39 of Nancy Drew’s Talents

A List of 39 of Nancy Drew's Talents

Nancy Drew seems to be able to do it all! But have you ever wondered exactly how many skills she has? We read the first 56 Nancy Drew mysteries to create this informal count of Nancy’s many–and varied–talents!

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She can change a tire. (1)

She is an excellent swimmer. (3)

She’s good at tennis. (3)

She was first in her skin diving class. (4)

She can knit. (5)

She is a “skillful rider” on horseback. (5)

She is a great diver. (10)

She is an expert at sailing. (14)

She is good at golf. (15)

She can tap dance. (16)

She knows Morse code. (16)

She has a limited knowledge of ASL fingerspelling. (17)

She’s good at Ping-Pong. (17)

She is a talented sketch artist. (19)

She can read music and play the piano. (21)

She can read Middle English. (22)

She can read French and speak French. (23 and 32)

She plans to take a ceramics class. (26)

She likes to water ski. (28)

She won a novice skier’s competition. (29)

She can ice skate well enough to be in an exhibition with professional skaters. (29)

She knows some ventriloquism. (31)

She can do trick riding well enough to join the circus. (31)

She can do ballet. (32)

She can do rhythmic dance. (32)

She mentions a chance to practice her German (though she does not actually use it in the book). (33)

She wins a prize for Togo at the dog show. (36)

She participates in a water ballet. (37)

She can dance (couples dancing on the dance floor). (37)

She is a swift runner who can vault fences. (39)

She is a wonderful actress. (39)

She learns to play the bagpipes. (41)

She goes scuba diving. (42)

She can sing very well. (45)

She can do first aid like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. (49)

She can cook. (49)

She can play the guitar. (52)

She can speak Spanish (though in another book, only Ned can!) (52)

She learns to fly a plane. (53)

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Conclusion

Even though Nancy is revealed to have at least 39 talents in the first 56 books alone, I fully expected her to have more! At least one new talent per book! Undoubtedly I missed some, or perhaps overlooked some talents the books take as a given for nice, domestic women (cooking, sewing, etc.). But, still, if Nancy can learn to trick ride professionally in a matter of weeks, I think she could pick up a few more skills!

What do you think? Is Nancy Drew as talented as you remember?

10 of My Most Disappointing Reads

10 of My Most Disappointing Reads

Not every book can be a five-star read! Below are some books that failed to meet my expectations.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

I know this is supposed to be some sort of life-changing book with deep philosophy on how to live one’s life to the fullest. But I thought most of the advice was pretty self-evident.

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Dark Waters by Katherine Arden

Dark Waters is rather a low point for the Small Spaces quartet. Under 200 pages in length, the book seems written mainly to fill up the “spring” slot in the series and to bridge the gap until the thrilling conclusion (sold to readers through a cliffhanger). The plot, which features a massive water snake, is simply not as compelling as the plots of the first two books, and it lacks heart. The book is entirely forgettable.

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The Magicians by Lev Grossman

A librarian recommended this to me, saying something about its being Narnia and Harry Potter combined. The book, in fact, lacks any of the magic, delight, and wonder of those two series. Instead, it makes magic seem boring and a chore.

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The Flying Saucer Mystery by Carolyn Keene

Is book 58 in the series the worst Nancy Drew ever? It’s certainly in the running. Nancy heads off to the woods to investigate a UFO, gets high on swamp gas, and spends pages in some sort of weird sci-fi vision where she’s flying through space with Ned. You get the picture.

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Cursebreakers Trilogy by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

While Kemmerer shines as a writer of contemporary romance, the need to create a fully-realized fantasy world with its own internal politics and intrigue was clearly proving a struggle. The Cursebreakers trilogy contains an underdeveloped world with confusing characterization in what appears to be an attempt to make the characters more complex. In the end, the trilogy reads like a bit of a mess, with Kemmerer belatedly trying to convince readers that characters who did wicked things are really good, and that characters with a moral compass are just as bad as the people they are fighting.

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Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

I actually went on to read most of the series after this book, but, wow, book one is rough. Not much happens narrative-wise. It’s not too interesting for characters to walk up a hill.

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Keeper of the Lost Cities Unlocked by Shannon Messenger

I wanted to love this book because I have been an enthusiastic (if not obsessed) fan ever since I read the first Keeper of the Lost Cities books. I have introduced a number of my friends to my series, and I love being able to talk over the latest installments, to argue Keefe vs. Fitz, and to guess what the next book will bring. But even I have to recognize that the series has been getting ridiculously unwieldy, in a way that some more cynical readers might even view as a blatant cash grab. This book is marketed as book 8.5, so readers have to buy one book more before the series finally (I hope) ends with book 9. The marketing implies that there is special bonus material here for fans, but 3/4 of the book is recaps of information fans already know from the other books. Fans have to read the book, though, because it includes a novella that acts as a bridge between books 8 and 9.

