Tag: YA

Book Review:  Monsters Born and Made, by Tanvi Berwah

Image belongs to SourcebooksFire.

TitleMonsters Born and Made     
Author:  Tanvi Berwah  
Genre: Fantasy, YA   
Rating:  4.2 out of 5

Sixteen-year-old Koral and her older brother Emrik risk their lives each day to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the Landers―the ruling elite, have indentured Koral’s family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others―if they’re lucky―survive.

When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family’s financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can’t afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral’s only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

But every step of the way is unpredictable as Koral races against contenders―including her ex-boyfriend―who have trained for this their whole lives and who have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. When a rebellion rises and rogues attack Koral to try and force her to drop out, she must choose―her life or her sister’s―before the whole island burns.

She grew up battling the monsters that live in the black seas, but it couldn’t prepare her to face the cunning cruelty of the ruling elite.

I enjoyed this read a lot!  The culture this is set in is very dark and depressing—basically hopeless—and Koral’s struggles to save her family were set amidst that darkness. Though dark, the culture is vividly portrayed, with hints at centuries of history that hide many secrets. Of course this story will draw Hungry Games comparisons  because of its very nature, but I found it compelling in its own right.

Tanvi Berwah graduated from the university of Delhi. Monters Born and Made is her debut novel.

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

Book Review:  Don’t Let In the Cold, by Keely Parrack

Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Title Don’t Let In the Cold   
Author:  Keely Parrack
Genre: Mystery/thriller    
Rating:  4.0

It was supposed to be just one night in the cabin: one night for Lottie and her brand new stepsister, Jade, to try to get along. When a solar flare causes a massive blackout―no power or cell signal―Lottie knows they’ve got a long night ahead of them.

Then, in the dark, someone else shows up at the cabin―a stranger named Alex, claiming to be lost and needing shelter from the coming snowstorm. But later that night, Lottie spies him in the driveway talking to two mysterious men in a pickup truck, and she’s sure he’s lying about why he’s here.

Before Lottie can find out more, a fire forces her, Jade, and Alex out into the blizzard, where they must rely on one another to get to safety―wherever that is. In the remote, freezing Tahoe wilderness, they have to survive more than just the elements. Soon it becomes clear that Alex’s accomplices are hunting for all three of them, in a scheme that’s gone too far and taken a chilling, deadly turn.

This was a decent read—but only because I’m not reading it in the winter! To me, Alex was a red flag from the very beginning, but I liked him well enough, eventually.  I liked how the story was so focused on these three characters and their world—all the drama was condensed into a small, concentrated package.

Keely Parrack lives in San Francisco. Don’t Let in the Cold is her newest novel.

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

Book Review:  A Venom Dark and Sweet, by Judy I. Lin

Image belongs to Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.

Title: A Venom Dark and Sweet      
Author: Judy I. Lin   
Genre:  Fantasy, YA  
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

 A great evil has come to the kingdom of Dàxi. The Banished Prince has returned to seize power, his rise to the dragon throne aided by the mass poisonings that have kept the people bound in fear and distrust.

Ning, a young but powerful shénnóng-shi—a wielder of magic using the ancient and delicate art of tea-making—has escorted Princess Zhen into exile. Joining them is the princess’ loyal bodyguard, Ruyi, and Ning’s newly healed sister, Shu. Together the four young women travel throughout the kingdom in search of allies to help oust the invaders and take back Zhen’s rightful throne.

But the golden serpent still haunts Ning’s nightmares with visions of war and bloodshed. An evil far more ancient than the petty conflicts of men has awoken, and all the magic in the land may not be enough to stop it from consuming the world…

I loved the first book in this duology, A Magic Steeped in Poison, but I don’t think this book quite lived up to that first one. I still loved the characters and the world, but the last half of the book felt a bit rushed and almost superficial, like the author was describing what happened—but not actually letting the reader experience it.

 Judy I. Lin lives in Canada. A Venom Dark and Sweet is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  The Memory Index, by Julian Ray Vaca

Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

TitleThe Memory Index    
Author:  Julian Ray Vaca
Genre:   Scifi, YA
Rating:  3.0 out of 5

In an alternative 1987, a disease ravages human memories. There is no cure, only artificial recall. The lucky ones–the recollectors–need the treatment only once a day.

