Into the Dreaming Imaginative Fiction from Author, Reviewer, and Writing Coach Christine Amsden

Category Archives: Young Adult

Book Review: Bastion

Bastion (Valdemar: Collegium Chronicles, #5)This series baffles me. 

First of all: Is it over? If anyone knows, please comment! 

I don’t feel a burning need to read anything else in the series. It didn’t end on a cliffhanger and the mysteries of the previous volumes are over. And yet if this is the end … talk about an anti-climax! It practically whispered out of existence. 

Yet paradoxically, even though I’m not sure this is over, I don’t want there to be anymore books. There were already 2 books too many! Most of Lackey’s series take place in trilogies.

Which brings me to my second baffling point: Why was this five books long? There certainly wasn’t enough substance to fill five books. I commented on this two books ago. The fourth book picked up the pace a bit, but this fifth book could just about have been tacked on to the end of that one for all the actual plot that existed. 

Thinking back over this book (which I JUST finished), I can’t really remember what happened. They returned home from their original adventure, took baths, debriefed, spent time with the weapons master, packed, left, went to inns, rode on circuit …. 

Mags did spend quite a bit of time worrying about having sex with his girlfriend. Knowing Lackey as I do, I was sure she’d skip the details of the scene and of course she did, but I have to say that I found some real irony in this case: Mags main concern was that he didn’t know what he was doing and was afraid of hurting her. So his mentor explains it (not so the reader can hear, mind — this is summarized) and I guess it worked … whatever these magical tricks to please a woman are! I had to laugh because she was, in effect, contributing to the conspiracy of silence and non-information. 

Oh, and a nit-pick I just have to put out there: Leena and Leeta? (sp?) I do read audiobooks so these names may not have been quite as similar to read as they were to hear (Lina/Lita/Leena/Leeta?) but it was so annoying to keep them straight! The reader was even good, and gave each one a different voice, but I still had to work to keep them straight. 

I’m not sure what to say about this book. Not sure if it’s the conclusion of the series or a boring middling book. Overall, I’m not going to recommend this series to new readers, even if the first book in the series was extremely good.

Rating: 2/5

Title: Bastion ( Valdemar: Collegium Chronicles #5)

Audhot: Mercedes Lackey

Book Review: Death Sworn

Death Sworn (Death Sworn, #1)

Leah Cypess has once again written a captivating tale of magic and adventure that is appropriate for young adults but engaging for audiences of all ages.

Illeni was a powerful sorceress — one of the most powerful. She had her entire life to look forward to, including a young man she planned to marry, but then she learned that the magic was slipping away. Bit by bit it would fade until there was nothing left. There is nothing left for her with her own people either, so she goes on a suicide mission to teach magic to the assassins guild and while she’s at it, try to find out who’s been killing her predecessors.

This story has strong characterization, strong world building, lots of mystery and drama, and a terrific ending. After reading several of Leah’s stories, I’ve come to believe that her endings are her strength. I have yet to feel disappointed in hos she brings her tales together.

I highly recommend this story for fantasy lovers of all ages.

Rating: 5/5

Title: Death Sworn
Author: Leah Cypess
Publication Date March 4, 2014

Buy Death Sworn on Amazon

Book Review: The Age of Miracles

In this dystopian novel, we follow a young girl (12) named Julia in the months after the earth’s rotation begins to slow down. I keep seeing it referred to as a “coming of age story,” although I’m not convinced Julia made the transformation from child to adult during the course of the story. For me it was more about how life moved on for her small circle of family and neighbors in the midst of a worldwide crisis.

I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, it was a quick read (it was short, which I suppose is an advantage of reading YA), and I found both character and voice compelling. On the other hand, not much happened. We don’t even get the answer to the biggest question: Why is this happening? It seemed incredible, even unbelievable, to me that no one knew why the earth’s rotation was slowing down. Mixed in with my feelings of doubt was this sort of lack of panic going on. Julia seemed peripherally aware of some people panicking, but mostly life seemed to move on even as a day stretched from 24 to 72 hours. She still went to school. Her parents still went to work. It seemed to me that this is a situation that would very quickly cause the deaths of millions of people, if for no other reason than due to the panic. Maybe that was going on just outside her circle, but I didn’t get a sense of it.

In Julia’s narrow world life more or less moved on. She went to school. She lost her friends (not sure why that happened), her family was in trouble, and there was a boy. Some people moved away. Some tried to get off the 24-hour clock and move to “real time” with the rising and setting of the sun.