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The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

The Dead-Tossed Waves was sometimes unintentionally funny and the possibility of the zombie apocalypse ending the sickening love triangle filled me with naïve hope, but otherwise the book has nothing to recommend it.  An annoying protagonist; terrible prose; bizarre logic; and repetition of scenes, thoughts, and phrases are the most striking aspects of the work. Why was this series popular?

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The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The Thief

I know everyone loves this book, but I really struggle with smart-mouthed characters, and so I really struggled to like this book.

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The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

Some reviewers praised the prose in this book. I…have to disagree. The prose alone almost made me return the book to the library about five pages in. Here’s an example:

“You want to know where Mom is?’” she says, and her teeth are as lurid and luminous as car headlights at night on a secluded highway ribboning through the woods, glinting off the deflective white letters of a green street sign: DO NOT ENTER, STOP, BRIDGE MAY BE ICY, NEXT EXIT ONE MILE, U-TURNS PROHIBITED. Her lips are white, white, white. And I am the animal slinking along the shoulder of the narrow gravel road, thinking I am safe and out of sight. Safe, out of sight, until I am awash in her rictus light.”

Yes, that’s right. Someone’s teeth are compared to car headlights on a nighttime highway. Why??

What are some books that disappointed you?

10 of the Most Romantic Books in Classic Literature

10 Romantic Classic Novels

Do you like classics? Are you looking for a classic book with a romance that will make you swoon? The prefect love story that has lasted generations that you should check out for Valentine’s Day (or any other day of the year?) Here are 10 of our suggestions! (No, Jane Eyre is not on this list; Rochester is a creep.)

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Pride and Prejudice book cover Penguin edition

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

No list of romantic classic novels would be complete without a mention of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett have captivated readers for centuries, in the original novel as well as in various adaptations, sequels, and retellings.

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Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott

In this sequel to Eight Cousins, Rose Campbell is all grown up and returning home after two years of travel–and the would-be suitors are lining up.  Will she choose someone suave and debonair or a steady bookish fellow?  Also check out Alcott’s other books if you want to see more of her characters fall in love.

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë 

Young Caroline Helstone is in love with her cousin Robert Moore, but he is too busy attempting to publicly defend his decision to replace workers with more efficient machines in his Yorkshire mill to notice her affections. Caroline is sinking into depression when Shirley Keldar, a wealthy and independent landowner, returns to her estate and befriends Caroline.  But will Caroline lose Robert to her new friend?

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TROILUS AND CRISEYDE BY GEOFFREY CHAUCER

A classic love story that has been told and retold (Shakespeare wrote a play, too), featuring star-crossed lovers during the Siege of Troy. If you thought Chaucer only wrote The Canterbury Tales, you’ll be pleased and surprised by the nuance with which he tells the story of Troilus and Cressida and how they fall in love and experience tragedy.

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Camille by Alexandre Dumas

This is a very moving and beautiful love story between a pair of lovers who are perfect for each other but doomed by social expectations to be kept apart. When the story begins, their feelings seem as though they could be only infatuation. Armand is obsessed with Marguerite because he thinks she is beautiful. Marguerite tolerates Armand because he knows some of her friends, and then because he expresses pity for her in her sickness. Over time, however, the two develop a meaningful relationship and make sacrifices for each other’s happiness that express their love more strongly than words ever could.

BELINDA BY MARIA EDGEWORTH

Everyone knows about Jane Austen, but Maria Edgeworth was also quite popular during the Regency era! Her novel Belinda features a seventeen-year-old protagonist looking for marriage and was known by Jane Austen herself.

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Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery

Readers familiar with Anne of Green Gables will be familiar with Anne’s contentious relationship with Gilbert Blythe, but it isn’t until the third book in the Anne series that their relationship really begins to bloom. Montgomery writes a romance both sweet and a little bitter as it seems Anne might lose her chance at happiness, due to her own stubbornness.

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THE BLUE CASTLE BY L. M. MONTGOMERY

L. M. Montgomery may be best known for writing Anne of Green Gables (and book three, Anne of the Island, is pretty romantic, as well, as mentioned above!), but The Blue Castle is a beautiful, rather overlooked novel that anyone who wants a light story about unexpected love will enjoy.

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North and South book cover

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

While this book is largely about the relationship between employers and employees and worker’s right, when it’s not focused on labor issues, it’s a nuanced exploration of the relationship between the protagonist and a mill owner.

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The Scarlet Pimpernel

Readers might best associate this book with adventure (or know it for being a musical and a movie!), as it is set during the French Revolution, and there’s action and intrigue. However, there’s also a lot of romance!

Briana

7 Nonfiction Books I Read in 2021 and What I Thought

Here are seven nonfiction books I read in 2021 and what I thought, both the good and the badd.

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The Busy Girl’s Guide to Speed Cleaning and Organizing: Clean and Declutter Your Home in 30 Minutes (House Cleaning Secrets, Cleaning and Home Organization) by Elizabeth Bolling

You have a busy life, and cleaning your house does not fall very high on your list of priorities. Luckily, that doesn’t mean you have to live in an unclean home. It’s possible (and easy!) to enjoy a clean, fresh home in just thirty minutes! In The Busy Girl’s Guide to Speed Cleaning and Organizing, author and cleaning expert Elizabeth Bolling provides a goldmine of advice on the best ways to quickly and efficient achieve a clean home, without sacrificing precious time with your family and friends.