Freya Izquierdo isn’t lucky. The high school senior is a “degen” who needs artificial recall several times a day. Plagued by blinding half-memories that take her to her knees, she’s desperate to remember everything that will help her investigate her father’s violent death. When her sleuthing almost lands her in jail, a shadowy school dean selects her to attend his Foxtail Academy, where five hundred students will trial a new tech said to make artificial recall obsolete.

She’s the only degen on campus. Why was she chosen? Freya is nothing like the other students, not even her new friends Ollie, Chase, and the alluring Fletcher Cohen. Definitely not at all like the students who start to vanish, one by one. And nothing like the mysterious Dean Mendelsohn, who has a bunker deep in the woods behind the school.

Nothing can prepare Freya and her friends for the truth of what that bunker holds. And what kind of memories she’ll have to access to survive it.

This felt very cliched and unpolished to me—kind of like a bad 80s movie. With a twist, of course, but all in all, the characters were more caricatures than believable people. Even if I believed the basic set-up of the story—Memory Killer is a mysterious disease that erases random memories that can be retrieved by watching a tape of the incident in question—I would not believe the deus ex machina that takes place after Freya and her friends get caught on their little jaunt in the woods. In short, this just didn’t work for me.

Julian Ray Vaca lives in Nashville. The Memory Index is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Hello, Goodbye, by Kate Stollenwerck

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TitleHello, Goodbye    
Author: Kate Stollenwerck
Genre:   YA
Rating:  5.0 out of 5

Fifteen-year-old Hailey Rogers is sure her summer is ruined when her parents force her to spend a few days a week helping her grandmother, Gigi. Although she only lives across town, she never sees her grandmother and knows little about her. But Gigi is full of surprises–and family secrets. Throw in the gorgeous boy down the street, and Hailey’s ruined summer might just be the best of her life.

Then tragedy strikes, lies are uncovered, and Hailey’s life suddenly falls apart. After unearthing clues in an old letter written by her great-grandfather, she takes off on a road trip to solve the family mystery with the only person she can trust. In a forgotten Texas town, the past and the present collide–and Hailey is forced to choose what she truly values in life.

I loved this! I think Hailey is a great character, and I loved seeing how her mind works and how she changed through the course of this book. The family dynamics were intriguing, and I really wanted to know what was going on with Gigi. I enjoyed the Beatles obsession—and the car. I just thoroughly enjoyed this from the very first page.

Kate Stollenwerck lives in Florida. Hello, Goodbye is her debut novel.

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

Book Review:  Don’t Go to Sleep, by Bryce Moore

Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Title:    Don’t Go to Sleep  
Author:   Bryce Moore
Genre:   Thriller, YA
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Gianna is the average seventeen-year-old girl living in 1918 New Orleans. She worries about her family’s store, the great war, and a mysterious illness that’s about to take hold of the city she loves.

It doesn’t help that there also appears to be a mad man on the loose in her neighborhood. The attacks started as burglaries but soon escalate to cold blooded murder. There’s a killer out there, and the police can’t seem to figure out how to stop him.

Gianna enlists the help of her friend Enzo to investigate. And as they study the crimes, they see a common link between the victims, and Gianna can’t help but wonder if it’s the same man who attacked her family years before.

As Gianna gets closer to the killer, she discovers a connection between them that she never would have suspected.

I love historical fiction and New Orleans, so this should have been a winner. Instead, I found it slightly above average. I was fascinated by the descriptions of New Orleans a century ago, but Gianna’s habit of rushing headlong into danger without regard for the consequences was a bit too much for me. Not just chasing a literal axe murderer but running around the city in the midst of a deadly influenza pandemic. Her POV felt a little disjointed and distant, and there was never any explanation offered for her connection to the killer.

Bryce Moore lives in western Maine and is a Librarian. Don’t Go to Sleep is his newest novel.

