Tag: YA

Book Review: In Sight of Stars, by Gae Polisner

In Sight of Stars
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  In Sight of Stars
Author:  Gae Polisner
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.5/5

Seventeen-year-old Klee’s life has changed immensely in the past year. He’s living in the suburbs. He’s in love with the volatile and free-spirited Sarah. And his beloved father, who taught him about art and explored New York City with him, is dead.

When life with his ice queen mother gets to be too much and an unexpected betrayal sends him over the edge, Klee ends up in the “Ape Can,” a psychiatric hospital for teens.

Klee must deal with his past if he’s ever to get back to his real life, but that means exploring the darkness and the secrets he doesn’t even know are there. Pushing people away has always been the easy way out, but Klee will have to learn to trust if he’s ever to heal.

In Sight of Stars alternates between the present, when Klee is hospitalized, and the past, events leading up to his breakdown. Klee is a fascinating character:  he’s broken, but he longs for wholeness and belonging, despite the blows the world keeps raining on him. This is a look at mental illness from the inside, gazing at the hurt and confusion that ripped one boy’s life to shreds, and how he learns to knit those shreds back into something whole.

I enjoyed reading this, and loved learning the truth right along with Klee, as he searches for the meaning in his past, his present, and his future. There’s a little bit of Klee’s brokenness in all of us. And, hopefully, his strength as well.

Gae Polisner is a family law attorney. She writes women’s fiction and young adult fiction. In Sight of Stars is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)


Book Review: In Search of Us, by Ava Dellaira

in search of us
Image belongs to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR).

Title:  In Search of Us
Author:  Ava Dellaira
Genre:  Young Adult
Rating:  4/5

In LA in the late 1990s, Marilyn is a pretty 17-year-old with a mom who has ambitions;  she expects Marilyn to make it big in Hollywood, so Marilyn can support them. But her mother never asks what Marilyn wants:  going away to college and becoming a photographer. With Marilyn landing fewer jobs, they soon find themselves living with Marilyn’s unpredictable uncle.

Marilyn is just biding her time, living for graduation, when her “real” life will start. Then she meets James, the boy who lives downstairs. James shows her how to live in the now.

In the present, Angie has a single mom, a dead father she never met, and no one to help her sort out her identity. With her brown skin and curly hair, she looks nothing like her mom, and she knows nothing about her father. Then Angie finds out her mother has been lying to her all along, and she sets out on a road trip to LA with her best friend, Sam, hoping to discover who she really is.

In Search of Us is an emotional story about family, love, and finding yourself. These two stories are entwined seamlessly, and I’m not sure which I was more emotionally invested in, Marilyn’s or Angie’s. Both feel like their mothers don’t understand them, and both want more out of life. Marilyn is struggling to break her mother’s hold on her, and Angie struggles to find her father in more than just a single old picture. Racism is a strong theme here, portrayed honesty and realistically, with a large helping of grief. I was in tears by the end, and this book made my heart ache, as well as being so vivid I felt like I was a part of the story.

Ava Dellaira is the author of Love Letters to the Dead. In Search of Us is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman

Image belongs to Random House.

In Goredd, reputation is everything and there are certain expectations about women and their place. Expectations that Tess just can’t seem to live up to. Trapped in her duty to her family, Tess is bitter, angry, and hopeless. Also, a little bit of a drunkard. Which leads to the incident at her sister’s wedding…

Before she’s forced into a nunnery, Tess chops off her hair, dresses as a boy, and sets out on the Road, ins search of one of the World Serpents, creatures of legend she’s been fascinated with for years.

The Road is more challenging than Tess ever imagined, and every day, she must make the decision to live one more day. She meets friends in unexpected places as she searches for who she really is, learning to heal from the pain of her past so she can seek the future she dreams of.

There’s some darkness in Tess of the Road. Tess begins as a hateful, unlikeable character—although with her past, who wouldn’t be hateful? This is a book about growth more than anything, and Tess’s journey is magnificent as it unfolds, and she learns there is so much more to the world than what society expects.

Rachel Hartman has a B.A. in Comparative Literature. Tess of the Road is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Random House in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Rending and the Nest, by Kaethe Schwehn

the rending
Image belongs to Bloomsbury USA.

One moment, Mira was at the mall shopping with her little brother. The next instant, 95% of the world’s population vanished, along with sunlight, most of the animals, food, and stuff. What isn’t missing is in huge random piles. The survivors eke out a living by scavenging the Piles and banding together in haphazard communities.

Four years after the Rending, Mira spends her days scavenging for her community of Zion, hanging out with her best friend, Lana, and avoiding people she might come to love—she can’t bear to lose anyone else. Then Lana tells her she’s pregnant, the first pregnancy since the Rending. For the first time since everything changed, Mira feels hope.