Thoughts: So…you start by deep cleaning your house (not fast) and then try to spend 3-5 min. on each room every day. This does not include vacuuming or mopping (that’s separate), and obviously if you have more than, say, 2 bedrooms, you are going to run over 30 min. The suggestions for what to clean and how to organize are decent, but I don’t think this really will help you clean quickly. The most useful tip in terms of speed cleaning is to have a bag that you pile things into that don’t belong in the room you’re cleaning, so you don’t waste time walking back and forth 50 times to other rooms to put those things away.

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The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being by Simone Davies

Announcing that rare parenting book that will not only help you become a more effective parent but actually change how you see your children. Written by Montessori educator Simone Davies, this book shows you how to bring the educational values of a Montessori classroom into your home—while turning the whole idea of the “terrible twos” on its head.  

Here is how to set up Montessori-friendly spaces in your home. Principles for fostering curiosity in your child—and in yourself. Specific Montessori skills—the winter coat flip; getting your toddler to pour his or her own water and clean up whatever spills might occur. And it goes much deeper, showing how a parent can really be present, be the child’s guide, and handle tantrums and problematic behavior without resorting to bribes, threats, or punishment and truly celebrate every stage.

It’s also that rare parenting book that’s beautiful to look at, with a bright, airy design and simple color illustrations and photographs.

Thoughts: I picked this up because I have a vague idea of what Montessori schools do but not a concrete one, so I was interested to see what principles would transfer to a home. It’s pretty interesting in terms of giving concrete idea of how parents are supposed to set up their homes and activities they are supposed to provide. Somewhat surprisingly, however, it tells you NOT to make your home too much like a Montessori school if your kid attends one because your kid might not find school as exciting then. There are also tips about how to speak with children and get them to do what you want, which parallels some other parentings books I’ve read in the past (and even explicitly cites them.) I’m not actually going to create a Montessori home, but I found this interesting theoretically.

Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien edited by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan

Since the earliest scholarship on The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, critics have discussed how the works of J. R. R. Tolkien seem either to ignore women or to place them on unattainable pedestals. To remedy such claims that Tolkien’s fiction has nothing useful or modern to say about women, Perilous and Fair focuses critical attention on views that interpret women in Tolkien’s works and life as enacting essential, rather than merely supportive roles.

Perilous and Fair includes seven classic articles as well as seven new examinations of women in Tolkien’s works and life. These fourteen articles bring together perspectives not only on Tolkien’s most commonly discussed female characters—Éowyn, Galadriel, and Lúthien—but also on less studied figures such as Nienna, Yavanna, Shelob, and Arwen. Among others, the collection features such diverse critical approaches and methods as literary source study, historical context, feminist theory, biographical investigation, close-reading textual analysis, Jungian archetypes, and fanfiction reader-response.

Thoughts: An incredibly collection of scholarly articles for anyone interested in women in Tolkien, and also the perfect rebuttal for people who think Tolkien’s work is sexist. Click on the title to go to my review, which gives a thorough overview of my general impressions and reviews each essay individually. A must-read for any avid Tolkien fan.

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The Wild World Handbook: Creatures by Andrea Debbink Asia Orlando (Illustrator)

Packed with real-life tales of adventure, breathtaking illustrations, and practical tools, this handbook is an inspiring guide for the next generation of climate activists, conservationists, and nature lovers.

We share this incredible planet we call home with countless living creatures, from butterflies and falcons to koalas and dolphins. And just like us, animals everywhere are faced with the growing threat of climate change.

Featuring seven categories of creatures, this handbook offers a roadmap for change and an invitation to explore the outdoors with fascinating facts, hope-filled stories, and hands-on STEAM activities. Each chapter highlights the biographies of scientists, artists, and adventurers from diverse backgrounds who have used their passion and skills to become courageous advocates for animals around the world.

The second book in a middle-grade series for young activists and conservationists, The Wild World Handbook: Creatures empowers readers to appreciate and protect Earth’s wildlife.

Inside you will find:
• Seven incredible categories of creatures
• Fourteen inspiring biographies
• Seven kid-friendly DIY activities
• Seven fun field trips
• And much more!

Thoughts: An incredibly engaging middle grade book full of facts about people who help animals, animals themselves, crafts you can do, ways you can help animals, and more. I would never describe myself as an “animal person” (they’re fine, but I’m not overly interested in animals like many people are), but I loved this and the wide variety of information that kept it from feeling repetitive.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

Everyone knows that timing is everything. But we don’t know much about timing itself. Our lives are a never-ending stream of “when” decisions: when to start a business, schedule a class, get serious about a person. Yet we make those decisions based on intuition and guesswork.

Timing, it’s often assumed, is an art. In When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Pink shows that timing is really a science.