I will say this much: It had all the makings of a haunting story.

If you like dystopian stories, you may enjoy this. If you’re not drawn to end-of-the-world scenarios, this isn’t going to be the story to change your mind.

Rating: 3/5

Title: The Age of Miracles
Author: Karen Thompson Walker
ISBN: 0812983602
Published June 26, 2012

The Goddess Legacy

Quite simply, this was the most entertaining back story I’ve ever read. 🙂

Disclaimer: I read this series out of order. I normally try not to do this, but circumstances conspired against me, and when I had a chance to read The Goddess Legacy before its release date, I jumped at it.

The Goddess Legacy is book 2.5 in Aimee Carter’s Goddess series, and if the book did nothing else, it did convince me to go get the first one straight away! It’s not what I expected — it’s actually five novellas that collectively serve as the prequel to the books. Hopefully, I haven’t spoiled anything by reading this first…I have a feeling that it did…but I’ll let you know for sure as soon as I know.

It begins with Hera, wife and sister of Zeus, who wanted to be a queen in her own right. Instead, she is tricked by Zeus into believing he would share power with her, and remain faithful. (Does anyone know exactly how many bastards Zeus has in Greek Mythology?) In this first novella, I basically knew the story, because it followed the myths very well, but it was interesting to think of it from Hera’s point of view. Despite knowing things would end badly for her, I felt bad for her that they did.

Aphrodite was up next — never my favorite goddess, she behaved like an immature child and somehow ended up getting married to a great guy who was okay with her screwing everyone else on the planet. This was my least favorite of the novellas from a pure enjoyment standpoint, but the story and viewpoint stayed true.

Persephone’s was, perhaps, the most difficult story. I had already fallen in love with Hades myself in the first novella, and I wanted to hate Persephone for not loving him. But can you force love?

The last two novellas set up the world and story that will begin in The Goddess Test. Hades is so sick of his life that he’s begging his fellow gods and goddesses to let him simply fade out of existence. They ask him to give them a century to change his mind by finding him the right woman, but they find 11 right women, and they all die…but who killed them? I have a strong suspicion, which I fear will influence my reading of The Goddess Test, but I am quite simply desperate to start reading, so here goes…

(Update: I’ve read The Goddess Test, and while reading the prequels first definitely influenced my reading of the first book in the series, I can’t say it spoiled it. Actually, it added a bit of perspective that may have been lacking, since Kate is the sole narrator of that book.)

Overall Rating: 4/5

Title: The Goddess Legacy (Goddess Test #2.5)
Author: Aimee Carter

ISBN: 0373210752

Publication Date: July 31, 2012

The Goddess Test

I snatched this book up the instant I finished The Goddess Legacy, a sequel to this book which actually goes into the back story. The setup for this book fascinated me — poor Hades (Henry), who had suffered from millenia of unrequited love with Persephone, is alone and wanting to simply fade away. But before he does, his fellow gods and goddesses want him to try to find someone who will keep him company…they asked for 100 years to find this someone.

Kate is his last chance.

This book is told from Kate’s sole point of view, in the first person. Her mother is dying, they have moved to her mother’s hometown for her final days, and Kate is attending a new high school to finish her senior year. The setup actually took a bit longer than I expected, but to sum it all up: Kate agrees to spend 6 months in Eden Manor with Henry (Hades, god of the underworld), in exchange for his extending her mother’s life, and giving her time to say a proper good-bye (as if there is any such thing).

Since I read the prequel books first, I knew a lot more about what was going on than Kate did, but actually, I was still confused by why it was happening. It seemed to me that Kate’s entire life was a lie, and that she simply accepted it.

As for Henry — I fell in love with him in the prequel book and was eager for his HEA. In this regard, I’m glad I read the other book first, because I really didn’t get Henry from Kate’s point of view. If I had started with this book, I wouldn’t have understood him at all. And as it happens, I don’t understand the romance that is supposed to be taking place.

I like Kate just fine. I like Henry even more. They just don’t see compatible. Henry is just about as old as time itself; a dark, brooding, deeply wounded individual who nevertheless wants to love and be loved. Kate, on the other hand, is a child. She’s a nice person, even — exceptional in her generosity. But the connection between them wasn’t there.

