Tag Archives: YA

Featured Creator – Starla Huchton

I’ve decided that in the new year I’d like to feature a creator a week on this here blog. Basically, that’s me taking a few minutes to tell you about someone I know and whose work I enjoy. They could be artists, writers, musicians, programmers, or any number of other callings who put things they’ve made out there in the world for us all to see.

SH Banner

For me, a sign of a good author is one who can bring new eyeballs into their genre. To do that, and to be prolific in multiple genres, is another sign. Add to that, talent in designing covers and in voice acting and you have a person like Starla Huchton.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her for several years now, through podcasting and Balticon. She has a growing legion of loyal fans, and if the last two books of hers are any indication, I’ll be joining that army soon and very soon. Her characters are very well developed and she has a penchant for taking tropes you’re familiar with and flipping them around or tweaking them in a way that gives them life.

The other thing I appreciate about her is more as a business person than a creator. She approaches her multiple crafts in a way I wish more independent authors would. Everything she does is to serve the product. She puts out the highest quality books she can, from cover to concept to completion. Her attention to detail and consistent output are as important to her success as the joy her books bring to her fans.

Finally, Starla believes in giving back to her community. Every time I’ve approached her with a question or a comment, she doesn’t hesitate to help in any way she can. I think she knows this creative life isn’t a competition.

If you’re looking for a new book series to read, she’s got one you’ll probably enjoy. You can find her in these spots:


Cover Reveal – Assured Destruction With Zombies

I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael F. Stewart about his Kickstarter and I wanted to let you know that with a little over two days to go he’s kicked the crap out of his goal!! It’s at almost $1500. Thanks to everyone that backed it. Can’t wait to read the new book.

Haven’t pledged and only back those Kickstarters that will succeed? Go send him some coin – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/michaelfstewart/assured-destruction-with-zombies.

Interview With Mike Stewart (Three Questions)

I read both of Mike Stewart’s Assured Destruction e-books towards the end of last year and thoroughly enjoyed them. You can read the reviews of Assured Destruction and Script Kiddie for my detailed thoughts on them, but suffice to say words like “excellent” and “well written” apply. When he told me he was doing a Kickstarter for the third book, I was excited. So, like I do, I wanted to find out more. I’ve asked him three questions and I hope you enjoy the answers.

1) Being a geek, I’m a big fan of cyberpunk and stories involving tech. I’m not too sensitive to mistakes, depending on the story, but in a story like these getting the details right is very important. So far as I can tell you have done a very good job in the first two. Do you geek for a living and are thus able to avoid those pitfalls, is there a lot of research involved, or is it a bit of both?

If I could do life over, I’d be a coder. Why? Because it’s the closest you can get to being a real wizard. In what other field can the lines you write come alive on the screen, or in a robot’s actions? In what other field can you attack another system with programs/spells or protect yourself by putting up a firewall? Technology is moving into the realm of fantasy. That’s why I’m into it. So, do I geek for a living? No. I do however geekout. 🙂

I also have a deep interest in new media literacy and that includes new media risk (content, conduct, and contact). Kids need to understand the distributability and permanence of content. And they need to learn about how awesome technology is (let’s especially get more girls coding!). I’ve read hundreds of whitepapers on these issues and even presented to senate committee on the issues and opportunity of new media. With Jan I wanted to present a balanced view of those risks and opportunities.

2) One of the things I enjoyed about the first two novels is how “real” Jan’s life is. In addition to her mom’s health issues and the troubles of growing up in this wonderful modern age, she’s got her own unique problems. You don’t whitewash the world for the sake of a YA label. What limitations (if any) do you put on your works in this genre to keep it age appropriate and why did you opt to go as gritty as you did?

Sex and swearing. That’s about all I’ll keep out. Kids are reading far up in terms of age group. Oh, I also won’t write about kids committing suicide. There are studies that suggest suicide rates increase if kids read about their peers committing suicide.

All my writing is a little dark; I’m not sure I could keep that out of it, but Jan’s sense of humor helps me lighten the tone a bit (I hope—book three is intense).

3) You’re doing a Kickstarter for the release of the third book in the series. Have you crowd-funded before and what challenges are you facing with this campaign?

