Blind the Eyes, a YA dystopian paranormal fantasy by K.A. Wiggins, coming to bookstores near you and online Christmas 2017

YA Fantasy - K.A. Wiggins

Reviews, writing and publishing news and more from YA fantasy author K.A. Wiggins.

 

K.A. Wiggins is a Vancouverite who doesn't know how to live in the same place for long, a bookstagrammer and a fan of Islay Scotch and craft gin. She writes stories about being on the edges of things.

 

Her first published novel is BLIND THE EYES, a YA dark fantasy in which a not-quite alive girl and her not-quite dead ghost discover trusted authorities lie, allies have their own agendas and even the monsters wear masks in a story that evokes STRANGE THE DREAMER and THIS SAVAGE SONG with the flawed, challenging voices of PLACES NO ONE KNOWS. A free 5 chapter preview ebook and audiobook is now available for newsletter subscribers (along with other exclusive content) at https://kaie.space

 

Find her YA portal fantasy/post-apocalyptic survival thriller FLAME OF THE CONNARII, inspired by Disney's TARZAN-meets-Celtic-warrior-princess, and her NA horror rom-com THINGS GOT OUT OF HAND serialized on Wattpad under the pen name KAIE.

 

Accessible adaptation of a classic tragedy

By Victor Hugo Manga Classics: Les Miserables Softcover - Victor Hugo

I quite liked this adaptation. I've always found Les Misérables to be pretty tough going, and the tragedy tended to overwhelm its beauty, so the stripped down format and much faster pacing of a graphic novel/manga version works much better for me. It still touches on the tragedy and fits in much of the complexity, while exposing the story structure more plainly. Also, it's pretty. Great way to introduce a classic in a more accessible way.

Some great ideas that stumble in execution

Halayda (Star-Fae Trilogy, #1) - Sarah Delena White

Disclaimer: I'm reviewing an uncorrected proof via NetGalley, so it's possible the final draft changed some of the issues. Also, I made it about 10% before throwing in the towel.

Basically, something's gone wrong with the worldbuilding on this one. It kind of seemed like a second in series or spin-off series, where lots of people and places are being referenced as if to remind you of who/what/why? But I checked Goodreads, and this is a debut book, so I think the author was trying to do too much worldbuilding and it came at the cost of story and characters.

 

OTOH, maybe the problem was with where the story started. I think the author could have backed up a few scenes and let us get to know the characters and their stakes before diving into chaos and it would have given her space to spin out the worldbuilding in a more natural manner. Instead, there's just a string of extended info-dumps with a lot of running around in between and . . . I wanted to care, I really did.

 

I liked the striking cover design. I liked that there was obviously a big, fully-realized world with rules and tensely-navigated interactions between fae and humans and magic/alchemy-users, and . . . I mean, there's royalty, there's orphans with powers a la X-Men, there's lady alchemists and shady politics and freakin' faerie wings and that's all great, except in practice it just felt really dry. So, pass. Maybe a strong developmental editor could turn this around, but my tbr is too big to keep wading through all the words to find the story.

Attractive romance-manga retelling

Manga Classics: Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is super well-suited to a shoujo manga format - very soapy! I liked the cute art, though backgrounds were sometimes a little sparse. The plot moves pretty quickly to cover childhood through maturity, and parts are inevitably summarized, but key events got good coverage, and the central romance was, if anything, more enjoyable in this format than others I've seen.

 

I've also reviewed Great Expectations in this series, and I enjoyed the Jane Eyre version quite a bit more. The language used is startling at first, since it's overly formal, but you quickly adjust to the classic lit tone. Really detailed liner notes and character art at the end are a nice addition.

 

Great for kids new to the title, fans of manga-style art and romances, or those looking for an accessible entry point to a classic novel.

Fun, expressive whirlwind trip through the bones of Charles Dickens's GREAT EXPECTATIONS.

Great Expectations (Manga Classics) - Crystal Chan, Charles Dickens, Nokman Poon

Disclaimer: reviewing an uncorrected eARC via NetGalley.

