Tag: YA

Book Review: Unbound, by Byna Whitlock

Image belongs to the author.

Title: Unbound
Author: Byna Whitlock
Genre: YA
Rating: 4 out of 5

Laura Curtis is ready to step out of her shadowed past and into a promising future. With close friends, a prospective romance, and college opportunities pushing her forward, life is finally looking up!

But when a bizarre attack at Central High School sets the world spinning into apocalyptic chaos, Laura is driven into hiding, wanted by the government for reasons unknown to her.

Despite her efforts to stay out of the spotlight, a mysterious stranger hunts her down. Claiming to be a renegade CIA agent, he declares Laura is a key figure in the fight against the virus that’s ravaged civilization.

As the two embark on a deadly cross-country road trip in a race for the cure, Laura seeks to uncover the truth while battling her haunted past. Can she fight her demons while navigating a new world rife with zombie attacks, espionage, and the attention of a man who may not be who he seems?

The answers are slippery, hidden in layers of deceit. In this high-stakes mission, she finds not only is her life in danger… so is her heart.

Time is a relentless enemy.

I do enjoy a good dystopian read and throw in the zombie apocalypse and my attention was definitely caught. Laura and Brandon were quirky characters—his obsession with energy drinks made me laugh, and the way she checked every food expiration date made me roll my eyes a bit—and the gradual way they got to know and trust each other was believable and well-done.

This wasn’t a “scary” zombie book to me, and the focus was more on the espionage and the hope for a cure than gore and chills. A solid read and I’d be interested in reading more in this world.

Byna Whitlock lives in Texas. Unbound is her newest novel.

Book Review: Defending the Galaxy, by Maria V. Snyder

Image belongs to the author.

Title: Defending the Galaxy
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Genre: YA, sci-fi
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Junior Officer Ara Lawrence here, reporting for duty. Again. It’s situation critical for the security team and everyone in the base – including my parents – with a new attack from the looters imminent, a possible galaxy-wide crime conspiracy and an unstoppable alien threat. But this all pales in the face of my mind-blowing discovery about the Q-net. Of course, no one believes me. I’m not sure I believe me. It could just be a stress-induced delusion. That’s what my parents seem to believe…

Their concern for me is hampering my ability to do my job. I know they love me, but with the Q-net in my corner, I’m the only one who can help the security team beat the shadowy aliens from the pits we discovered. We’re holding them at bay, for now, but the entire Milky Way Galaxy is in danger of being overrun.

With battles on too many fronts, it’s looking dire. But one thing I’ve learned is when people I love are in jeopardy, I’ll never give up trying to save them. Not until my dying breath. Which could very well be today…

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Sentinels of the Galaxy series! Maria V. Snyder’s writing is fantastic, as always, and this universe is nicely done and intriguing. I’d never considered the effects faster-than-light travel would have on families and friendships, so that was an intriguing detail.

Ara is a lot of fun to read—smart, determined, and with enough snark to make me laugh. She trying to save the universe here, but she’s also concerned with typical teenage things like her boyfriend and what’s going on with him. Lots of action, high stakes, and characters I care about made this a riveting read!

Maria V. Snyder is a bestselling author. Defending the Galaxy is the final book in the Sentinels of the Galaxy series.

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

Book Review: Among the Beasts & Briars, by Ashley Poston

Image belongs to Balzer + Brayin.

Title: Among the Beasts & Briars
Author: Ashley Poston
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 4.2 out of 5.0

Cerys is safe in the kingdom of Aloriya.

Here there are no droughts, disease, or famine, and peace is everlasting. It has been this way for hundreds of years, since the first king made a bargain with the Lady who ruled the forest that borders the kingdom. But as Aloriya prospered, the woods grew dark, cursed, and forbidden. Cerys knows this all too well: when she was young, she barely escaped as the woods killed her friends and her mother. Now Cerys carries a small bit of the curse—the magic—in her blood, a reminder of the day she lost everything. The most danger she faces now, as a gardener’s daughter, is the annoying fox who stalks the royal gardens and won’t leave her alone.

