Category Archives: Young Adult

The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel (Rachel Griffin #2)

Title: The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel

Author: L. Jagi Lamplighter

Series: Rachel Griffin #2

Things have barely quieted down at Roanoke Academy since the battle with the dragon. Now that the Wisecraft know there is a geas that can control people without them remembering it, everything is in an uproar. Rachel is desperate to be in the thick of things, but the adults are trying to keep students in the dark—even though the students themselves are the ones most likely to be hurt. If no one will tell her anything, she’s determined to keep investigating herself . . .

I really like how Vladimir Von Dread and Gaius are shaping up as the book goes on. Pretty much all the adults have written Vlad (and by extension, his loyal henchman Gaius) off as evil, but as the first book showed, that’s oversimplifying things by a lot. Now Rachel is finding that the people she trusted so well are brushing off serious concerns, but Vlad is willing to take her warnings to heart.

As for Gaius, he’s enough older than Rachel to make dating a concern—which even Rachel admits. So she teeters between wanting to keep him as a friend, and wanting him to be more. I like how Gaius is, even more than Vlad, ambiguous.

But nobody beats Siggy when it comes to making me laugh.

Rachel sighed. “Sigfried, you’re a human being. You don’t have glands like that.”
Yet!” said Siggy stubbornly. “You told me people can’t turn into dragons—but look at Dr. Mordeau! If she can do it, I can do it. I have great hopes for alchemy class. I can’t wait to perform alchemical experiments on my head!”
“It’ll work out great!” Lucky added loyally. “You’ll overcome many naked monkey boy handicaps! When have horrible experiments with unknown magical forces ever gone wrong?”

The scene where Mr. Burke is trying to explain about dangerous areas to Sigfried is another bit of comedy gold. Siggy and Lucky take all his warnings as if they were signs on attractions, and wants to see them all.

This is a darker book than the previous. Although the event itself happens offscreen, a student was raped, and she’s struggling to heal.

The Raven also gets some interesting bits of development. Rachel’s always seen it as a harbinger of doom, but once she knows a little bit more of who he is and what he’s doing, her feelings get more complicated.

Overall the story continues to build and improve. I rate this book Recommended.

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The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin (Rachel Griffin #1)

Title: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin

Author: Jagi L. Lamplighter

Series: Rachel Griffin #1

Rachel is excited to finally be attending Roanoke Academy, a prestigious school for arcane arts. As the youngest of her family, she’s got a big reputation to live up to, and she’s hoping to be just as brilliant in her own way. But all she really has is a perfect memory, which brings her into bigger mysteries than she ever expected . . .

I liked this, but I think certain conventions of genre or form made a few things much more obvious than they needed to be. For example, it was immediately apparent to me as soon as the defeated evil was mentioned that this would factor heavily into the current problems.

That said, it was still a lot of fun. I lost track of probably half the characters, but the ones I do remember were good. Siggy and Lucky were particular favorites. Sigfried is a teen new to the world of magic, who instantly became famous and wealthy when he slew a dragon and took over its horde, and Lucky is a small fuzzy dragon he befriended and later makes his familiar. They have the sort of interests typical to young men—that is, collecting treasure and burning people’s faces off.

Nastasia was another fun character. As the princess of Magical Australia, she’s dignified and proper. Unfortunately her father has a habit of doing crazy things like declaring Monopoly money to be their country’s currency.

It did feel like the plot happened rather fast. The whole story only covers about five days. In addition, some things that felt like they should be key (Rachel’s discovery of the angel statue, among others) end up going nowhere.

Overall, it was a good read, and very funny. I rate this book Recommended.

Raven (Shadows #2)

Title: Raven

Author: Sam Blood

Series: Shadows #2

Phoebe is desperate to get a job at Cameron Technologies. Not only would it mean working under her idol, Melissa Cameron, but it’s also her chance to get off the streets. But the interview doesn’t go as planned, and soon she’s got far more pressing issues occupying her thoughts. Strange creatures have appeared, a killer stalks the streets, and someone is out to make Melissa Cameron pay. If Phoebe can’t unravel the mystery in time, she may lose everything she cares about.

This is an unusual second book because it actually takes place 11 years before the first book. That means both that this would be just as good a starting point for a new reader, and that returning readers will immediately tie this to the muddled images Griffin remembers in his own prologue (as well as a few things his brother told him later). So for a returning reader, a sense of tragedy overhangs even the happiest moments, because although we didn’t get the details, we know the important points of the conclusion.

Once again the characterization is very strong. It was fun seeing Melissa Cameron through the eyes of those closest to her—all her different roles leave her an open question right up until the end. Is she truly on the right side, or is there something more?

I adored Taylor and his snark.

“We’re not stupid,” Taylor agrees. “There’s no way we’re getting into a car with a stranger unless you give us lots of candy.”

Gecko was also a treat. Seeing him here, so much younger and more open than he was in the first book, is one of the many interesting juxtapositions. And the Shadows that appear are all such fun.

“Seriously? Seriously?” Ember cocks her head incredulously. “First field assignment with Human Relations, and I meet the girl with a fire phobia. I’m made of fire. This is going to be hard. Um, please don’t freak out. We’ll get past this. Somehow.”