 

Art: It's actually better than the covers would suggest. The black-and-white manga-style artwork is attractive, emotional, and expressive. Comedic cartoon-style distortion helps add levity to a fairly heavy plot, while some subtlety of storytelling is better expressed through the illustrations than the deeply abbreviated text. I found the colourized cover art too "plastic" looking, but overall the style holds up, with clearly-differentiated characters, detailed backgrounds and solid transitions. Occasional problems with distinguishing who's speaking or what's going on.

 

Story: This is an adaptation, and necessarily a heavily abbreviated one. I thought they did a surprisingly good job of conveying the scope and emotional underpinnings of the story while racing through it at a breakneck speed. The language does get pretty heavy-handed at times, with little subtlety in expressing themes and character perspectives. There's some odd switches between original lines and modern-day, but as an accessible entry-point for children, avoiding continuous use of dense and dated language makes sense.

Extras: The book includes several pages of liner notes about the adaptation, as well as a helpful section indicating how to read manga-style ("backward") books.

 

Overall, a solid, entertaining and surprisingly informative Coles-notes style manga adaptation. Could be good to introduce (older) children to a classic novel in a more accessible way, to help reluctant readers understand key themes without wading through heavy language, or as a fast, fun refresher to those who are already familiar with the original source material.

Surprisingly entertaining Canadian & Cree First Nations read about overcoming your past and owning your power.

Strangers - David Alexander Robertson

Disclaimers: I'm reviewing an uncorrected proof ebook version acquired via NetGalley, I'm choosing to leave an unbiased review, and I'm not qualified to comment in-depth on aboriginal representation.

 

More disclaimers: Um, so I just want to note for the record that I already named characters Cole and Ash in BLIND THE EYES before I read this book. No plagiarism. I guess Canadian authors just think alike? lol.

 

I loved this WAY more than I expected to. To get a few critiques out of the way, the cover looks a little off to me (more indie or MG maybe?), so I wasn't expecting a lot of polish. The first few pages are also a little disorienting, because the author launches with a different perspective from the main POV, incorporates supernatural elements immediately without explanation, and references past events without backstory at first. All of which turns out to be great in the scope of the story, but it feels like jumping in the deep end.

 

This is the story of a 17yo Cree First Nations teen who left his rural home community in elementary school and is attending high school in Winnipeg at the time the story opens. A supernatural being is trying to lure him back to his hometown. His aunt and grandmother don't want him to return for reasons that aren't explained at first, but we discover that there's past trauma and bullying to contend with. Cole also has some superior abilities that may be more than natural. There's a lot going on in the plot:

 

-trickster spirits, ghosts, unexplained supernatural/paranormal phenomena
-murder mystery/thriller
-romance? maybe?
-bullying, trauma & clinical anxiety (incl. struggles with medication)
-rural vs. city enmities/tension
-First Nations/aboriginal experience (on/off reserve, resourcing, discrimination)

 

As a Canadian, and as someone who actually lived in Winnipeg during her childhood, there was a lot that felt familiar in this, including issues raised that I'm not sure if a foreign reader would pick up on or not. The author (based on his Goodreads bio) does live in Winnipeg and is a member of a Cree First Nation, so this is an #ownvoices book with (to the best of my knowledge) good representation.

 

I liked how the struggles that First Nations people experience within Canadian society were included within the scope of the story, but that the focus was on the characters and their experiences. It can be hard to write good fiction that represents real-world issues without breaking character or bogging down/diverting the plot (see: preachy dystopias for one), so I thought Robertson did an excellent job of including accurate world-building in service of the story. For instance, there are medical emergencies in the scope of the story, and it's referenced a few times how help is requested but the government takes a long time to respond, ignores the pleas, or doesn't send the help needed in a timely manner. Remote communities struggle for resources and lose people to the cities where there's more opportunity, jobs etc.

 

Some Cree words are used (and translated in place), some ritual and beliefs are incorporated, but the narrative doesn't suffer at all from the exoticisation of aboriginal culture. (Though maybe American readers will feel like it's "exotic" Canadian culture?) If anything, the hockey-playing, tiny-remote-community, one-restaurant-in-town setting felt so recognizable to me that it would have been boring if not for the strong character writing and murdery-plot.