Drawing on a rich trove of research from psychology, biology, and economics, Pink reveals how best to live, work, and succeed. How can we use the hidden patterns of the day to build the ideal schedule? Why do certain breaks dramatically improve student test scores? How can we turn a stumbling beginning into a fresh start? Why should we avoid going to the hospital in the afternoon? Why is singing in time with other people as good for you as exercise? And what is the ideal time to quit a job, switch careers, or get married?

Thoughts: I see how many reviewers on Goodreads thought this information isn’t new. It isn’t new to point out that starting high schools later in the day improves student performance and helps students get into fewer car accidents, or to point out that people need breaks and having recess at school or lunch at work makes people more productive than non-stop work. However, as long as no one is actually listening to this information or implementing changes based on it, I see the value of repeating it. It’s clearly new to someone!

The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World by Shelley Puhak

The remarkable, little-known story of two trailblazing women in the Early Middle Ages who wielded immense power, only to be vilified for daring to rule.

Brunhild was a Spanish princess, raised to be married off for the sake of alliance-building. Her sister-in-law Fredegund started out as a lowly palace slave. And yet—in the 6th-century Merovingian Empire, where women were excluded from noble succession and royal politics was a blood sport—these two iron-willed strategists reigned over vast realms for decades, changing the face of Europe.

The two queens commanded armies and negotiated with kings and popes. They formed coalitions and broke them, mothered children and lost them. They fought a years-long civil war—against each other. With ingenuity and skill, they battled to stay alive in the game of statecraft, and in the process laid the foundations of what would one day be Charlemagne’s empire. Yet after Brunhild and Fredegund’s deaths—one gentle, the other horrific—their stories were rewritten, their names consigned to slander and legend.

In The Dark Queens, award-winning writer Shelley Puhak sets the record straight. She resurrects two very real women in all their complexity, painting a richly detailed portrait of an unfamiliar time and striking at the roots of some of our culture’s stubbornest myths about female power. The Dark Queens offers proof that the relationships between women can transform the world. 

Thoughts: This is possibly one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s absolutely enthralling. Better than fiction. The people in this book are absolutely crazy. There is so much invading and murdering and political intrigue and family drama that I could not put this down.

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What Self-Made Millionaires Do That Most People Don’t: 52 Ways to Create Your Own Success by Ann Marie Sabath

Confucius said that a thousand-mile journey begins with a single step. The same principle applies to becoming a self-made millionaire, except this journey is a little shorter, comprising just 52 common sense practices.

Featuring interviews with a wide-ranging list of self-made millionaires, you will be astonished to see how anyone can achieve this status by creating the right mindset. You will learn how white-collar professionals, blue-collar workers, small business owners, even teenagers alike have joined this million-dollar net worth club by methodically and consistently putting into practice the self-made millionaire game plan revealed in this book.

In What Self-Made Millionaires Do that Most People Don’t, Ann Marie Sabath makes it easy for you to implement these simple strategies by posing a question at the end of each section to help you begin your own self-made millionaire journey.

What Self-Made Millionaires Do that Most People Don’t will teach you: How to create a self-made millionaire mindset. The 25 habits all accomplished individuals have in common. How self-made millionaires benefit from “failure.” Powerful advice for anyone ready to begin their self-made millionaire journey. OK, you’ve been given the rod, now go fish!

Thoughts: I don’t seem to have ever reviewed this or even written any notes on Goodreads, but I gave it three stars, so I assume I found it mildly interesting but not overly compelling or ground-breaking. I’ve read a number of finance books in the past couple years, and their tips generally start sounding the same after a while: cut unnecessary costs, get a side gig, start a retirement account, invest, etc. I assume these self-made millionaires did similar things, even if the book provides more details on their personal stories and how they used “mindset” to eventually get money.

Briana

The 10 Best Young Adult Books I Read in 2021

Best Young Adult Books of 2021

It’s approaching the end of the year, which means it’s time for us to round up some of the best books we read in 2021! Here are 10 of my favorite young adult books I picked up in the past 12 months. Some are 2021 releases, some are backlist, and a couple are ARCs for books coming out 2022.

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The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.

Thoughts: The Infinity Courts is a spellbinding story about death, family, and fighting for what you believe it is right. While books about artificial intelligence and questions about what it means to be “real” and whether it’s wrong to hurt or kill an AI have obviously been done before, Bowman brings heart and creativity to the questions and lets readers seem them through the eyes of protagonist Nami. Readers will be as torn as she is, wondering if humans and an out-of-control AI can learn to coexist and what it means ethically to decide they cannot. The result is a captivating book that will have readers glued to the pages for the plot even as they ponder some of the big questions of life. (Or, er, of death?)

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Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe

The only life Mae has ever known is on the island, living on the charity of the wealthy Prosper family who control the magic on the island and the spirits who inhabit it. Mae longs for magic of her own and to have a place among the Prosper family, where her best friend, Coco, will see her as an equal, and her crush, Miles, will finally see her. Now that she’s eighteen, Mae knows her time with the Prospers may soon come to an end.

But tonight is First Night, when the Prospers and their high-society friends return to the island to celebrate the night Lord Prosper first harnessed the island’s magic and started producing aether – a magical fuel source that has revolutionized the world. With everyone returning to the island, Mae finally has the chance to go after what she’s always wanted.

