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Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older published on

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About the Book

Paint a mural. Start a battle. Change the world.

Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.

With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.

Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaper introduces a heroine and magic unlike anything else in fantasy fiction, and marks the YA debut of a bold new voice.

Review

This is a unique, clever, sometimes-scary, always engaging story featuring family, music, art, gentrification, friendship, racism, cultural anthropology, cultural appropriation, community, zombies, spirits, self delusion, and self confidence. Among other things.

This is the most unique YA urban fantasy I’ve read, without qualifications. It has been a while since I read an urban fantasy and didn’t see a lot of stuff I had already read in five other urban fantasy series. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy these, as there’s something comfortable in familiarity. But sometimes you want to feel a little less comfortable.

The book isn’t overly complicated, but there’s a lot going on; the characters are intelligent, passionate, and brave; the teens talk like teens; the motivations (except, in my opinion, of the primary antagonist) are believable, understandable, true. The setting is vivid. I love how the tower is utilized by Older in so many ways. I love the cityscape of Brooklyn, which acts as a powerful place.

Just about everything clicks in this dark tale. Spirits in the city are deeply linked to the cultural heritage of the neighborhoods, and that heritage must be seized by a Shadowshaper in order to keep the magic alive. Nobody can come from outside and own it. Sierra is a powerful character, and she goes through some things that many teens go through–like not liking what she sees in the mirror– and some things most don’t go through–like being pursued by a throng haint, a shadow monster covered in mouths. I got a kick out of the numerous cool old men in the neighborhood, particularly in one scene at the University.

I like Sierra, which is nice, because I don’t always like the heroes and heroines in YA novels. She’s spirited, makes generally good choices, and keeps her head in tough situations. Also, she doesn’t spend a lot of time complaining, which is nice.

There are aspects of this novel that feel like they live in a universe nestled right alongside Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. And for me, that’s high praise: American Gods is a favorite of mine.

This book has led me to pick up a copy of Older’s Half-Resurrection Blues: A Bone Street Rumba Novel. My understanding is that these books are decidedly not YA, which suits me just fine.

About the Author

61ynfd6lqpL._UX250_Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015), which was nominated for the Kirkus Prize in Young Readers’ Literature. His first collection of short stories, Salsa Nocturna and the Locus and World Fantasy nominated anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, which he co-edited, are available from Crossed Genres Publications. You can find Daniel’s thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic and hear his music at ghoststar.net/ and @djolder on twitter and YouTube.

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Review: Kensei by Jeremy Zimmerman

Review: Kensei by Jeremy Zimmerman published on

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About the Book

Jamie Hattori’s alter ego, the masked hero Kensei, has been doing pretty well protecting her neighborhood from petty villains with her martial arts skills, her father’s katana, and a little help from the local spirits. But things get rough when the spirits start flaking out, the Goddess of Discord throws a few cursed apples, and an online gossip site sics an angry football player on her. Then there’s her slipping grades, the vampire owls, and the cute roller derby chick looking for romance. And even worse, Jamie’s hero-hating mom is starting to get suspicious. Can Jamie defeat her mysterious nemesis without tearing her family apart? And more importantly, will she score her first kiss?

Review

I really enjoyed this novel. Zimmerman starts off with an action scene and keeps the energy flowing throughout the book. It clocks in at a seems-slightly-longer-than-advertised, taut 188 pages. I think these pages might be packed with a greater than average number of words. It feels like a 220-250 page book to me.

Jamie Hattori, alter-ego Kensei, is a teen in transition. She is living a secret life, keeping her superpowers and night outings from her mother. Her dad knows all about it. He’s a pretty laid-back, reasonable guy. Mom lost her parents in the middle of a superhero battle, and hasn’t been able to let it go since. She watches one of those channels that rile people up against specific groups, spouting bile and anger, and she lets herself seethe in it. She’s, admittedly, tightly-wound and not willing to see shades of gray when it comes to vigilante activities. Jamie’s extra-curricular activities are hurting her grades and social life. But what can she do? She has the power to help others, and doesn’t take that lightly.

Jamie Hattori resides in the portion of Cobalt City known as Karlsburg, and the supernatural dangers are pretty light there. Usually, it’s just enough to keep her busy at night. She takes on muggers and robbers and physical abusers. But things change suddenly, and she’s in over her inexperienced head. Someone is running a gossip blog called 2thefairest, and it is putting out some ugly envy magic. Golden apples are turning up around town, sowing seeds of discord. And Jamie has been targeted. This might also be connected to Roman vampires, Greek deities, and a bunch of missing students from Jamie’s high school.

Cobalt City exists in a world where superheroes are fairly common. A flaming hero might chase an ice-chucking villain across the street as you’re waiting on a red light. The Traffic Enforcer might fly past, being dragged by the back of a car. Heroes and villains are everywhere, like erectile dysfunction ads, or internet trolls.

