Tag: young adult

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

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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.)

Book Review: The Midnight Bargain, by C.L. Polk

Image belongs to Erewhon.

Title: The Midnight Bargain
Author: C.L. Polk   
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.

In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?

I ended up enjoying this a lot, although Ianthe seemed just a little bit too good to be true. I mean, handsome, rich, open-minded and for women’s equality in a society where it’s unheard of, willing to give up his status, wealth, and family? But I enjoyed reading about him—and his fabulous clothes—as he and Beatrice got to know each other better.

The society was well-done, if a bit horrifying, and the author didn’t get bogged down in the details, giving the reader just enough detail to bring the setting to life without smothering them with minutiae. I wanted to smack Beatrice’s little sister several times, but on the whole, I very much enjoyed this read.

C.L. Polk lives in Canada. The Midnight Bargain is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Quiet No More, by Nikki Barthelmess

Image belongs to Flux.

Title: Quiet No More
Author:   Nikki Barthelmess  
Genre: YA
Rating: 4.0 out of 5

College freshman Victoria Parker is trying to move on with her life after surviving sexual assault by her father and six months in foster care. She’s focusing on the positives–attending college, living on her own, repairing old relationships and making new ones, and getting involved with an abuse survivors activist group on campus. But everything’s thrown into disarray when a strange woman shows up, claiming to be Victoria’s aunt and asking Victoria to lie about what happened to her. With her father’s sentencing in a few months, she’s nervous about having to share the truth of what happened with a judge. She’s not even sure if she has the strength to go through with it. But when her fellow club members begin pressuring her to speak out, Victoria has to decide how to share her story while remaining true to herself.

Victoria has been through awful things but she’s trying to get her life back to normal. Unfortunately, specters from her past keep interfering and she has to figure out—again—how she will handle the ugly truth about what her father did to her. Her friends, new and old, all seem to have an opinion on what she should do, but when the truth comes out, Victoria must decide what is right for her.

I thought The Quiet You Carry, the book before this one, was very well-done and well-written. I have the same feelings about this book. This is about a tough topic, and the author handles it with respect and care.

Nikki Barthelmess lives in California. Quiet No More is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Above All Else, by Dana Alison Levy

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Title: Above All Else
Author: Dana Alison Levy    
Genre: YA
Rating: 4.0 out 0f 5

Rose Keller and Tate Russo have been climbing for years, training in harsh weather and traveling all over the world. The goal that kept them going? Summiting Mount Everest, the highest point on earth. Accompanied by Tate’s dad, the two will finally make the ultimate climb at the end of their senior year. But neither Rose nor Tate are fully in the game–not only is there a simmering romance between them, but Rose can’t get her mind off her mother’s illness, while Tate constantly fails to live up to his ambitious father’s standards.

Everyone on their expedition has something to prove, it seems. And not everyone is making the best decisions while short on oxygen and exhausted, body and mind. The farther up the mountain they go, the more their climbing plans unravel and the more isolated each team member becomes. Rose and Tate will have to dig deep within themselves to determine what–or who–they value above all else.

For someone with a fear of heights, parts of this were moderately terrifying. This was an intense read! I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon twice—third trip will be next year—but that’s more of a months-of-training thing, not years of training. And, while I’m fascinated by people who choose to hike Mt. Everest, I haven’t the faintest desire to actually climb any mountain.

I loved how we see this story from both Rose and Tate’s points-of-view. They’re such different people and their perspectives are so different, despite everyone thinking of them as RoseandTate. There are some intense scenes in this, but the author does an incredible job with the setting and letting us see what Rose and Tate experience on this once-in-a-lifetime journey.

Dana Alison Levy lives in New England. Above All Else is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Five Total Strangers, by Natalie D. Richards

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Title: Five Total Strangers
Author:  Natalie D. Richards   
Genre: YA, suspense/thriller
Rating: 3.8 out of 5

When Mira flies home to spend Christmas with her mother in Pittsburgh, a record-breaking blizzard results in a cancelled layover. Desperate to get to her grief-ridden mother in the wake of a family death, Mira hitches a ride with a group of friendly college kids who were on her initial flight.

As the drive progresses and weather conditions become more treacherous, Mira realizes that the four other passengers she’s stuck in the car with don’t actually know one another.

Soon, they’re not just dealing with heavy snowfall and ice-slick roads, but the fact that somebody will stop at nothing to ensure their trip ends in a deadly disaster.

It’s difficult for me to read novels with characters that I don’t like or characters that make stunningly stupid decisions, so when Mira decided to hop in a car with four absolute strangers in the middle of a blizzard, that was almost it for me. She was on the flight with one of these girls, so I have no idea why she ever assumed the rest of the group even knew each other. But she did—and promptly got in the car with them. Awesome decision, that.

There are bad decisions everywhere in this novel, but Mira keeps ignoring all the glaring signs. Again, I find it hard to sympathize with characters who make stupid decisions. Especially repeated ones. And I knew there would be a twist in there somewhere, so the reveal wasn’t much of a surprise. Solid writing and description—the setting comes to frigid, miserable life—but in the end, this was just a step above “okay.”

Natalie D. Richards is from Ohio. Five Total Strangers is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire in 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: The Code for Love and Heartbreak, by Jillian Cantor

  

Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

Title: The Code for Love and Heartbreak
Author: Jillian Cantor
Genre: YA
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Emma Woodhouse is a genius at math, but clueless about people. After all, people are unreliable. They let you down—just like Emma’s sister, Izzy, did this year, when she moved to California for college. But numbers…those you can count on. (No pun intended.)

Emma’s senior year is going to be all about numbers, and seeing how far they can take her. When she and George, her Coding Club co-president, are tasked with brainstorming a new project, The Code for Love is born—a matchmaking app that goes far beyond swiping, using algorithms to calculate compatibility. George disapproves of Emma’s idea, accusing her of meddling in people’s lives. But all the happy new couples at school are proof that the app works. At least at first.

Emma’s code is flawless. So why is it that perfectly matched couples start breaking up, the wrong people keep falling for each other and her own feelings defy any algorithm? Emma thought math could solve everything. But there’s nothing more complex—or unpredictable—than love.

This was an excellent and unique re-telling of Emma! Emma is beyond clueless about people—to the point it’s actually funny to see what she’ll fail to understand next, but she’s so likable and relatable. I felt sorry for her while wanting her to succeed and learn from her mistakes. And George is just so lovable!

The prose flows smoothly here, not getting in the way of the story. Any awkwardness is due to Emma—and maybe Jane—not author intrusion or clunky writing. This was a fun read that did not disgrace Jane Austen.

Jillian Cantor lives in Arizona. The Code for Love and Heartbreak is her newest novel.

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