When the spirits start inexplicably dying, Mae starts to realize that things aren’t what they seem. And Ivo, the reclusive, mysterious heir to the Prosper magic, may hold all the answers – including a secret about Mae’s past that she doesn’t remember. As Mae and her friends begin to unravel the mysteries of the island, and the Prospers’ magic, Mae starts to question the truth of what her world was built on.

Thoughts: The Tempest has never been my favorite Shakespeare play, but Cohoe takes the idea of a magical island where spirits are tamed to do a master’s bidding and builds her own story around questions of identity, belonging, power, and love that had me riveted and wanting to know how protagonist Mae’s journey would end. From her initial desire to learn magic for herself and ensure she could keep the island as her home to her ultimate questioning of everything she’s ever known, I was cheering for her to find herself and get the happy ending she deserves.

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber

For as long as she can remember, Evangeline Fox has believed in true love and happy endings…until she learns that the love of her life will marry another.

Desperate to stop the wedding and to heal her wounded heart, Evangeline strikes a deal with the charismatic but wicked Prince of Hearts. In exchange for his help, he asks for three kisses, to be given at the time and place of his choosing.

But after Evangeline’s first promised kiss, she learns that bargaining with an immortal is a dangerous game—and that the Prince of Hearts wants far more from her than she’d pledged. He has plans for Evangeline, plans that will either end in the greatest happily ever after or the most exquisite tragedy….

Thoughts: Once Upon a Broken Heart is charming and, of course, highly romantic, another way Garber has improved since I wouldn’t say Caraval really captured me with its romance. It’s probably one of my favorite reads of 2021, and I can’t wait to read the sequel.

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Speak for Yourself by Lana Wood Johnson

Skylar’s got ambitious #goals. And if she wants them to come true, she has to get to work now. (At least she thinks so…) Step one in her epic plan is showing everyone that her latest app is brilliant. To do that, she’s going to use it win State at the Scholastic Exposition, the nerdiest academic competition around.

First, she’ll need a team, and Skylar’s not always so good with people. But she’ll do whatever it takes to put one together … even if it means playing Cupid for her teammates Joey and Zane, at Joey’s request. When things get off to an awkward start for them, Skylar finds herself stepping in to help Joey. Anything to keep her on the team. Only, Skylar seems to be making everything more complicated. Especially when she realizes she might be falling for Zane, which was not a #goal. Can Skylar figure out her feelings, prove her app’s potential to the world, and win State without losing her friends–or is her path to greatness over before it begins?

Thoughts: Speak for Yourself is a gripping novel that combines academic competition, app creation, and a hint of romance to create a story that will have readers cheering on Skylar page after page.

Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

The kingdom of Kandala is on the brink of disaster. Rifts between sectors have only worsened since a sickness began ravaging the land, and within the Royal Palace, the king holds a tenuous peace with a ruthless hand.

King Harristan was thrust into power after his parents’ shocking assassination, leaving the younger Prince Corrick to take on the brutal role of the King’s Justice. The brothers have learned to react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion–it’s the only way to maintain order when the sickness can strike anywhere, and the only known cure, an elixir made from delicate Moonflower petals, is severely limited.

Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most–but it’s still not enough.

As rumors spread that the cure no longer works and sparks of rebellion begin to flare, a particularly cruel act from the King’s Justice makes Tessa desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds upon her arrival makes her wonder if it’s even possible to fix Kandala without destroying it first.

Thoughts: Brigid Kemmerer has long written captivating YA contemporary, but she broke into the fantasy scene with the bestselling A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers #1), and she’s following up that success with Defy the Night, a book with a different setting but similar themes and moral questions. While the themes are familiar, the plot is different, and I enjoyed every minute reading about Tessa and her country and the people’s attempts to find healing and hope.

The Theft of Sunlight by Intisar Khanani

Children have been disappearing from across Menaiya for longer than Amraeya ni Ansarim can remember. When her friend’s sister is snatched, Rae knows she can’t look away any longer – even if that means seeking answers from the royal court, where her country upbringing and clubfoot will only invite ridicule.

Yet the court holds its share of surprises. There she discovers an ally in the foreign princess, who recruits her as an attendant. Armed with the princess’s support, Rae seeks answers in the dark city streets, finding unexpected help in a rough-around-the-edges street thief with secrets of his own. But treachery runs deep, and the more Rae uncovers, the more she endangers the kingdom itself.

Thoughts: The Theft of Sunlight is basically everything I like in YA, or just in a really enjoyable story. Strong, nuanced characters. A plot that hooks me and then keeps bringing surprises. Questions about life and morality and one’s own identity. I spent a long time thinking about this book once I finished it, which for me is always the mark of a good read.

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Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her. 

Thoughts: Six Crimson Cranes is an imaginative, immersive fairy tale retelling that focuses on family and friendship and finding oneself through hard work and sacrifice. Readers will fall in love with protagonist Shiori as she fights to free herself and her brothers from a curse, before their kingdom falls to usurpers.

