Category: YA

Book Review: What We Do for Truth, by C.L. Mannarino

what we do for truth
Image belongs to C.L. Mannarino

Title:   What We Do for Truth
Author:   C.L. Mannarino
Genre:   Fantasy
Rating:   3.5 out of 5

In Northam, Massachusetts, the world is falling apart. 17-year-old Zara de Jaager’s lost one of her moms to a vampire. The other is struggling to make things seem as normal as possible. And Scott Whitney, the only person who knows the truth about her mom’s death, has gone missing.

Zara’s read the notes. She’s studied the lore. She’s even made a connection between Scott’s story and a job her mom was working on. Except no one wants to talk about it. And when she finds out that there might even be an entire village of vampires existing under their noses, her family shuts her down. So Zara pushes back, hard. But when she realizes what’s at stake, she’s left wondering:  is taking up her mom’s job really worth it?

It’s been a while since I’ve read in this world, so it took me a bit to get up to speed. Honestly, Zara and her attitude were a stumbling block for me. I understand she’s grieving in the beginning and trying to find an explanation, but she was pretty hateful to everyone around her, and that made it very difficult for me to continue reading about her.

Lots of secrets in this book. Secrets are a given in books like this—well, a requirement, if the supernatural isn’t an open fact—so that wasn’t a problem. As I said, Zara was a stumbling block to me, and I think my mood/outlook on society when I was reading this really affected how I felt about the book.

C.L. Mannarino has been writing books since high school. What We Do for Truth is the third book in the Almost Human series.

(Galley courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: That Summer in Maine, by Brianna Wolfson

She's Faking It Blog Tour

that summer in maine
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title:   That Summer in Maine
Author:   Brianna Wolfson
Genre:   YA
Rating:   3 out of 5

Years ago, during a certain summer in Maine, two young women, unaware of each other, met a charismatic man at a craft fair and each had a brief affair with him. For Jane it was a chance to bury her recent pain in raw passion and redirect her life. For Susie it was a fling that gave her troubled marriage a way forward.

Now, sixteen years later, the family lives these women have made are suddenly upended when their teenage girls meet as strangers on social media. They concoct a plan to spend the summer in Maine with the man who is their biological father. Their determination puts them on a collision course with their mothers, who must finally meet and acknowledge their shared past and join forces as they risk losing their only daughters to a man they barely know.

This novel is a case of me just not liking the characters. Any of the characters. Well, Hazel was alright. I can’t imagine how she feels, struggling to find her place with her mom, stepdad, and new brothers and feeling adrift and ignored—and then she gets a message out of the blue she has a sister. And Eve, well, I definitely didn’t like her in the slightest. Lying, manipulative, selfish, superficial…Just no.

Frankly, both the girls’ mothers were annoying as well. And I have a bit of trouble believing they’d let their daughters go off to spend time in Maine with a father who never even acknowledged their existence…and who they don’t really know. To a place with no cell phone service. Really? How likely is that? Between that and the unlikable characters, well, I would have been better off passing on this one, despite the enjoyable writing style.

Brianna Wolfson lives in San Francisco. That Summer in Maine is her newest novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: What Unbreakable Looks Like, by Kate McLaughlin

unbreakable blog tour

what unbreakable looks like
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   What Unbreakable Looks Like
Author: Kate McLaughlin  
Genre:   YA
Rating:   5 out of 5

Lex was taken – trafficked – and now she’s Poppy. Kept in a hotel with other girls, her old life is a distant memory. But when the girls are rescued, she doesn’t quite know how to be Lex again. 

After she moves in with her aunt and uncle, for the first time in a long time, she knows what it is to feel truly safe. Except, she doesn’t trust it. Doesn’t trust her new home. Doesn’t trust her new friend. Doesn’t trust her new life. Instead she trusts what she shouldn’t because that’s what feels right. She doesn’t deserve good things.

