Tag Archives: young adult books

A brilliant, post-apocalyptic gem from Julianna Baggott

Pure, by Julianna Baggott. Grand Central Publishing. 448 pages. $25.99

This amazing novel, by prolific Florida State University creative writing professor Julianna Baggot, is stunning in its vision, specificity, and suggestiveness. Configuring a post-apocalyptic world of the near future, Julianna Baggott achieves nothing less than a profound inquiry into the nature and meaning of what it is to be human. This book is likely to become an instant classic. It is at once science fiction, moral fable, and coming of age tale. The prose is gorgeous, the scale is cinematically epic. When I finished reading it, I was sorry it was over. Fortunately, there are two more installments of “The Pure Trilogy” to come.

The “Pure” are those who were chosen to live in the Dome in order to survive the detonations that destroyed much and created a wasteland for the survivors kept outside. The detonations seem to have been a programmed destruction predicated on future renewal and rebuilding — like burning a forest to make way for new growth. Who chose the elite to be saved and educated as the leaders of a new order? Where was the line between altruistic tough love and simple, naked self-interest? The novel explores such issues with deep sensitivity and intelligence.

Pure is structured around the actions of and relationships among four young adults. The Pures are Partridge (son of the Dome’s leader) and Lyda. These teenagers are being groomed to take over leadership roles in the reintegrated world society, though Partridge has yet to prove himself and Lyda has been institutionalized as unstable (perhaps not yet effectively programmed or “coded”). Partridge, who has begun to doubt the history he has been taught, manages an escape to discover what really goes on outside the Dome. Lyda, wrongly believed to be his girlfriend, is sent out to lure him back.

Julianna Baggott

Those who live outside the dome include Pressia and Bradwell. They are both, like the other Wretches, physical victims of the detonations, which have disfigured everyone – not only with burn scars, missing limbs, and other bodily distortions, but also by being welded in the explosions to nonhuman beings and materials. Pressia’s damaged hand is fused with the face of a doll. Bradwell’s back is inhabited by birds whose wings rustle constantly. Pressia’s grandfather has a small electric fan lodged in his throat. These people constitute the highest order of life outside the Dome, above the Beasts and the Dusts.

Bradwell, like Partridge, is a rebel and a truthseeker. Eventually, fate (or is it complex external manipulation of their lives?) brings the four young people together. The future for everyone seems to be in the hands of this inexperienced and untested quartet. However, they meet some early tests quite well.  .  .  .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the March 1, 2012 edition of the Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Julianna Baggott pdf

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Keeping Up with Sandy Lender

by Philip K. Jason

This article appears in the November-December 2010 issue of Fort Myers Magazine. Click here to see it: Ft.Myers magazine – Sandy Lender

The early fall of 2010 found fantasy author Sandy Lender in a whirlwind of projects coming to fruition. As she enjoyed her new home – a canal-view condo on Cape Coral from where she can walk to everything she needs – this refugee from Naples added three new titles to the three she already had in print. It’s been an exciting time for her, with new challenges built upon solid accomplishments.


Lender has worked diligently and effectively to build a fan base in the world of fantasy fiction with her “Choices” novels: Choices Meant for Gods (2007) and Choices Meant for Kings (2009). Complex plot lines, striking characters, and the remarkable, legendary domain of Onweald have captivated readers and won the acclaim of critics. Is Sandy Lender an established star in the literary firmament? Not yet. However, the seeds have been sown. With these two titles from ArcheBooks Publishing plus What Choices We Made (2008 from BookSurge), a supplement of related short stories, Sandy Lender is recognized and respected among her fantasy writer peers, and her work has a growing list of followers.

Writing, of course, comes first. Lender loves the time she can spend spinning out her world of sorcerers and dragons, her saga of duty, loyalty, and betrayal. Far less attractive is the time she allots to networking and marketing. Yet she is committed to these tasks.

Thus, the first few days of October found Lender in St. Louis, attending the 34th annual Archon convention. At such a gathering, she interacts with and amplifies her audience: “When I set foot into a convention like DragonCon in Atlanta, ConQuest in Kansas City, ConText in Ohio or Archon in St. Louis, I’m stepping among a crowd of people who watch the same shows I watch. We read the same books. We use the same corny jokes. If I say ‘Kapla,’ they all understand me. I had a radio personality interview me not long ago, and he asked if I wrote anything out by hand. I told him that I do sometimes because my host enjoys the tactile sensation. He kept right on asking questions, but any Stargate SG-1 fan listening that day was rolling! At one of these conventions, everyone would get that reference and then, of course, proceed to buy one of my books because I’m just that cool.”

