serviceable worldbuilding, but The Girl of Fire and Thorns was an unexceptional book that's definitely aimed at a younger, girlier audience. Okay, but not for me.




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An EMP wipes out civilization and turns teenagers into zombies.


Ashes

Egmont, 2011, 465 pages




It could happen tomorrow....

An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions. Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushes her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom, a young soldier, and Ellie, a girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP. For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it's now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human.

Author Ilsa J. Bick crafts a terrifying and thrilling novel about a world that could be ours at any moment, where those left standing must learn what it means not just to survive, but to live amidst the devastation.


A post-apocalyptic thriller about getting those damn kids off your lawn. )

Verdict: On the one hand, it's just another YA zombie book. On the other, it's not bad. While Ashes does not win any awards in my estimation for originality or spectacular writing, it's above average, and I actually liked the characters and the story pulled me along, so I'll give it the highest praise I can: I am sufficiently interested to read the next book in the series.




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A fresh Heinleinesque juvenile, a boy's adventure on the Moon.


Apollo's Outcasts

Prometheus Books, 2012, 311 pages




Jamey Barlowe has been crippled since childhood, the result of being born on the Moon. He lives his life in a wheelchair, only truly free when he is in the water. But then Jamey's father sends him, along with five other kids, back to the Moon to escape a political coup d'etat that has occurred overnight in the United States. Moreover, one of the other five refugees is more than she appears. Their destination is the mining colony, Apollo. Jamey will have to learn a whole new way to live, one that entails walking for the first time in his life.

It won't be easy and it won't be safe. But Jamey is determined to make it as a member of Lunar Search and Rescue, also known as the Rangers. This job is always risky but could be even more dangerous if the new US president makes good on her threat to launch a military invasion. Soon Jamey is front and center in a political and military struggle stretching from the Earth to the Moon.


Teens in space! Maybe YA isn't hopeless after all. )

Verdict: A damn fun novel for anyone nostalgic for old Heinlein juveniles. Highly recommended for anyone fond of YA SF, or looking for some good YA for boys.


Also by Allen Steele: My review of Coyote.




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A hot mess of a book in which the protagonist hooks up with her high school crush in the vampire post-apocalypse (sigh). I only read it for the autistic character.


The Farm

Penguin Books, 2012, 420 pages




Life was different in the Before: before vampires began devouring humans in a swarm across America; before the surviving young people were rounded up and quarantined. These days, we know what those quarantines are—holding pens where human blood is turned into more food for the undead monsters, known as Ticks. Surrounded by electrical fences, most kids try to survive the Farms by turning on each other…

And when trust is a thing of the past, escape is nearly impossible.

Lily and her twin sister Mel have a plan. Though Mel can barely communicate, her autism helps her notice things no one else notices—like the portion of electrical fence that gets turned off every night. Getting across won’t be easy, but as Lily gathers what they need to escape, a familiar face appears out of nowhere, offering to help…

Carter was a schoolmate of Lily’s in the Before. Managing to evade capture until now, he has valuable knowledge of the outside world. But like everyone on the Farm, Carter has his own agenda, and he knows that behind the Ticks is an even more dangerous threat to the human race...


Why bother, it's YA? In which I stop taking recommendations from Maria V. Snyder. )

Verdict: Occupying the low end of "readable," raising absolutely no expectations where YA is concerned, The Farm is a YA-mill vampire book with a few salvageable bits that made reading it not a complete waste of my time, but it will probably be a waste of yours.




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Nine annoying wannabe-celebrity teens stow away on a trip to Mars. Things go wrong. Most of them rise to the occasion.


Losers in Space

Viking, 2012, 432 pages




It is the year 2129 . . . and fame is all that matters

Susan and her friends are celebutantes. Their lives are powered by media awareness, fed by engineered meals, and underscored by cynicism. Everyone has a rating; the more viewers who ID you, the better. So Susan and her almost-boyfriend Derlock cook up a surefire plan: the nine of them will visit a Mars-bound spaceship and stow away. Their survival will be a media sensation, boosting their ratings across the globe.

There’s only one problem: Derlock is a sociopath.

Breakneck narrative, pointed cultural commentary, warm heart, accurate science, a kickass heroine, and a ticking clock . . . who could ask for more?