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Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson

Two girls. One night. Zero phones.

Kat and Stevie—best friends, theater kids, polar opposites—have snuck away from the suburbs to spend a night in New York City. They have it all planned out. They’ll see a play, eat at the city’s hottest restaurant, and have the best. Night. Ever. What could go wrong?

Well. Kind of a lot?

They’re barely off the train before they’re dealing with destroyed phones, family drama, and unexpected Pomeranians. Over the next few hours, they’ll have to grapple with old flames, terrible theater, and unhelpful cab drivers. But there are also cute boys to kiss, parties to crash, dry cleaning to deliver (don’t ask), and the world’s best museum to explore.

Over the course of a wild night in the city that never sleeps, both Kat and Stevie will get a wake-up call about their friendship, their choices…and finally discover what they really want for their future.

That is, assuming they can make it to Grand Central before the clock strikes midnight.

Thoughts: I’ve loved all of Morgan Matson’s novels since I read Save the Date and then went on to read most of her backlist, so of course I was thrilled to see she released a new book this year: this one set mostly in NYC, though the characters are still from Matson’s fictional town of Stanwich, CT. I was pleased to find another quick and fun read that features sharply drawn characters with both good features and flaws who need to navigate their relationships with each other and with themselves while, incidentally, having the time of their lives.

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Little Thieves by Margaret Owen

Vanja Schmidt knows that no gift is freely given, not even a mother’s love–and she’s on the hook for one hell of a debt. Vanja, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele’s dutiful servant up until a year ago. That was when Vanja’s otherworldly mothers demanded a terrible price for their care, and Vanja decided to steal her future back… by stealing Gisele’s life for herself.

The real Gisele is left a penniless nobody while Vanja uses an enchanted string of pearls to take her place. Now, Vanja leads a lonely but lucrative double life as princess and jewel thief, charming nobility while emptying their coffers to fund her great escape. Then, one heist away from freedom, Vanja crosses the wrong god and is cursed to an untimely end: turning into jewels, stone by stone, for her greed.

Vanja has just two weeks to figure out how to break her curse and make her getaway. And with a feral guardian half-god, Gisele’s sinister fiancé, and an overeager junior detective on Vanja’s tail, she’ll have to pull the biggest grift yet to save her own life.

Thoughts: One of the most unique and creative books I’ve read this year, with a protagonist who clearly is selfish and flawed but still manages to get readers to see her point of view and wish her success. I can’t wait for the sequel.

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The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman

Vira is desperate to get out of her mother’s shadow and establish her legacy as a revered queen of Ashoka. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic–a precious resource that has kept Ashoka safe from conflict–she can barely protect her citizens from the looming threat of war. And if her enemies discover this, they’ll stop at nothing to seize the last of the magic.

Vira’s only hope is to find a mysterious object of legend: the Ivory Key, rumored to unlock a new source of magic. But in order to infiltrate enemy territory and retrieve it, she must reunite with her siblings, torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken. Each of them has something to gain from finding the Ivory Key–and even more to lose if they fail. Ronak plans to sell it to the highest bidder in exchange for escape from his impending political marriage. Kaleb, falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani needs it to clear his name. And Riya, a runaway who cut all family ties, wants the Key to prove her loyalty to the rebels who want to strip the nobility of its power.

They must work together to survive the treacherous journey. But with each sibling harboring secrets and their own agendas, the very thing that brought them together could tear apart their family–and their world–for good.

Thoughts: The Ivory Key offers readers an immersive world and a complex story full of twists, secrets, and revelations.  The multiple points of views are four siblings, with different ambitions and views on how to help their struggling country, and the mix of magic, politics, and family dynamics make the book feel fresh.

Briana

4 of the Most Disappointing Books I Read in 2021

For most of this season, I’ll be celebrating the books I loved reading this year, but here are four I read that just didn’t work for me.

1

This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

Thoughts: With a smart, determined protagonist, ties to Greek mythology, and magic that permeates our real world, This Poison Heart has a lot of potential, and I can see why Goodreads users are loving it. Personally, however, I was put off by poor pacing, clunky characterization, and general vagueness about the magic system, and the novel didn’t grip me the way I’d hoped.

2

The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

Thoughts: The Prison Healer takes what readers think they know about how YA fantasies work and tries to twist some of the tropes into something new. A protagonist who finds strength in healing, hoping, and helping others, all while keeping her head down and doing what she’s told so she can survive her term in prison adds to the appeal of the story. Unfortunately, the world building, plot, and characterization are extremely illogical, and I couldn’t enjoy the book in the end. The more I thought about it all, the less sense it made. Logic, however, is not a core point most YA readers seem to look for in their books (The Prison Healer has a 4.31 average rating on Goodreads as I type this), so if you’re a YA fantasy fan, it’s likely you’ll love this book even though I didn’t.

