REVIEW: Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig

AtlantaBurns-16135-CV-FT-CLSUMMARY:

You don’t mess with Atlanta Burns.

Everyone knows that. And that’s kinda how she likes it—until the day Atlanta is drawn into a battle against two groups of bullies and saves a pair of new, unexpected friends. But actions have consequences, and when another teen turns up dead—by an apparent suicide—Atlanta knows foul play is involved. And worse: she knows it’s her fault. You go poking rattlesnakes, maybe you get bit.

Afraid of stirring up the snakes further by investigating, Atlanta turns her focus to the killing of a neighborhood dog. All paths lead to a rural dogfighting ring, and once more Atlanta finds herself face-to-face with bullies of the worst sort. Atlanta cannot abide letting bad men do awful things to those who don’t deserve it. So she sets out to unleash her own brand of teenage justice.

Will Atlanta triumph? Or is fighting back just asking for a face full of bad news?

Revised edition: Previously published as two volumes, Shotgun Gravy and Bait Dog, this combined edition includes editorial revisions.

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Atlanta-Burns-Chuck-Wendig/dp/1477827102/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422308145&sr=8-1&keywords=atlanta+burns

MEL’S REVIEW: Author Chuck Wendig has never exactly been known for holding back. If you have ever read his blog or his books (including The Blue Blazes, the Miriam Black series, and his young adult Heartland Trilogy), you’ve seen his NSFW MO. If you expected anything else from his newest book, Atlanta Burns, you will be either overjoyed or sorely disappointed. This is Chuck Wendig at his truest and finest form.

Atlanta Burns hold no punches. Atlanta, the main character, is a teenage girl who has been through a lot. But unlike many of the angst-ridden teens we read about in YA fiction, she doesn’t take this crap lying down. No way. Atlanta takes matters into her own hands and exacts her own brand of justice. She’s like a teenage superhero with the balls to face danger without a mask or cape. She’s a teenager with a shotgun, and she’s done letting people pray on the weak.

Wendig has accomplished something pretty cool with this novel. Not only does he deal with topics like suicide, homosexuality, bullying, dog fighting/animal rights, absentee parenting, sexual abuse, and drugs—he deals with them all in one book in a realistic way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed. We don’t get that syndrome I see so often in teen books, where so many things happen to one person that it’s unbelievable. Most importantly, however, he captures the helpless, powerless feeling of being a teen so well, and in a way adults can understand, which is possibly the most interesting thing. Atlanta’s problems are not petty, and they are far-reaching. I never felt the eye-rolling exasperation I get when I read some YA “issues” books, I never felt like the main character had to get over herself, because she wasn’t in it for herself. She puts her life on the line for her friends, and while yes, life would have been easier had she just lain low and let things happen…well, this is Atlanta Burns we’re talking about here.

Every time I asked myself “how can this get any worse?” it did. Things got to the point where I had to say, “This can’t possibly end well,” yet the book did end in a satisfying way. No one is unscathed, but life does go on.

Is this a good book for teens? Would it be appropriate for your teen? Well, as with anything, you know your kids best. I thought this was a great book, and Atlanta is a kickass heroine that adults and mature teens can love. Very sensitive teens might want to wait a while on it though, as there are some animal cruelty issues as well as some drug usage.

Kudos to Chuck Wendig for another no-holds-barred winner!

REVIEW: Chuck Wendig’s BLIGHTBORN (Heartland Trilogy #2)

BLIGHTBORNSummary: Cael McAvoy is on the run. He’s heading toward the Empyrean to rescue his sister, Merelda, and to find Gwennie before she’s lost to Cael forever. With his pals, Lane and Rigo, Cael journeys across the Heartland to catch a ride into the sky. But with Boyland and others after them, Cael and his friends won’t make it through unchanged.

Gwennie’s living the life of a Lottery winner, but it’s not what she expected. Separated from her family, Gwennie makes a bold move—one that catches the attention of the Empyrean and changes the course of an Empyrean man’s life.

The crew from Boxelder aren’t the only folks willing to sacrifice everything to see the Empyrean fall. The question is: Can the others be trusted?