 But when she is sexually assaulted by her so-called boyfriend and his friends, Lex is forced to reckon with what happened to her and that just because she is used to it, doesn’t mean it is okay. She’s thrust into the limelight and realizes she has the power to help others. But first she’ll have to confront the monsters of her past with the help of her family, friends, and a new love.

 This book was an incredible read! There isn’t much that’s actually set while Lex is trafficked, as it opens with the cops showing up—but there are many flashbacks to that time. McLaughlin paints a clear, evocative picture, but she doesn’t attempt to wring a response from the reader with the horror of Lex’s situation. The horror just comes naturally, as you see how Lex has been scarred by her past.

The kids at the high school where Lex ends up are awful. AWFUL. But, sadly, completely believable. Zack and Elsa were wonderful secondary characters, and I loved them and Lex’s aunt and uncle. But those other kids…This novel was so well-done, I can’t think of anything bad to say…except its subject matter is horrific and so unbearably sad.

Kate McLaughlin is from Novia Scotia but now lives in Connecticut. What Unbreakable Looks Like is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones, by Daven McQueen

juniper jones
Image belongs to Wattpad Books.

Title:   The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones
Author Daven McQueen
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

It’s the summer of 1955. For Ethan Harper, a biracial kid raised mostly by his white father, race has always been a distant conversation. When he’s sent to spend the summer with his aunt and uncle in small-town Alabama, his Blackness is suddenly front and center, and no one is shy about making it known he’s not welcome there. Except for Juniper Jones. The town’s resident oddball and free spirit, she’s everything the townspeople aren’t—open, kind, and full of acceptance.

Armed with two bikes and an unlimited supply of root beer floats, Ethan and Juniper set out to find their place in a town that’s bent on rejecting them. As Ethan is confronted for the first time by what it means to be Black in America, Juniper tries to help him see the beauty in even the ugliest reality, and that even the darkest days can give rise to an invincible summer.

This is an excellent read! I was by turns horrified (by people’s treatment of Ethan) and enchanted (by Juniper and her personality) throughout the entire book. I’m sure the portrayal of life in small-town Alabama in 1955 is accurate. Sadly. But it’s interesting to see how far we’ve come as a society—and how far we still have to go.

Juniper is such a quirky, spirited character, and I enjoyed her antics so much! It was sad seeing Ethan’s realization of how life in Alabama was different from what he’d known. I loved this read!

Daven McQueen lives in Boston. The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones is her new novel.

(Galley courtesy of Wattpad Books in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in May (2020)

In May, I read 33 books, bringing my total for the year up to 132 books. Some of those books were good, some were okay, some were just “meh.” But three of them were really exceptional!

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Yes, this a re-read. I’m actually not sure how many times I’ve read it, but this time was was just as wonderful. I wish I could re-read this again for the first time! So many laughs at Lizzie’s wit, and so much sympathy for poor Mr. Darcy.

what unbreakable looks like
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

What Unbreakable Looks Like, by Kate McLaughlin. (My review will be up on the 16th as part of the blog tour.) I don’t even know what to say about this book! It opens with the cops rescuing Lex from human trafficking, and tells the story of her life in the aftermath. This book doesn’t pull any punches with what she deals with and how she handles it, and it made me so sad that women and girls experience things like this—and also inspired me with her strength.

juniper jones
Image belongs to Wattpad Books.

The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones, by Daven McQueen. (My review is up on the 11th.) Set in small-town Alabama in 1955, this is the story of Ethan Harper, a biracial kid raised mostly by his white father, who goes to stay with his aunt and uncle for the summer. There he meets prejudice, persecution, and Juniper Jones. Parts of this were awful to read because I know there is truth in this tale. But the friendship between Ethan and Juniper is wonderful and full of hope. (And I love this cover!)

Book Review: Private Lessons, by Cynthia Salaysay

Private Lessons
Image belongs to Candlewick Press.

