Category: YA

Book Review and Blog Tour: Road Out of Winter, by Alison Stine

road out of winter
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title: Road Out of Winter
Author: Alison Stine
Genre: YA
Rating: 4 out of 5

Surrounded by poverty and paranoia her entire life, Wil has been left behind in her small Appalachian town by her mother and her best friend. Not only is she tending her stepfather’s illegal marijuana farm alone, but she’s left to watch the world fall further into chaos in the face of a climate crisis brought on by another year of unending winter.  

With her now priceless grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, Wil upends her life to pursue her mother in California, collecting an eclectic crew of fellow refugees along the way. She’s determined to start over and use her skills to grow badly needed food in impossible farming conditions, but the icy roads and desperate strangers are treacherous to Wil and her gang. Her green thumb becomes the target of a violent cult and their volatile leader, and Wil must use all her cunning and resources to protect her newfound family and the hope they have found within each other.

 This was rather dark and depressing—so the author did an excellent job of setting the tone and mood of the story. The idea of never-ending winter is sobering, at the very least. Wil is an interesting character. She’s so used to being the outcast, the one everyone shuns, that it’s a big adjustment to have people around who actually need her.

I enjoyed the character growth she experienced, but the book just depressed me, frankly. Lots of horrible people willing to steal and kill in order to get ahead, even if they don’t actually need what they’re stealing. Wil is like a tiny ray of light in a dark room in this story, and even though she sometimes flickers, she does not go out.

Alison Stine lives in the Appalachian foothills. Road Out of Winter is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/MIRA in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Sing Like No One’s Listening, by Vanessa Jones

sing like no one's listening
Image belongs to Peachtree Publishing.

Title: Sing Like No One’s Listening
Author: Vanessa Jones    
Genre: YA
Rating: 4 out of 5

Nettie Delaney has just been accepted into a prestigious performing arts school–the very same school her superstar mother attended. With her mother’s shadow hanging over her, Nettie has her work cut out for her–and everyone is watching. To make matters worse, Nettie hasn’t been able to sing a single note since her mother died. Whenever she tries, she just clams up. But if Nettie’s going to survive a demanding first year and keep her place in a highly coveted program, she’ll have to work through her grief and deliver a showstopper or face expulsion.

All may not be lost, however, when Nettie stumbles upon a mysterious piano player in an empty studio after class. Masked behind a curtain, can Nettie summon the courage to find her voice? Or will the pressure and anxiety of performing come crashing down?

This was a fun book! I know nothing about professional dancing or singing or performing, so I can’t say if it was accurate there, but if felt accurate. The author did an excellent job of connecting the reader to Nettie’s struggles and investing them in her journey.

The secondary characters were larger-than-life and a lot of fun, and I enjoyed seeing Nettie conquer her fears—all of them, not just the singing—and grow into her own person. A fun, inspiring read.

Vanessa Jones lives in Rome. Sing Like No One’s Listening is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Peachtree Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Blog Tour and Book Review: These Vengeful Hearts, by Katherine Laurin

these vengeful hearts
Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

Title: These Vengeful Hearts
Author:  Katherine Laurin
Genre: YA
Rating: 4 out of 5

Whenever something scandalous happens at Heller High, the Red Court is the name on everyone’s lips. Its members–the most elite female students in the school–deal out social ruin and favors in equal measure, their true identities a secret known only to their ruthless leader: the Queen of Hearts.

Sixteen-year-old Ember Williams has seen firsthand the damage the Red Court can do. Two years ago, they caused the accident that left her older sister paralyzed. Now, Ember is determined to hold them accountable…by taking the Red Court down from the inside.

But crossing enemy lines will mean crossing moral boundaries, too–ones Ember may never be able to come back from. She always knew taking on the Red Court would come at a price, but will the cost of revenge be more than she’s willing to sacrifice?

This asks the question “Does doing the wrong/bad thing for a right/good reason make it okay?” Because Ember does some pretty horrible stuff to people as a member of the Red Court—and she keeps telling herself it’s okay because she’s trying to take the Red Court down.