 

Cole and his friends are relatable as teenagers struggling with a variety of issues: tragic pasts, tension with childhood friendships left behind, current identity and past identity, sexual identity and relationships, trust issues with adults who're keeping secrets . . . Also, the writing of "Choch" the trickster-spirit was hilarious. That's probably what tipped this story from a good read to "when's the sequel coming out?" for me. His clowning felt instantly recognizable and, at times, laugh-out-loud hilarious. It was a great counterpoint to the dark thriller plot that could have headed into way more emo territory without him.

 

I'm totally down for reading a sequel/series about a Canadian First Nations teen with superpowers and his trickster spirit sidekick/tormenter/guide/whatever.

Easy reading kids-with-powers thriller.

The Lost Causes - Alyssa Embree Schwartz, Jessica Koosed Etting

Disclaimer: reviewing eARC via NetGalley. 

Pretty standard thriller fare; if you love kids with ESP, telekinesis etc., murder mysteries, shadowy government organizations/conspiracies etc. this may be right up your alley. In my opinion, it reads more like an older MG title than YA, with more of a distant narrative voice than currently in vogue. However, part of the premise is troubled teens getting powers, so MC drug abuse and casual sex (offscreen/nonexplicit) makes it suitable for older audiences. 

It focuses more on moving the plot along than character development, which makes for some awkward info dumps at times when tragic backstory or summarized characteristics are needed to undergird the story. More of a priority on romantic connections and friendships than solving the original problems, character growth, or family reconciliation; the "getting powers" part supposedly overwrites all pre-existing problems by dampening emotional responses or something along those lines. Which is a shame, because there could have been some great stuff there; coming to terms with sibling death after getting the power to talk to ghosts usually gets some more mileage, for instance.

In terms of surprises and plot twists, this fits firmly within genre tropes but pulls off a couple surprises heading into the home stretch. Good for readers who appreciate a quick, easy read. May not satisfy well-read genre fans or literary connoisseurs. 

Brilliantly told story of an American boy with high-functioning autism filtering his first love through the lens of a classic French novel.

Kids Like Us - Hilary Reyl

Disclaimers: this book was provided through NetGalley, I'm choosing to leave an unbiased review, and also I know relatively little about autism.

 

Moving on. I'm not really qualified to comment as to how accurate a depiction this was of a person with autism, but it provided a fascinating perspective on the MC, Martin's life. He goes to a school for kids with neurodivergent/developmental differences/autism...? It's not quite clear, but they seem to have a special program for teaching these kids how to learn and communicate with others more effectively. Martin and a friend from the program both understand the world by comparing people and experiences to a beloved piece of media. In Martin's case, it's a classic French novel. In his friend's, it's the TV show Downton Abbey.

 

I enjoyed the way Martin was portrayed as deliberately thinking through his surroundings and choosing to respond. It was a bit surprising in the first few pages, but then felt very comfortable and surprisingly relatable. In the story, he's visiting a French town and attending school there on a casual basis while his mother films a movie in town. He struggles with the new situation and new people, but works out relationships mostly by helping others and examining their reactions for insight into why they act a certain way. He enjoys translating for his friends, finding meaning, purpose and acceptance while overcoming anxiety in the act. He struggles, like many children, with his impact on his parent's lives and relationship, feeling guilt for being different and creating conflict and challenges in their lives.

 

He falls for a local girl who he regards as equivalent to the heroine of his favourite book, and while it takes a while for him to separate his fantasy from reality, he is capable of thinking through the differences and seeing her as unique. In a way, it's a very quiet story about Martin's journey of understanding and relating to the world around him, but satisfying in the way it concludes and entertaining in that the world told in Martin's voice is intricate, interesting and challenging.

 

A satisfying story that lets you experience the world through a distinctive lens. 4/5 as entertainment, 5/5 as a very well produced book.

Thick As Thieves - Megan Whalen Turner

MWT is a master of sleight-of-hand. Storytelling skills to the level that you'll follow her dubiously likable characters through endless bewildering micro adventures until everything settles into clarity with the grand reveal at the end. Great interiority, great insight into the characters' minds and perspectives, with moderate unreliability. This book looks at slavery (in an ancient world context), power and arrogance, as well as friendship. It probably suffers a bit because it's been long enough since I read the first books in that world that I sort of remember loving them, but don't remember enough about the world, the characters and the politics - or rather, my emotional engagement is a bit distant, so the world feels detailed and solid, but not like a return to a beloved story. The use of 'translated' myths in the narrative was smart but a bit pace-slowing. 14yo me would have been more impressed, but she was a geek. Clever, mature fantasy

When Dimple Met Rishi - Sandhya Menon

Aaaaand the most adorable romance of the year goes to . . . lol.