She is.

Lender considers the business of marketing her work to the public important: “Signings at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Hastings, etc., are hard to come by because corporate rules dictate which authors are allowed to have stand-alone book signings. If you’re not in Amazon’s Top 100, you have an uphill battle. Knowing the customer service rep at the local store is vital. You want to be able to show that person what kind of crowd you can bring in to elevate his or her sales on your special signing day. You want to show him or her how great you are at participating in local author events. Flexibility is an awesome trait.”

Sandy Lender on social media: “I use social media with balance. An author friend of mine alienates people with constant updates. That’s counterproductive. That’s navel-lint marketing. No one cares what time an author went to bed last night. No one cares about the weather in her neck of the woods unless a hurricane has just lifted your roof or an earthquake has just opened a fissure that’s eaten your car. That’s Tweet-worthy. If I see someone updating their status about rain making them feel like taking a nap, I figure they write boring books. I teach this in the social media workshops I give. Now, audience matters in your marketing efforts, even with social media. I have a lot of followers on Facebook who are into companion parrots, so I’ll post updates about crazy things my pet birds have done. The nice thing about that is most people who don’t own parrots get a chuckle out of these antics, too.”

Here’s what’s new:


Problems on Eldora Prime is a young adult sci-fi/fantasy novel that adults can enjoy. When collecting reviews and cover blurbs, Lender sent the manuscript to adult reviewers who are connected to teens in some way. These previewers were encouraging. The premise: “a 17-year-old girl crash lands a spaceship on a foreign and hostile planet. She assumes command for the survivors and ends up learning about leadership as she takes her team through a monster-infested land to what they hope will be a safe haven to call for help. I won’t spoil anything, but ‘help’ doesn’t arrive the way it’s supposed to, and her dragon allies aren’t always the good guys you want them to be.”

This book, which is a slightly revised version of Lender’s entry in the 2009 3-Day Novel Contest, will be published by her own company, Night Wolf Publications. Canadian writer Jamieson Wolf is her partner in this venture.

Why go out on your own? Says Lender “We figured out that we both had awesome books that our test readers praised, and we wanted to publish them without the hassle of agents or publishers or production schedules that relied on other people. We knew of other writers going through the same process. There are some incredibly talented people out there who have skill and storytelling ability, but the gatekeepers aren’t letting them in. So we decided we would help.”

An important Night Wolf project is A Yuletide Wish. “This is an anthology of children’s stories, young adult stories, sweet romances, and poems that encompass Thanksgiving, Christmas, winter, and New Year’s. The cover art is a gorgeous illustration by local artist Aluska Bissaro, who has exhibited at the Naples Press Club’s Authors & Books Festival in the past. She’s extraordinary and the winter scene of a Blacktop Chickadee that she provided is lovely. It really sets the tone of a sweet, family book. We wanted something full of positive, happy endings, and the authors really delivered. We plan to have it ready for ordering by early November.” 

The second new Lender book is What Choices We Made, Volume II, Short Stories and Legends from the History of Onweald. Writes Lender, “This chapbook includes more meat than the first one and includes a novella called The Influential Love Story of Ella and Rohne. My fans will wonder about that for a moment because I don’t write love stories. That’s all the warning you get about that. Local artist Megan Kissinger, who’s preparing the lovely illustrations at The Edison House these days, helped with formatting and the front cover and is responsible for the awesome map of Onweald.”

Sandy Lender’s third new book is Desecrated Ring from Keith Publications, scheduled for Halloween as part of a Halloween series. “This is a horror story that takes place in Collier County. Evil faeries and wolf-like beasts terrorize a woman who doesn’t realize how much we’re held accountable for in our lives.”

A busy author and now a publisher, Sandy Lender is chairing the 2011 edition of the Naples Authors and Books Festival, which is scheduled for early April.

Find out more about this nonstop writer at authorsandylender.com. Also, check out nightwolfpublications.com.

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Susan Hubbard’s risks of the imagination

Susan Hubbard’s risks of the imagination: bloody good stuff

by Philip K. Jason              Special to Florida Weekly

Susan Hubbard, “The Season of Risks.” Simon & Schuster. 320 pages. $14.00

After reading Susan Hubbard’s “The Season of Risks,” the third installment of her acclaimed Ethical Vampire series, I can understand the special appeal of the vampire craze to young adults. Who feels more like an outsider than a thoughtful teenager? Who feels more unsettled than someone going through a sequence of identity adjustments? 

