Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Jia

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

Posts by Jia :

REVIEW:  In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis

REVIEW: In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis


Dear Ms. McGinnis,

Despite my weariness with the dystopian and post-apocalyptic genre, I liked your previous novel, Not a Drop to Drink. Even more refreshing was the fact that it appeared to be a standalone. It turns out I was wrong — In a Handful of Dust is the companion novel but I think both novels stand alone well on their own.

While Not a Drop to Drink focused on tough-as-nails Lynn, In a Handful of Dust tells the story of her sweeter, more hopeful charge, Lucy. Things have gone as well as can be expected considering the post-apocalyptic premise, and a little town has formed. The world will never return to what it once was, but things are good.

Alas, nothing lasts forever. A disease sweeps through their little civilization, striking down both young and old. The likely carrier for the disease is Lucy’s would-be suitor, Carter. Unfortunately, this means he has to leave or face the survivors’ wrath. Even more unfortunately, so does Lucy — she’s been in Carter’s company, so even though it’s unlikely that she’s the carrier, the chance is not 0%. And where Lucy goes, so does Lynn.

Together, the two women strike out west, to what once was California. There are rumors of desalination plants there. In a world where water is the most precious commodity, this seems miraculous. But the journey is rife with danger, and soon Lucy will have to face the truth — can she survive in a world without Lynn to protect her?

Like its predecessor, I enjoyed In a Handful of Dust because it takes the path of post-apocalyptic survival combined with a frontier sensibility. There are no nonsensical dystopian governments to overthrow. There is no angsty star-crossed romance, although it may seem like it at first glance. This is the coming-of-age story of a young woman in a world that will never return to what it once was.

Where the book falters for me is that I find Lynn to be a more interesting character than Lucy. I’m just fond of tough-as-nails women who get things done.

“I been trying to do better about killing people,” Lynn said. “Then fate puts you in my path.”

That said, I liked the fact that the narrative doesn’t elevate Lucy over Lynn or vice versa. Both women are seen as valid and worthwhile. Lucy regrets that she’ll never be as strong as Lynn, but Lynn tells her that she should never feel that way. Lynn is the way she is because she had to be. (Not a Drop to Drink details this.) Lucy represents a gentler (as can be expected) life, so she’s allowed to hope and dream for a better life.

Lucy and Lynn’s journey is an interesting one. It’s full of betrayal and risking to trust others when they should know better. Most of the time this doesn’t work out, but sometimes it does. I also like that as the journey continues, Lynn’s infallibility comes to an end and soon Lucy has to do a little growing up herself.

I know most readers are probably tired of post-apocalyptic books these days but if anyone is still up for it, I do recommend they give these books a try. They’re more about the female characters’ journey and the frontier adventure sensibility lends a surprising freshness. I do wish there’d been more survival adventure novels like this when the subgenre had been at its peak, but that’s the way things fall sometimes. B

My regards,

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REVIEW:  The 100 Society by Carla Spradbery

REVIEW: The 100 Society by Carla Spradbery


Dear Ms. Spradbery,

I’m really into YA thrillers as of late. Whether this is a result of my general boredom with YA fantasies these days or a callback to my teenaged love of Christopher Pike, I don’t know. But I can’t seem to get enough of them right now. Your novel, The 100 Society sounded interesting so I thought I’d give it a try.

An art student at a British private school, Grace has one goal. To tag 100 locations around the city, thereby joining “The 100 society”. Graffiti is a type of art, after all. But 100 tags is a lot to do by yourself so Grace has recruited some friends to help her: her friend, Faith; pretty girl Cassie; Cassie’s boyfriend, Ed; her best friend who wants to be more, Pete; and bad boy, Trick.

Unfortunately, the closer Grace gets to 100 tags, the more it becomes apparent there’s a stalker — the Reaper — who doesn’t want her to succeed. And as the threats escalate, Grace and her friends face increasing danger, and the added stress reveals fault lines in their relationships. Not the best thing to happen in this situation. But even worse is the truth: the Reaper might be someone they know.

I had a strange experience reading this book. I didn’t connect at all with any of the characters. I found them superficial and 2D. At times they just downright annoyed me. And anyone who knows me knows that I like to read for characters. But despite this lack, I could not stop reading! I had to know what was going to happen next! What is this black magic?

Some people would claim there is a love triangle here. I wouldn’t actually describe what happens in the book as a love triangle. Grace is into Trick. (Trick is short for Patrick. I know. I know.) Trick is into Grace. Pete is into Grace. But Grace only likes him as a friend. That’s not a love triangle. There is one moment in the book where I can see people pointing to as a sign that Grace might consider Pete as a legitimate suitor, but I saw it as a momentary lapse of judgment and confusion due to stress.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the questionable female friendships. Grace’s friend, Faith, likes Pete, so she’s not too thrilled by the fact that he’s into Grace. That’s understandable. What I wasn’t so into was that her friendship with Grace was defined by Pete — she’s sad they don’t spend as much time together anymore (but that’s because she doesn’t like Grace hanging out with Pete). She thinks Grace is leading Pete on, which is an idea I generally recoil from because it contributes to Nice Guy culture. He’s nice! He’s been friends with you since forever! He’s into you! Why won’t you like him back? If you’re not interested in him, don’t lead him on… by being his friend? Really?

Like any true mystery, there are many suspects. I thought they were all legitimate — the red herrings were not obviously red herrings in my opinion. So the twists and turns worked for me, even though the characterization was light and more often than not, the characters made decisions because the plot required it rather than because it was intrinsic to their character.

If you’re looking for a thriller with deep, interesting characterization, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a fast read with lots of twists and turns — that may make you whisper to yourself, “WTF?” — The 100 Society is for you. That said, this book was the literary equivalent of a potato chip. Seems like a good idea at the time, but it doesn’t really stick around. C

My regards,

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