 

Seriously though, this makes me sad that NA hasn't gotten established properly. Stories about kids navigating post-secondary and first serious relationships have so much potential, if this is anything to go by. And Rishi is basically the perfect fantasy boyfriend: wealthy, unpretentious, responsible yet gifted and passionate, protective yet not aggressive.

 

Interesting take on second-generation immigrant experiences, relationships to heritage, family and faith, and particularly arranged marriages. The narrative does come out pretty strongly on Dimple's side (personal desires and goals, love matches) vs. Rishi's (heritage, duty and family), but it does a good job exploring both sides sympathetically at the start. And the early falling in love banter is just adorable.

 

Super entertaining read; I blasted through it in one sitting. (Sleep? Who needs sleep?)

Daughter of the Burning City - Amanda Foody

Gorgeously creepy and original carnival descriptive writing in the vein of The Night Circus.

 

This is the book for everyone who read Caraval and pleaded for more world building. I didn't connect as much as I wanted to with the cast and plot until the final third of the book, but the twists were great and unexpected. Contemporary representation of diverse races, abilities and sexual expressions complicated by the way most of the cast is somehow the same as/born from the MC . . . ? Anyways, as far as age rating, there is violence, I don't remember much swearing, references to prostitution and some kissing, but nothing explicit so it should be fine for younger teens. 

Lush, creative and eerily imaginative storytelling. I didn't connect with it as well as I wanted to, but I could see there being hordes of rabid fans; do yourself a favour and check it out!

One Dark Throne (Three Dark Crowns) - Kendare Blake

 

Ugh, original review seems to have been lost to the ether. Thanks a lot, Booklikes :/

 

ANYWAYS.

 

Part of the genius of this series is the brilliantly conflict-rich concept Blake came up with. Three MC with entourages who may also be each other's antagonists. Tension tension tension. Murder plots, romance plots, sisterly love? plots, friendship plots . . . it's no wonder the film crews are circling.

 

Add to that Blake's consistently strong writing, vibrant settings and talent for making deplorable character actions if not relatable, at least comprehensible. Dark magic, poison, not-so-cuddly mascot characters, fierce girls, assassins, elaborate and sometimes deadly fashions . . . a perfect round-up of everything readers adore.

 

Since a lot of the fun of the first book was in being blown away by Blake, like, totally going there with it, and then that killer cliffhanger, this sequel feels somewhat less shocking, more familiar. Entertaining, but not mind-blowing. It sets up a direction, subverts it, twists it, but more or less heads where you'd expect. Solid and entertaining second entry in the series, just filling out the world and characters and moving the plot along. In terms of age rating, there is quite a bit of violence, pretty minimal language, and mostly-offscreen but frankly acknowledged sex. Shouldn't be a problem for older readers, maybe a mild parental guidance alert for youngest teens, mostly on the violence.

 

Excited to see what's coming next (on the page and hopefully on the screen as well!)

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

Another tough review, mostly because this has been written about by so many at this point that I doubt I have anything much to add. This generation's "The Outsiders", The Hate U Give starts with the murder of an unarmed black teen by a jumpy white cop and tells the story of his friend, a teen girl living in a black city neighbourhood but attending prep school an hour away.
 
As a 30yo white Canadian in the urban west coast, it portrays a very different world from what I experienced in school or encounter in my day to day life. Great literature for all ages, but particularly for YA and kids, can teach us empathy by bringing us into the experience of those who are different from us, and this book does that effectively, making the choices, feelings, and responses of the characters clear and relatable whether or not you agree with them. I appreciated the level of insight this story gives since a lot of the reactions I see to the real world shootings and racism are media sound bites or Twitter hot takes that tend toward the outraged or the defensive, and generally lack context or depth. What I appreciated most was the level of complexity the author brings to her portrayals of the neighbourhood, the situations, relationships, personalities etc. Since we're firmly grounded in the MCs story, some ideas aren't developed as fully or in as balanced a way as they might be, but it's a story not an academic paper so that's as it should be. 
 
