The DNFs for 2019: On to 2020 books!

I am finally done reviewing books read in 2019. Not to worry, though! I have read 15 books so far this year and am reading two others. It’s been a little harder to listen to audiobooks due to COVID-19, since now we’re all in closer quarters, and I don’t want to bug my family. I still listen when I’m in the car, when I’m in a room by myself doing dishes or folding laundry, or when I’m out in my garden pulling weeds.

I have said before that I generally don’t review books that I don’t finish, since I don’t feel like I’ve given them a fair shake. But sometimes I have so many thoughts about a book, or I think it’s good but not for me, that I have to share them anyway.

Two books that fit in this category are Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief and The Light between Worlds.

The Lightning Thief cover (link to Goodreads)

First, Percy Jackson. It’s so popular that I felt obligated to give it a try, at least so I could know what it was all about. From the beginning I knew exactly what it was that kids liked about it. Percy’s voice is snarky, funny, perfectly middle grade. The plot clipped along, and Percy was always an active player in it. So far so good.

But there were things about it that MAJORLY annoyed me, to the point where even though I was mostly enjoying the book, I had to put it down. One was the premise that Olympus moves to where the center of human advancement is. This really rubbed me the wrong way, to say that Greece was the pinnacle of humanity at the time, when China, Egypt, and the Mayans gave the Greeks a run for their money in 800-700 BC.

I was also annoyed with the fact that Percy was dealt a HUGE blow early in the book and then got swept up in mysteries and adventures and barely processed it for more than a few pages. That rang false to me.

And when all the adults in Percy’s life basically told him, “Yeah, we have big secrets, but we’re not going to tell you for reasons,” I got bored.

Abandoned a little over a quarter of the way in.

The Light Between Worlds cover (link to Goodreads)

The Light Between Worlds is an entirely different story. The premise is that two sisters have come back from a world like Narnia and are adapting to normal life, each in her own way. One sister is really, really struggling. Nothing seems to matter. She can’t connect with people who don’t know what she’s been through, and she lives in memory most of the time. The other sister is doing better but almost going too far the other direction, with university, makeup, young men, etc.

Honestly, it was beautifully written. But I read it in the fall, and I tend to struggle with seasonal blues in the fall, and it was just so, so depressing. I think that’s what Laura Weymouth was going for (an honest look at depression). But I couldn’t do it at that time. Abandoned at about the 2/3 mark.

Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

5 stars (It was amazing!)

This was book 2 on my read-YA-science-fiction-with-male-protagonists list, and it did not disappoint. It did remind me in feel of the Illuminae Files series, so if you like that, maybe check this out. And if you don’t like that, then maybe this won’t be for you either.

Is this book going to change the world? Absolutely not. Was the romance swoony and believable? Oh yes. I loved watching the two leads gradually increasing in respect for one another, which slowly developed into love. The plot also kept surprising me, and a series of twists blew my mind.

It’s fun science fiction and fun romance. The YA voice is just right. I’m not sure it would be the sort of thing my 13 year old son would love at this moment in his life, but maybe it would be. Who knows?

There is a pretty tame sex scene, so I guess parents should know about that.

Review: Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

2 stars (It was okay).

So, about six months ago, I came across a list of great science fiction YA published recently. I think it was bemoaning the lack of marketing publishing companies are putting into their sf lists. I love both science fiction and YA, and so do my two oldest sons (ages 13 and 11), so I checked out the list.

And while I did come away with some things to add to my to-read list, I also noticed something that left me a bit unsettled. ALL of the books on the list had female protagonists.

Okay, so maybe it’s just an attempt to catch up after decades of a heavily male-dominated genre. And boys can read about girls–my boys do all the time!

But.

We talk about representation. And the truth is, my boys seem to enjoy books written in the last 20 years or so more than they enjoy older books. And if none of the books in their preferred genre have boys in the starring role, then . . . ahem . . . I think we may have a representation problem.

It feels weird to say it.

Surely, I thought, there must be some YA science fiction with male leads. So I did some Googling and found a list of 100 of the best science fiction YA published in the last 10 years. Perfect!

I read down the list. And you know what? Out of those 100 books, a grand total of 15 had at least one male protagonist (some had dual boy/girl leads). That means over 85 had girls as main characters, and fewer than 15 had only boys.

I decided then to read those 15 books (no promises I won’t abandon any of them part way through, since I am definitely not one to feel compelled to finish a book I’m not enjoying). Nyxia was the first.

And I have to say that while this was only a 2 out of 5 stars *for me,* it’s a book I’m wholeheartedly recommending to people. Its voice and characters are great. The plot clips along nicely. It’s got mystery and plenty of cool science fiction elements.

I almost feel guilty writing down what my biggest problem with it was: It was just so, so alpha male that I didn’t relate with it much at all. *laughs* Lots of high-stakes competition, fight scenes, problems with authority, anger management issues . . . you name it.

I did like it, but sometimes it got to be too much for me. And that’s okay! I am not this book’s target audience!

If you or someone you love might be the book’s target audience, give this one a try. I bet you’ll love it.

Review: The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso

5 stars.

The Defiant Heir cover (link to Goodreads)

I mentioned before that I was completely invested in the first book in this series, The Tethered Mage, from the beginning to the end. Caruso is a master of pacing. In this one, too, there’s never a moment where it failed to keep my attention.

But there were a few things it did even better than the first book.

  1. The problematic aspect in the first book is treated as problematic rather directly. I’m beginning to trust that a satisfying end to that whole situation can be achieved.
  2. KATHE. I won’t spoil anything, but holy cow, that’s an interesting character, and a VERY interesting love triangle.
  3. A deeper look into the magic of the world, which is weirder and cooler than I thought it would be.

This series is a lot of fun. I highly recommend it if you like fantasy with lots of court intrigue, weird magic systems, and romance.

Review: The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

4 stars (I really liked it)

I was completely invested in this book from the first chapter on. The premise is that there’s a world where people with magic can lose control whenever they use it, especially some of the more powerful, and accidentally, like, burn down a town or something. So to keep everybody safe, mages are “tethered” to a “falconer,” someone who can release the power and stop it with a magic word. There’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to spoil anything.

It’s intriguing and romantic and exciting, and more. It was a really, really fun read.

Still, I constantly felt uneasy about the fact that the tethered mage in the book is an orphaned, fiery black teenage girl, and her accidental falconer is a white noble’s daughter. It seemed like it was trying to make statements about slavery, but at the same time, it was trying to make the main character (the noble’s daughter) relatable, which is hard to do when she’s essentially a slave owner. But, yeah, nobody wants whole towns destroyed accidentally, so this system might actually be necessary?

I had to wonder if discomfort at relating to the main character was part of the point, and I enjoyed the book enough to read book 2 (review coming in a few days).