Tag: young adult

Book Review: The Iron Flower, by Laurie Forest

the iron flower

Title:   The Iron Flower
Author:   Laurie Forest
Genre:   Fantasy, YA
Rating:   5 out of 5

High Priest Marcus Vogel and his influence—not to mention his army—is spreading quickly, along with his hate-filled, racist beliefs. The Gardnerian soldiers are tightening their hold everywhere, and the strict laws make life difficult, not to mention the fear their cruelty instills. Every non-Gardnerian is a target, and death is the sentence for many.

Elloren Gardner may be the granddaughter of a murderess, but she is a mage with almost no power. She’s determined to fight to save her friends and family. For Elloren, “family” is her brothers, her uncle, and her friends—of all races and species. Most of all, she wishes she weren’t Gardnerian and seen as the enemy by many she wants to help. As if that isn’t enough, she is the very image of her evil grandmother—and even the forest whispers dark things against her.

As the darkness around her grows worse, Elloren struggles to find a way out for her friends and family—any way out—and is willing to risk her life to save whoever she can. Then there’s Lukas Grey, commander of the military base and determined to win Elloren over, no matter what. The pull between them is strong, but Elloren has no way of knowing which side he’s truly on—or what he wants.

Let me say that I have not read The Black Witch, the first book in this series, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of The Iron Flower. (And, I’ll be buying and reading it immediately!) This was a fantastic read, and I was drawn in from the very first page. Elloren is fighting her heritage and what she’s always known as she realizes just how horrible those beliefs are. Diversity is something the Gardnerians hate, but Elloren sees its beauty—and will fight to protect it. This is a dark book, but completely compelling, and I read it in about 24 hours, staying up far too late to find out what happens!

Laurie Forest lives and writes in the woods of Vermont. The Iron Flower is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Harlequin Teen in exchange for an honest review.)

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Book Review: Once a King, by Erin Summerill

once a king
HMH Books for Young Readers

 

Title:   Once a King
Author:   Erin Summerill
Genre:   Fantasy, YA
Rating:   5 out of 5

The kingdom of Malam has a dark history of persecuting Channelers, women with magical ability, but now the young king, Aodren is seeking to end the persecution and unite his kingdom. But decades of hatred cannot be undone with words, and rumors of a Channeler-made drug are causing fears to burst into flame, and violence to erupt.

Lirra was born in Malam, but her father fled when she was an infant, after her mother was murdered. She distrusts Malam and its new young king, and wants only to perform in the magic showcase, her chance to let her talents shine. But the deadly drug makes a kingdoms-wide summit even more dangerous, and soon Lirra is forced to work with Aodren as they try to find the source of the mysterious drug—and who’s behind it—before Malam’s future is destroyed forever.

This is a standalone, but it’s linked to the other books in the Clash of Kingdoms series, and I had no trouble picking this up without reading the first two (which sometimes does NOT work out). The worldbuilding was fantastic, and the sense of history gave so many compelling layers to this story! The characters are struggling to work together despite the many things that should make that impossible, as they do everything they can to overcome years and a culture of hatred. Highly recommended!

Erin Summerill is an award-winning author. Once a King is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by HMH Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Fire and Heist, by Sarah Beth Durst

fire & heist
Image belongs to Random House Children’s/Crown Books for Young Readers.

Title:  Fire and Heist
Author:   Sarah Beth Durst
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   4 out of 5

Sky Hawkins’s family fell from grace and lost some of their wealth and most of their good name when her mother disappeared after a heist gone bad. Sky lost her mom, her friends, and her boyfriend all at the same time, as well as becoming a social media and paparazzi pariah. Sky is a wyvern (a were dragon), after all, and the media is fascinated by her family and culture.

No one will talk about her mother’s disappearance, and Sky wants to know what really went down, so she starts to plan her first heist to find out. The first heist is a coming-of-age for wyverns, and Sky is determined to succeed at hers, and save her family’s good name, her mother, and her relationship at one time. Until she learns more about the mysterious jewel her mother was after—and realizes someone has been hiding dark secrets about wyvern history for years.

This is a clean read, and suitable for even younger YA readers. The wyvern society is intriguing and well-thought-out. It makes sense for were-dragons, and I loved how it tied in historical figures to the wyvern worldbuilding. Sky is kind of an innocent about life, so I’d say this is skewed a bit towards younger readers, and a few things seemed a little too easy, but it was a an entertaining and fun read.

Sarah Beth Durst writes fantasy books for all ages. Fire and Heist is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Random House Children’s/Crown Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Love à la Mode, by Stephanie Kate Strohm

love a la mode
Image belongs to Disney-Hyperion.

Title:   Love à la Mode
Author:   Stephanie Kate Strohm
Genre:   YA, fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Rosie Radeke is from East Liberty, Ohio, a small town where winning local baking contests is a big deal. But now Rosie got into Chef Laurent’s prestigious cooking school in Paris, and she just knows she’s finally going to start living all her celebrity-cooking-show-inspired dreams. But a nightmare chef/instructor soon makes Rosie wonder if she has any talent at all.