There's quality writing here, with current events and ideas explored through an immersive story framework, but to step away from the intellectual for a moment, this story was basically a continuous gut punch. I'm not sure if there was a chapter I wasn't crying in. So much heartbreak, which is what helps make the reactions and the anger feel like the natural conclusion. So much tragedy. One of the things, oddly, that really got to me was they way they reference "black Jesus" all the time - not because I have a problem with Jesus being portrayed as black, but because it felt like a snapshot of the multi-generational effects of racism and how that's informed identities. Like, Jesus of all people, ethnically Middle-Eastern and known for validating all human life and brotherly love, should not be seen as belonging to white people by default. Which is a theme that comes up again and again: white people vs. black people. Or white people vs. minorities, as comes up with the MCs Chinese-American friend. So much separation, enmity and rivalry, fear and violence . . . and in the end, so much of that violence turns back on the community that's suffered. So this book was a really thorough exploration of many dimensions of the modern teen's life, of life as a black person in America, of navigating identities between the different spheres of your world (again: teen life), of racism and police brutality, of poverty and gangs and drugs and family. Because this was also one of the most beautiful portrayals of a loving, connected family I've come across in YA. The parents had fully developed personalities, motivations, pasts, with messy but thoughtful approaches. I particularly liked the way the parents talked their kids through stuff. I think if more parents dialogued their kids through critical thinking, problem solving, and understanding the world around them, we'd be in a much better place as a society now. Very cool to see that played out in a YA book.
 
Highly recommend for older teens, maybe 15 through adult. Caution/parental guidance for younger kids based mostly on language, obviously on violence, and just a smidge on sexual content. I could see this book being taught in high school English classes for sure.

Dragonfly Song - Wendy Orr

This was kind of a hard book to review, mostly because it almost falls between genres. It's classed as an upper Middle-Grade historical fantasy, which, that's not wrong . . .

 

I felt like it had more of a classic children's fiction feel to it. It's coming-of-age, and also a sort of epic hero's journey, straddling children's lit and YA in a way that's often done more by adult literary works. It touches on many 'big ideas': deformity, religion/society, acceptance, adoption, trauma, bullying, disability, purpose/identity, fate . . . The format is creative and unique. The story arc stretches from the MC's birth to age 14 and is told in omniscient third person varying with passages in verse.

 

I'm not sure if there was a meaning to the alternating styles; at some points, I thought the dreamlike verse passages were meant to show the MC's perspective in a closer, almost experiential or sensory format as an infant, a toddler, a mute child . . . but then that didn't necessarily carry through, so perhaps it was more to craft an atmosphere for the story.

 

The setting is the ancient Mediterranean, and the story picks up on legends of bull dancing. The world feels distinct, grounded and natural, without heavy-handed world-building. It's a world of gods and priestesses, sacrifice and death and surrender. Humans seem very small within it, and as a children's book, it's challenging rather than comforting. There's death and violence and loss, handled in a very matter-of-fact manner, so I'd recommend it for maybe ages 10+, depending on the child. It's not gratuitously violent or graphic, but it's a raw-edged ancient world where killing a deformed child, having pets eaten by wild animals, beating slaves - including children - and sacrificing people as well as animals to the gods is just part of life. 

 

I was very kindly sent a hardcover edition via the Goodreads Giveaways program, and the book production is lovely. It has a bold, graphic cover with some nice foil accents, a printed board cover (which I prefer for kids books due to the durability), fully illustrated internal section pages, and pleasant, spacious typesetting.

 

Confident, mature young readers will find this an engaging, challenging and meaningful read with an inspiring story arc and some lovely writing. Hesitant readers and very young readers will probably find it a struggle. I'd give it 5/5 as a product, 4/5 as a literary work and 3/5 as kid's entertainment.

Enough Space for Everyone Else - J. Donald Monk

This was a surprisingly cool book. First published as a Kickstarter project in diversity in comics/graphic novels, the format is like a short story compilation, with dozens of artists weighing in for 2-6 page comics in wildly different styles.

 

Disclaimer: I received a copy via Goodreads Giveaways, which doesn't require reviews but more-or-less hopes to stimulate them. Mission accomplished; I'd never have come across this book on my own, but I'm glad to have discovered it!

