Y.A. Book Review: The Light Between Worlds

Light Between Worlds Book ReviewI had a lot of great expectations for The Light Between Worlds and while some of the writing was beautiful and poetic, it just didn’t come together for me. Instead it felt like a recycled Narnia but dripping with sadness and lacking in the magical, wonderful quality of that series. The fantasy portion of the story is told via a series of flashbacks that feel like you are reading a newspaper instead of being immersed in a world. The real-life portion of the story is a constant parade of unhappiness, dark thoughts, self-harm, and the constant same longing and strained sister relationship that got tired after awhile. It’s like the same thing over and over and over.

The story starts out with 3 siblings running to their bomb shelter during an air raid in England during WW2. The youngest sister Evelyn wishes to be somewhere else and suddenly they are in a forest with a magical stag (Cervus). She is happy to be there, but her older sister Phillipa is a bit more reluctant. From there you get a little bit of a description of the children wandering around in the woods for two weeks. Besides some beautiful descriptions, there is really no meat and potatoes, and everything feels totally orchestrated and somehow sterile. The characters in the woodland are not developed and barely mentioned. They feel like they were recycled from a fairytale: barefoot woodlanders, tree and water spirits, etc. There was a lot of potential there, but besides barely mentioning these creatures, there was no more substance to them. The dialogue felt stilted and just jumped into events you totally don’t care about because there is no development of the world or situation.

The story jumps back-and-forth between past flashbacks about the Woodland to the present. I would have liked the author to spend some time in the past where things could have been magical, especially with her skill at writing descriptions. Most of the book is really centered on the present, though – with Evelyn longing to go back to the Woodland and feeling very out of place and unhappy in her life as a child again in England. She has what seems to me a weird and unhealthy relationship with her sister (who is away at an American college). She is always moping about wishing she was in the other world that she feels is her home – not the one she was born to. She is always moping about over her sister, as well. In the process of said moping she participates in self-harm. She also develops a relationship with a kind boy, Tom. I probably liked Tom’s character the most out of everyone in the book. He is sweet and accepting of Evelyn, even when it’s clear she is distressed/depressed, etc.

The flashbacks during this portion of the book felt worthless to me. I didn’t care about any character in the past as none of them were fleshed out. Cervus was a recycled Aslan. I didn’t care about the war in that world, either. There were no real details! Again, it felt like reading about everything in a newspaper. “Here are the bare details of what’s going on. Let’s throw in a sword or two and an evil guy that you don’t really know anything about because we are just briefly mentioning him. blah blah blah. The real-life world was where the book spent much more time on details and character building.

At one point in the book Evelyn disappears and the book switches over to Evelyn’s sister Phillipa’s viewpoint. This part of the book is a bit more interesting because you wonder…

SPOILER:

if Evelyn has killed herself or actually managed to somehow return to the Woodlands. You find out that Evelyn managed to go back to the Woodlands. Her sister appears there for a moment (somehow?) and talks to her and gets to go back to the real world. The way it all worked out didn’t feel creative, but rather contrived.

END SPOILER

There was a lot of potential for this book. It’s a shame more time wasn’t spent on developing the whole Woodlands portion. It was also a depressing read in general with many portions that felt contrived. There was no adventure (despite things going on in the Woodlands that could have contributed to that). It felt mostly like a Narnia rip-off that didn’t really work out well. I guess the contrast is that the focus was on the children’s lives after they returned and how miserable it was for the youngest sister as she grew older. I can see how some readers will find the story “heart wrenching” or haunting, etc. probably because of how much time is spent focusing on Evelyn’s inner feelings of despair. It’s very intimate in a way, but again, it just didn’t work for me.

I still would recommend it to someone who wanted a dark rendition of a struggle of not wanting to be somewhere. If you are looking for a magical fantasy, though, this book doesn’t deliver in that area (at least not for me).

Parent rating:
There are a few fairly chaste kisses in the story in the context of a romantic relationship. There are a couple incidences of cursing. The main character participates in self-harm. There is a LOT of dark/unhappy emotion in this story.

*I received an ARC copy of The Light Between Worlds in exchange for my review.

Nxyia Unleashed – Y.A. Book Review

Nyxia Unleashed book review
I really loved the first book in this triad (see my review on Goodreads
or on Amazon). After reading Nxyia, I thought this series totally filled a Y.A. sci-fi void with a diverse cast of characters, an intriguing plot, and though the 1st book had a lot of violence, there were a lot of good themes that were just plain wholesome. I couldn’t wait to dive into this sequel (Nyxia Unleashed), but honestly, it fell pretty flat compared to the first book (imo). It started out great, with the same terrific cast of characters, the suspense surrounding the Babel corporation, and the highly anticipated meeting with the Adamites (Imago), but then…I don’t know…it just tanked. Everything started getting stale, and I stopped caring about the characters as much.