The problem is that a group of big-time superheroes, the Protectorate, was infiltrated a few years back, and achieved a lot of destruction and created mistrust among the citizens of Cobalt City. Even the big-time heroes, The A-Listers, like Star Dust, the Worm Queen, Wild Kat, Libertine, Velvet, and the Huntsman, need to remain secretive. Except Star Dust, because he’s one of the richest people in the world, and he isn’t really touchable.

Then there are small-timers, maybe the C-and-D-listers, like Kensei and the Traffic Enforcer, (who spends most of his time beating people up for using their cellphones while driving, or misusing roundabouts). These sorts need to remain cautious. Anybody could be a danger.

Zimmerman captures the teen experience pretty well. We view a lot of Jamie’s firsts: first date, first kiss, first arch-nemesis, first fight with god, first battle with a superhero. Each character comes pre-loaded with motivations and reasons for his/her/their actions. The characters have histories and goals. The characters are dynamic and drive the novel, even if Jamie doesn’t have a license.

I love Jamie’s powers. She can interact with the spirits of places and things. Pretty much every place and every thing has one or more spirits, and being able to see them and talk to them is actually very helpful. Especially when they are feeling cooperative; sometimes they aren’t, which can be quite funny.

I am also a huge fan of the fact that Jamie received martial arts training from the age of three. Her powers aren’t specifically physical, and therefore knowing how to use her body as a weapon is very important.

Among my favorite characters are Jamie’s father, Charles Hattori; Agyo, the Cobalt City Buddhist Church guardian; and the manic-pixie-girl-esque Parker. Jamie is multi-faceted: she’s gay, she’s biracial, she’s a Buddhist, she’s in high school; she is hiding things from her mom, her dad, her classmates, her potential girlfriend; she can talk to the spirits of cars and buildings and light bulbs. She has to deal with how these things affect other parts of her life. Zimmerman navigates these muddy waters expertly.

The second book in the series, Love of Danger, recently went through a successful Kickstarter campaign, and is expected to be released soon. I will certainly be reading and reviewing it here sometimes after that.

About the Author

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Jeremy Zimmerman is a teller of tales who dislikes cute euphemisms for writing like “teller of tales.” His fiction has most recently appeared in 10Flash Quarterly, Arcane and anthologies from Timid Pirate Publishing. He is also the editor for Mad Scientist Journal. He lives in Seattle with five cats and his lovely wife (and fellow author) Dawn Vogel.

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Review, Excerpt and Giveaway: The Protector Project by Jenna Lincoln

Review, Excerpt and Giveaway: The Protector Project by Jenna Lincoln published on 3 Comments on Review, Excerpt and Giveaway: The Protector Project by Jenna Lincoln

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About the Book

The Protector Project by Jenna Lincoln
Release Date: 6/15/15
Boroughs Publishing Group
Summary from Goodreads:

w8C16Z7P99y2csV6kZAoOAm5wXSrFWZmzVB0BPGL5FQTeen soldier Mara de la Luz is about to find out what makes her so special that some would kidnap and kill her—and others, willingly die for her.

ENDLESS CARNAGE. ENDLESS QUESTIONS.

Mara is a 17-year-old soldier who’s spent years fighting a war that’s lasted generations. Wide-eyed children, some just turned thirteen, rarely survive their first fights despite her best efforts to train and lead them. What she thinks she wants is to uncover the root causes of the war between the Protectors and the masked Gaishan, maybe find a way to end it. But what she really wants is a future—for herself and the others—beyond the battlefield.

Then she’s injured in combat, and when an enemy fighter not only heals her wounds but reveals his face, she sees the promise of all she desires. This cunning teen Gaishan has answers to her questions, but first she must commit treason and travel beyond the boundaries of her world. She must brave a place where everything rests on the point of a blade: her loyalties, her friends, her heart.

Review

After reading several dystopian novels in quick succession, I started reading this book with the expectation that this was another dystopian novel.

The protagonist, Mara, is a seventeen year-old veteran in the middle of a war. Most of the soldiers are teens. Some were tithed to the government by their families, and some are orphans raised by the government. A lot of pieces here allowed me to, quite lazily, confirm my suspicions.

Until I realized that maybe this wasn’t really a dystopian novel. It is definitely a romance, a military science-fiction, a pseudo-fantasy. But it certainly doesn’t take place on our earth. And while life in the military is difficult, we can’t call every depiction of the military a dystopia. The world is broken into some odd binaries: masks bad, bare-face good, human vs. Gaishan, those in enclosures and those in encampments. There are certainly haves and have nots, but have you looked outside lately? None of this makes a book a dystopia.

No, this is something else. I was pleasantly surprised at that. I needed a break from some (admittedly very good) dystopian books.

Early on, we discover that things aren’t as they seem: the faceless monsters look like the humans when the masks come off; the human leaders are lying about victories and motives. We bring our own assumptions to our reading experiences, and this book plays with those assumptions. That takes some careful and smart writing.

The Protector Project initially feels like a fantasy novel, but there are some science fiction elements, especially as the book moves forward. It is a quest for truth.

