content by

Michael M Jones

Tropical Island Getaway: Nil by Lynne Matson

It all starts when teenager Charley Crowder is snatched out of her ordinary life by a mysterious portal. She’s deposited, naked and confused, in the middle of nowhere on what turns out to be an island not located on any map or chart. Rather than lay down and die, she struggles to survive, and after several weeks, she discovers, much to her surprise, that she’s not alone.

She’s quickly integrated into a community of fellow castaways, other teens stolen from around the world. She’s informed that the island has a name—Nil—and that the only way off is through a portal such as the one that brought her there in the first place. And while Nil, which seems to be at least partially sentient and somewhere between capricious and malevolent, has many rules for survival, the big one is this: if you don’t find your way home within a year, you die. Simple as that. Suddenly, the clock is ticking.

[A Review]

Smells Like Nirvana: Teen Spirit by Francesa Lia Block

In the wake of her beloved grandmother’s death, Julie’s life seems to crumble. Her mother, a staff writer for a television show, is laid off; without the income, they lose their house and move into an apartment, leaving behind the comfortable home Julie had always known. The one bright spot, as she starts at a new high school, is her new friend Clark, whose cheery nature and odd hats stand out against the conformity of the other students.

As Julie attempts to put her life into a semblance of order, her friendship with Clark grows, as does her mother’s attraction to entirely unsuitable guys. With her home life a disappointment, Julie reaches out in another direction: to the spirit world. But when her attempt to contact her grandmother doesn’t get the desired results, Julie figures that’s that. Right? Then she meets Clark’s unpredictable, charming twin brother, Grant.

One problem: Grant’s been dead for a year. And he occasionally possesses Clark.

[A Review]

Once Upon a Time in the Weird West: Peacemaker by K. A. Stewart

When federal Peacemaker Caleb Marcus and his whiskey-drinking jackalope familiar ride into the tiny frontier town of Hope on their mechanical horse, they’re looking for a brief stopover on an otherwise boring circuit. What they find is, of course, all manners of trouble.

There’s the constant threat of Native American raids. There’s the mysterious and ominous Abel Warner, whose nearby ranch is almost another settlement in its own right. There’s the ongoing mystery of why local kids are turning up scoured of their innate magical powers. And there’s an odd vibe in the air, like something’s definitely not right. And as a Peacemaker, it’s Caleb’s job to investigate and make right.

[A Review]

Everybody Must Get Stoned: Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

Alexander Price is a cryptozoologist, an expert at studying creatures which the real world considers mythological, but which he knows to be all too real. But unlike his sister Verity, who likes urban settings and hangs around with the more humanoid cryptids (as seen in the first two books of the InCryptid series), Alex specializes in reptiles and swamp-dwellers and other such critters.

Under the guise of a visiting researcher, he’s working for the reptile house of the West Columbus Zoo, while secretly masterminding a basilisk breeding program. He’s kinda sorta dating Shelby Tanner, an Australian who specializes in training big cats. You know, the sort who don’t use a litterbox and sleep on your head at night. And the current highlight of his assignment is discovering new breeds of fricken. (Frogs with feathers. No word on how they taste.)

[A review]

Reach for the Stars: V-S Day by Allen Steele

What if the space race started not in the 1960s, but two decades earlier, during the dawn of World War II? What if America competed, not against the Soviet Union, but against Nazi Germany for that crucial advantage? That’s the underlying difference and premise of Steele’s latest work, a meticulously-researched “novel of alternate history” which diverges based on actual happenings and concepts of the time.

In 1941, the German High Command decides to switch the focus of its research from Werner von Braun’s V-2 rocket program, to Eugen Sanger’s idea for a space-faring plane, the Silbervogel (Silver Bird), which would theoretically be capable of dropping bombs on America from impossibly high up. When the Allies discover the news, they divert their own resources from the Manhattan Project in order to build something capable of intercepting and destroying the Silbervogel. Enter Robert Goddard, whose experience with liquid-fueled rockets provides the backbone of the new project.