Title:   Private Lessons
Author:   Cynthia Salaysay
Genre:   YA
Rating:   3 out of 5

After seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay’s father’s death, only music has helped her channel her grief. Claire likes herself best when she plays his old piano, a welcome escape from the sadness — and her traditional Filipino mother’s prayer groups. In the hopes of earning a college scholarship, Claire auditions for Paul Avon, a prominent piano teacher, who agrees to take Claire as a pupil. Soon Claire loses herself in Paul’s world and his way of digging into a composition’s emotional core. She practices constantly, foregoing a social life, but no matter how hard she works or how well she plays, it seems impossible to gain Paul’s approval, let alone his affection.

I really loved the premise of this novel. But Claire was a really unlikable character for me. I thought her struggles with her Filipino heritage (and people’s reactions to her appearance) were well-done and vivid, but for the most part, Claire was a selfish, unpleasant person who let life happen to her.

The assault was beyond her control, but in every other part of her life, she just goes along, emotionally distant, without taking ownership of her life and actions. She’s horrible to her best friend. She’s selfish and greedy with her mother—and outright rude and hurtful. She’s oblivious of what everyone else around her wants, focusing instead on her own wants. She lackadaisical towards her music, so it made that—the vast majority of the book—not believable to me.

Claire just made this book not a good fit for me.

Cynthia Salaysay is a registered nurse. Private Lessons is her debut novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: Breath Like Water, by Anna Jarzab

Breath Like Water Blog Tour Banner

Breath Like Water
Image belongs to Harlequin Teen/Inkyard Press.

Title:  Breath Like Water
AuthorAnna Jarzab
Genre:  YA
Rating:  5 out of 5

Susannah Ramos has always loved the water. A swimmer whose early talent made her a world champion, Susannah was poised for greatness in a sport that demands so much of its young. But an inexplicable slowdown has put her Olympic dream in jeopardy, and Susannah is fighting to keep her career afloat when two important people enter her life: a new coach with a revolutionary training strategy, and a charming fellow swimmer named Harry Matthews.

As Susannah begins her long and painful climb back to the top, her friendship with Harry blossoms into passionate and supportive love. But Harry is facing challenges of his own, and even as their bond draws them closer together, other forces work to tear them apart. As she struggles to balance her needs with those of the people who matter most to her, Susannah will learn the cost–and the beauty–of trying to achieve something extraordinary.

This was a fantastic read! Susannah is strong and determined, but she’s struggling.  The walls she’s built around her emotions are impenetrable—until she meets Harry, who sees her, not an elite swimmer struggling to recapture former glory. Susannah has to be truly broken before she can rise again, and this novel captures all the anguish of her struggles and her search to find what she truly wants.

Then there’s Harry. He’s got walls of his own, walls he tries to hide behind humor and pranks, but he’s just as vulnerable as Susannah is—and he’s struggling with things that are just as overwhelming as Susannah’s opponents.

Anna Jarzab is a Midwesterner turned New Yorker. Breath Like Water is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: The Stone of Sorrow, by Brooke Carter

the stone of sorrow
Image belongs to Orca Book Publishers.

Title:  The Stone of Sorrow
AuthorBrooke Carter
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  4 out of 5

In a land of myth and ice, seventeen-year-old Runa Unnursdóttir is not the runecaster her clan has been hoping for. She spends her days daydreaming of sailing away and exploring the world instead of studying the runes and learning her spells. The villagers consider her odd, in looks and in manner. She’s nothing like her talented sister, Sýr, keeper of the sacred moonstone that ensures the village’s continued survival. But when a rival clan led by an evil witch raids the village and kidnaps her sister, Runa is forced to act. With a fallen Valkyrie by her side, and the help of a gorgeous half-elf Runa is not quite sure she can trust, the apprentice must travel to the site of an ancient runecasting competition to try to win back the magical gem. But the journey will not be easy; the three unlikely companions encounter malevolent and supernatural creatures at every turn. Somehow, Runa must summon the courage and strength to face her destiny, a destiny she never wanted. Or die trying.