Maybe it wasn’t Kate, exactly. Maybe it was how she was written. An awful lot of this story was told rather than shown, especially when it came to relationship growth, and you simply can’t do that in a romance novel. Granted, I haven’t read a lot of teen romance, but I wouldn’t expect the age of the intended audience to warrant this sort of exception. There were no moments between these two, the chemistry was weak, the descriptions of physical contact awkward and forced, and there was a sort of hollowness to even their underlying friendship.

I think this book would have benefited greatly from two things: More showing, and Henry’s point of view. Maybe if I had been closer to his viewpoint, I could have seen how this girl affected him.

And after all that, I’m afraid I also found this book to be unconvincing. I didn’t believe that after 11 girls, they still didn’t know who had been killing them all. I didn’t believe that Kate just accepted it, and didn’t try to find out for herself. Actually, Kate was a pretty weak heroine. Everything in this book was done to her, not the other way around. She needed to have been a more active participant in the plot. And the ending was a bit of a cop out.

All of which leaves me a bit stuck. This is one of those times where I’m severely torn between a book’s potential and what it actually delivered…do I read the sequels to see if they get better? I may. I liked the potential that much, and I continue to like Henry that much. I even like Kate…will their relationship become more convincing in sequels?

I don’t know. In the meantime, I’m going to have to give this one 2/5 whatevers.

Title: The Goddess Test
Author: Aimee Carter
ISBN: 0373210264
Published April 19, 2011

Book Review: Zombie Penpal

Back in second grade, you had a pen pal from New Orleans, but she disappeared when Hurricane Katrina hit, and you haven’t heard from her since. Now you’re in 7th grade, and there’s a new girl in school who some thing is a zombie, but who you think reminds you of your old pen pal.

You see her going into a cemetery. Do you follow?

“Choose Your Own Adventure” is as fun as always, with this spooky new book written for elementary or middle school readers. The premise is great, the writing style is quite good, and there even manages to be a bit of character in there. (Unusual for this type of book, but it actually made me feel more connected to the “you” who was supposed to be me.)

My only complaint is that I felt the endings were weak. I don’t want to spoil them, but in a few cases I just didn’t feel like it was truly over, and in a few other cases I was just hoping for a bit more. Nothing truly bad seems to happen, which may be because of the targeted age range, but I did feel that the journeys were spooky enough to warrant more consequential endings.

I do recommend this to Choose Your Own Adventure Enthusiasts, especially if you’re into spooky stories or zombies.

Rating: 4/5

Title: Zombie Pen Pal
Author: Ken McMurtry
ISBN: 1933390344
Published May 1, 2010

Book Review: Griffin’s Fire

I first met Griffin in Griffin Rising, the story of a young angel in training, fighting his way through very human issues and emotions. In that book, his character stole the show. I liked him a lot, and he continued to haunt me even after I stopped reading the book. Which was why I eagerly grabbed at the chance to read an early copy of Griffin’s Fire.

Griffin’s Fire is even better than Griffin Rising. The voice is stronger, the style more at ease, and the plot has thickened well. This is precisely how I like to see a series progress.

You just can’t help but feel for Griffin, who tries to hold his head up high despite life repeatedly kicking him around. One of the things I liked about him in this book, though, was his lack of perfection. He got angry. He hurt the people around him. He made mistakes. It all made him more genuine.

This series is not over, and I look forward to continuing Griffin’s adventure. My big hope, as the series continues, is that Griffin’s girlfriend, Katie, can step out from behind Griffin and become more herself. I’d like to know more about her, and judging from the uncertain nature of a romantic relationship between a short-lived human and a long-lived angel, she very much needs to find herself.

But mostly, I recommend this to mid-grade or young adult readers who like a strong central character that tears at your heart. Griffin surely will!

Rating: 4/5

Title: Griffin’s Fire
Author: Darby Karchut
ISBN: 1606192124
Publication Date: April 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure

Last week, when I reviewed Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?, I mentioned my love of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, but I had no idea that the old series was back, this time published through a new company called Chooseco. A representative of the company contacted me after seeing my (fairly negative) review of the zombie book, wondering if I’d like to give their new zombie book a try, and of course I did! (Note: I am under no obligation to give a positive review, and wouldn’t have accepted the books if I were.)

But wait, it gets better! I mentioned that I have a 6-year-old at home, so Chooseco sent me two additional books geared toward a younger audience. I started reading “Choose Your Own Adventure” in late elementary school, so I didn’t even realize there were books for younger children. Well, they had them back then, and they have them now — they’re called Dragonlarks, and they are designed for young elementary school children. They’re safer (with no truly bad endings), shorter, and contain more pictures.