But when Lana gives birth to an inanimate object—and so do other women in Zion—Mira’s world crumbles again. An outsider named Michael lures Lana away, and Mira must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice to save her friend, her community, and her own pregnancy.

I’m not going to lie:  this is an odd book. Dystopian, with no explanation for why the Rending occurred (so if you must have a “why,” you’re out of luck here). The world is both strangely familiar and oddly skewed, like everything is just a bit off-kilter. Mira and Lana—well, everyone—are hiding secrets from their before, secrets that they need to deal with before they can truly accept their now. The Babies are creepy—and weirdly fitting—and I was drawn into the story from the first page as Mira struggles to make sense of this new world while still trying to sort out just who she is. Despite the oddness, this is an enthralling book, with a vividly realized setting that’s just as intriguing as the characters.

Kaethe Schwehn is an award-winning writer of prose and poems. The Rending and the Nest is her new novel.

(Galley provided by Bloomsbury USA in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Book of Pearl, by Timothee de Fombelle

the book of pearl
Image belongs to Candlewick Press.

Joshua Pearl doesn’t belong in this world. He comes from the world of story, of fairy tales, where he no one knows he exists—and they certainly don’t know he’s the younger brother of their cruel and brutal king. His love keeps him alive, but he’s cursed to live in a world that doesn’t believe in magic. This world.

In Paris just before World War II, Joshua lives and works in a marshmallow shop beloved by many. He’s found a family. He has a home and a job he adores, but something is missing. As his memories of his life before start to fade, Joshua searches for objects of mystery—starting with a mermaid’s scale—that might help him prove his own story, before his memories are lost forever.

Sometimes, I’m not terribly observant when I’m picking out books. Like picking up the third book in a series, having no idea it’s part of a series. In this case, I didn’t realize The Book of Pearl was a translation. Not that that matters in the least. I found this book magical and ethereal in places, but realistic and gritty in others. The fairy tale world is not the Disney version—all sunshine and light—but much more Grimm’s brothers. The settings came alive on the page, and if the characters were a little more distant than I would have wished, this could be just a difference in style between French and English. Regardless, this was a wonderful, enchanting read.

Timothee de Fombelle is a French author who taught literature before heading to the theatre. The Book of Pearl is his newly-translated book.

(Galley provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: You Will Be Mine, by Natasha Preston


you will be mine
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Lylah has finally moved on from her past. She’s at college, and she has a great group of friends that she lives with. She’s doing well in class, but she looks forward to going out with her friends, too.

One evening as they’re all getting ready, the doorbell rings and they find a note. ROSES ARE RED, VIOLETS ARE BLUE. WATCH YOUR BACK, I’M COMING FOR YOU. Lylah is freaked out, but her friends laugh it off. Except Sonny never comes home from the club. And a new note arrives.

Now Lylah and her friends are the target of a mysterious killer with an agenda. A killer the cops can’t seem to find…or even figure out who they’re looking for. Incidents from Lylah’s past give them clues, and soon the group is desperate to catch the killer before any more friends are targeted.

I’ve read a couple of Preston’s books before, so the twists didn’t really surprise me…I usually decide the least likely suspect is the culprit until proven wrong (Note:  this is not always accurate, but that’s how my brain works.). The creepiness level in this book was on-point, but the characters’ actions kind of ruined it for me. Um, I’m pretty sure that if several of my friends had been lured out of the house and murdered, I would not go anywhere by myself without telling a soul. Nor would I feel like the cops protecting me were in the way of my life and try to slip away from them. Maybe that’s just me? Verdict: great premise, creepy execution, but the characters just weren’t believable enough for me to be truly riveted. (I was actually quite annoyed at several points…to the point where I didn’t actually care if they died.)

Natasha Preston is the English author of The Cellar and The Cabin. You Will Be Mine is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.)


Book Review: The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert

Image belongs to Flatiron Books.

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have been haunted by bad luck as long as Alice can remember. Not run-of-the-mill bad luck, either, but strange things happening in even stranger circumstances. And Alice’s mom won’t allow her to speak of her grandmother, a reclusive author who lives on a mysterious estate called the Hazel Wood. It’s the two of them against the world.

When Alice’s grandmother dies, Alice’s mom is stolen away by mysterious creatures from the Hinterland—where Alice’s grandmother’s creepy tales are set. The only lead Alice has is her mom’s message, “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

But Alice will stop at nothing to save her mom. The only person she can turn to is Finch, a Hinterland superfan…and Alice is sure he’s hiding something. To save her mom, first they must find the Hazel Wood. Then Alice must venture deep into the woods, where she just might find out what’s wrong with her own story.

The Hazel Wood is absolutely magic! Dark magic, to be sure, but magic all the same. Alice is such a fascinating character, filled with rage but yearning for the light. The Hinterland and the Hazel Wood are places of magic…terrifying magic. I was enthralled with the story from the very first page, and that continued through to the very last page. Loved this book!