[A review]

The Faerie-Fighting British Buffy: Banished by Liz de Jager

As one of the infamous Blackhart family, sixteen-year-old Kit is trained to protect humanity, police the borders between worlds, and fight evil as necessary. While most of the Fae uphold the fragile treaties established, there are always a few bad apples who slip through to make trouble. Kit and the rest of her clan take care of these problems.

She thinks she’s ready for just about anything, especially since she’s the first proper magic-user the family has seen in years. She’s wrong.

[A Review]

A Kaleidoscope Life: Changers Book One: Drew by T Cooper & Alison Glock

High school has a way of changing people and bringing out their essence. But what happens when high school changes you in ways you never even expected? That’s what happens to incoming freshman Ethan, who wakes up on the first day of school to discover that he…has become a she.

Yup. Ethan has transformed overnight into a green-eyed blonde teenage girl, and that’s just the first of many surprises. Her parents give her the quick rundown before sending her off to school. It turns out that she’s part of a race called Changers, and that every year for the next four years, she’ll experience life in a new body, a new identity, and once the cycle is complete, she’ll be able to choose which form to keep permanently. In the meantime…enjoy your new life!

[Read More]

The Playboy Becomes the Hero: Brazen by Kelley Armstrong

What happens when a werewolf better known for his bedroom prowess than his fighting abilities goes after a cunning mastermind? That’s what legendary lothario Nick Sorrentino is about to find out. He’s determined to track down the infamous Malcolm Danvers, a psychotic werewolf with a laundry list of crimes against the Pack and Nick’s friends and family. To that end, he’s enlisted the aid of private investigators and supernatural mercenaries, including a lovely half-demon named Vanessa Callas.

More of an overlong novella than a full book, Brazen is the latest entry in Kelley Armstrong’s popular and long-running Otherworld series (which consists of thirteen novels and numerous short stories). For those already in the know, it comes last in the current chronology, after Thirteen and “From Russia With Love.” Happily, this installment is almost totally accessible for new readers, and actually serves as a suitable and satisfying, if somewhat quick, sample of the overall series. I went into this knowing very little about Armstrong’s work, and had absolutely no trouble picking up the important basics.

[Read More]

Tomorrow After the End of the World: After edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

I wish to open this review of the most recent YA anthology from Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (lately out in paperback) by quoting from the introduction, as it sums up this book just as well as I could, and far more succinctly.

“We’ve chosen to take a broader road in the creation of this anthology, including both dystopian and post-disaster tales (as well as stories that fall on the spectrum between) in order to reflect the wide range of dyslit beloved by teen readers today…

“Our anthology sprang from a simple idea: to see out writers who share our love for dystopian and post-apocalyptic tales, and to ask them to please write stories for us about what happens after.”

[Read More]

Missing the Mark: Work Done for Hire by Joe Haldeman

Industry legend Joe Haldeman, a SFWA Grandmaster who’s won just about every award the field has to offer, multiple times in many cases, goes for something a little bit different in Work Done for Hire, a tense near-future psychological thriller in which a former Army sniper-turned author is drawn into a bizarre game of cat-and-mouse.

Nine years after his injuries earned him an honorable discharge from the military, Jack Daley now ekes out a living as an author. When he’s tapped by a Hollywood hotshot to write a short book as sort of a reverse-novelization for a potential movie, Jack accepts, and not just because of the monumental paycheck involved. Soon, he’s happily penning the story of a P.I. hired to act as bait for a cannibalistic serial killer. Easy money, good times. Until the box shows up on his front porch. Inside is a rifle, a down payment of $10,000 and a note telling him that he must use his sniper talents to kill a man. If Jack doesn’t comply, his girlfriend dies.

[Read More]

The Triumph of Private Industry: Mars, Inc.: The Billionaire’s Club by Ben Bova

Arthur “Art” Thrasher, CEO of Thrasher Digital Corporation, has a dream: to take mankind to Mars. But since no single government seems up to the task, with NASA having dropped the ball due to budget cutbacks and so on, and Thrasher doesn’t have the funds necessary to finance his dream himself, he comes up with a new plan. He approaches a number of billionaires—ruthless businessmen and financiers—and hits them up for the 100 billion he estimates it would take. A billion a year for five years for each of them. And Mars would be theirs for the taking.