YA that does not suck! YA that has teens behaving like realistic teens, including teh sex! YA that is... full of infodumps. )

Verdict: This is a fantastic book that would have been more fantastic without the author's only semi-successful attempt to lampshade the infodumps. Full of suspense, clever plot twists, humanity, and heartbreak, it is a great read in the spirit of the best Heinlein juveniles, and an example of YA SF occasionally gotten right.




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A whiny asthmatic protagonist angsts for several hundred pages 'cause being a teenager is so hard when you're the center of the universe.


On the Jellicoe Road

Harper Teen, 2008, 419 pages




In this lyrical, absorbing, award-winning novel, nothing is as it seems, and every clue leads to more questions.

At age eleven, Taylor Markham was abandoned by her mother. At fourteen, she ran away from boarding school, only to be tracked down and brought back by a mysterious stranger. Now seventeen, Taylor's the reluctant leader of her school's underground community, whose annual territory war with the Townies and visiting Cadets has just begun. This year, though, the Cadets are led by Jonah Griggs, and Taylor can't avoid his intense gaze for long. To make matters worse, Hannah, the one adult Taylor trusts, has disappeared. But if Taylor can piece together the clues Hannah left behind, the truth she uncovers might not just settle her past, but also change her future.


In which a YA novel once again reminds how annoying teens are. )

Verdict: On the Jellicoe Road is a roller coaster of dramatic teen tragedy and breathless bittersweet emotions. It's fast-paced and a quick and easy read, but unless you are a fan of all things Young Adult and occupy the emotional head-space of a teenager, grown-ups may have a hard time savoring the angst in this critically-acclaimed YA novel.




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Two girls enter, one girl leaves -it's Katniss Everdeen some chick in the Thunderdome a post-apocalyptic future.


Blood Red Road

Simon and Schuster, 2011, 466 pages




Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That's fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother, Lugh, is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba's world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she's a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Blood Red Road has a searing pace, a poetically minimal writing style, violent action, and an epic love story. Moira Young is one of the most promising and startling new voices in teen fiction.


The bloody mediocrity of YA fiction. )

Verdict: This is a perfectly pleasant if unexceptional bit of YA adventure. It is fun and a decent read and it's really not fair to call it derivative of The Hunger Games since it's clearly its own world and its own story with only superficial similarities. However, it's a middle-of-the-road YA offering; there is promise here and some engaging writing, but the author did not risk enough or do anything really new. It's better than a lot of YA books I've read, but certainly not a book to convince you that YA books have anything to offer that their grown-up equivalents aren't much better at.




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Two girls enter, one girl leaves -it's Katniss Everdeen some chick in the Thunderdome a post-apocalyptic future.


Blood Red Road

Simon and Schuster, 2011, 466 pages




Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That's fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother, Lugh, is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba's world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she's a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Blood Red Road has a searing pace, a poetically minimal writing style, violent action, and an epic love story. Moira Young is one of the most promising and startling new voices in teen fiction.


The bloody mediocrity of YA fiction. )

Verdict: This is a perfectly pleasant if unexceptional bit of YA adventure. It is fun and a decent read and it's really not fair to call it derivative of The Hunger Games since it's clearly its own world and its own story with only superficial similarities. However, it's a middle-of-the-road YA offering; there is promise here and some engaging writing, but the author did not risk enough or do anything really new. It's better than a lot of YA books I've read, but certainly not a book to convince you that YA books have anything to offer that their grown-up equivalents aren't much better at.




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It wants to be Lord of the Flies + Austin Powers; it's actually Mean Girls + LiveJournal.


Beauty Queens

Scholastic, 2011, 396 pages




The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What's a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program - or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan - or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.


So very earnest and precious and mildly amusing, but not half as smart as it thinks it is and it treats its audience as being not half as smart as they are. )

Verdict: Snarky snarkety snark snark snarkingly. Beauty Queens is unsubtly, anviliciously funny, and you will probably agree with the messages and maybe even chuckle a little. But it's not a serious book; the plot does not wear even a G-string of plausibility, and it's more like reading someone's collection of humorous fanfic outtakes than a novel. It also assumes that the audience is denser than Miss Mississippi and must have every message reinforced, underlined, and highlighted, making it the sort of joke where half the time the teller ruins it by explaining the punchline. This is a book for people who like their socially-aware satire delivered liked anvils launched from a catapult.




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