Henry Yi was raised in his dad’s Chicago restaurant. Cooking is in his blood, and it’s all he wants to do. His mother, however, insists he do more—and gets him extra work from his instructors to prove it. Henry likes Rosie, but between his extra homework, his fear of being an uninspired cook, and Rosie’s growing friendship with famous model/chef Bodie, does he even stand a chance?

This was a sweet tale, in more than one way. First, don’t read this if you’re hungry. The pastry descriptions alone will have you drooling. And this is a clean book, which I appreciated, told from both Henry and Rosie’s point-of-views. Well-written, with quirky and entertaining characters (the secondary characters are a riot), this is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Stephanie Kate Strohm writes children’s and YA books. Love à la Mode is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: When Elephants Fly by Nancy Richardson Fischer

when elephants fly
Image belongs to Harlequin Teen.

Title:   When Elephants Fly
Author:   Nancy Richardson Fischer
Genre:   YA
Rating:   5 out of 5

Lily Decker is a senior with a 12-year-plan that includes college, no caffeine, no stress, and no boys, except her best friend Sawyer. Her plan is geared towards fending off the schizophrenia that runs in her family—and that caused her mother to try to kill her when she was seven years old.

Her dad wants her to sit home and do nothing, but Lily can’t forget that he reached for her mother and not her on that fateful day, so she keeps quiet about her internship with a newspaper. Until Lily’s story about naming the zoo’s elephant calf leads to Lily being present when the calf is born—and also there when the mother rejects the baby and attacks her.

With the baby elephant, Swifty, grieving, Lily is desperate to help in whatever way she can. That turns out to be traveling with Swifty to the circus when the zoo loses custody of her. But everything at the circus is not as perfect as the owners pretend, and Lily will risk everything—including her mental health—to keep Swifty safe.

This well-written novel takes a sensitive subject—mental health—and treats it with respect, dignity, and understanding. Lily is desperate to avoid schizophrenia, but she’s also realistic about her chances and her symptoms. The bond between her and Swifty is sweet and heartbreaking, and I flew through the pages to find out what happens.

Nancy Richardson Fischer graduated from Cornell University and used to work for the circus. When Elephants Fly is her new novel.

(Galley provided by Harlequin Teen in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Little White Lies, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

little white lies
Image belongs to Disney Book Group/Freeform.

Title:   Little White Lies
Author:  Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Genre:   YA, fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Sawyer Taft grew up on the wrong side of the tracks with a mom who was unreliable at best and the knowledge that her mother’s family kicked her mom out of the house when she got pregnant in the middle of her debutante season. Now 18-year-old Sawyer is an auto mechanic who’d love to go to college but sees no way to get there.

Until her autocratic grandmother shows up, offering her half a million dollars if she’ll move into the family house and participate in the current debutante season. That’s a whole lot of money to put up with a prim-and-proper crowd with certain expectations and a penchant for the phrase “Bless your heart,” but Sawyer thinks she might be able to solve the mystery of who her father is, so she agrees.

And finds herself in a world of glittering dresses, unending rules, and people with more secrets than she ever imagined. Not to mention the devious minds to keep those secrets and manipulate Sawyer and her new friends. And one of the best-kept secrets is just who Sawyer’s father is—and why he doesn’t want anyone to know.

I read a few of Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ books years ago and enjoyed them, but kind of forgot about her until I saw this one. I’m so glad I picked this up! The glittering world of the debs is far beyond my experience, but it came to life on the pages of Little White Lies. Sawyer is a great character:  she does not fit in with this society and she unsettles everyone around her, but she is intent on doing what’s right—and she’s smart. This is an attention-grabbing read, and it was nice that it wasn’t filled with romance like a lot of YA series-openers are.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes was a Fulbright Scholar at Yale, and also holds a Ph.D. from Yale. Her newest novel is Little White Lies.

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

Book Review: The Lying Woods, by Ashley Elston

the lying woods
Image belongs to Disney-Hyperion.

Title:   The Lying Woods
Author:   Ashley Elston
Genre:   YA
Rating:   5 out of 5

Owen Foster is in the middle of a prank war with his best friend Jack when his mom shows up at his fancy New Orleans boarding school. Owen knows it can’t be good news, and it’s not—his dad has disappeared with millions of dollars from the family business that supports most of their small town.

Owen and his mom are the most hated people in town. Most people think they knew what his dad was up to, or at least where he is now, and the threats soon turn to violence. To escape all the anger, Owen finds himself working for Gus on a practically-abandoned pecan farm outside of town.

Owen doesn’t want to believe his father stole the money, but all the evidence points towards him. Soon Owen realizes that someone must have helped his dad, and he’s determined to unravel the mystery and keep his mother safe.

