Things are still busy, but I have a pleasant (except for the sneezing & itching) lull this morning, and some time to catch up on YA reviews.

These two I definitely enjoyed – and they’re authors I’ll keep an eye on.

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature, by Robin Brande: This is a solid example of realistic YA fiction, where there are some “issues” but they don’t overpower the story or the characters. I haven’t run into many YA books where the main character is religious, and examines her beliefs over the course of the book in a believable way. Sometimes I wanted her to snap out of her insecurities, but they were believable, too. The plot is surprisingly fun, given all the things Mena is agonizing over, and most of the side characters are three-dimensional and fascinating; I got the sense that Brande had complete back-stories on all of them, even if 99% of that information never made it into the book. Some of Mena’s old friends run the risk of being stock characters – although there is a moment towards the end when we see that one is not. I would love to see the story retold from Casey’s point of view – to learn more about his family and his life, and see Mena from his point of view. Definitely recommended for middle schoolers/teens looking for good characters with a dash of religion and science.

Northlander, by Meg Burden: The set-up reminded me of classic Robin McKinley – a girl in a strange place, plenty of intriguing characters, a hint of magic. There’s an unexpected (to me) shift halfway through the book, and I found myself missing the first half and wondering what on earth was going on, but soon enough the plot revealed itself, and a few more dimensions were added to the story. It’s not super fast paced, but I think it’s pretty accessible for middle school/teen readers (and grownups) who like that slight fantasy with a hint of historical fiction sub-genre. The plot felt like an enjoyable excuse to observe the dynamics between Ellin and the five princes. The characters in general were great – I hope there are more books to come in the series, because I know I’ll enjoy spending more time with them. I’m also curious to see how things work out plot-wise – while things were mostly wrapped up at the end, enough was left hanging for a meaty sequel or two.

These two were companions/sequels, and while they could theoretically stand on their own, I would recommend reading the first ones first.  I enjoyed both, but neither quite lived up to the first.

The Dead and the Gone, by Susan Beth Pfeffer: This companion to Life as We Knew It is much darker – perhaps because, even though this is set in a different place, the reader knows a little bit about what will happen. And, unlike the narrator in LAWKT, who is allowed to enjoy herself a little before things go downhill (and they always go down hill when the moon is pushed closer to the earth), Alex is thrown immediately into the horror of what has happened. This has the same tension as the first one, or perhaps more, and was just as difficult to put down once I’d start. Recommended to teens (or adults) looking for a gripping story of survival. Warning: a few gruesome scenes, plus reading the story may lead to hoarding of canned goods.

The Last of the High Kings, by Kate Thompson: I enjoyed this sequel to The New Policeman, but for whatever reason it didn’t have quite the same magic. It still had that entertaining blend of Irish mythology and fantasy with real world issues, and the characters were well-drawn, and it had a nice sense of humor in the tone. I was a little distracted by the fact that our main character, JJ, is now in his 40s with several children – I couldn’t help but wonder if children would enjoy that as much as a story told primarily from a child’s point of view. Sections are from the point of view of the children, but JJ is still at the forefront. Overall a fun read, and worth taking a look at if you enjoyed The New Policeman (which I highly recommend), but probably not a good stand-alone.

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