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Stray (Touchstone, #1) - Andrea K. Höst Be warned, this is an incredibly scattered review full of tangents and distracting jumps with no transitions at all between paragraphs! Your teachers would all be disappointed in the formatting!

It's taken me weeks to finally sit down and write the review for Stray, or overall, I guess, the Touchstone Series. (Caution: This is more an overall review, but it doesn't contain any world-shattering spoilers).

It's a rare series. Self-published. World-transcending. And in my top three favorites of All Time, next to the Outlander Series, and the Darkfever Series. Two extreme heavyweights in the literary world (in terms of millions of printed copies, and translated in multiple languages).

And it's about a lost Australian teenage girl who runs across Psychic Alien Ninjas—now tell me how that does not hook you? I'll wait why you compile your shoddy list of reasons, so that we can burn your list to ashes later when you've recognized the excellence behind this novel. I'm waiting...

Cassandra Devlin. What a heroine. I love how she lets you into her world. And she does it with flare. The novel opens with an apropos “WTF?” And what internet nerd can't appreciate that?

Cass is brilliant. She's knowledgeable, emotional, thoughtful, tough when she needs to be, accommodating at the same time, and Resilient—bloody resilient.

But my favorite aspect of Cass has to be: she is so AWARE. She's worldly without being overbearing about the information she knows. It's not obnoxious when she talks about Bushfires and Germination, or how she watched animals feed from the fruit first to see if it was something she should eat and survive. She boils wool. Gathers berries, makes a hat of sticks to block the sun. She's just plain SMART. She speaks of old mythological beings, and stories (e.g. Egypt—God Kings, Greek mythology, etc.). She mentions a favorite documentary of mine: BBC's Planet Earth. She's a modern day girl, and the kind you like! She isn't a petty teenager (anymore, though she admits she WAS one).

She knows internet-lingo, and uses it. The entire time I felt like I was reading my best friend's diary. It's a very contemporary read. Most adults would not be familiar with terms such as Lolcat, even though they may have seen the memes. Or 'Do Not Want.' They would get a shallow understanding, but not necessarily comprehend the background intricacies that are subliminal to the meanings underlying Cass' thoughts.

And that's the thing as well. Cass never treats the reader like we are ignorant or unknowing of something. She just takes us along, and says David Attenborough like we should, and already do, know him (and through her, we're reminded we do).

I couldn't help but laugh at Cass' self-awareness (again, brilliant!): She mentions that she may have gone crazy because what is happening to her is extremely wish-fulfillment-y. I couldn't agree more, but for her to recognize it, and then acknowledge it was just amazing.

This is a heroine who is tough, but not stubborn. She's not annoyingly trying to overcompensate for being a woman (which YA spends a lot of time telling us it's okay to be female whereas Cass doesn't waste time extolling femininity and defending womanhood—she doesn't have to—Thank You, Andrea K Host!), or not being as strong as the Setari. She's Practical, knows her limits(and so does KOTIS)! She thinks things through, doesn't jump to conclusions: the favored Deus ex Machina into pushing character's relationships into conflict, so that they can have a resolution.

Cass also spends time thinking about her family. It's so refreshing to have an author remember that it isn't just the new world that is important to the main character, it's the Old one too. She had family, and friends, an overbearing mom, a precocious little brother, an understanding best friend, and she had school (I loved how she asked about her grades :)). She mourns the loss of them, cries when she's homesick—and she should. Speaking at infantile levels would be extremely frustrating to an adult and there is no other option for her. How do you communicate thoughts, and feelings when you don't know the words for them? How frustrating! I'm a Communication Major (Human Comm.) and I know. I took a Sign Language class in college, and when all I could do (while not speaking) was say 'Yes,' 'No,' and spell out letters with only my hands, it was incredibly frustrating to try to communicate with such a limited language—due to my early, bare knowledge of it. The hot aliens Cass was subjected to I was enviable of. The communication barrier: Abso-frickin'-lutely NOT.

There's simply too much that I love about this series that I cannot begin to list them. And if I did, you would be sorry because a.)it would be an extraordinary long list, and b.) you should really read it for yourself.

I loved all the secondary characters. That's right, every single one. There isn't one that didn't have a distinct personality, and even the mean ones, the bad ones—I loved. That's tremendous for an author to accomplish. Because even the mean girls are people. There are reasons they are the way they are, and they are multi-faceted. Kajal is a prime example. He's a jerk, but I understood his reasoning especially because Cass could sympathize (Ruuel's arrogance and as usual being amazing at everything would drive anyone with an ego or competitive nature crazy. But on duty, he did his job, and he did it well. The same with Lenton. Cass meets him later on and gets a second impression of him. He's not just a jerk for picking on Zan, he's capable of being someone understandable!

At first, the covers threw me, but I had to see what some very popular reviewers had to say on the series. I'm not used to illustrated covers that hide such a richly toned, and mature novel. I expected young YA, and I am oh-so-excited to be wrong.

Self-publisher. Goodness, I love this. That kind of bravery, and resolution is commendable. The downside is that Host won't get the same marketing (and even if she was signed to a publishing company, there would be no guarantee anyhow), but Bravo!

To be honest, I had to read the series twice (in a week) to understand everything better. There was just so much going on (and I wanted to know everything NOW), that I admittedly missed some things that on the second time around I went 'Oh, so that's what a Stilt looks like,' or 'Wow, so the Ena, and space are connected this way, and Real-space is this and Near-Space is that...etc.'

And to all you writers out there, take note: This is how you write a real relationship. A real romance. It takes time to build up. I read somewhere (by a fellow reviewer, I'm sure) that they believe in Insta-Lust, not Insta-Love, and I agree. This is how you flesh out a relationship in the early stages. I have grievances with book 3, and how their relationship went, but I understood Cass' and Ruuel's reluctance to get together initially, and I appreciated how she didn't push him. It could get him killed, and after all, she IS in assignment. That is something truly feasible that could get in the way of them (no matter how accommodating KOTIS can be, later on, that is).

Read it!

And as one of my favorite Australian friends always says when he imparts information on the world like he did them a favor:

You're Welcome.

(in advance for convincing you to read it.)

But rightfully, I should thank Chichipio, Flannery, and Wendy Darling. Please see their excellent reviews, without which I would not have found, nor read, these books. And lastly, thank you, Andrea K Host, you've added a devoted reader.