This is my first campaign, but I’ve released an app before and there are similarities in terms of trying to generate interest. That’s the big challenge; how do you get eyeballs to the campaign and once there, how do you convince them to make a pledge?

Some articles I’ve read have suggested that the keys are scarcity (i.e. be the first to get, or get one of a hundred XYZ), social proof (show people that others think your project has merit), and authority (why you? why am I the one to create this project).

But then it’s the same challenge with releasing a book too, isn’t it? You have to write the best hook you can, develop a brand around yourself, and spread the word.

In this case, I didn’t feel I had a choice. There’s a Kickstarter campaign IN the book, how could I not have one in real life?

Really appreciate the chance to post on your blog, Scott, and for your staunch support. 🙂

It’s a pleasure finding and supporting new writers. So, go to his kickstarter page and pledge whatever you can!

Review: Script Kiddie (Assured Destruction #2) by Michael F. Stewart

I reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed the first Assured Destruction e-book and reviewed it here. Since it was only $.96, buying the dequel was a no brainer.

Jan Rose no longer steals data from the old computers she recycles. She doesn’t need to. As the newest member of the police department’s High Tech Crime Unit, the laptop of a murderer has landed on her desk. Her job: to profile and expose a killer.

But that’s not all.

A creep lurks in the shadows, stalking a friend, and Jan must stop him before the hunt turns deadly. The clock counts down for Jan to save her friend, her job, her boyfriend–maybe even her life.

I have found a YA character that I can really geek out about. Michel has created several interesting characters in this world, but as it should be, the main one is the star. She makes stupid mistakes and the kinds of assumptions that aren’t limited to the teen set. When that happens, the author doesn’t go easy on her. Still Janus has a good heart and you want to root for her as she tries to do the right thing.

There are a few plot threads that form the main thrust of the plot and then there are the struggles that carried over from the previous book. The shop owned by Janus’ mom is in deep water and sinking fast. Janus’ mom has severe health issues and Janus still doesn’t trust her mom’s boyfriend. On top of all that, she can’t seem to make her boss, her principle, or her boyfriend happy. Michael does a great job of keeping all of these threads woven into a tight tapestry.

Michael also uses his book to introduce us to the world of hacking. You don’t have to have a technical background to enjoy the story and you’ll probably learn a thing or two. While my hacker friends might (or might not) find fault with those aspects of the story, I don’t. Any shortcuts he takes serve to move the story along.

I want to go back to Janus. I admire that he’s created an imperfect and thus realistic YA character. There might by the temptation to make the protagonist of your YA story a model citizen. Given the tremendous pressures she’s under, Janus makes the aforementioned mistakes. She lies, cheats, and steals. She does it all for reasons that she thinks is good, but he doesn’t let her off the hook. This gives her lots of opportunities for growth and development. I look forward to the next story to see how he continues to put the screws to her and and to find out what Janus will do under pressure.

I give this story five out of five gray hats.

Michael’s Site
Michael’s Twitter
Amazon Kindle Link

Review – Assured Destruction by Michael F. Stewart (E-book)

I love social media. It’s a great way to meet new authors and discover their works. Every once in a while I’ll see a “free book” re-tweet from a friend and it’s about an author I don’t know. I’ll almost always click and usually I’ll grab it. Will I always read it? Eventually I’ll give it a shot. Sometimes I’ve even glad I did.

You can learn a lot about someone looking through their hard drive …

Sixteen-year-old Jan Rose knows that nothing is ever truly deleted. At least, not from the hard drives she scours to create the online identities she calls the Shadownet.

Hobby? Art form? Sad, pathetic plea to garner friendship, even virtually? Sure, Jan is guilty on all counts. Maybe she’s even addicted to it. It’s an exploration. Everyone has something to hide. The Shadownet’s hard drives are Jan’s secrets. They’re stolen from her family’s computer recycling business Assured Destruction. If the police found out, Jan’s family would lose its livelihood.

When the real people behind Shadownet’s hard drives endure vicious cyber attacks, Jan realizes she is responsible. She doesn’t know who is targeting these people or why, but as her life collapses Jan must use all her tech savvy to bring the perpetrators to justice before she becomes the next victim.