The Lying Woods is told in alternate viewpoints between Owen now, and his father in the past, the year he first came to work for Gus. I’m not generally a fan of male POV characters in YA, but I loved this one. Owen is complex:  everything he thinks he knows gets upended in this book, and he has to figure out the new world he inhabits now. He’s hurting from his dad’s betrayal, worried about his mom, and missing his friends, but he learns to see things from other people’s point-of-view as he struggles to right the wrongs he encounters. Definitely read this! I realized after reading this that I’d also read Elston’s The Rules for Disappearing, and it was a great read as well, so she just moved to my must-read list.

Ashley Elston lives and writes in Louisiana. The Lying Woods is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Shadow of the Fox, by Julie Kagawa

shadow of the fox
Image belongs to Harlequin Teen.

Title:   Shadow of the Fox
Author:   Julie Kagawa
Genre:   Fantasy, YA
Rating:   4 out of 5

Yumeko has been raised by monks in the Silent Winds temple. The isolation helps hide her half-kitsune nature—along with the training of the monks who want to suppress her mischievous personality. The temple exists to protect part of an ancient scroll fated to summon the great Kami Dragon. The last time the dragon was summoned, a thousand years of darkness followed.  When the temple is destroyed, and the monks slain, Yumeko is left with the scroll fragment—and instructions to find a hidden temple.

But Yumeko isn’t the only one interested in the scroll. Kage Tatsumi, a samurai of the mysterious shadow clan, has been charged to find the scroll—and let no one stand in his way. Yumeko has no idea how to survive outside the temple and promises to take Kage to the scroll if he helps her find the temple. Kage has no idea she’s holding a piece of the scroll, and her deception could tear them apart—if his dark secret doesn’t destroy them both first.

I am fascinated by Japanese culture and mythology, and I really loved the Iron Fey series, so I was excited to read this. However, I found it pretty slow going until the last third of the book. The setting is fantastic and fascinating, but the plot seemed a bit predictable. Yumeko was very naïve—to be expected from her upbringing—and I actually liked that about her, although I think she needed some more common sense at times to counteract her lack of experience. A solid read.

Julie Kagawa is a New York Times-bestselling author. Shadow of the Fox is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Harlequin Teen in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Nightingale, by Amy Lukavics

nightingale+cover
Image belongs to Harlequin Teen.

Title:   Nightingale
Author:   Amy Lukavics
Genre:   YA
Rating:   3 out of 5

Seventeen-year-old June Hardie does not fit in. In 1951, young women are expected to want marriage and a family, and to know how to cook and clean and take care of their husband. June wants to write stories about alien abductions and travel the world as a writer. Her father forces her into a relationship with his partner’s son, and June finds herself practically engaged to the domineering boy, her dreams of becoming a writer shattering, along with June herself.

June ends up in an asylum, a hospital to help women get better. But things there don’t make sense. The words of the other girls make her realize she’s not the only one who thinks this, but those who speak up disappear or worse. And there’s something odd about the head nurse and the doctor. Maybe June really is losing or mind—or maybe there’s more to her story than she ever imagined.

This is marketed as horror, but I didn’t think it was scary—and I’m a big chicken. Instead, it was just weird. Okay, the complete lack of women’s rights plus what was expected of women was horrifying, but the rest of the books was just odd. June is an unreliable narrator at best, and I spent the entire book wondering what, exactly, the point was. The cover is beautiful, though.

Amy Lukavics writes horror fiction. Nightingale is her newest novel.

Book Review: Embolden, by Syrie James and Ryan St. James

embolden
Image belongs to LDLA Publishing.

Title:   Embolden
Author:   Syrie James and Ryan St. James
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   3 out of 5

Being half angel isn’t easy for Claire Brennan. Her mom and grandmother keep a constant eye on her. She must keep her angel boyfriend, Alec, secret from the local Watcher. She’s trying to find her angel father, who was kidnapped 16 years ago. She tries to avoid her vengeful enemies. And then there’s high school, with all its drama, including the school musical.

Claire is developing new powers, ones that will have every person in her life afraid, but it’s the only way to find her father and keep Alec safe. Except Alec is keeping secrets of his own, secrets that could prove dangerous for them both.

I read Forbidden and Embolden back-to-back. I like the premise of angels and Nephilim but have a few difficulties with the basic set-up of these books. Like, why is Alec, over a hundred years old, interested in a teenager? That’s a little creepy. No matter what he looks like, the life experience puts a pretty big gap between them. And Claire herself is…basically a selfish, clueless teenager. She has no problem using her powers on those around her. She only wants to talk about her problems and can’t understand her friends wanting to have their own lives. She’s willful, whiny, and childish, and somehow thinks it’s a good idea to tell all her friends the details of the whole angel/Nephilim world, which is supposed to be a secret. So, not smart, either. Again, interesting concept, but the characters detracted significantly from the execution.

Syrie James and Ryan St. James are a mother and son writing team. Embolden is their newest novel.

(Galley provided by LDLA Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)