As a new queen is crowned, however, things long hidden in the woods descend on the kingdom itself. Cerys is forced on the run, her only companions the small fox from the garden, a strange and powerful bear, and the magic in her veins. It’s up to her to find the legendary Lady of the Wilds and beg for a way to save her home. But the road is darker and more dangerous than she knows, and as secrets from the past are uncovered amid the teeth and roots of the forest, it’s going to take everything she has just to survive.

This story felt like an enchantment. I enjoyed the magic and the creatures in the woods—unique in concept and execution. Reading this, I felt like I’d stepped into the pages of a fairy tale.

However, none of the reveals came as a surprise to me. Some of it just turned out exactly like I expected, and there are hints that the next book will also have some things I just expect to happen. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve read so much fantasy over the years that certain things seem like they’re done a lot—or if the hints the author dropped were just a touch too heavy-handed. It doesn’t detract from the story, but it’s there.

Ashley Poston is from South Carolina. Among the Beasts & Briars is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Balzer + Brayin exchange for an honest review.)

Blog Tour and Book Review: A Golden Fury, by Samantha Cohoe

Image belongs to Wednesday Books.

Title: A Golden Fury
Author: Samantha Cohoe    
Genre: YA, fantasy
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Thea Hope longs to be an alchemist out of the shadow of her famous mother. The two of them are close to creating the legendary Philosopher’s Stone—whose properties include immortality and can turn any metal into gold—but just when the promise of the Stone’s riches is in their grasp, Thea’s mother destroys the Stone in a sudden fit of violent madness.

While combing through her mother’s notes, Thea learns that there’s a curse on the Stone that causes anyone who tries to make it to lose their sanity. With the threat of the French Revolution looming, Thea is sent to Oxford for her safety, to live with the father who doesn’t know she exists.

But in Oxford, there are alchemists after the Stone who don’t believe Thea’s warning about the curse—instead, they’ll stop at nothing to steal Thea’s knowledge of how to create the Stone. But Thea can only run for so long, and soon she will have to choose: create the Stone and sacrifice her sanity, or let the people she loves die.  

The first half of this was fantastic: action and intrigue, a bit of romance, adventure…I feel like the second half got a bit off-track, with a dip into things I expected to happen. The writing is outstanding, and the setting was vividly drawn. The latter part of the book felt really similar to Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares novels (without the humor) to me.

Thea is a bit naïve, so I could see some things coming which she clearly couldn’t, and her family left a bit to be desired. Her mom was on quite the power/control trip even before she went mad and her dad did not get off on the right foot with her.

Samantha Cohoe lives in Denver. A Golden Fury is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Kingdom of Sea and Stone, by Mara Rutherford

Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

Title: Kingdom of Sea and Stone
Author: Mara Rutherford    
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Rating: 5 out of 5

Ever since Nor was forced to go to a nearby kingdom in her sister’s place, she’s wanted nothing more than to return to the place and people she loves. But when her wish comes true, she soon finds herself cast out from both worlds, with a war on the horizon.

As an old enemy resurfaces more powerful than ever, Nor will have to keep the kingdom from falling apart with the help of Prince Talin and Nor’s twin sister, Zadie. There are forces within the world more mysterious than any of them ever guessed—and they’ll need to stay alive long enough to conquer them…

I thoroughly enjoyed this book (And the one before it, A Crown of Coral and Pearl.). And I think the covers are gorgeous!

The world here is unique and distinctive, with different cultures, countries, and beliefs, and it’s fun to explore them with Nor. She knows what’s right and she does it, but she can see both sides of the issues. I love her strength even in the face of overwhelming odds, and her courage to speak up about wrongs—even when it can hurt her in the long run.

Adventure, magic, and a captivating setting all combine in this to make it almost impossible to put down!

Mara Rutherford was born in California but has lived all over the world. Kingdom of Sea and Stone is her newest novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: Smash It, by Francina Simone

Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

Title: Smash It
Author: Francina Simone  
Genre: YA
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Olivia “Liv” James is done with letting her insecurities get the best of her. So she does what any self-respecting hot mess of a girl who wants to SMASH junior year does…

After Liv shows up to a Halloween party in khaki shorts–why, God, why?–she decides to set aside her wack AF ways. She makes a list–a F*ck-It list.