This young adult science fiction novel was a great read. I’m a big fan of Cory Doctorow and this reminded me a lot of Little Brother. The protagonist is a smart and sensitive kid who gets in over her head fast, just as Cory’s protagonist did. In this case Jan doesn’t end up going to prison, but things get dire for her fast. It’s written in first person and the pages fly by. First person doesn’t work for everyone, but I like the intimacy it can deliver. Jan’s a character I can identify with. I knew kids like her growing up and I know some adult versions of her. Having a strong, and yet far from perfect, lead is vitally important in fiction in general, more so when you make the first person POV choice.

The other things I enjoyed about this book were all of the issues it raised about cyber-security and the need for it whatever your age might be. I geek for a living and the technical details Michael includes are spot on, but he includes them in a way that won’t go over the head of most teens. This is the world most of them live in. We put our trust in companies of all shapes and sizes, giving them every bit of data they need to sink us. Many of us, myself included, put our lives online for hundreds of people to see. As an adult, I hope I do it responsibly. As a teen, I know I wouldn’t have and many today don’t. I hope this makes the readers think about it and have some fruitful discussions with their parents. The whole book is very timely.

The plot and pacing are very tight. This is a thriller and Michael keeps raising the stakes and making things tough on Jan, her family, and her friends. There are also elements of a mystery. He kept me guessing all the way through, though a more scrupulous reading may have told me what was going to happen. Regardless, this book did what mystery thrillers need to do.

Finally, let me make an appeal. I would love to see this as a graphic novel. If there are any artists reading this, give it a look and contact Michael. 😉

I give this story five thumb drives out of five.

Michael’s Site
Michael’s Twitter
Amazon Kindle Link
Amazon Paperback Link

Review – A Minor Magic by Justin R. Macumber (Paperback)

Minor Magic Cover

I’ve been a friend of Justin Macumber’s for some time. He’s had me on the Dead Robots Society podcast a time or three and we’ve collaborated on a few projects together. All of that said in the spirit of full disclosure. As soon as I saw this new book and read the excerpt, I plunked down my money to get a copy.

Over the course of a single night, mystical fires tore through the sky and reduced most of Earth to ash. Ten years later magical fire burns again, but this time it’s in the hands of a young girl named Skylar. Exiled from her adoptive home, Skylar must now struggle through ruined lands and religious zealots who believe she’s an agent of the Devil. An even greater threat exists in the form of shadowy sorcerers from another world who covet her blood. Along her journey, she meets a motley band of outcasts who not only know the secret of what happened to Earth, but also of Skylar’s true origin. Will Skylar be able to accept this fantastical truth? But more importantly, can her powers and raging heart be tamed in time to stop those who once burned the world and now seek total domination?

I love a good post apocalyptic story, particularly when you bring the fantasy element into it. One of my favorite cartoons growing up was Thundarr the Barbarian. This is a little like that with fewer sunswords and Moks and more female sorcerers.

What we have here is a solid YA fantasy novel. There’s a bit of “coming of age” and a little “fish out of water”. There’s also an endearing bit of romance. With all of that, as someone who’s in no way the target audience for this book, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

What did I like? First and foremost there’s Skylar. The world has taken a big old dump on her and it continues to do so throughout the story. How does she react? She gets crabby, downright angry, scared, and sad. That’s how real people would react and it’s nice to see. She falls in love and at first I thought it was a little too quick and easy, but the love interest is a life boat to her. They’ve had some common experiences and they’re young, the only young people on this road they travel, so it makes sense. Perhaps the only thing about it that didn’t ring entirely true was there was little conflict in their relationship. Considering how little time they had to explore the relationship though in the midst of all of the other conflict going on, perhaps that makes sense.

That’s one of the other things I like about this novel, it moves quickly. There’s a fair amount of action and about the time the characters have time to breathe, something else happens. There’s no shortage of tension.