What better vehicle for probing these problems of “otherness” than that of the vampire? A changeling by definition, the vampire is in touch with the human sphere, yet divorced from it. A vampire most often must hide his or her true self. As Hubbard explores the nature of her protagonist, Ariella Montero, the issues of identity and expectation are further complicated by the fact that Ariella is a special kind of tweener: not only half child and half adult, but also half human and half vampire. 

Hubbard’s premise involves an underground vampire civilization with competing sects holding conflicting notions about their proper relationship with humankind. Yes, they live among us; but they live more fully among themselves. On one side of the value spectrum are vampires who secretly farm humans for the blood nourishment that the vampires need and feel entitled to. On the other side are those seeking to live openly and in a nonthreatening way within human society, perhaps building an inclusive society. A third sect is positioned somewhere in between. 

Vampire scientists have developed dietary substitutes for human blood; certain bars and restaurants, truly vampire haunts, serve Picardo and other specialized beverages. However, the desire for the defining act of vampirism may not be exclusively for nourishment but rather for energy of a different order.

Vampires dominate entire businesses. In Ms. Hubbard’s novel, the world of online social networking is presented as a major vampiric enterprise. What a fascinating metaphor!

Essentially, “The Season of Risks” involves the trials of growing up than any young woman faces, but with the added dimension of vampire (or half-vampire) capabilities: reading thoughts, becoming invisible, and interacting with ghosts – to name a few. The fact that Ariella, as a half-vampire, can see only vague reflections of herself underscores the issues of identity and self-knowledge that enrich the novel. 

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the October 20-26 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 21-27 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Susan Hubbard-pdf or Florida Weekly – Susan Hubbard

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BOOK BEAT 37 – M.B. Weston

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   March 28-April 3, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

For Michelle Weston, a fourth-generation Floridian, Naples has been home for all but the first year of her life. She grew up and graduated from Naples High School (in 1994) as Michelle Brundage, married her husband Greg in 1996, and finished her BS in Accounting at the University of South Florida in 1997. Weston worked for several years as a land development accountant, beginning at Bonita Bay Properties, before deciding to follow her dream of becoming a writer. Now, writing as M. B. Weston, she has published her first novel, A Prophecy Forgotten, which has just been released by ArcheBooks Publishing. 

Because Weston loved fantasy fiction from childhood, she had no hesitation about plunging into this field. When I asked her if there was any part of the bookstore aside from the fantasy section where her book might be shelved, she said “Young Adult.” In fact, by test marketing the book, Weston discovered that while adult readers enjoyed it, the story had an especially strong impact on young adult readers. She even tried it out on her local church youth group, for which she is a volunteer leader, and they loved it.

So, even though this book was not conceived of in terms of the young adult category, Weston’s affinity for young adults somehow came through in it and she is perfectly happy to have something that will appeal to these readers – the same readers who enjoy Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings (about which she remembers doing a book report when she was thirteen).

Michelle Weston is not only interested in young adult readers, she is also interested in motivating and teaching young writers. To that end, she has formed a young writers group within the Naples area chapter of the Florida Writers’ Association. Weston loves speaking to youth and knows how to hold the attention of adolescents. But whatever the age of her audience, she wants to help others to value and develop their writing talents.

It does not take long to discover that for Michelle Weston the spiritual life and her church are very important. Religious motifs can be found in her novel, but she would prefer that readers discover them for themselves rather than have them announced. It is fair to say that there is warfare in A Prophecy Forgotten –  good and evil are in vivid conflict. Jokingly, Weston says it’s kind of like J.R.R. Tolkien meets Tom Clancy.

The promotional description reads as follows: “A Prophecy Forgotten tells the story of Davian, a battle hardened major in the special operations division of the cherubian military. While Davian is on assignment deep in enemy territory, he is called back and sent to Earth to guard seven-year-old Tommy—a boy who has been prophesied to save Earth. As Davian guards Tommy, he discovers that some of his fellow soldiers are plotting to kill the leaders of his homeland and take power. He must find a way to return home and warn his government before the traitors can succeed.”

One of the most enjoyable parts of the creative imagining that goes into writing Weston’s kind of fantasy novel is making up the rules for the fantasy world. How does it operate? How is it different from the world we all share? In this case, inventing the appropriate weaponry for the warriors was part of the challenge and part of the fun.

When we sat down together, Weston was anxiously awaiting the appearance of this first novel, its launch date having been postponed a bit. (By the way, if you want to meet with her, suggest a coffee shop.) Already, however, she is well along on its sequel: Out of the Shadows. Together, and perhaps with additional titles, these form “The Elysian Chronicles,” which Weston calls “a para-dimensional fantasy series.” The first volume is now available from archebooks.com and will soon be available from major online and traditional booksellers.

