Tag: YA

Book Review and Blog Tour: Bright Burning Stars, by A.K. Small

Image belongs to Algonquin.

Title Bright Burning Stars
AuthorA.K. Small
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4 out of 5

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School since childhood, where they’ve formed an inseparable bond forged by respective family tragedies and a fierce love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves what they would do to win the ultimate prize: to be the one girl selected to join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they die? Cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic would make them shine, too? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other. (less)

This was a bit hard for me to read. The writing is excellent, and the characters were great, but reading about the dark side of the ballet world was a little depressing, frankly. I believe it’s a realistic portrayal, sadly, because I can’t image what these girls put themselves through:  the abuse their body image takes and the physical and emotional demands they put on themselves.

Marine’s issues were scary, but at least she eventually realized it. Kate’s issues…her sometimes completely unfounded obsession with guys was just sad. She definitely has some delusions and mental health issues, in addition to her drug problem. It was sad that she didn’t realize that, though.

A.K. Small was born in Paris. Bright Burning Stars is her debut novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Iron Raven, by Julie Kagawa

Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

TitleThe Iron Raven
Author Julie Kagawa
Genre:  YA, fantasy
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

You may have heard of me…

Robin Goodfellow. Puck. Prankster, joker, raven, fool… King Oberon’s right-hand jester from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The legends are many, but the truth will now be known as never before, as Puck finally tells his own story and faces a threat to the lands of Faery and the human world unlike any before.

With the Iron Queen Meghan Chase and her prince consort, Puck’s longtime rival Ash, and allies old and new by his side, Puck begins a fantastical and dangerous adventure not to be missed or forgotten.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything set in this world. Like, a really long time. But I remember Puck. He was always a character I loved. So, it was fun to read his story. The voice of this novel is perfect for his story, too.

Of course, all of faerie—and the human world—is at stake (it wouldn’t be a Kagawa book if it weren’t), but seeing the “old” Puck, a.k.a Robin Goodfellow, was the most unsettling part of this novel. Seeing Meghan and Ash again was great, too, but I think I need to go back and re-read all the other books again, so I feel a bit more up-to-speed. This was an excellent read. A touch of nostalgia, but Puck is front and center—and larger than life.

Julie Kagawa is a bestselling author. The iron Raven is her newest novel, the first book in The Iron Fey:  Evenfall.

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

Blog Tour and Book Review: How to Build a Heart, by Maria Padian

Image belongs to Algonquin Young Readers.

TitleHow to Build a Heart
AuthorMaria Padian
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

All sixteen-year-old Izzy Crawford wants is to feel like she really belongs somewhere. Her father, a marine, died in Iraq six years ago, and Izzy’s moved to a new town nearly every year since, far from the help of her extended family in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. When Izzy’s hardworking mom moves their small family to Virginia, all her dreams start clicking into place. She likes her new school—even if Izzy is careful to keep her scholarship-student status hidden from her well-to-do classmates and her new athletic and popular boyfriend. And best of all: Izzy’s family has been selected by Habitat for Humanity to build and move into a brand-new house. Izzy is this close to the community and permanence she’s been searching for, until all the secret pieces of her life begin to collide.

I’m pleased to say this was nothing like I expected! I liked Izzy a lot. She struggled in this book:  with grief over her dad, her struggles with his family, her identity, and accepting and embracing who she is. Honestly, I expected a mean-girls scenario, and there was a tiny touch of that, but not much.

Izzy friendship with Roz was well-done, and how the two grew and changed in the novel made this a story well worth reading. It’s not a typical YA/romance, although there is romance, it’s not the focus of the story. There were a few loose ends left when the story was over, so it felt a bit unresolved, but this was a solid, heartwarming read.

Maria Padian was born in New York City. How to Build a Heart is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: The Knockout, by Sajni Patel

Image belongs to Flux.

Title:  The Knockout
Author:  Sajni Patel
Genre:  YA
Rating:  5 out of 5

If seventeen-year-old Kareena Thakkar is going to alienate herself from the entire Indian community, she might as well do it gloriously. She’s landed the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to the US Muay Thai Open, which could lead to a spot on the first-ever Olympic team. If only her sport wasn’t seen as something too rough for girls, something she’s afraid to share with anyone outside of her family. Despite pleasing her parents, exceling at school, and making plans to get her family out of debt, Kareena’s never felt quite Indian enough, and her training is only making it worse.