Finally, this is a post apocalyptic novel, so it is pretty dark. It’s nicely balanced though. We’re not talking The Road level of darkness. There are enclaves of people dealing with things badly. There are monsters lurking in pockets of wyld magic. There’s a feeling of disconnect from the world as it used to be from the younger characters and some reminiscing for the way things used to be from the adults. Justin paints a good picture of the destruction that has been wreaked. In spite of all of that, he keeps a small spark of hope burning. These people are on the way to save the world, as best they can, and you get the sense that they just might be able to pull it off.

Any down sides to this book? Not very many. If you’re looking for some kind of fully fledged magic system (and I know there are fantasy fans that want that) it’s not here. Magic is new to the world and its hard to do. In that sense, this would probably be considered “low fantasy”. The ending felt a little bit rushed to me. The characters meet the “big bad” and it gets resolved in a satisfying way, but I would have liked it to be a little harder/more complicated. In a way it reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. The story is more about the journey than about the destination. Again, not a big deal, but another chapter or two about what takes place in the other world and perhaps an epic battle scene and I would have been happier.

The most telling things is what I did when I closed the book after the final page. I handed it to my thirteen year old daughter to read. She’s a voracious reader and I know she’ll enjoy it. Finding a book that can please a crusty old man and a teenage girl is sort of the Holy Grail of YA. There are a few crusty old man words, but nothing you wouldn’t hear in a PG movie. You can’t expect a post-apocalypse, fantasy world to be all Disney-fied, and I wouldn’t want it to be.

I give this book four and a half Demon Dogs out of five!

Publisher’s Page
Justin’s Site
Justin’s Twitter
Amazon Link

Corn-y Fiction

Under The Empyrean Sky
I’m all about spreading the love. So I’m going to give away a copy of the Kindle version of Under The Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig.

Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It’s the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow ? and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael’s tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He’s sick of the mayor’s son besting Cael’s crew in the scavenging game. And he’s worried about losing Gwennie ? his first mate and the love of his life ? forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry ? angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn’t seem upset about any of it. Cael’s ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.(less)

I’m gonna make you work for it though. I want you to write a piece of flash fiction for me. Write something between two hundred fifty and seven hundred fifty words. Corn needs to play a central part. Make it funny or scary or sexy, I don’t care. Post it here in the comments or post it to your blog/social media site and put a link here so I’ll know about it. Just to take any sense of favoritism or anything else out of it, the winner will be chosen a week from today by random number drawing.

If I don’t get at least five entrants I won’t do a drawing, so encourage folks to check out the contest!

Review – Sabriel by Garth Nix (Paperback)

Sabriel Cover
Sabriel Cover

I went onto the Twitter and asked for book recommendations (note to self, write a post about how important those are) and someone recommended that I take a look at the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. I believe the person said it was an interesting take on Necromancy. I read the synopsis and ordered the whole trilogy used.

Since childhood, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who refuse to stay dead. But now her father, the Mage Abhorsen, is missing, and Sabriel must cross into that world to find him. With Mogget, whose feline form hides a powerful, perhaps malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage, Sabriel travels deep into the Old Kingdom. There she confronts an evil that threatens much more than her life and comes face to face with her own hidden destiny.

This sounds like the basic set up for any fantasy world. It’s not, though. The thing that fascinated me the most is that this world is fairly analogous to Earth in the 1940s. They have the sort of technology and culture that England had during that time, and that’s not all. The world is divided into two halves, the New Kingdom and the Old Kingdom. Technology doesn’t work in the old and magic doesn’t work in the new. The wall, a dividing line between the two, is constantly guarded on both sides and not just anyone can cross. Sabriel, the daughter of a powerful necromancer, is an exception to that rule. She possesses her father’s abilities and knowledge and, as the synopsis hints, has to use them to quiet the rising dead and their new ruler.

In addition to what’s, in my mind, a great bit of world building, Nix has created some very good characters. Sabriel is the sort of strong female character that I like to see in YA fiction. She doesn’t need rescuing and in fact at one point rescues a royal male. She’s not over the top though. She has her own fears and worries. She’s far from indestructible and needs to adapt quickly to the changes in her life. She makes mistakes and earns her place in my heart. My other favortie character in this story is Mogget. He plays a reluctant and not entirely trustworthy adviser to Sabriel. There are truly some funny bits to their interactions.