I think this quote is the one that sums up the whole book. The exploration of this is what drives so much of the plot.

“Do you know what real love is, Phoebe?” Melissa says intently. “It’s noticing the bad parts in the people we love, and believing they can rise above their flaws. It’s seeing them as real people, not just who we want them to be. And it’s finding the good in them, even when we don’t recognize who they are anymore.”

I could never get behind Phoebe’s rants about homelessness, though (although I do think it’s in character for her to make them). Even without finding out that she HAS a home she could go back to, her disdain of the foster system and demand for the adult amenities she’s currently denied just strike me as incredibly self-centered. She wants the freedom of being homeless but blames the system for not providing things she by her own choices gave up. Even beyond that, her arguments lack nuance. There’s a balance between taking care of people that have gotten a bad set of circumstances and trying to erase the consequences of bad decisions (which is where I put Phoebe).

There were also several grammatical errors that detracted a bit from my reading.

Overall, though, this was another fantastic adventure that somehow managed to spoil the end from the very beginning due to the first book, yet still keep surprising me the whole way through. I rate this book Recommended.

More favorite quotes:

“I exist, you know,” Taylor says dryly, clearly feeling ignored in the conversation. “I have many interesting qualities.”

And:

“Oh, great,” she says, “dead birds. Phoebe, when I die, will you stuff me and pose me for strangers to show how much you love me?”
“Only if they pay me. I swear.”

Shadows (Shadows #1)

Title: Shadows

Author: Sam Blood

Series: Shadows #1

Griffin has spent most of his life trying to forget the non-human friend he had when he was little. Before the accident. Before he lost his mom and his brother turned into a stranger. But a moment of rebellion sends him straight through a portal into another world—a monstrous world where none of the occupants are humans, but they have a mysterious connection to humans. Just what is the relationship between Shadows and humans? Why do so many want to kill over it? And what will become of Griffin, who has inadvertently stepped in the middle of all of this?

This was amazing. First, I just love the concept behind the Shadow world. Every occupant is nonhuman, and they range from familiar mythological creatures like satyrs and phoenixes to more unusual creatures like the half-parrot/half-dragon Cirrus. These all come together in a civilized society very like ours, with some adjustments for things like aerial traffic. And that’s before the story even gets into what, exactly, the Shadows are and why that matters.

I like how this book handles soulmates. Too often it’s a solely romantic relationship, or one free of the most serious problems. Griffin and Cirrus have a soul-deep connection, but it’s one that freaks both of them out, and as much as they both want it at some level, they’re also running from it. Watching their friendship blossom was one of the best parts of the book.

The humor is also extremely good. It felt like every few paragraphs I’d stumble over something else that cracked me up.

“I don’t want to die. And if you died, I’d probably feel like, slightly bad about that too.”

And:

“That was awesome! I thought you were as uncoordinated as I am.”
“Lots of laser force practice. You know, a shooting game back home.”
“You played this with your friends?”
“I was a bit of a loner. I just turned up and shot strangers.”
“This explains so much,” Cirrus says.

I seriously need to reread this and pull all my favorite quotes.

The characters are another strong point. Griffin is an interesting choice of protagonist, because he’s not a hero. He sort of wants to be. He deludes himself into thinking he will be. But in the end, he’s a single person contributing to both sides of a conflict that’s much bigger than himself, and his decisions, good and bad, hurt both sides. In other words, he’s a normal kid in way over his head.

Cirrus, of course, is just awesome. Awkward teenage boy, even if he is a different species. I love his snarky conversations with Griffin, and the way he’s struggling to handle his own heart. He wants his best friend back, but what happened ten years ago impacted more than just Griffin, and now Cirrus is unsure how to approach Griffin.

Hanna is another interesting addition. She’s lust at first sight for Griffin, but even he has to admit she’s got some issues that could seriously complicate their relationship.

“My Mum used to tell me something,” Cirrus says grimly. “She said be careful when trying to put a broken person back together, in case you cut yourself on the pieces.”

Which is why I liked how it worked out in the end.

Overall this was a lot of fun, and I’ve already bought the sequel. Highly Recommended.

(And one more quote, which contains small spoilers)

“Oh, and for the record: high-jacking the laboratory filled with my life’s work and trying to crash it into my place of residence: not appreciated.”

Monster Paradise (Web Novel)

Title: Monster Paradise

Author: Nuclear Warhead Cooked in Wine

Chapters: 989 (Ongoing)

Location: https://www.wuxiaworld.co/Monster-Paradise/

Lin Huang mysteriously one day was given a goldfinger and sent to another world. His abilities allow him to capture monsters into cards. Posing as a monster tamer, he aims to become the strongest.

This has a somewhat rough story, but I quickly got into it and enjoyed it quite a bit. I like the combination of card game mechanics, monster capture/raising, and the gradual power increases of a cultivation novel.

The monsters Lin Huang captures grow and develop as he does. Initially they’re all pretty blank-slate, but as they grow more powerful and intelligent, they start exhibiting more distinct personalities. Some of these lead to a lot of humor, such as one of the sword-fighting monsters developing an obsession with vegetables (and getting very possessive of his snacks).