Weston knows that it will be hard for her to establish herself in such a competitive arena, but she is committed to taking on the inevitable marketing responsibilities. To help generate interest in her work, she has developed a website with her targeted audience in mind. Visitors to elysianchronicles.com will find it connected to a newsletter and a blog. The blog can be reached independently at mbweston.blogspot.com. And the Elysian Chronicles merchandising is underway, beginning with t-shirts. A talented speaker and motivator, Michelle Weston is ready to talk to your writing group or club. Anyone can contact her via the website.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy.  A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

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BOOK BEAT 15 – James W. Bennett

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   October 25-31, 2006

by Philip K. Jason

After earning his B.A. from Illinois Wesleyan University and his M.A. from Illinois State (specializing in English Literature), James W. Bennett taught in junior colleges for twelve years. He then went on to manage East Bay Camp in Lake Bloomington, Illinois for eight years. Next, Bennett spent twelve years doing planning work for the Bloomington school district. During this part of his working life, Bennett developed a special knack for getting into the heads of teenagers. How else could he have fashioned his highly acclaimed books for young adults?

Bennett tackles difficult topics, and many of his titles are just as useful to adults as to the young adult readers he most often has in mind. His first book, A Quiet Desperation, explores depression, while I Can Hear the Mourning Dove – named a top book for young adults by both Publishers Weekly and the American Library Association – is an engaging novel that helps readers understand and cope with mental illness. Bennett received similar kudos for Dakota Dream, a coming of age novel that involves its protagonist in Native American traditions as it underscores how difficult and painful a young man’s search for identity can be.

Several of Bennett’s best-known books have a sports motif. These include The Squared Circle (one of Bennett’s favorites) and Blue Star Rapture, about basketball, and several baseball stories including The Flex of the Thumb, Old Hoss, and Plunking Reggie Jackson. The popular and critical success of these books has established James W. Bennett as the foremost writer of sports fiction for young adults. In each, sports is the hook – decision making and self-mastery are the fundamental themes.

Faith Wish is one of Bennett’s edgier books. It takes up the issue of religious cults and predatory false prophets. By touching on many taboos and not wrapping everything up in a sweet resolution, Bennett sacrifices feel-good for the tough love of realistic insights. Faith Wish received a stellar review in VOYA – the Voice of Youth Advocates library journal.

Bennett’s most recent titles are Harvey Porter Does Dallas and How the Bible Was Built. The former is a whimsical satire that takes advantage of and spoofs the Harry Potter craze. The latter was co-written (originally drafted) by the late United Methodist Minister Charles Merrill Smith, who died in 1985. Discovered after Smith’s death, the original manuscript was expanded and reworked for a broader audience by Bennett, who was a friend of Smith’s for many years. It is a popularization for general readers of the scholarship that explores the motivations, inspirations, collecting, writing, and organizing of holy scripture. One center of interest is the process by which “biblical” writings became rejected or accepted as canonical in both the Old and New Testament.

The impact of Bennett’s writings on young adults is considerable. Many of his titles are required or recommended reading in junior high schools, high schools, and community colleges, and many young people first become serious, engaged readers upon discovering a Bennett novel.

When I asked him how and why he became dedicated to writing books for young adults, Bennett said that it was quite accidental. He had never set out to write specifically for this audience; in fact, he was unaware that there was such a thing as the young adult (YA) market. But he did choose to center his novels on teenage protagonists. Editors and marketing specialists more or less turned him into a young adult author simply by pressing him into that category. Ironically, in some libraries, Bennett’s works, promoted and purchased as young adult titles, are reclassified and shelved in the adult fiction section!

For writers trying to break into print, Bennett insists that knowing and understanding the market – or markets – is essential, as the lines between market categories have become almost impenetrable walls. One must conceive of and prepare and propose one’s work with firm knowledge of where it fits into the market-driven publishing world.

James Bennett and his wife Judith relocated to Naples in 2004 when Mrs. Bennett, a psychiatric nurse, found a position at the David Lawrence Center. A free-lance writer can live anywhere and keep writing. Besides doing just that, Bennett has been tutoring in English skills at Lely High School. This year, he is working with gifted seniors participating in the Laureate Program, a high-powered set of challenges geared toward preparing students for acceptance and success in the top-ranked universities.  

Bennett has done hundreds of guest author appearances and workshops at secondary schools from coast to coast, and he continues to be available for such engagements. Readers can find out more about this exciting author and speaker at jameswbennett.com.

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

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