Category: young adult

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.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Tigers Not Daughters, by Samantha Mabry

tigers not daughters
Image belongs to Algonquin Young Readers.

Title:  Tigers Not Daughters
AuthorSamantha Mabry
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

There are four Torres sisters: the oldest, Ana, is determined to live life her way. Jessica, flouts convention and puts walls around her heart. Iridian clings to words. And Rosa is free spirited and drawn to the wild. The girls live with their father, a widower who relishes his control of every aspect of their lives, but after Anna falls to her death from her bedroom window at the age of eighteen, the family splinters.

Jessica, now the oldest, tries to keep her family together while subsuming as much of Ana as possible into her own life. Iridian withdraws from the world. And Rosa becomes obsessed with an urban myth. But when mysterious things start happening around the Torres house, the girls start to wonder if Ana is haunting them. And if she is, what is she trying to tell them?

Tigers Not Daughters was a little hard for me to get into, but I’m glad I did. I didn’t like all the characters—Jessica in particular seemed particularly selfish and not in the least self-aware—but it was wonderful to see them come into their identities as sisters and family and women who could stand on their own two feet. I’ve seen this touted as a cultural  lodestone, but, honestly, I’ve read much more vibrant novels on the Latin-American culture. It was secondary at best in this novel, with the focus being on the girls themselves.

Samantha Mabry credits her tendency toward magical thinking to her Grandmother Garcia, who would wash money in the kitchen sink to rinse off any bad spirits. She teaches writing and Latino literature at a community college in Dallas, where she lives with her husband, a historian, and a cat named Mouse. She is the author of A Fierce and Subtle Poison and All the Wind in the World. Visit her online at samanthamabry.com or on Twitter: @samanthamabry.

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

Book Review: Sparrow, by Mary Cecilia Jackson

sparrow
Image belongs to Tor Teen.

Title:  Sparrow
AuthorMary Cecilia Jackson
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Sparrow—Savannah Darcy Rose—thought she would be safe after her mother died. She thought she could finally stop hiding. She’s a gifted ballerina with a tight-knit circle of friends, she’s starring in a new production, and her future looks bright.

Then she meets Tristan:  handsome, wealthy, the most popular boy in school. Sparrow is in love, but Tristan isn’t quite as perfect as he seems, and soon Sparrow finds herself keeping secrets from everyone. She’s not the kind of girl who tells, but after a brutal assault, she must learn how to open up to those around her.

This wasn’t an easy book to read. You could see the disaster looming…but you were helpless to divert it. Sparrow’s backstory is horrifying, and the emotional scars she bears lead to physical scars in her present. I loved her strength and determination—and the strong friendships made the novel shine.

Mary Cecilia Jackson loves being a Southerner and reading. Sparrow is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Tor Teen in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: What the Other Three Don’t Know, by Spencer Hyde

what the other 3 don't know
Image belongs to Shadow Mountain Publishing.

Title:  What the Other Three Don’t Know
Author:  Spencer Hyde
Genre:  YA
Rating:  3.8 out of 5

When Indie lost her mom to the river, her world crumbled around her. Now she’s the loner, the quiet one, the one no one else notices—living only for the day she can leave her small town behind and go where no one knows her. She never wants to set foot near the river that took her mom again.

But for her journalism class, that’s exactly what she must do:  take a rafting trip with three almost-strangers from her class. India would rather do anything else, but she has no choice. What she doesn’t realize is the other three have secrets just like she does. And this rafting trip will bring all of them to the surface.

I enjoyed What the Other Three Don’t Know, but it was fairly predictable. And…the “secrets” weren’t exactly earth-shattering. I thought the four teens bonded really quickly, so that felt a little off to me, but their banter alone made the book worth reading.

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

Book Review: Fair is Foul, by Hannah Capin

foul is fair
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  Fair is Foul
AuthorHannah Capin
Genre:  YA
Rating:  3 out of 5

Ella and her three friends are the queens of their circle and their school. They do what they want, when they want. They do and say whatever they please, no matter who it hurts, and they’re untouchable—until the night they crash a St. Andrews Prep party and Elle is roofied and raped by the golden boys of St. Andrews.

Intent only on revenge, Ella becomes Jade, dying her hair, erasing her identity, and transferring to St. Andrews. With her crew’s help, she’ll have her revenge, but revenge isn’t enough. Instead, she wants to destroy the golden boys—and take their lives. And one of them will help her, for his ambition is as ruthless as Jade’s own.

I’m not a fan of the idea of revenge being necessary—though the boys definitely needed punishment—and the right of the wronged. What happened to Jade was horrible, and the golden boys were evil, but…Jade was at least as evil as they were. The actions of Jade and her crew were unfathomable to me, and I couldn’t relate to her on any level, making her—and her friends and enemies—completely unlikable and unreal to me. However, I can see how this is just my thoughts on a trope. The revenge storyline is probably great for some people, but it’s just not for me, and I shouldn’t have even bothered to finish reading this.

Hannah Capin lives in Virginia. Foul is Fair is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: What Kind of Girl, by Alyssa Heinmel

what kind of girl
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Title:  What Kind of Girl
AuthorAlyssa Heinmel
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4 out of 5

North Bay Academy is rocked when Mike Parker’s girlfriend walks into the principal’s office and accuses him of hitting her. She has the black eye to prove it—but is she telling the truth? Mike’s the most popular guy around; would he really hit his girlfriend? And if he did, why didn’t she tell anyone the first time it happened?  Why did she go to the principal and not the police? Is it true…or is there more to the story?

This is an excellent book about a tough topic. It showcases what some girls experience:  like it’s not bad enough they go through dating violence. They also have to deal with people calling them liars, thinking they deserved it, and/or taking their abuser’s side. This is told in alternating viewpoints, but the story strands weave together seamlessly, creating a picture that has even more depth than what the reader first thinks.

Alyssa Heinmel was born in California and raised in New York. What Kind of Girl is her newest novel.

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