They’d all better hurry. Because the Empyrean has plans that could ensure that the Heartland never fights back again.

Chuck Wendig’s riveting sequel to Under the Empyrean Sky plunges readers into an unsettling world of inequality and destruction, and fleshes out a cast of ragtag characters all fighting for survival and, ultimately, change.

Review:

Wow.

This book was everything awesome that the first Heartland book, UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY, was, and more. Wendig’s characters are like real people, multi-dimensional and complicated. There are no cliche cardboard cutout archetypes or tropes here. Every character has their strengths, weaknesses, things that you love, and things that make you want to scream.

I went into this book expecting a second book, maybe a little saggy, like many middle books of trilogies are. Hell no. This book kept me engaged the entire time, kept me wondering what would happen next, and kept surprising me. The setting details are fantastic, the action and pacing impeccable. In this book, we learn so much more about the characters we already know/love/hate from the first book, and meet several new folks, too. Things grow more complicated as the plot thickens, and the world isn’t as black and white as it perhaps seemed earlier in the series.

Something that stood out for me about this book as I read it is Wendig’s treatment of his younger characters. There is no talking down here, no weird older author’s take on teens. This is an author who understands the way a seventeen year old thinks, and tells it like it is. Wendig’s respect for his subjects is clear. There is no annoying whining here, like I’ve noticed in several other YA books I’ve read. These are characters who teens can be proud of, who they can sympathize with. Sure, they have their rough moments, but they take action. They make mistakes, but they learn.

The future Wendig has portrayed here is eerily reflective of issues happening today–I can see how this world could exist. The themes of this trilogy are timely and thought provoking.

BLIGHTBORN is an action packed, emotional ride that both teens and adults would enjoy. The only negative part is that I have to wait a year before getting my hands on the next one!

This book will be released on July 29. You can pre-order your copy HERE.

Review: PLAYING TYLER, by TL Costa

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I haven’t reviewed anything on here in a while (heck, I haven’t POSTED here in a while), so I figured I’d best get cracking. And honestly, I couldn’t have found a better way to begin a posting cycle than with a review of TL Costa’s Playing Tyler.

The plot summary of Playing Tyler is as follows: 

When is a game not a game?
Tyler MacCandless can’t focus, even when he takes his medication. He can’t focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in rehab for heroin abuse… again.

Tyler’s dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn’t suck at is playing video games and, well, thats probably not going to get him into college.

Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald’s, Rick asks him to test a video game. If his score’s high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have. And when he falls in love with the game’s designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.

That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what’s really going on in time to save his brother… and prevent his own future from going down in flames.

 Playing Tyler is a YA thriller that pulls NO punches. Costa’s respect for teens is apparent from the get-go. Nothing is sugar-coated. A super pet peeve of mine in YA is when an author tones things down a little for their audience, and in turn, makes the story and characters unbelievable. There is none of that here. Neither is the opposite–making things so abysmal that reading the book makes you want to kill yourself. Instead, we have a believable, yet rough, family situation from which evolves a very likable character–Tyler. Tyler has ADHD, and Costa has captured the inner workings of his mind perfectly. As someone with ADHD myself, I recognized myself in him immediately, in a positive way. Tyler’s thought processes, the things that attract his attention, the things that drive him insane–all of these things are very accurate. The character voices (alternating between Tyler and Ani) drew me in right away and didn’t let go. 

The subject matter of this novel is very relevant to our times, but never does it come across as preachy, “this is right, this is wrong.” I think that’s one of the things I liked best about it–it’s a story about young adults who find themselves in a very sticky situation, where there is most definitely a gray moral ground. The storyline is much like Ender’s Game, but right here, right now. This is something that is relevant to people in today’s world, dealing with issues (namely drones, and also prescription drug abuse, whistle blowing…) that are in the spotlight now.

There is, to be honest, something for everyone in this book. Guy, girl, young, er…not so young. Lots of tension here; I could easily have read it in one sitting, had my pesky life not gotten in the way. Action, romance, family, growing up, social and political issues. And gaming. What more could you ask for?