Category: young adult

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.)

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.)

Book Review: This Is My America, by Kim Johnson

this is my america
Image belongs to Random House.

TitleThis Is My America
Author: Kim Johnson
Genre: YA
Rating: 4 out of 5

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

This was compelling, sad, and uplifting. Sad because I know stuff like this actually happens. Compelling because Tracy’s determination and her willingness to keep fighting made the whole story sing. Uplifting because it’s always good to see good triumph over evil.

I live in Texas—born and raised—and I remember probably 30 years ago, a KKK rally happening in our town (Vaguely, and only by hearsay, because I was maybe 10 at the time and my parents would never have allowed us anywhere near that nonsense.), so it wouldn’t surprise me to see this situation play out. This also saddens me deeply but looking at it from the perspective of Tracy and her family made it especially heartbreaking. Solid, evocative writing and a captivating storyline will keep the reader glued to the pages of This is My America.

Kim Johnson is a college administrator and a mentor. This is My America is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Random House in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Mayhem, by Estelle Laure

mayhem
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   Mayhem
Author Estelle Laure
Genre:   YA
Rating:   3.8 out of 5

It’s 1987 and unfortunately it’s not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy’s constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem’s own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren’t like everyone else. But when May’s stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem’s questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good. But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.

I really loved the movie The Lost Boys, and I liked the idea of this book, but…this felt like it did more than take inspiration from The Lost Boys. Some thing were exactly the same as that movie, which both unsettled and disappointed me.

There’s a lot going on here: family issues/drama/secrets, the serial killer angle/mystery, the magic plotline, the romance, teen angst…While I enjoyed the writing, the plethora of things going on + the strong similarities with The Lost Boys made this an unsettling and somewhat disappointing read.

Estelle Laure was born in London but grew up in the United States. Mayhem is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Girl, Serpent, Thorn, by Melissa Bashardoust

girl, serpent, thorn
Image belongs to Flatiron Books.

Title:   Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Author Melissa Bashardoust
Genre:   Fantasy, YA
Rating:   4 out of 5

There was and there was not, as all stories begin, a princess cursed to be poisonous to the touch. But for Soraya, who has lived her life hidden away, apart from her family, safe only in her gardens, it’s not just a story.

As the day of her twin brother’s wedding approaches, Soraya must decide if she’s willing to step outside of the shadows for the first time. Below in the dungeon is a demon who holds knowledge that she craves, the answer to her freedom. And above is a young man who isn’t afraid of her, whose eyes linger not with fear, but with an understanding of who she is beneath the poison.

Soraya thought she knew her place in the world, but when her choices lead to consequences she never imagined, she begins to question who she is and who she is becoming…human or demon. Princess or monster.

I liked the premise of this:  a princess who has never had human contact because her skin is poisonous makes a terrible mistake, endangering her family and her kingdom and putting them at the mercy of evil…but a sort of charming evil.

It was cool to see a fantasy culture like this—I thought it was very well-done—and I enjoyed the layers of details, like the stories from the past and the legends from Soraya family. Deception and secrets are threads running throughout the entire novel, and sometimes the reader is deceived just as much as Soraya is.

Melissa Bashardoust lives in California. Girl, Serpent, Thorn is her newest novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: In the Neighborhood of True, by Susan Kaplan Carlton

in the neighborhood of true
Image belongs to Algonquin Young Readers.

Title:   In the Neighborhood of True
Author:   Susan Kaplan Carlton
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4.0 out of 5

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes

Susan Kaplan Carlton lives in New Hampshire. In the Neighborhood of True is newly out in paperback.

I’ve always enjoyed reading about debutante life, because it seems like such a foreign concept to me, even though I was born and raised in the South. The debs Ruth ends up hanging out with were such quintessential southern girls—bless their hearts—sweet as sugar on the surface, but judgmental, mean, and ugly on the inside.

Ruth has had her entire world upended, so her struggles to figure out who she is are relatable, as are her fears. In the land of sweet tea and a façade of manners—Atlanta in the 50s—there isn’t much room for someone who is different, but Ruth’s journey taught her strength and pride in being herself—not who everyone wanted her to be.

(Galley courtesy of Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.)

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.)