Even with financing tentatively in place, there’s a million details to be considered over the next five years. Design. Propulsion. Launch capabilities. Orbital mechanics. Crew and personnel. Political hurdles. Industrial sabotage. Economic warfare. Every time Thrasher nails one issue, another pops up. But rest assured, he won’t stop until Mars One has launched on its historical journey.

[Read More]

Seeking a Boyfriend For the End of the World: Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts

The world is doomed. The asteroid Persephone is on a direct course for Earth, and we’ve run out of options. Mankind has a week left before the end. And yet life goes on…sort of. For several teenagers on a Massachusetts island, that last week will be a time to reflect, to seek out truths and secrets, and to face the fact their lives are over before they’ve even grown up.

Sienna’s father has just announced his remarriage to a woman he recently met, determined to steal a tiny bit of joy while he still can. Sienna, still dealing with medications and therapy in the wake of a stint in rehab, would rather not deal with her father’s new obsession.  When she runs into Owen, a childhood friend, a spark kindles between them and they start a new, fragile romance of their own. But will they be torn apart by familial pressure and obligations?

[Read More]

Series: YA on

Twilight Lite: My Totally Awkward Supernatural Crush by Laura Toffler-Corrie

Fourteen-year-old Jenna Bloom is your average ordinary teenage girl. Her family doesn’t understand her, her next door neighbor Jared has an unrequited and unwelcome crush on her, and she’s frequently stuck babysitting the obnoxious David Lipski. All she wants is some fashionable clothes that don’t come from the bulk store, and maybe a boyfriend who appreciates her. Then she meets Luke, a handsome, mysterious young man who first appears as a server at a local restaurant, before popping up in other places, such as school. And then the equally mysterious, yet somehow ominous Adam starts lurking about as well, and suddenly Jenna’s life takes a turn for the weird.

Soon, she learns that Luke is an angel, temporarily assigned to the area for purposes unknown, and Adam is his dark opposite, a being of chaos who wants nothing more than to remain on Earth forever. With a mystic equinox fast approaching, the time for confrontation seems at hand. Only Jenna, who possesses a strange magical medallion passed down through her family for generations, can affect the ultimate outcome. But she’d rather work on costuming for the upcoming production of Fiddler on the Roof, and practice kissing with Luke. What will happen when everything comes together in a messy climax of good versus evil?

[Read More]

Series: YA on

Sliding Into Romance: When the World Was Flat (and We Were in Love) by Ingrid Jonach

Apart from her persistent nightmares, in which she repeatedly dreams of her own death in new and horrifying ways at the hands of a hauntingly familiar stranger, high school junior Lillie’s life is fairly normal. She hangs out with her friends—guy-crazy, model-wannabe Sylv and tomboyish, academic-minded Jo—spats with former friend-turned-queen bee Melissa, dabbles in photography, angsts over her less-than-glamorous figure, and worries about the future. In the small town of Green Grove, everyone knows everyone else, and even the smallest bit of change is big news, which is why the arrival of the enigmatic Tom at the start of the school year throws everyone for a loop.

As to be expected, Tom gravitates towards Melissa and her crowd, but something keeps drawing Lillie and Tom together, despite some initial rockiness. It’s not friendship, for he’s continually rude to her. It’s not attraction, for what could he see in a girl like Lillie? It’s not a shared past, for they’ve never met. So why does Tom start featuring in Lillie’s dreams of death and despair? The answers are far stranger than anyone could have expected, and they shatter everything Lillie ever thought she knew about life, love, and the way the universe works.

[Read More]

Series: YA on

Magical Mystery Girl: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst

Eve is a girl without a past. All she knows is what she’s been told by the people in charge of keeping her safe. She’s from somewhere else. She’s had multiple surgeries to give her the appearance of a normal teenage girl. She possesses some sort of magic. Every time she uses her powers, she blacks out and is assaulted by horrifying, ominous dreams of a mysterious carnival, a malevolent Magician, and the equally unsettling Storyteller. Every time she blacks out, she loses more of her memory. And someone is after her because she knows something, but she can’t remember what it is. If she follows the rules of witness protection, she’ll be safe…

[Read more]

Series: YA on

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