Tag Archives: YA/MG

Triple Play: More YA

A Deadly EducationA Deadly Education by Naomi Novick
Rating: ★★★½
Series: The Scholomance #1
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
Pages: 336
Genre: supernatural, YA
Project: halloween bingo

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.

I read this book for my Dark Academia square, which is one of my favorite literary tropes. This one was an interesting take on the legend of the “scholomance,” which is a fabled school of black magic in Romania, especially the region of Transylvania, built and run by the devil. The MC, El (Galadriel – yes, her mom is the sort of witch who names her daughter Galadriel) is a witch who is basically prophesied as the witch who is likely to destroy the world with her magic. The Scholomance itself is a place of desperate risk, where child-eating monsters roam the corridors and the students regularly die. Graduation essentially involves running the gauntlet of hungry monsters after 4 years worth of prep, and by design not everyone makes it through.

And man, she does have some strong magic. Everything she does, whether she intends to do it for good, more or less turns to evil. She asks for a spell to clean her dishes, she gets a spell that incinerates the kitchen. Dishes are clean, though, right?

In addition, being around her is a stressful, unhappy experience for her peers – just being in the same room with her is unpleasant. This has the effect of making El into a misanthrope – she hates pretty much everyone as a defensive mechanism, i.e., you can’t hate me, I hate you first.

However, this book has a sequel, and as the story progresses it seems that, maybe, everything is not as dire as it seems. I’m intrigued enough that I want to read the sequel, but not intrigued enough to buy it. It’s on hold at my library.

The Wide StarlightThe Wide Starlight by Nicole Lesperance
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: February 16, 2021
Pages: 320
Genre: fantasy, supernatural
Project: halloween bingo

Never whistle at the Northern Lights, the legend goes, or they'll sweep down from the sky and carry you away.

Sixteen-year-old Eline Davis knows it's true. She was there ten years ago, on a frozen fjord in Svalbard, Norway, the night her mother whistled at the lights and then vanished.

Now, Eli lives an ordinary life with her dad on Cape Cod. But when the Northern Lights are visible over the Cape for just one night, she can't resist the possibility of seeing her mother again. So she whistles--and it works. Her mother appears, with snowy hair, frosty fingertips and a hazy story of where she's been all these years. And she doesn't return alone.

Along with Eli's mother's reappearance come strange, impossible things. Narwhals swimming in Cape Cod Bay, meteorites landing in Eli's yard, and three shadowy princesses with ominous messages. It's all too much, too fast, and Eli pushes her mother away. She disappears again--but this time, she leaves behind a note that will send Eli on a journey across continents, to the northern tip of the world:

I read this book for A Grimm Tale, although I initially hoped that it would work for Lost in Space. It really didn’t. This book has a gorgeous cover, which is basically why I selected it, along with the intriguing summary.

I have mixed feelings about the execution, though. It used several Norse fairy tales as a springboard for the story, including one of my favorites, East of Sun, West of the Moon. I’ve read several retellings of that fairy tale previously, all of which I ultimately like better than this one. These include: East by Edith Pattou, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George and Ice by Sarah Beth Durst.

This is a debut novel by Nicole Lesperance, and she definitely has potential. I’ll watch her career with interest, although this book itself didn’t 100% work for me.

Aurora RisingAurora Rising by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
Rating: ★★★
Series: Aurora Rising #
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Pages: 473
Genre: sci fi, YA
Project: halloween bingo

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates
A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

This is the second YA science fiction collaboration between Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff that I have read, as back in 2018 I read their entire Illuminae trilogy in hardback. That was a really, really interesting format – not a graphic novel, but lots of illustrations to augment the texts. This one is a more straightforward narrative, that starts at the Aurora Academy, which is basically a military training program that sorts the students into various sub-specialties. Tyler Jones, the star pupil of the Academy leaves the Academy the night before the process by which squads are selected on an unsanctioned rescue mission. Being first in his class, he should have the pick of the program for his squad, but because he’s late returning, he ends up with several students that no one else wanted.

And there it is. We have our rag-tag band of heroes. The only that the book needs is a rogue secret mission where no one really knows what is going on, and especially not our heroes. Which is what comes next, and it’s a lot of fun. There’s excitement, diplomacy, a Guardians of the Galaxy style heist, and the loss of an important squad member.

I’m not a huge sci fi fan, so 3 stars from me for a sci fi book is actually a really solid rating. In the absence of the “Lost in Space” square, I would not have read this book. But, one of the things that I really enjoy about playing Halloween Bingo is that it forces me out of my Golden Age mystery/vintage women fiction rut. I pick up more of the “hot” or “current” releases in the months of September and October than probably the remaining ten months combined (that’s probably an overstatement, but not by a lot).

This basically wraps up my Halloween bingo months – there were other books that didn’t make it into a review, but I’m ready to move on, so we’ll leave it at that!

Halloween Bingo: Trick or Treat

Rather than go in some sort of order, I have just decided to write up topics as they appeal to me – I’ll end up at the end with the posts that I am least interested in, but that’s okay. So, I have this square Row 3, Column 4 of my square. For 2021, the Trick or Treat square focuses on Young Adult and Middle Grade books that are mystery, suspense, horror or supernatural.

I like to fill this square with a vintage-y YA horror selection, along the lines of Lois Duncan or Richie Tankersley Cusick. In past years, some of my YA/MG Halloween Bingo selections have included:

  • Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger
  • Trick or Treat and Help Wanted by Richie Tankerley Cusick
  • All the Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle
  • The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
  • One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
  • I Know What You Did Last Summer and Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan

I have read much less YA/MG in the last couple of years, but this is still a small sample of some of the juvenile books I’ve read for Halloween Bingo. Etiquette and Espionage is fun and steampunky, and set in a finishing school for Victorian girls with special talents in mayhem, assassination and espionage. All The Bad Apples is magical realism, and was one of my favorite books of 2019 – Fowley-Doyle’s perspective on the brutal history of misogyny and abuse in Catholic Ireland was very timely and completely absorbing. As an aside, I’ve read all three of her books, and have enjoyed each more than the prior.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, is set in London, at a boarding school. The main character, Rory, arrives from Louisiana, just in time for someone to begin re-enacting the Ripper murders from the 1880s. One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus is basically a modernized version of The Breakfast Club, with murder. And it’s as much fun as that would imply, although I was underwhelmed by the ending.

Of the two Richie Tankersley Cusick books, Trick or Treat was definitely better than Help Wanted. They were both very 1980’s/1990’s tween horror. This isn’t my nostalgia – I am too old for them, and my kids are too young, but they are still fun. Lois Duncan, on the hand, is absolutely a nostalgia bomb for me. I still remember checking Down A Dark Hall out of my Junior High School library – it scared the bejeezus out of me. I Know What You Did Last Summer was another favorite of my tween years, and the 1997 adaptation, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze, Jr. (who met on set and married 4 years later) is entertaining and has plenty of jump scares.

This year, I’m strongly leaning towards Mary Downing Hahn’s Deep and Dark and Dangerous . In the alternative, I might read a Point Horror or a Fear Street – Funhouse by Diane Hoh is particularly appealing.