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Review: Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross

Review: Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross published on 2 Comments on Review: Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross

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Miss Mabel’s School for Girls (The Network Series #1) by Katie Cross is a YA fantasy novel with a slew of follow up works finished or on the way.

The good parts of Miss Mabel’s School for Girls are quite good and the bad parts aren’t all that bad. That might not sound like particularly positive praise, but for a book about a teenager from a magic-using family attending a well-regarded school of magic, large boots are waiting to be filled. Whether or not it is justified, HP’s success will hover over any book with a similar setting.

Let me be clear: this is not Harry Potter; this is still a very good book and a fine start to a new series.

One of my (minor) grumblings is that the teen characters feel younger than maybe they are supposed to be. From my experiences teaching 7th-11th graders, these characters feel more 14 than (roughly) 16-18. It is difficult to explain why I feel this way, but overall, the characters’ concerns, speech patterns, and perspectives fit more closely to those of middle schoolers. There is nothing wrong with that. The characters are well-described and fairly realistic considering the setting. While Bianca, the main character, learns quickly and has a larger amount of knowledge going into the school than most students, this is all explained adequately. One possible reason the characters might feel younger than they are is that the setting of this novel is not the present-day Earth. Or, if it is, it is an alternate version of it. I find it likely that people of other times and places might learn and grow in different ways and at different paces. I am curious about what education looks like for these students before they hit this magical finishing school that, as far as I can tell, would represent 10th, 11th and 12th grade in the typical US school system. Are there also schools for boys? Are there mixed-gender schools as well?

The backstory is interesting, and I am intrigued to discover more about it. I would like to know more about the setting of the book: where is Antebellum? Is it connected to the modern concept of Antebellum in the US? Is this a future USA? I do not expect this information to be explicit, and the story is stronger for not dwelling on the setting, but more of the setting should shine through than the backdrop of a school of magic. The atmosphere never quite feels completely authentic, and this might simply be a matter of taste. The aspects of the tale that were not explained in detail are some of my favorite parts of storytelling.

The villain is pretty obvious (though no effort is made to hide who is villainous, only the motives and machinations) and definitely defiantly evil. This can be a pro or a con, and I feel in this case, based on everything surrounding it, this is a pro here. Sometimes you just need a baddie. There are also some “Mean Girls” moments with the popular girls, which is a experience common to the experiences of both real-life teens and heroines in YA books.

Katie Cross has done an excellent job here in writing a book with some strong female characters and only three male characters of any real import. The school is a female-only institution, the instructors are women, and we see some direct interactions with Bianca’s mother and grandmother. This in no way feels forced our inorganic. Men have little place in this story, and none were shoehorned in, which was the right call.

This book doesn’t try to be Harry Potter, and that’s a strength. And most of my quibbles are likely to be given an explanation of some sort as the series continues. Like any good writer, Cross does not give away everything right from the start. Doing that is a rookie mistake, and Cross does not write like a rookie. She’s good, and her editor is, too.

Purchase this book at Amazon by clicking HERE.

Review: The Silent End by Samuel Sattin

Review: The Silent End by Samuel Sattin published on 1 Comment on Review: The Silent End by Samuel Sattin

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This is a rare YA book from Ragnarok Publishing.

I am not entirely sure why they don’t publish more novels suitable for Young Adult, but I do know exactly why I don’t often read in the genre: there is a fundamental dishonesty in some of those books, they’ve been sanitized, and they try to fit the mold of what they think teenagers want to read. Often this succeeds, but it doesn’t make for entertaining reading. When I was a teenager, some of us were swearing, some of us were getting high behind the gas station at lunch, and some of us were exploring our sexualities with actual real live people. Not much of that happens in YA, and not only is that dishonest, but it’s boring.

Samuel Sattin has written The Silent End for teenagers who are actually teenagers, and not blocky goody two-shoes. From the back copy, I could tell that this was going to be a little deeper, and a little more wistful than the average book aimed for teenagers.

In a mist-covered town in the Pacific Northwest, three teenagers find themselves pitted against an unearthly menace that dwells beneath the foundations of their high school…

Eberstark is an outcast and he’s tired of pretending everything is fine. His mother disappeared almost a year ago after a long battle with depression. His father is conducting experiments and running around town in the middle of night with a mysterious man known only as The Hat, ranting to Eberstark about beasts no one else can see.

Then, on Halloween night, Eberstark, alongside his only friends Lexi and Gus, discovers something in the woods to challenge the notion of his father’s apparent insanity: a wounded monster. Rather than stir the town into a frenzy, the three friends hide the creature and are pulled into a web of conspiracy, dream-logic, and death. Faced down by living trucks, mirror-dwelling psychopaths, and hellish entities who lurk behind friendly faces, Eberstark, Lexi, and Gus find themselves battling to save not just themselves, but the soul of their quiet little town.

Sattin’s particular talent (at least in this book) is tone, followed swiftly by character development. The novel is set in the Pacific Northwest, and somehow his word choice conveys that his characters live in a rain-drenched world, and they see the sun but rarely. There are no turns of phrase that would belong in a book set in Fresno, California, or Mexico City. Here, the setting fits the story, for the story is deeply melancholy, a little frightening, and a lot of the plot remains obscured for a good chunk of the novel.

The characters are extremely well thought out. It’s a book set in a small town, so it can’t really get away with having anonymous store owners, teachers, or kids the main character knows personally. Everyone mentioned has just enough detail that I wonder if Sattin created a comprehensive map and filled it in with details of every single citizen before he even started writing. It has that kind of realism.

The rest of it is not so realistic. The back cover copy advertises dream logic, and that is an understatement. As we get deeper and deeper into the book, we begin to see that there is this miasma of unreality that settled over the town long ago, and it’s just now being noticed. The main character, Eberstark, has had these perceptions of people (his friend’s father, his mother, etc.) that first read as — here’s another slightly depressed grown-up. It’s sad, but normal. And then… the mist starts drifting away, and things like depression or inertia become a hell of a lot more sinister.

This book is worth reading, if only for the shivers.

Purchase on Amazon via THIS LINK

Review: Hunter

Review: Hunter published on 4 Comments on Review: Hunter

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The unique thing about Lackey’s latest novel, Hunter, is that it checks a lot of the current cultural boxes in the science fiction, fantasy, and young adult “genres.” The novel is in the first-person POV, following a teen female protagonist monster-hunter in a post-apocalyptic world beset by The Folk (tall, lithe, highly intelligent monsters) and other frightening creatures from old fairy tales and religious texts.

Most of the Othersiders are monsters: Drakkens, Kraken, Leviathans, Gogs and Magogs, Furies, Harpies, things we don’t even have names for. Things that belong to myths and religions from all over the world, and things that don’t match anything at all.”

Joyeaux Charmand  is a teen Hunter who grew up in a Monastery in the Rocky Mountains, was trained to be a Hunter by a wandering Zapotec Hunter and a Tibetan Buddhist, and happens to be the niece of Apex City’s current Prefect. There are actually many Hunters living at the Monastery, though there should only be one per region, other than in the major cities. The rest of the Hunters are kept secret, as any excess Hunters found will be sent to Apex City to be on their own highly edited television channel while protecting the Cits, or regular folk in the cities. Nobody in power wants the Cits to know how bad things really are. And things are definitely bad.

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