I enjoyed The Stone of Sorrow. The setting and culture were interesting enough to keep my attention, even though there were parts where I felt like the character development was lacking a little. The setting felt familiar—because I’ve read a fair amount of Norse mythology—but not in an “Oh, this again?” sort of way. More a comfortable familiarity. I’m interested to read what happens next.

Brooke Carter is from Canada. The Stone of Sorrow is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Orca Book Publishers in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: We Didn’t Ask for This, by Adi Alsaid

night of the dragon blog tour

we didn't ask for this
Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

Title:  We Didn’t Ask for This
AuthorAdi Alsaid
Genre:  YA
Rating:  3 out of 5

Every year, lock-in night changes lives. This year, it might just change the world.

Central International School’s annual lock-in is legendary — and for six students, this year’s lock-in is the answer to their dreams. The chance to finally win the contest. Kiss the guy. Make a friend. Become the star of a story that will be passed down from student to student for years to come. But then a group of students, led by Marisa Cuevas, stage an eco-protest and chain themselves to the doors, vowing to keep everyone trapped inside until their list of demands is met. While some students rally to the cause, others are devastated as they watch their plans fall apart. And Marisa, once so certain of her goals, must now decide just how far she’ll go to attain them.

Alsaid writes quirky characters that I like but can’t always relate to. Which is fine. Everyone is different, and I like reading about people different from myself. The writing is solid, as is Alsaid’s writing in other books of his I’ve read, but one thing made this fall squarely on the unbelievable side of things:  a teenager is holding a bunch of kids hostage in a high school for a week, and the cops aren’t involved.

Even taking into account cultural differences—this story is set in an unnamed international location—this is so far-fetched as to make for a stumbling block I hit against roughly every three pages as I was reading it. The cops aren’t involved—and the parents who are all wealthy and important people—are okay with that? I find that highly unlikely, and if the basic premise of a story breaks the “rules” of the world the story in set in, well, that destroys the author’s credibility in my mind.

Adi Alsaid lives in Mexico City. We Didn’t Ask for This is his newest novel.

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

Book Review: Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me, by Gae Polisner

jack kerouac
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press/Wednesday Books.

Title:  Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me
AuthorGae Polisner
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.5 out of 5 

Fifteen-year-old JL Markham’s life used to be filled with carnival nights and hot summer days spent giggling with her forever best friend Aubrey about their families and boys. Together, they were unstoppable. But they aren’t the friends they once were.

With JL’s father gone on long term business, and her mother struggling with her mental illness, JL takes solace in the tropical butterflies she raises, and in her new, older boyfriend, Max Gordon. Max may be rough on the outside, but he has the soul of a poet (something Aubrey will never understand). Only, Max is about to graduate, and he’s going to hit the road – with or without JL.

JL can’t bear being left behind again. But what if devoting herself to Max not only means betraying her parents, but permanently losing the love of her best friend? What becomes of loyalty, when no one is loyal to you?

This book. Seriously. I am not even sure what to say about it. It broke my heart—not because it was bad, but because it was so good! I felt for JL so much. She’s lost her best friend to whatever came between them, she’s lost her dad to business, her mom to dissociative disorder, her grandmother who seems to be in denial…she’s basically lost everyone in her life. Except Max, her new, older boyfriend…that everyone at school says horrible things about, including her in the rumors, too.

JL is on the verge of growing up. She wants to grow up—at least she thinks so—but she has no one to show her the way. She can’t even sort out what she wants in her own mind, she just knows she wants more. I was right there with her, experiencing everything—even the horrible stuff—and I loved every page. Even when it broke my heart.

GAE POLISNER is the award-winning author of In Sight of Stars, The Memory of Things, The Summer of Letting Go, The Pull of Gravity, and Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me. She lives on Long Island with her husband, two sons, and a suspiciously-fictional looking dog. When Gae isn’t writing, you can find her in a pool or the open waters off Long Island. She’s still hoping that one day her wetsuit will turn her into a superhero.

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