This is a well written novel. Not for nothing, it won an award or two. The world building is largely seamless. The threats to the characters are well handled. You feel pretty certain who’s going to survive and who won’t, but never so certain that there’s no tension. There’s plenty of action and suspense, with a dash of romance. I immediately handed this to my thirteen year old daughter to read. I give this five out of five wands.

Amazon Link

The Graveyard Book – Review

I’m always on the lookout for books that I think I can share with my oldest child. We were in a used bookstore last week and I bought her one of the Traveling Pants books and when I realized I had enough credit I thought I’d pick up one for myself (and that I could pass down to her if deemed appropriate). I’ve long been a fan of Neil Gaiman, and when I saw this on the shelf I grabbed it.

The Graveyard Book is the story of a young boy whose parents and sister were killed by an evil man named Jack. He managed to escape death only because he toddled into a cemetery and found refuge there with the help of the indigenous population. That’s right, he’s protected by the dead and by a powerful non-dead/non-living person known as Silas. Told in a series of short stories spread out over fourteen years, we see Bod aka Nobody Owens grow under the tutelage of his occasionally over-protective guardians. He’s happy enough until he makes a friend in a little girl who happens across the graveyard that’s his home. After that, Bod is eager to learn more about the world outside, in spite of the fact that his family’s killer is still out there looking for him.

The thing that I loved the most about it is how all of the standard tropes of horror are turned on their heads. The supernatural creatures we fear most, ghosts, ghouls, and werewolves to name a few are the heroes and heroines. Bod learns how to turn invisible and non-corporeal and uses these gifts along with the ability to walk in dreams to protect and serve others. It’s the friendly looking people that one has to watch out for in this world.

I also appreciate the way he tells the story. As I said, each chapter is its own story. One of them was even published as a standalone novella. I’ve seen this in a number of other YA works (Mik Murdoch for example), and it works well here. We get to see Bod develop as a character and are presented with the unique challenges he faces as he matures. Gaiman wanted to write something like The Jungle Book that took place in a graveyard. I can definitely see the parallels and it makes me want to return to those stories and give them to my kids as well.

The Graveyard Book is an excellent read and is a must for anyone who likes a bit of dark fantasy with a lot of heart. I gave it to my twelve year old without reservation.

Review – Crown of Exiles: Battlehymn (Podcast)

Today I’m dropping a review of the podcast novel Crown of Thorns: Battlehymn, the first in a series of manga inspired sci-fi by Zach Ricks. You can find it here.

Synopsis: Zach didn’t provide a handy synopsis so I’ll do my best. Shem is a busker on the streets of the capital planet. He accidentally helps out some strangers by humming and is rewarded for his efforts by being saved from possible enslavement. See, Shem is a budding skald. In this world that means he can affect reality with the power of his voice. That means he’s a weapon and those in power would like to use him, with or without his consent. His saviors take him to a distant space station and invite him to join their mechanized powered armor driving paramilitary unit for hire. From that point things only get more exciting and complicated for him and they involve a princess on the run, a rival skald, and the POWER OF ROCK AND ROLL!

Production: Zach does this as a straight read and the sound is clean. The use of music is good. As a side note, he apparently composed and performed a tune just for this podcast. It was a talent I didn’t know he had. For a story that has music at its heart that’s pretty important.

Grade: B+

Cast: As I said this is a straight read. As usual Zach does so with excellent emotion and inflection.

Grade: B

Story: There are a few plot holes, but when you’re talking about a story that involves giant mechs and the use of song to affect the quantum fabric of the universe, that’s probably to be expected. They’re not glaring and they didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. The ending seems to come to a head rather quickly, but it provides some nice surprises and a small slice of cheese. All in all I was very satisfied and had a hard time waiting for the next entry.

Grade: B+

Verdict: I highly recommend checking this out. Interestingly enough if podcast fiction just isn’t your bag, you can get the text version from his site for free. No idea when or if he’ll pull that from his site, so get it while you can. If you’re looking for a “clean” story with enough action, adventure, and intrigue with a dash of romance then give this a listen. I do believe this would be YA safe as well, so share it with your teens.

Grade: B+