Melissa Albert is the editor of the B&N Teen Blog. The Hazel Wood is her first novel.

(Galley provided by Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.)



Book Review: This is Not a Love Letter, by Kim Purcell

Image belongs to Disney Book Group.

Jessie and Chris were on a break. Just one week, so Jessie could get some perspective, then they could make all the big decisions looming with graduation. Jessie just needed a little bit of time to think.

Then Chris disappears on a run by the river, on the same path where, a few weeks before, he was beaten up by some guys from a rival high school. Chris is popular. He’s good looking. And he’s black, a rarity in their small, paper mill town.

When the police decide Chris ran away, Jessie speaks up, and voices her fears that Chris’s disappearance is race-related. She’s terrified of what might have happened to Chris, but she’s not prepared for the threats she receives.

Chris has written Jessie a love letter every Friday since they started dating, now it’s her turn to write him, telling him everything that’s happening while he’s gone, what she’s afraid of, and some truths she’s kept hidden.

I’m just going to say it straight out:  this book almost broke me. I’m not sure if it was the situation, or if I just identified with Jessie that strongly, but I was in tears (sobs) by the time I finished reading this. Straight through, in one sitting, I might add. Jessie, while not always rational or sensible, made sense to me. She seemed real. Her relationship with Chris, which she remembers in detail while he’s missing, was charming and inspiring. Their town has problems, and sometimes the issues were ugly and hurtful, but they were always truthful. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

Kim Purcell is from Canada, but now lives in New York. This is Not a Love Letter is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Disney Book Group in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Intraterrestrial, by Nicholas Conley

Image belongs to Nicholas Conley/Red Adept Publishing.

Thirteen-year-old Adam is shy, quiet, and a bit of a nerd. He loves looking at the stars through his telescope and building his own bike, while thinking about the mysteries of the universe, but doesn’t really feel like he belongs in his own life. The voice he keeps hearing in his head isn’t helping. When a run-in with a school bully lands him in trouble, it brings the conflict between his parents and himself into sharp focus.

The auto accident changes everything.

Adam ends up with a Traumatic Brain Injury, hovering on the edge of life and death. While his body is fighting to survive, Adam’s mind, his imagination, is in outer space, where he meets a group of aliens fighting against the Nothing that wants to destroy them—and Adam. Adam is the only one that can save them, but to do that, he must fight his way through the darkness that threatens to take away his future.

Intraterrestrial deals with some heavy topics: brain injury, bullying, and finding your place in the world when you’re different than everyone else. Adam is from India, and this makes him feel different from his adoptive parents and everyone else he knows. He struggles with this “differentness” in the first part of the book, as well as bullying and his response to being bullied.

After the accident, Intraterrestrial is both more complex and fantastical. What Adam experiences is imaginative and intriguing—is it really happening, or is his brain struggling to deal with the injury?—yet his reactions and observations sometimes border on childlike. He’s 13, so that makes sense for the character, but I’m undecided on if this novel is geared more towards a YA/middle grade audience, or an adult audience. The subject matter is older, but Adam himself is younger, so it could go either way. I enjoyed the novel very much. It is as creative as the author’s other works, and I look forward to reading more.

Nicholas Conley loves traveling the world and putting his experiences into words. Intraterrestrial is his newest novel.

(Galley provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Before I Let Go, by Marieke Naijkamp


before i let go
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Corey and Kyra grew up as best friends in tiny Lost Creek, Alaska. Kyra was vibrant and artistic—and manic/depressive, so the town ostracized her for being different. But Corey was always there for her. Until Corey’s mom got a new job and Corey had to move away, promising Kyra she’d be back in exchange for Kyra’s promise to stay strong.

Days before Corey’s visit home, Kyra dies, and Corey is devastated. Her grief turns to confusion when she returns to Lost, and discovers the town has changed in her absence. Everyone grieves for Kyra, but whispers that her death was meant to be.

Corey doesn’t know what to think. The town that shut Kyra out seems to have embraced her in the past months, but the more Corey asks questions, the more she’s treated as an outsider herself. As she tries to learn more about what happened to Kyra, the more her suspicions grow. Lost is hiding a secret—and Corey can’t get through the darkness to the truth.

I’m just going to say it:  this was a weird book. It’s a mix of YA, magical realism, and death investigation—kind of. Lost comes to vivid, haunting life on the pages, and the characters are both compelling and strange.  Kyra and Corey’s friendship was heartwarming and sad, and I enjoyed Corey’s attempts to find out the truth about her friend. In the end, though, I still wasn’t quite sure what happened. An interesting, unpredictable read.

Marieke Naijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. She is the New York Times bestselling author of This is Where It Ends. Her newest novel is Before I Let Go.

(Galley provided by Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)