The unraveling of the mysteries surrounding Babel and the Imago was a total let down and felt unoriginal. There were a few twists, but I saw most of them coming. I also felt like the character development was much more flat this time around. In the first book the characters are complex with a rich tapestry of back story and conflicting feelings that brought up plot developments that had no easy answers. The deep mental elements in the first book made the story so worthwhile, and they made you THINK. This time around it felt like the author was just coasting off the first book character-wise. There wasn’t much in the way of new growth or development. There were no “thinking” moments, for me anyway. It was all pablum and kumbaya. Even the action scenes had no tension or anything to them (imo). They were boring and just something to get through quickly in order to find out what happens via the main thread of the story.

I really didn’t like how the Imago (Adamites/aliens) were handled. Here you have this alien race on an alien planet and they are all way too human. Their responses are human… their mannerisms are human… their cultures are human. I felt like there was a lack of imagination in the world building and everything was too pat and easy. The author had an opportunity to make something really interesting out of the Imago, but I found myself hardly caring at all about them or their weak interactions with the main characters. The big plot twist was a yawner. I won’t share it, as I would spoil it for those of you who may actually enjoy the book, but I think part of the reason why it didn’t have much of an impact on me was that I didn’t really care about the Imago much because there was no development in their characters. I wasn’t emotionally invested in them, so I didn’t really feel the tension (or whatever I was supposed to feel) with their part of the plot twist.

There is also this little side story about “slings” (rogue Imago) and nothing is done with it. There is no insight, no depth…just a little incident that feels like a waste of time to read because it has no drama, suspense, or anything else built into it.

The way the teens interacted with the Imago also seemed forced and a bit ridiculous. Emmett talks to the Imago like they are “dudes” from his neighborhood. This is where the book really comes off as lazy Y.A. writing (to me). I believe the author has a lot of talent but everything surrounding the Imago felt rushed or shoved aside for other agendas and so it just didn’t live up to its potential or what I would hope it could have been.

There is also something else that happens in the book where you get a glimpse into the Babel spacecraft…and again, it’s boring, it’s rushed, and all of the potential in that side story is wasted (at least in my opinion).

I’ll interject a few parental thoughts in here as well while I’m on a roll (since I’m an adult who loves to read Y.A.)…the first book felt like it was for the younger teen crowd, but had a lot of depth for older Y.A. readers and even adults. My review for the 1st book talked about how it was “clean” with hardly any cursing, etc. This 2nd book took a dive in that area. There is a lot of swearing….to my eyes anyway. So much so that it was starting to become distracting. There is a teen pregnancy – which is fine and maybe something that needs to be written about…but there is no depth there (yet again with this book) and that sort of thing throws it more out of the young teen league. There is also the current trend to have a LGBT character. I say “trend” because I believe that’s what it is (in the way it’s being handled lately imo) and every Y.A. author out there seems to be scrambling to add some sort of character in his/her story that fits that mold. There was ZERO hint of that in the first book. Then all of the sudden you have it thrown into this one as if that box can now be checked off.

I hate to give this book 2 stars. I SO loved the first one, but this 2nd effort feels rushed and is lacking the depth in the first one. I still want to read the 3rd book and am hoping that it will go back to the roots of the 1st one (since the focus will probably be off planet). If you read the first one, you will probably want to read this one, and I do encourage you to do so – so that some of the mysteries in the first get wrapped up. I just can’t say I’m enthusiastic about it for any other reason (except to know the answers to what you are probably wondering if you read the 1st). It’s no longer a series I would recommend for a teen/student who likes or wants to try out the sci-fi genre. Here’s hoping that the 3rd book will redeem the series.

Book Review – Nyxia

I haven’t taken any time to review books in a long time, but recently came across a Y.A. (young adult) sci-fi book that looked so promising, I had to grab the ARC copy. I’m SO glad I did, because Nyxia by Scott Reintgen is one of the best YA sci-fi books I’ve read in a long time. It features a host of multi-cultural characters (which is unusual!), unexpected twists, great pacing, and some unique sci-fi elements that were a joy to read for the geeky girl inside me. 😉 I devoured it in 2 days and am chomping at the bit to get the other 2 books in the series (which are, as yet, unpublished)! It reminds me of a mix of Hunger Games, The Maze, and maybe a smattering of Red Rising – and yet it’s quite original.