I enjoyed the surprises along the way. There is plenty of action, romance, and shocking discoveries. This book is aimed perfectly at the combined YA/Teen group.

Excerpt

Agony disrupted Mara’s ability to maintain her energy shield. Dizzy and nauseated, she pulled off her helmet and tried not to vomit. With one hand she soothed her horse, with her other hand she pressed hard on the gash. Hot blood trickled into her boot.

A Gaishan stepped out from the trees. Its hand came down next to hers, brushing Mara’s fingers and the wound.

“Don’t touch me!” she yelled.

The figure pulled off the Gaishan mask revealing a human face, young and male. His smile was grim, “Mara, you were out of position.”

Mara’s breath stopped. She stared into the Gaishan’s silver gray eyes, felt the tremor of magic cross from his fingers into the torn flesh of her leg. The air shimmered and shrank, enclosing them. He was light haired and tall, not much older than any of the Protectors. The pain eased and the burning tapered to a mild sting.

“Your questions have answers. But you’re asking the wrong people,” he said.

She threw a punch at his mask-less face, but the Gaishan blocked it, trapping her hand.

His smile relaxed into a grin and he leaned closer. “One of the answers is, this isn’t your fight.” He slapped her horse on the rear, propelling them back to the field.

About the Author

i0dCT-7r6ndjS7sm1KPgyqza3YZvcuKBSdzGpqt54PkJenna Lincoln loves to read, write, and talk about reading and writing. She spent many happy years as a language arts teacher doing just those things. After dabbling in Firefly and Supernatural fan fiction, Jenna got serious about building her own imaginary world, big enough to get lost in for a long, long time. When she comes back to reality, Jenna enjoys her home in beautiful Colorado with her husband and two daughters.

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Review: Spinner by Michael J. Bowler

Review: Spinner by Michael J. Bowler published on 3 Comments on Review: Spinner by Michael J. Bowler

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Completing the main part of its blog tour for Sage’s Blog Tours is Michael J. Bowler’s teen novel, Spinner. Welcome!

First of all, in many ways, this book has echoes of 1970s-1980s Stephen King novels, particularly portions of It and a few moments I can remember from books like Insomnia, The Talisman (co-written with Stroud) and the short story “The Body”. The protagonists here are a group of awkward, outcast boys fighting an unknown, manifest, ancient evil. The stakes are huge. And the only thing standing in the way of utter world destruction is a group of boys who attend Mark Twain High School’s “last stop” class. These are the boys that nobody wants to teach, for various reasons, and they were all put together in a classroom to keep them out of the way. Sometimes the diagnoses isn’t the reason they’re there, but these aren’t the ones you’d probably suggest as humanity’s last defense.

There are appearances by a helpful Catholic priest, some grave digging, a necklace that might be made of human flesh, ancient prophesies, strange dreams, blackouts and missing time, and a lot more blood and death than I initially expected–including teenagers being killed, slasher-movie style, and some exploding heads. Also: murderous cats. Big, freaky swarms of murderous cats.

Alex, our wheelchair-bound (due to spina-bifida) protagonist, has been through ten different foster homes and is currently living in a foster home with a terrible foster mother: the type of foster mother who forces children to beat other children, and then uses Alex’s power to heal them so nobody will ever know. Did I mention that Alex has amazing healing powers? If a person tells Alex about their pain, he can take it in, absorb it into himself, experience these same pains, and then dissipate them. Miraculous, really. For him, it has been a curse most of his life. But he still uses it for good when he finds the opportunity.

One of the unique aspects about this book is that Bowler shows, in his writing, a keen ear for the teenage voice. More specifically, there is an understanding of and respect for the voices of those who have been deemed “other” on account of disabilities, skin color, or sexual orientation. I’ve been a teacher (English as well as English intervention classes for students more than 2 grade-levels behind their peers) and I recognize shadows of each of these characters from my classroom.

Spinner gives some good lessons about extended family, acceptance of many different types of “different,” and keeps the characters center stage. We get to follow heroes with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and spina bifida. Though Alex has not been a member of a true family since his infancy, he finds acceptance with the other students in his class–Roy, Java and Israel. Bowler focuses on the boys’ abilities rather than disabilities, which makes for a compelling read.

If you loved the horror/thriller books of King and Dean Koontz from the 70s and 80s, this throwback will be right up your alley. Just, you know, don’t head up that alley without a buddy. The buddy system works, people.

About the Author

2329327Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of eight novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), Running Through A Dark Place, There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America, and Spinner.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master’s in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He acted as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II.”

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed him and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He is currently working on a sequel to Spinner. His goal as a YA author is for teens to experience empowerment and hope; to see themselves in his diverse characters; to read about kids who face real-life challenges; and to see how kids like them can remain decent people in an indecent world.

Links

Purchase Spinner at Amazon
Follow Michael J. Bowler on Twitter
Visit the author on Facebook
Check out the author’s website

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