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

Book Review:  How to Date a Superhero (And Not Die Trying), by Cristina Fernandez

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Title:    How to Date a Superhero (And Not Die Trying)  
Author:   Cristina Fernandez
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:  3.0 out of 5

Falling for a superhero is dangerous. You have to trust that they’ll catch you.

Astrid isn’t a superhero, not like the ones she sees on the news, but she has something she thinks of as a small superpower: she has a perfect sense of time. And she’s not going to waste a single second.

Her plan for college is clear—friends, classes, and extracurriculars all carefully selected to get her into medical school.

Until Max Martin, a nerdy boy from her high school, crashes back into her life. Things with Max were never simple, and he doesn’t keep to her schedule. He disappears in the middle of dates and cancels at the last minute with stupid excuses.

When a supervillain breaks into her bedroom one night, Astrid has to face the facts: her boyfriend, Max Martin, is a superhero. Double-majoring as a premed was hard, but now Astrid will have to balance a double life. This wasn’t part of her plan.

This was an okay read. Definitely an alternate reality setting, with superheroes and aliens accepted as commonplace, and the rest of the world more or less the same as ours. Astrid was…overwhelmingly selfish, frankly. Beyond obsessed with her schedule and infuriated by anything that dared impinge on it—or her life plans. This is a fairly light read, and if you can deal with a selfish and self-absorbed main character who’s oblivious to all the signs being put out by everyone around her, well, give it a shot.

Cristina Fernandez’s debut novel is How to Date a Superhero (And Not Die Trying).

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

Book Review:  Master of Iron, by Tricia Levenseller

Image belongs to Macmillan/Feewel & Friends.

TitleMaster of Iron    
Author:  Tricia Levenseller
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.2 out of 5

Eighteen-year-old Ziva may have defeated a deadly warlord, but the price was almost too much. Ziva is forced into a breakneck race to a nearby city with the handsome mercenary, Kellyn, and the young scholar, Petrik, to find a powerful magical healer who can save her sister’s life.

When the events that follow lead to Ziva and Kellyn’s capture by an ambitious prince, Ziva is forced into the very situation she’s been dreading: magicking dangerous weapons meant for world domination.

The forge has always been Ziva’s safe space, a place to avoid society and the anxiety it causes her, but now it is her prison, and she’s not sure just how much of herself she’ll have to sacrifice to save Kellyn and take center stage in the very war she’s been trying to stop.

I hadn’t read the first book in this duology, so it took me a few minutes to get into this, but then I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ziva’s point-of-view is well-done and really shows how her anxiety feels from the inside—and the things she notices about how people respond to it. A nice level of magic and an interesting culture, as well as vivid and likable secondary characters made this an above-average fantasy read.

Tricia Levenseller is from Oregon. Master of Iron is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Violet Made of Thorns, by Gina Chen

Image belongs to Random House Children’s.

Title: Violet Made of Thorns     
Author: Gina Chen  
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  4.5

Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.

But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.

Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.

I enjoyed this story, but I have to say, Violet and Cyrus are both kind of unlikable jerks. Especially to each other. Cyrus’ arrogance is almost overwhelming at times, and Violet is just rude and hateful at least half the time. I enjoyed the culture and mythology, but their personalities were almost enough to make me DNF this. I’m interested in reading more about them—probably—but this isn’t a warm and fuzzy tale.

Gina Chen lives in California. Violet Made of Thorn is her debut novel.

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

The Best Books I Read in July (2022)

In July, I read 18 books, bringing my total for the year to 136 books. I also DNFed 12 books, which is a lot. I’m eight books behind schedule for the year. Hopefully I catch up! Of those 18, several of them were excellent. The best of those were:

The Bodyguard, by Katherine Center. I love this author’s books, but this one was the best of hers I’ve read. This made me laugh out loud several times (especially the “attacking” cow) and really relate to the main character. If you need a fun weekend read, grab this.

Long Story Short, by Serena Kaylor. This has everything: an awkward main character, a hot, brooding love interest, the enemies-to-lovers trope, great secondary characters. and lots of Shakespeare!

The Shadow Wand, by Laurie Forest. I’m still loving every page of this sometimes dark magical series.