Here’s the book’s description, and then I’ll add my comments:

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

There’s a bit of mystery swirling throughout the entire book. The author only hints at bits and pieces about the Babel Corporation – letting you know there is something more going on, but not unraveling what that something is. It’s clear Babel is the most powerful corporation on Earth, and it’s clear they aren’t upfront with their recruits. That’s about all that’s clear! They aren’t telling them something about the mysterious and most valuable material ever found – Nyxia, or the circumstances surrounding their trip to Eden. Babel is lying about… something. Babel is hiding…something, not only from the recruits, but from those left behind on Earth. That thread winds itself through the novel, leaving tantalizing clues, but never giving any concrete answers.

There is also something about Nyxia itself that is almost frightening. From it, Babel has achieved unheard of technological advances. It’s a material that can be manipulated into almost anything, and yet you wonder, is the material itself doing the manipulating?

Then, there is the mystery surrounding the Adamaites, the native inhabitants of Eden who are more technologically advanced and powerful then we are. There is something that has gone wrong with the Adamites and it seems they are unable to reproduce. The youngest Adamite is in his 50’s and for some reason it appears that there are no more females. They treasure and adore children…which is why these 10 teens are hurtling through space on their way to Eden. Only children will be allowed on the planet to mine Nyxia and a competition ensues. Out of the 10 recruits, only 8 will be chosen.

The children chosen are from poverty stricken backgrounds, all of them with a huge and desperate needs. Babel exploits those needs in what becomes a brutal competition.  The losing 2 will get a small amount of money, but the winners will get everything beyond their wildest dreams, not only for themselves, but for their families. For Emmett it means saving his mother from the cancer that’s killing her. If he loses the competition, he could very well lose her. This isn’t just about being rich (and famous), it’s about life and death.  That makes some interesting moral situations that don’t always have an easy answer. The desperation all of the recruits face is also something that makes it easier for them to ignore the undercurrent that something isn’t quite right.

I loved the character development throughout the book as these teens are stretched to their limits – both physically and sometimes morally. The adults in the book are also multi-layered. No one is purely black or white as far as good and evil and the struggles the characters go through are thought-provoking. I loved the honest approach to these struggles. It wasn’t always clear what a character would do in different situations, and the author didn’t shy away from allowing even Emmett to have flaws that he had to work and sometimes fight through. You grow to love him and other characters and you also can’t help but hate some as well, and yet nothing is ever totally set in stone in that regard. Even the hated characters have their reasons for being the way they are and because of the depth of the character development and the complexity of the situations, it’s not always totally clear who you want to win, or who you want to lose…

As a parent, I can say that this books is quite CLEAN and promotes morality – but in an honest and non-preachy way. The characters have their struggles, but it’s refreshing to see some take the higher path, even if it could turn out to be a sacrifice. Emmett’s background is also positive. He comes from a rough neighborhood, but he’s stayed away from drugs and other negative lifestyle choices. He loves and honors his parents, and their relationship is touching. There is a little bit of “boy likes girl” with a scene of holding hands and a non-descriptive kiss. The way it’s handled is pretty wholesome and doesn’t seem contrived or out of place, nor is it “obsessive.”

Another thing I noticed is that there are multiple minor religious references. At first I wasn’t sure if they were underhanded digs toward Christians, but over time figured out that the author is coming from a Christian background and drops little tidbits here and there that aren’t proselytizing, but appear as the main character struggles to understand things or in reference to Babel. They won’t offend a secular reader, and they are refreshing to a Christian reader. I get tired of YA books with anti-Christian agendas. This isn’t one of them.

There is a LOT of violence in this book,

***spoiler alert***

including a death that was a bit unexpected (think: a Game of Thrones killing that gets rid of a character you LIKE).

***end of spoiler alert***

The violence is probably at the level of Hunger Games. I recall only one incident of very minor cursing (the word hell).

The “about the author” note states: Scott Reintgen has spent his career as a teacher of English and creative writing in diverse urban communities in North Carolina. The hardest lesson he learned was that inspiration isn’t equally accessible for everyone. So he set out to write a novel for the front-row sleepers and back-row dreamers of his classrooms. He hopes that his former students see themselves, vibrant and on the page, in characters like Emmett.

I think he’s done a tremendous job in creating a page-turning novel that does exactly what he was trying to do. It’s very difficult to find any worthwhile sci-fi that is accessible to teens (and adults who like YA novels!!). Nyxia does a terrific job not only as a sci-fi novel, but also as something that tackles tough issues and brings to life a multitude of cultures in a fresh and exciting way. If you have a teen who loves sci-fi or you want to encourage a student to dip his/her feet into that genre, Nyxia definitely fills a YA sci-fi void! I can’t wait for the next two books to come out!!