1. Be bold–do the thing that scares me.

2. Learn to take a compliment.

3. Stand out instead of back.

She kicks it off by trying out for the school musical, saying yes to a date and making new friends. Life is great when you stop punking yourself! However, with change comes a lot of missteps, and being bold means following her heart. So what happens when Liv’s heart is interested in three different guys–and two of them are her best friends? What is she supposed to do when she gets dumped by a guy she’s not even dating? How does one Smash It! after the humiliation of being friend-zoned?

In Liv’s own words, “F*ck it. What’s the worst that can happen?”

A lot, apparently.

This is billed as a re-telling of Othello, except it’s not. Not even remotely. The school musical Liv ends up doing is Othello (a rap version, no less), but that’s it. Solid writing and diverse characters, but those were the only positives for me of this book.

Liv herself is…immensely selfish. She’s so self-involved she doesn’t even notice her two best friends’ lives imploding—and not in the way Liv’s does (because she’s so selfish she brings disaster on herself). I’m all for owning your own life, but you shouldn’t do it at the expense of those around you. And Liv does. She’s awful to her mom and sister, to the guy who likes her, to hew new friends, and how she treats her two “best” friends is atrocious (With friends like Liv, who needs enemies?).

Francina Simone was born in Germany. Smash It is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Finding Balance, by Kati Gardner

finding balance
Image belongs to North Star Editions/Flux.

Title:  Finding Balance
AuthorKati Gardner
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.2 out of 5

Jase Ellison doesn’t remember having Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia when he was three years old. His cancer diagnosis only enters his mind twice a year. Once at his yearly checkup at the oncology clinic and when he attends Camp Chemo in the summer. No one in his “real” life knows about his past, especially his friends at Atlanta West Prep.

Mari Manos has never been able to hide her cancer survivorship. She wakes every morning, grabs her pink forearm clip crutches, and starts her day. Mari loves Camp Chemo—where she’s developed a healthy crush on fellow camper Jase. At Camp, she knows that she’ll never get “the look” or have to explain her amputation to anyone.

Jase wants to move on, to never reveal his past. But when Mari transfers to his school, he knows she could blow his cover. That’s the last thing he wants, but he also cannot ignore his attraction to her. For Mari, she only wants to be looked at like a girl, a person, and not only known for her disability. But how do you move on from cancer when the world won’t let you

 

This book deals with some really tough subjects. Bad things happen sometimes—and sometimes children are the one who have to deal with it. Jase and Mari survived childhood cancer, but years later they’re still dealing with the fallout. Mari is so unbelievably strong—and I love how she doesn’t just put up with Jase’s b.s. She calls him out on it and lets him know it’s not okay.

I felt really sorry for Jase. How can anyone think it’s okay to bully someone who had cancer? I can’t imagine being the victim there, on top of having cancer! Strength in the midst of pain runs through this novel, and it was so good!

Kati Gardner calls herself a recovering actor. She lives in North Carolina and had an amputation as the result of childhood cancer. Finding Balance is her newest novel, the second book in the Brave Enough series.

(Galley courtesy of North Star Editions/Flux in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Furia, by Yamile Saied Méndez

Image belongs to Algonquin Young Readers.

Title: Furia
Author: Yamile Saied Méndez     
Genre: YA
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Camila Hassan lives a double life. At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father. On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far her talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university, but the path ahead won’t be easy. Her parents, who don’t know about her passion, wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. Meanwhile, the boy she once loved, Diego, is not only back in town, but has also become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Things aren’t the same as when he left: Camila has her own fútbol ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, she is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and passion of a girl like her.

This is an excellent read! The setting comes to life on the page—even for someone who’s never seen an Argentina barrio—and the picture of life there is hard and dark, but with glimmers of light in unexpected places.

Camila is tough as nails, and she keeps her soft spots hidden from everyone:  her parents, her friends, even Diego. I loved reading about her determination to succeed, no matter what obstacles stand in her way.

Yamile Saied Méndez is from Argentina but now lives in Utah. Furia is her newest novel.

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

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.)