Which is inconvenient, since she’s starting to fall for Amit Patel, who just might be the world’s most perfect Indian. Admitting her feelings for Amit will cost Kareena more than just her pride–she’ll have to face his parents’ disapproval, battle her own insecurities, and remain focused for the big fight. Kareena’s bid for the Olympics could very well make history–if she has the courage to go for it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read! Kareena is a fantastic character:  she’s tough, determined, loves her family, and is dealing with problems on all sides with strength and courage. Kareena has always been both a rebel against her community and set on making her parents proud, so this conflict is a theme in the story, as is her finding the courage to trust people with her secrets. This is a well-written book set in a vibrant community and is an excellent read!

Sajni Patel was born in India and grew up in Texas. The Knockout is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Everything I Thought I Knew, by Shannon Takaoka

Image belongs to Candlewick Press.

Title:  Everything I Thought I Knew
Author:  Shannon Takaoka
Genre:  YA
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Seventeen-year-old Chloe had a plan: work hard, get good grades, and attend a top-tier college. But after she collapses during cross-country practice and is told that she needs a new heart, all her careful preparations are laid to waste.

Eight months after her transplant, everything is different. Stuck in summer school with the underachievers, all she wants to do now is grab her surfboard and hit the waves—which is strange, because she wasn’t interested in surfing before her transplant. (It doesn’t hurt that her instructor, Kai, is seriously good-looking.)

And that’s not all that’s strange. There’s also the vivid recurring nightmare about crashing a motorcycle in a tunnel and memories of people and places she doesn’t recognize.

Is there something wrong with her head now, too, or is there another explanation for what she’s experiencing?

As she searches for answers, and as her attraction to Kai intensifies, what she learns will lead her to question everything she thought she knew—about life, death, love, identity, and the true nature of reality.

Solid writing here. I was drawn into the story from the very first page and I cared about Chloe and what she was going through. I loved how she went from an uptight, Type-A person obsessed with grades, achievements, and getting into college to just…not so much. I loved seeing how things with Kai developed. But, the twist towards the end of the book ruined the whole thing for me. Twists are generally a good thing, but I really wasn’t a fan of this one.

Shannon Takaoka is from Pennsylvania but now lives in California. Everything I Thought I Knew is her debut novel.

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

Book Review: Roman and Jewel, by Dana L. Davis

Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

Title:  Roman and Jewel
Author:  Dana L. Davis
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4 out of 5

Jerzie Jhames will do anything to land the lead role in Broadway’s hottest new show, Roman and Jewel, a Romeo and Juliet inspired hip-hopera featuring a diverse cast and modern twists on the play. But her hopes are crushed when she learns mega-star Cinny won the lead…and Jerzie is her understudy.

Falling for male lead Zeppelin Reid is a terrible idea–especially once Jerzie learns Cinny wants him for herself. Star-crossed love always ends badly. But when a video of Jerzie and Zepp practicing goes viral and the entire world weighs in on who should play Jewel, Jerzie learns that while the price of fame is high, friendship, family, and love are priceless.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read! Great characters, strong yet flawed, who make mistakes I can sympathize with. Jerzie was a lot of fun to read, even when she was making bad decisions, and I liked how her relationship with Zepp grew. I also liked that Cinny wasn’t a complete cliché. Solid writing and strong, diverse characters made this an excellent read.

Dana L. Davis lives in L.A. Roman and Jewell is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: One of the Good Ones, by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

Title:  One of the Good Ones
Author:  Maika Moulite; Maritza Moulite
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4 out of 5

When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.

One of the good ones.

Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.

The writing here is stellar, and the authors tackle an important and emotional subject with grace and emotion. I was drawn into the story from the beginning. However, when the twist was revealed about ¾ of the way in, that changed the whole book for me, and almost completely erased the impact that reading it had had.

As an author, you don’t want your readers to find your story boring or predictable, but you also don’t want them to lose faith in you as a writer, either, and that is exactly how I felt: I can’t trust these authors to not flip the script over halfway through the book, so I probably won’t read more of them.

Maika and Maritza Moulite are sisters and authors. One of the Good Ones is their newest novel.

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

Book Review: You Have a Match, by Emma Lord

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  You Have a Match
Author:  Emma Lord
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4 out of 5

 When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.

But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.

When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents—especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.

The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby’s growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.

But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones.

I enjoyed this read quite a bit! It was kind of a riff on The Parent Trap, but only loosely. Abby was a lot of fun to read and the contrast between her and Savannah was sometimes glaring and sometimes funny. I enjoyed Abby’s growth and the friendships in this book were wonderful!

Emma Lord lives in New York City. You Have a Match is her newest novel.

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

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.)