Tag Archives: Balzer + Bray

Book Review: Dread Nation (Dread Nation #1) by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation ( Dread Nation #1)   

Authors: Justina Ireland

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

American release date: December 1, 2020

Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/Young Adult Zombie Fiction/464 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 

Jane McKeene is her mama’s dirty little secret. Born to a white plantation owner, Jane is undoubtedly of African-American descent. Even so, she knows her mother loves her, and does the best that she can to raise her right. The course of Jane’s life is changed forever when the dead begin to rise on the battlefields of Gettysburg. Jefferson Davis’ Confederacy capitulates to the North due to the necessity of having to fight the growing numbers of undead, which they cannot do on their own. Even so, the battle is an arduous one, and some Southern States have been given up as long causes, simply referred to as the Lost States.

Under the auspices of the Negro and Native Reeducation Act, certain children are sent to schools to learn to combat the dead. Jane is one of these, having been sent to Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore. Jane is really good at what she does, and she can surely swing a mean scythe, but she misses her mama, and writes her often. But she hasn’t heard from her in a while, and Jane is concerned.

Jane is a very independent soul, and very strong-minded. Despite the fact that slavery is now illegal, blacks are still treated with a great degree of condescension. Definitely second-class citizens. The best Jane can hope for is to become an Attendant to some fine white lady (read paid but still a slave in all but name). She dreams of the time when she can leave the school and return to her home in Rose Hill, in Kentucky. Jane has friends at the school, but Katherine is not one of them. Katherine is so fair, she could easily pass, and she is beautiful, and she knows it. She and Jane are like oil and water.

Jane has a past relationship with a young man named Jackson. Their relationship didn’t exactly end well, and yet they maintain a tenuous sort of friendship, somewhat out of necessity. Jackson is easy on the eyes, and he operates outside of the law, and you know how women like their bad boys.  Jackson gets Jane and Katherine embroiled in a scenario which ends up with all of them being sent West to a place called Summerland. Supposedly this is a haven for people to be safe against the growing hordes of dead.

But Jane quickly discovers she has just been sent to a place that is more Hell than Heaven.

I found this book riveting from beginning to end. Jane McKeene is an amazingly awesome heroine, strong and gutsy and just plain likeable. The story is told in a compelling First Person present tense narrative that will pull you in. This alternate Civil Way history with zombies is imaginative and fascinating. I thought it very sad that although slavery was illegal, the entitled white people still found a way to keep the blacks down. I found it hard not to draw parallels between then and present day America, and maybe that was the point.

The relationship between Jane and Katherine is priceless, going from enemies to friends. And in Summerland, I think Jane may have found a potential lover. Only time will tell. There are some great characters, some you’ll love, and some you will equally loathe.

The really good news is there is a sequel, and I can’t wait to read it.  Although marked as High School, I think this is an enjoyable series for all ages.. Can’t wait to read the next book.

 

Book Review: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin     

Author: Roseanne A. Brown

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

American release date: June 2, 2020

Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/Teen & YA Epic Fantasy/480 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

The line of people waiting to enter the city-state of Ziran is long, and there is no guarantee that all who wish to enter will be allowed to do so. Malik is there with his two sisters, Leila and Nadia. They hope to be admitted so they can join the celebration known as Solstasia. Bahia’s Comet is due to make an appearance, and they don’t want to miss a thing. The problem is that they have to pretend to be people they aren’t, for if they are recognized as being Eshran, they will never get in. Ziran is harsh on those it considers inferiors, such as those from Eshran. Life is hard, and the three siblings are all they have.

Malik is not like other boys. Since he was little, he’s seen things other people cannot see. Grim folk, he calls them. Dark spirits. He’s learned not to tell anyone about them, lest they think him crazy.  He is furious when little sister Nadia runs off. When he locates her, she excitedly tells him about the griot, who has promised a wish to the person who solves her riddle. Of course Malik and Leila don’t believe in wishes, and it’s hard for them to dash the little girl’s hopes. But they agree to listen to the griot’s story…

Karina and Aminata are hanging out at The Dancing Seal, a questionable establishment at best. Karina has her beloved oud with her. They want to enjoy Solstasia while they can, for life is not all fun and games, as Karina well knows. When the bard who has been playing mistakes her for a woman of easy virtue, Karina sets him straight and challenges him to a musical contest. If she wins, she gets all the money he has made that day. If he wins… well, you can imagine what he wants. She wins handily and takes his money, but he isn’t finished with the princess yet. And yes, she is a princess, albeit in disguise. One who runs away from the palace every chance she gets.