The Endless Skies by Shannon Price

Thoughts: I could tell while reading The Endless Skies that this is definitely a book that began with a premise — there are people who can shapeshift between human and flying lion form — and that suspicion was confirmed when I read the acknowledgements and Price said the book began with a dream of a lion/person in a grotto. Unfortunately, I don’t think the story Price built around that premise was particularly interesting, and I struggled for a long time trying to figure out what the fact that there are lion people as the protagonists even added to the book. It’s cool, but it seemed the plot could have been told with ordinary humans in their role. This had potential, and I was excited enough about it that I started reading it on release day, but ultimately I was let down by vague world building and characters who couldn’t capture my interest at all.

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These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan

Thoughts: These Hollow Vows is being marketed as a pick for readers who enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses, and I think if what you’re looking for is a steamy story featuring a Fae love triangle, with some background plot about feuding courts and a protagonist whose secrets will finally all come to light, These Hollow Vows will work for you. It hits the spot for people who are into the Fae romance fad. Personally, I was hoping for more originality in the story and better writing, and I found the experience of reading this alternately comical and disappointing.

Briana

10 Popular YA Series I Didn’t Finish

Not every reader will connect with a hyped book. Here are ten YA series I was not able to finish–and some of them may surprise you!

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All the Stars and Teeth

Amora Montara has trained her entire life to take the throne as High Animancer of Visidia. To prove herself, she must publicly execute a criminal using the highly dangerous soul magic–magic only her family possesses. When her demonstration goes wrong, however, Amora finds herself on the run with a pirate. He claims the kingdom is in jeopardy from a dangerous rebel who is forcing citizens to practice more than one type of magic–a crime that could bring ruin upon them all. Now, Amora must stop the rebellion if she is to prove herself fit to wear the crown.

When I finally got a copy of book two, I realized I was having trouble remembering which YA series it was the sequel to because it sounded pretty similar to at least two other series I had been reading. I also remembered that the whole world seemed a little too inspired by Avatar: The Last Airbender. I figured I probably would not be missing out if I just returned the book to the library. I was surprised to find that I had actually given the first book four stars after finishing it, since I could barely remember the book a year later! (And I still don’t know if this is a series or a duology, actually.)

2

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha)

When she was six, Zélie Adebola saw her mother killed for her magic.  Now, there is no magic left in the land of Orïsha.  But then she meets a runaway princess carrying a scroll that she claims can bring the magic back.  And suddenly Zélie is travelling with her brother and the princess in a race to bring together a group of artifacts before the solstice.  Only then can they ensure that magic will return for good.  But a disgraced prince is hot on their trail.

I’m not a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, especially when a book suggests that a guy committing mass murder…isn’t all that bad? Also, the plot is basically the same as Avatar: The Last Airbender: a disgraced prince hunts the hero, who must collect certain artifacts and show up with them at a specific place and time to save the world. Reading book two just did not interest me.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Karou is an art student in the city of Prague whose friends have no idea that the half-human half-creature drawings in her sketchbook are real. But Karou has no idea who her parents are, only that she was raised by Brimstone, a “monster” who collects teeth in exchange for granting wishes. Her two worlds collide when black handprints begin to appear on all the portal doors that lead to Brimstone’s shop and a mysterious, captivating seraph begins asking her all the questions to which she does not know the answers.

Probably this book is innovative enough that it is actually a gripping read. However, paranormal romance is far from my genre of choice, so I did not keep up with the later books.

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Divergent

In a futuristic Chicago, all citizens choose one of five Factions at the age of sixteen: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, or Erudite. Their faction becomes their family. Beatrice “Tris” Prior has grown up in Abnegation, learning to forget herself and serve others. But on the day of her choosing, she picks Dauntless. Now, she must survive her initiation, convincing herself and others that this is where she belongs. Because someone told her she could have chosen one of three Factions, that she is really Divergent.

Sorry, but I didn’t love Divergent! The plot premise seems a little far-fetched and, well, this is yet another dystopian series that does not seem to offer anything really new or exciting.

Jackaby

It’s 1892 and Abigail Rook is newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England after having run away from home in search of adventure. First, however, she needs a job. After scouring the city with little luck, Abigail answers an advertisement for an investigative assistant, the specialty of the service being the unexplained. Enter R. F. Jackaby, a detective of sorts who claims that he can see magical creatures no one else can. When the police cannot solve a crime, Jackaby follows the supernatural evidence to find the real culprit (even if the police don’t believe him). Abigail is skeptical at first, too, but her first day on the job finds her on the scene of a serial murderer, the villain whom Jackaby says isn’t human. Can the pair solve the mystery before the killer strikes again? Or will they be the next ones to lose their lives?

I enjoyed book one while I was reading it, but it does suffer from an anachronistic protagonist (common in YA), as well as some really obvious plot “twists.” I guess I did not like the book as much as I thought I did, or I would have grabbed the rest of the series.

The Lunar Chronicles

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, and cyborg finds her fate intertwined with that of Prince Kai’s. And now the fate of the world rests in her hands. A retelling of “Cinderella” starts off this series.

I read the first book, Cinder, because everyone was raving about the series. To me, however, book one did not seem all that noteworthy. Perhaps the series improved, but I did not care enough to find out.