 

Some of my favourite entries told a story with only images, no text/dialogue, or dug into heartwarming/tearjerker tales of children and families. Every story is space themed, so aliens, space travel, exotic alien worlds etc. There are just a few text stories as well interspersed throughout.

 

Most stories were more artistic, by which I mean they explored a theme or presented ambiguity in a fairly delicate way, while just a couple strayed pretty far into the preachy/heavy-handed side of making a point, but taken overall it was an enjoyable (and at times, impressive) read.

 

Mostly safe for kids/families IMO - the 'diversity' aspect included author backgrounds and various races (+ aliens, of course) being depicted, and while there were at least a few LGBTQ+ relationships depicted or implied, there wasn't sexual content shown beyond kissing. And violence was minimal; more implied than graphic. Parental guidance recommended, I guess.

 

In terms of format, the dimensions are huge, floppy, coffee-table format with big, glossy printing. Very cool to see the comics in that format, rather than on cheap, tiny paperbacks or on a screen - but also a little awkward to read. Think artbook rather than beach read; it's not going to fit in your pocket.

 

Overall, an impressive effort, and it's great to see people stretching boundaries and investing to bring work like this into print.

 

 

All Good Children - Catherine Austen

Interesting, detailed and well-developed dystopian exploration of the future of education and corporate trends by way of a smart, artistic and angry teen. While the narrative perspective was well maintained and it didn't get preachy, there's a clear message of vigilance against current trends, and like a lot of dystopian fiction, it extrapolates current trends to an alarming place. Not an overt rebellion story a la Hunger Games or Divergent, but more of a growing awareness and opting out/escaping adverse situations. The use of art as a sort of silent protest and rallying force against oppression was interesting. Overall a fast read that leaned more toward the disturbing and realistic portrayal of intelligent science fiction than the more exciting and thriller-paced tone of some dystopian fiction.

Saints and Misfits - S Mahmud Ali

So this was incredible. It's the experience of a Muslim-American girl navigating high school, dating, identity, appearance and modesty, bullying, sexism and assault . . . part of what I appreciated about it was the breadth and complexity of the (real-world) world-building the author did to tell this story. We often talk about excellent world-building in fantasy or science fiction, but it takes incredible skill to represent real people and experiences in a way that's recognizable and meaningful. 

 

Ali does a great job with a wide cast, as well as the main character. Everyone has dimension, complexity, a role within the narrative, but aren't limited to a one-note portrayal for the purposes of getting a point across. The MC has a lot to work through, from the pressure of exams and achieving a much-desired academic future, to coping with the expectations of her family and religious community, expectations that she places on herself, assault by someone seen as unassailably righteous within her community, and adolescent explorations of identity such as unsuitable crushes, image-crafting, social media and self-presentation.

 

In 2017, it's worth noting that this portrayal of a Muslim teen participating in an active Muslim faith community, observing religious practices and exploring her personal attitudes, comfort level, and beliefs around hijab specifically is an unusual and diverse perspective in English-language mass-market fiction. As an outsider to the Muslim community, I found the story, the characters and the scenarios easily comprehensible, and appreciated the opportunity to see through Jana's eyes and get a different perspective on her community. While it's useful to understand historical and cultural influences on today's climate, I felt like the narrative was a helpful reminder that choices around fashion, self-presentation and religious practice are also made on an individual basis, and that teens (and adults) need space to explore those choices and may bring new meaning to them.

 

Ali wove many influences including, notably, the work of Flannery O'Connor into the narrative to craft a story that introduces questions and themes without hitting you over the head with them, which I appreciated. Questions like how to have integrity, how to be a person you can respect, within the framework of wider expectations and personal choice. While there was a lot going on in the book, I found it to be a surprisingly fast, engaging and even, particularly at the end, emotional read. Also: Nua & Jana flirting is one of the most adorable teen romances I've read.

 

Bonus points: Canadian author! I don't read a lot of YA contemporary, but I'll be keeping an eye out for more from this author; smart & exceedingly well crafted read. 

Currently reading

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso-Scott
And I Darken by Kiersten White
Blind the Eyes by K.A. Wiggins
Blind the Eyes Special Preview Edition: 5 Chapter Preview by K.A. Wiggins

@kaie.space