Malik finds himself in a bind when his sister Nadia is kidnapped by an dark spirit calling himself Idir. The only way he can get his sister back is to do as the spirit wishes. He must kill Princess Karina. And the only way he can think to do that, since most people have little or no chance of getting close enough to the princess to talk to her much less kill her, is to become one of the seven Champions of the tournament that is being held for Solstasia. But each champion is picked by the group he or she is meant to represent, according to their affiliation. How is Malik going to maneuver that into happening?

Karina’s life is turned upside down by an unthinkable event, when her mother, the sultana, is murdered before her eyes. Worse, it came on the heels of an argument with harsh words exchanged. Karina just wants her back. She learns of a magic that will resurrect her mother, but the ingredients she needs seem impossible to get. Especially the heart of a king. Ziran has no king, not since the death of her father, along with her older sister, in a fire some years before. But Karina has a plan… and if it works, she’ll have to kill the winner of the Tournament of Champions in order to have her mother back again.

Roseanne A. Brown creates a rich fantasy world in Ziran and the people who inhabit it, drawing on Arabic and Egyptian inspirations. Magic is in the air and in the people. I could see the whole story unfold in my mind as I read, as if I were really there, which is the mark of a great storyteller. Her characters are not all good or all bad, and even good people face difficult situations and make questionable choices. I was kept constantly guessing how everything would turn out, hoping that love would conquer all and Malik would save his sister, and that he and Karina would be together. It was an emotional rollercoaster, but a very wonderful journey. And the good news is that the journey is not over. There will be another book.

It’s hard to believe this is her first book. I just love the way she writes. I believe there is a movie deal in the works. I will definitely look for that to happen. I can’t say enough good things about this book. I highly recommend A Song of Wraiths and Ruin if you like epic fantasies and fantasy romances and good adventures. Can’t wait for the next book!

Book Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Felix Ever After     

Author: Kacen Callender

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

American release date:  May 5, 2020

Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/YA LGBT Romance/368 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

To say Felix Love’s life is complicated would be an understatement. He lives with his father in Harlem, his mother having walked out on them years before to start a new family. His father has sacrificed a lot to provide for Felix, including his tuition at St. Catherine’s and the summer arts program, as well as his top surgery—Felix is transgendered. While his father is supportive of that, for some reason he finds it difficult to use Felix’s name, and often just calls him kid.

Felix’s best friend for years is Ezra. The two of them are thick as thieves and do everything together. Ezra comes from privilege. His parents have bought him his own apartment, and Felix often sleeps over there. One day, Felix’s world is shattered when he walks through the gallery at school only to find photos of his old self hanging there, framed and displayed for everyone to see, as well as his dead name. Felix is beyond mortified as the faithful Ezra removes the evidence of someone’s dastardly deed. Who could be so cruel, and why?

Felix is working hard on his art, wanting to be accepted at the prestigious Brown University, hopefully on a full scholarship. Those are far and few between, and another student at St. Cat’s, a guy named Declan who once dated Ezra, is also planning to go there and snag the full ride too. Felix doesn’t think it’s fair because Declan comes from money. Plus he’s obnoxious and full of himself.

Felix writes emails to his mother, but he never sends them. He hasn’t heard from her since he told her he was transgendered, years before. The emails sit in his draft folders… all 476 of them. Someday maybe he’ll actually hit send on all of them and flood her inbox. Felix can’t help but wonder why she doesn’t love him anymore?. And why can’t he find a special someone, as his peers have? Even Ezra is dating someone, a guy named Austin, and seems happy. Why can’t Felix find love? Is he so unloveable?

When Felix becomes convinced that Declan is responsible for the gallery fiasco, he determines to find out for sure—even if he has to catfish him to do it.

This book was recommended to me by my daughter, and I devoured it in like two days, it was so good. I loved Felix so much, and I ached for him as he questioned his life, his art, his identity… not unusual for a teen, but even harder for a trans teen. I think it’s great that we’re seeing more books with trans characters, someone other trans people can identify with. But even more so, I think books like this help other people come to an understanding of what it means to be trans. For many people, it’s a new and alien concept. Sure, trans people have always been around, but the discussion has never been so open as it is now. I think books like this one are important in gaining a better understanding of other people. Diversity is something to be celebrated, not feared. What a boring world if we all thought and did the same things and if we all looked alike.

I hope to see more from this talented author and highly recommend this book for anyone, especially romantics.