Here are the three books I received:


I’ve already read through The Haunted House with my kids a couple of times, and will have the review up later this week. Today, I just wanted to share my excitement over the rebirth of this series, and the fact that I can already read it with my kids!

I admit that I’m a little nervous about reviewing children’s books on my blog. I’m sure you’ve noticed that I usually stick to adult or young adult (teen). But I do have children, and I read to them, and I have some definite opinions on which ones I like, so I suppose that makes me qualified to give an honest opinion. (At least, that’s what I tell the people taking my workshops when they feel nervous about critiquing other’s manuscripts.)

Booke Review: Family Skulls

Sixteen-year-old Seth Quitman has a problem: No one will help him. At all. For any reason. You literally wouldn’t give him the time of day, because that would be helping. If he can’t do it alone, he can’t do it at all.

Seth’s is only the latest generation to inherit this curse, which has passed down through his mother’s line for over a hundred years. They can’t even help one another, although they manage a loophole by exchanging bags of beans for favors. (Infants can be helped…the curse doesn’t set in until full childhood, about 7 or 8.)

Well, Seth is fed up. He wants to be an engineer, but how can he go to college without recommendations? No one would help him like that. In the first chapter, he misses the bus and simply wants a ride home, but what would be simple enough for the rest of us turns into a nightmare.

So Seth, against the advice and urging of his family, goes to the source: The curse keeper, Jerry Larsh. The last time a member of his family tried such a thing, he was given an extra curse of insanity.

This was a fun adventure, and it was interesting to consider just how much humans do rely upon one another for help, and how difficult it would be to completely rely upon oneself. Seth and Chloe, a girl who sticks her nose in his business, were both good characters. They even had a sweet minor romantic subplot going through things.The magic in this book was subtle and well done.

My only problem with this book was that I felt like it could have used a bit more polish, and a bit more editing. For this reason, I found it difficult to get into the story at first. Credibility was a problem (for that reason), and I spent a lot of time in the early chapters doubting the curse or how it could possibly work. When we found out that infants don’t inherit the curse until they’re older, that helped ease many of my issues. (Mother of two young children here, and trust me, they need help! I’m not even sure my son, who’s six, would be able to go solo in a year or two. 🙂 )

But I will say that in the end, my doubts were addressed, and that the story itself was very good. I read the second half of this book in one sitting. I recommend this to teens and young adult fans.

Rating: 3.5/5

Title: Family Skulls
Author: Luc Reid
Genre: YA Fantasy
ASIN: B00573Y36W
Published December 21, 2011

Note: This book is currently only available as an eBook.

Book Review: Nightspell

In a land where assassinations were commonplace, and rival political factions fought for power, came a simple, magical solution: Ghosts, bent on vengeance for the ones who murdered them. But what if those ghosts would rather live an eternal half-life?

In Ghostland, there are almost as many dead as living, and out of respect for the dead, who cannot walk in the sunlight, days and nights are reversed. Warriors from the plains would love to conquer this land, but they fear facing an army of ghosts.

Four years ago, the leader of the plains warriors sent his youngest daughter, Callie, to marry the Ghostland prince. Now, her brother, Varis, and sister, Darri, arrive with a change of plans. Darri wants to take Callie home. Varis still wants a marriage alliance, but thinks it will need to be between Darri and the prince, instead of Callie.

Except, the prince is already dead.

What follows is a story full of political intrigue, temporary alliances, backstabbing, and murder. Darri and Varis soon realize their lives are in danger, but they can’t leave until they uncover the truth.

All the while, the book challenges the reader to reexamine the nature of death and existence.

I enjoyed the theme of this book very much, although there may have been some personal bias, because I saw some parallells with the theme of my upcoming novel — The Immortality Virus. Especially: Who has the right to make weighty decisions over the nature of life and death?

I did find this book to be a little slow in parts, particularly as the foundation formed, but the conclusion was dramatic and exciting — something you don’t want to miss! I recommend to lovers of political intrigue and fantasy. Don’t let the YA label scare you — the ages of the characters may officially place this in the “young adult” category, but I found it to be pretty adult.

Rating: 4.5/5

Title: Nightspell
Author: Leah Cypess
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Date: May 31, 2011
ISBN: 0061957038