I actually enjoyed reading Ember’s moral quandary. I thought her struggles were very realistic—and there are a lot of crappy people at her school! Her friendship with Gideon was fantastic and totally believable (everyone needs a best friend like that), and her crush was a nice counter to the darkness of the whole Red Court, even if it was bit predictable.

Katherine Laurin lives in Colorado. These Vengeful Hearts is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Inkyard Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Fable, by Adrienne Young

fable
Image belongs to Wednesday Books.

Title: Fable
Author: Adrienne Young
Genre:   4.5 out of 5
Rating: Fantasy, YA

As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.

I was intrigued by this from the very first page. Fable is clearly a better person than me, because if I’d been abandoned—basically to die—by my father four years ago, I wouldn’t have gone back looking for him like I cared. It did make her a strong person, though.  The parts on the sea were well-done and vivid, and the land-based settings were vivid and realistic.

I liked all the characters and their relationships were believable. There’s enough escalating tension here to keep me reading late into the night, and I can’t wait to find out what happens in the second book. I saw a post pointing out the similarity between West and The Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride and now I can’t unsee that…which isn’t a bad thing. I liked the adventure-filled atmosphere and the setting was fascinating.

Adrienne Young is a New York Times-bestselling author. Fable is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Wednesday Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: It Came from the Sky, by Chelsea Sedoti

 

it came from the sky
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Title: It Came from the Sky
Author:  Chelsea Sedoti
Genre: YA
Rating: 4 out of 5

This is the absolutely true account of how Lansburg, Pennsylvania was invaded by aliens and the weeks of chaos that followed. There were sightings of UFOs, close encounters, and even abductions. There were believers, Truth Seekers, and, above all, people who looked to the sky and hoped for more.

Only…there were no aliens.

Gideon Hofstadt knows what really happened. When one of his science experiments went wrong, he and his older brother blamed the resulting explosion on extraterrestrial activity. And their lie was not only believed by their town―it was embraced. As the brothers go to increasingly greater lengths to keep up the ruse and avoid getting caught, the hoax flourishes. But Gideon’s obsession with their tale threatened his whole world. Can he find a way to banish the aliens before Lansburg, and his life, are changed forever?

I really enjoyed reading this! Gideon is…Sheldon, from Big Bang Theory (except he doesn’t think he’s smarter than everyone), and I love Sheldon, so I enjoyed Gideon’s point-of-view. I actually felt sorry for him, too, because he was just baffled by people’s emotions and how he should respond sometimes.

The secondary characters are vibrant and distinctive, and Sedoti’s writing is solid and enjoyable as always, letting the reader feel at home in the story world. There were several funny moments here, and I’d love to read more about all these characters (like, what’s Maggie getting up to?).

Chelsea Sedoti lives in Las Vegas. It Came from the Sky is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Morning Flower, by Amanda Hocking

the morning flower
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title: The Morning Flower
Author:  Amanda Hocking
Genre: YA, fantasy
Rating: 3.0 out of 5

When Ulla Tulin took her internship at the Mimirin, the only mystery she thought she’d have to solve was that of her birth parents. After a girl named Eliana gets kidnapped while in her care, Ulla knows she has to find out the truth of who Eliana really is—and the only way to do that means traveling to the Omte capital, the place she suspects her mother is from.

Ulla didn’t expect that when she arrived she would discover the identity of a Skojare man who crossed paths with her mother—a man who could very well be her father. When the head of the Mimirin learns Ulla’s father is connected to the Älvolk, a secret society who believes they were tasked with protecting the First City and the only ones who know its location, he sends Ulla and Pan to Sweden where they find him living among the Älvolk. But all is not what it seems with the Älvolk and their urgent quest to find the Lost Bridge to the First City leaves Ulla feeling uneasy—and possibly in danger.

I like the idea of the troll mythology—although they’re basically humans living secretly among other humans—but I just don’t think Hocking is the best author for me to read. This felt really slow-paced to me, with a lot of unnecessary details and plot points, frankly. And the “romance” was a non-starter.

Ulla spends the whole book trying to figure out who her parents are, then her dad basically comes out of nowhere, knowing he’s her dad and offering her all the secrets of the Älvolk without hesitation, including taking her to their secret city? This was completely unbelievable and came across as heavy-handed deux ex machina.

