Tag: YA

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.)

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 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.)