From the Guards of the Shadowlands series , Vol. 1

A paranormal romance confirms that, indeed, hell is hell.

A convoluted sequence of events finds university-bound foster kid Lela, 17, dead. She wakes up in a paradisaical countryside—which she rejects in order to enter the Suicide Gates to save her best friend, Nadia, who killed herself a week before. Within the gates, hapless embodied souls wander aimlessly in an urban landscape of utter misery, kept in by Guards and threatened by Mazikin, who steal their bodies and condemn their souls to who-knows-where. Lela quickly draws the attention of both Guards and Mazikin, persuading the incredibly hot Malachi, human Captain of the Guard, to help her rescue Nadia. Fine’s gloomy city of suicides and the rules that govern it will draw readers in, though the motives of the thoroughly evil Mazikin are unclear. Her theology is equally fuzzy; readers who want to find the overt Christianity implied by the concept may need to wait for subsequent volumes. Theology be damned, though: Lela and Malachi are both likable protagonists, and readers will be happy (though not surprised) to find them drawn together; the supporting cast among the Guards is also strong. A touch of homoerotic creepiness to hammer home the evil of the Mazikin will distress many readers. This flaw notwithstanding, this trilogy opener has a lot going for it. (Paranormal romance. 14 & up) 


Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2012


Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amazon Children's Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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A tear-jerker that fails to connect despite desperate effort.


Tragedy hovers over a blossoming romance.

Brazilian-American Sebastian “Bash” Alvaréz is just trying to get by when he meets the nerdy, white Birdie Paxton. The two spark up some romantic fire, but disaster quickly strikes. Late one night, Bash and his ne’er-do-well pal “Wild” Kyle are driving erratically (Kyle is at the wheel) and slam right into Birdie’s baby brother, Benny. The boys flee the scene, while Benny slips into a coma and the town begins to hunt for the perpetrators of the hit-and-run. Bash keeps his secret from Birdie as they grow closer, and readers will roll their eyes at the excessive misery. The author gives Bash a dying mother to balance out the equation, but the choice overloads the devastation factor. With everything emotional and awful and crazy and turned up to 11, nothing really sticks out. The two moping, guilt-ridden protagonists are drawn well enough—they alternate narration—but seem to be stuck in a narrative hell bent on getting readers to cry. Secondary characters are poorly sketched, given no interior life, and merely activated to interact with Birdie and Bash. The novel’s end is disproportionately sunny and hopeful, giving readers tonal whiplash. A last-minute Hail Mary act gets the teens out of the narrative corner, but it feels spectacularly tacked-on.

A tear-jerker that fails to connect despite desperate effort. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-11622-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Provocative themes help to mitigate textual infelicities.


Ava Ling Magee, a college freshman at Davison University, struggles with her mixed-race heritage and a ruthless and controlling parent in Stoffers’ debut for teens.

When Ava arrives at the dorms, she’s greeted with a typical question: “Who’s Chinese? Your mom or dad?” Her response? “Neither.” It’s a bald-faced lie, as Ava is Chinese on her mother’s side and Caucasian on her dad’s. For most of her life, Ava has felt split between two worlds, unable to feel either Chinese enough or white enough. Worse, Mei physically and verbally abuses Ava (using both English and Mandarin obscenities freely), while her dad buries himself in work. Daring to major in English, not cellular biology, Ava finds a mentor in Professor Chen, whose hair features multicolored streaks and who encourages Ava to see herself in valuable ways. Another discovery, her Chinese grandmother’s diary, written during China’s Cultural Revolution, may hold treasured insights that could heal Ava’s present. While the author shines in some moments, notably with Professor Chen and Lao lao’s diary, her prose would benefit from hearty and tough-love doses of pruning. The inclusion of Ava’s parents’ back story and narrative shifts to their perspectives detract from Ava, as she’s whole enough to carry the book. Complex racial-identity themes run deep; though overdone at times, they nonetheless expose many of the challenges of being biracial. As an alternative means of exploring these themes, readers may prefer The Latte Rebellion, by Sarah Jamila Stevenson (2011), written for a slightly younger audience.

Provocative themes help to mitigate textual infelicities. (Fiction. 16 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-987757-6-3

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Harken Media

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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