The worldbuilding varies. The beginning is extremely confusing, and I’m still unclear what a goldfinger is referring to (it seems to be some kind of known card type in a game, but the oblique reference just doesn’t work for me). It’s almost completely irrelevant that Li Huang was pulled from another world, and the story would have worked just as well if he hadn’t been.

I don’t really care about characters other than Li Huang and his ever-expanding collection of monsters. I do like how the antagonists get a reasonable amount of development but so far haven’t stuck around for ages. They get dealt with fairly quickly, or else they get out of the spotlight so the plot isn’t bogged down in the same place for too long.

The story does play around in several different genres. Some of the monsters Li Huang hunts ends up more like a mystery story, as he has to investigate corpses and clues to try to find the killer. Some of them are straight up fights. And some of the progression, like him teaching a class for a semester, are kind of random. I didn’t mind the random bits too much but I can see where it would bother others.

Overall I thought this was still a fairly enjoyable read, and I’m kind of upset now that I’ve caught up and can no longer blow through multiple chapters a day. I rate this story Recommended.

Record of Wortenia War (Web Novel)

Title: Record of Wortenia War

Author: Ryota Hori

Ryouma is a high school student who was summoned to another world. Unfortunately for his summoner, he’s also someone with a well-deserved reputation for terrifying retaliation. After killing his summoner and escaping the castle, Ryouma sets off to make his own life in this new world.

I saw this is coming out officially and got curious enough to check out the web novel. So this review is based on a version of the story that may differ from the official books (which I am planning to get as soon as they’re released).

In general the story is aware enough of the genre tropes to not get too bogged down in them. Ryouma’s reaction to being summoned is a classic example: he takes only a few seconds to orient himself, decide whoever did this is not someone he wants to negotiate with, and kills them all.

On the other hand, this still doesn’t save the story from introducing a pair of sisters who were slaves, who of course immediately swear undying loyalty (and further slavery) to Ryouma. They’re the worst characters by far, with the most forgettable personalities, and the only saving grace is that they have a minor role after their initial introduction.

The heart of the story is Ryouma as he works his way up from a relatively powerless adventurer to a leader. I really liked the deep look at leadership. This mostly happens through examining other existing leaders and Ryouma’s analysis of their decisions.

Lupis, for example, is presented as fundamentally a good person yet a terrible leader. Her propensity to value loyalty the most means she ends up surrounded by people who can only agree with her and can’t see the problems in her strategies. Or even if they can see, dare not say anything, because to disagree is to be a traitor. I loved watching Ryouma initially support her, try to help her develop, and eventually conclude that he can’t help someone who won’t take honest criticism.

Ryouma, in contrast, is all about practicalities. He doesn’t fall into the trap of “the ends justify the means,” but he’s willing to use dirtier means if that’s what the situation calls for. Like using rumors to exaggerate his devilish reputation to reduce causalities, or hiring known bandit groups to raid enemy villages so they’ll pull back some troops. Ryouma’s style of leadership looks more at what motivates people and how he can tap into that to get them moving in the direction he wants. He’d rather enable his subordinates than try to do everything himself, and he’s capable of working with all kinds of people.

There’s also a group of summoned people working nefarious schemes in the background, but so far that’s been a very slow burning plot.

Overall, although there are places where the story stumbles, it’s been a lot of fun to follow. The first book doesn’t give the best idea of what the series will be like going forward, but once he gets dragged into the civil war in the second book, the story really gets going. I rate this book Recommended.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime #5 (Light Novel)

Title: That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime #5

Author: Fuse

Format: Light Novel

Rimuru is off on his tour of the surrounding nations, so Benimaru and the other residents of Tempest are doing their best to run everything like normal. Only there are various plots afoot, and without Rimuru, Tempest is poorly equipped to manage them . . .

It’s really hard to summarize this without spoiling some of the best twists. This book covers some of my favorite material in the overall story.

The prologue alone sets out the more ambitious scope of this book: the Beast Kingdom allied with Tempest is under attack . . . by Milim? But explanations will have to wait for much later.

Mjurren, a magicborn working to carry out some of those plans, gets a lot of focus. I actually like the love triangle that unfolds around her because it’s so silly—one of her would-be suitors is determined to win by waiting for the other one to age to death. For her part, she views Yohm and his comrades more like a babysitting job, where she’s the only adult in the room.

And I love watching Rimuru break down and go more than a little crazy when he finds out what happened when he was gone. It’s all the little things he does that betrays his raging heart. And then he decides he’s putting his foot down. No more pretending the world is full of nothing but people with good intentions.

Raphael is another favorite. “It’s just your imagination.” The snarky little quips go almost entirely over Rimuru’s head. I love how Raphael is developing as a character, and the conflict between emotions and logic as sentience grows where no personality should even exist.

Overall this is a very solid continuation for the series, as it provides a lot of character development for everyone around Rimuru, introduces interesting new characters (and brings back one welcome old friend), and paves the way for a rather unexpected journey. I rate this book Highly Recommended.