Amanda Hocking is a YA author. The Morning Flower is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Some Kind of Animal, by Maria Romasco Moore

some kind of animal
Image belongs to Delacorte Press.

Title: Some Kind of Animal
Author: Maria Romasco Moore
Genre: YA
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Jo lives in the same town where her mother disappeared fifteen years ago. Everyone knows what happened to Jo’s mom. Now people are starting to talk about Jo. She’s barely passing her classes and falls asleep at her desk every day. She’s following in her mom’s footsteps. Jo has a secret — she has a twin sister. Her sister is not like most people. She lives in the woods, wild and free. Night after night, as often as she can manage, Jo slips out of her bedroom window and meets her sister in the woods, where together they run, fearlessly.

When Jo’s twin attacks a boy from town, the people in town assume it must have been Jo. Now Jo has to decide whether to tell the world about her sister or to run.

The basic premise of this novel was so far-fetched to me as to make the rest of the story a bit questionable:  I just don’t see how a fifteen-year-old girl has lived in the woods her entire life—and has been sneaking into town every night for years—and no one suspects her existence but her twin sister. You just can’t tell me a child would have been capable of that kind of stealth on a regular basis.

Frankly, the town in question—and its residents—was an ugly, mean place. I’m sure places like this exist, but it had no redeeming qualities—and no nice people living there, either. Jo’s family was awful. Her life was awful. Even her best friend was awful. Jo herself wasn’t the greatest/brightest, even keeping in mind she’s only fifteen. The writing was solid and evocative, but if the basic premise of a story isn’t believable for me, it casts doubt on the entire novel.

Maria Romasco Moore teaches writing. Some Kind of Animal is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Delacorte Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Lobizona, by Romina Garber

lobizona
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  Lobizona
Author:  Romina Garber  
Genre:     YA, fantasy
Rating:     4 out of 5

Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.

Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.

Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.

As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.

This was quite an interesting read. Parts of it felt like I’d fallen into a dreamscape, parts of it felt a tiny bit clichéd, but it was original enough to capture my attention at the start and keep me reading.

It was probably the characters themselves I found clichéd—the mean girl, the brainiac, the hot athlete—but several of the other characters were unique enough to make this a pleasure to read. I did not figure out the big reveal ahead of time and I definitely want to read more.

Romina Garber was born in Buenos Aires and raised in Miami. Logizona is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Sundays are for Writing #82

I only worked Monday through Wednesday this week, and it was a solid writing week, even if it was only three days long:  two fiction-writing sessions, five book reviews, work in the Stiefvater class, and brainstorming on my planned revision.

Happy writing!

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Kids Are Gonna Ask, by Gretchen Anthony

the kids are gonna ask
Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

Title:   The Kids Are Gonna Ask
Author:   Gretchen Anthony
Genre:   YA
Rating:   3.0 out of 5

The death of Thomas and Savannah McClair’s mother turns their world upside down. Raised to be fiercely curious by their grandmother Maggie, the twins become determined to learn the identity of their biological father. And when their mission goes viral, an eccentric producer offers them a dream platform: a fully sponsored podcast called The Kids Are Gonna Ask. To discover the truth, Thomas and Savannah begin interviewing people from their mother’s past and are shocked when the podcast ignites in popularity. As the attention mounts, they get caught in a national debate they never asked for—but nothing compares to the mayhem that ensues when they find him.

I liked the premise of this novel, but in the end, my dislike and/or apathy for the characters made this just a so-so read for me. Solid writing and vivid characters, so my dislike of them is just a case of personal preference.

Thomas and Savannah came across as selfish and entitled, with little to no regard for anyone else’s feelings (including their twin’s). Maggie was willfully oblivious to reality and she let the kids do whatever they want without any boundaries, so I don’t have time for that. Their producer was not a nice person—but they ignored the warning signs, too, so there’s that. There were a lot of descriptions of elaborate vegetarian meals, but I’m not sure why they were in book, frankly.

Gretchen Anthony lives in Minneapolis. The Kids Are Gonna Ask is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Park Row in exchange for an honest review.)