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The Maze Runner

Thomas wakes up in an elevator remembering nothing but his first name. When the doors open, he finds himself surrounded by a pack of boys who call themselves the Gladers, and who all arrived in the same place just as he did. They formed a community within the four walls that protect them from the surrounding Maze and the monsters it contains—giant mechanical horrors known as Grievers. Each day the boys send out a series of runners into the Maze in the hopes that they will find a way out. When a girl arrives in the elevator, however, bearing the message that she is the very last, the boys realize that they only have a few days to decode the secret of the Maze and find their way home—or they will all perish.

If I recall, I read books one and two, and then I stopped caring. The plot lost momentum, and the addition of a bunch of half novels–which were really popular at one point as a way, I presume, to milk more money out of a bestselling series–just annoyed me. I do not appreciate half novels at all. They are just filler, because everything important needs to happen in the main series. And they really just take advantage of readers who are completionists and need the whole set.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Jacob grew up hearing his grandfather’s stories about being raised in an orphanage where the children possessed unusual abilities from super strength to levitation, an orphanage that was the only place they were safe from the monsters. For a time Jacob believed these stories, until his father explained them away. But then his grandfather dies from a mysterious attack and Jacob swears that, for a moment, he saw the monsters, too. To convince himself of his own sanity, Jacob travels to the island where Miss Peregrine’s orphanage once stood and explores the abandoned mansion in search of his grandfather’s past. His search reveals an incredible secret–the fact that the orphans might still be alive.

All the reviews billed this read as strikingly inventive and creepy. However, once the big reveal came, the book devolved into a pretty standard fantasy. In the end, the only thing that made the book really seem different to me is the inclusion of the weird old photographs.

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Red Queen

In Mare Barrow’s world, those with Silver blood possess magical powers and live as gods. Those born with Red blood, such as herself, are reduced to a life of poverty and near-slavery. Mare does what she can to help provide for her family, working as a pickpocket in the village. Then one day a new life opens up for her, a chance to work in the capital. But one misstep reveals to the world that she possesses what no Red can–a magical ability similar to that possessed by the Silvers. To conceal the truth, the royal family proclaims her a long-lost Silver princess. But Mare has never before played the game of court politics and, in this game, one wrong move will cost her her life.

In my review of Red Queen, I noted that the dystopian genre seemed played out and that this book contained all the familiar plot elements, without making them feel new. I also laughed at the love square.

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The Winner’s Trilogy

Daughter of a famed Valorian general, seventeen-year-old Kestrel can either join the military or marry, but all she really wants is to make music. All her plans crumble, however, the day she goes to the market and buys a slave. Soon Kestrel has lost her heart and no longer knows where her true duty lies.

Stereotypical characters, a love triangle, and the dreaded protagonist who is called intelligent but always makes unintelligent choices, all lead this one to be a disappointing read for me. I briefly considered picking up the sequel, but never did.

10 of Our Most Popular Discussion Posts

10 of Our Most Popular Discussion Posts

Over 10 years of blogging, we have written a lot of discussion posts at Pages Unbound! Some of these were received more enthusiastically than others. In no particular order, here are some of the posts that have received the most views over the years.

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10 Reasons You Should Not Skip The Lord of the Rings Appendices

Technically, reading the appendices that follow The Lord of the Rings is not really necessary.  An appendix, after all, contains additional information; a reader could stop after the story proper and still have the full story.  However, the Lord of the Rings appendices are far less boring than you might think.  Here are ten reasons you should not skip them the next time you pick up The Lord of the Rings.

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16 of Tolkien’s Most Bad-Ass Women

Tolkien sometimes has a bad reputation for not including more women in his writings. Many of his female characters are, however, quite amazing! This list goes beyond Eowyn and Galadriel to discuss some of his most inspiration, most powerful, and most interesting women characters.

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Boromir the Bold: Reconsidering One of Tolkien’s Most Maligned Characters

Boromir is easy to hate, especially for those who have only seen his interpretation in the Peter Jackson films. However, despite his negative qualities, Boromir is not a complete villain. This post discusses the characteristics that make Boromir a reflection of the readers, an Everyman of sorts who reveals that who is “good” and who is “bad” is not a simple a question as might appear.

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Is Amazon Really Cheaper Than Barnes and Noble?

In light of discussions about how ethical it is to support Amazon, this post investigated how much cheaper than its main competitor Amazon really is, and if the difference is worth it.

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Miscategorizing Adult Books as YA

Why are adult books routinely miscategorized as YA by readers and Goodreads users? Is sexism at work?

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Thoughts on the Ending of King of Scars

Was the ending of King of Scars just an easy way to create shock and hook readers for the sequel? This post discusses one reader’s initial reaction after finishing the much-anticipated fantasy novel.

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Why Did Snow White Eat the Poisoned Apple?

If the evil queen is obviously out to harm Snow White, why does the girl keep falling for the queen’s tricks? This discussion explores the reasons Snow White might have been tempted to eat that apple.

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Why I Don’t Like the Ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken

How the second installment of a bestselling trilogy disappointed a fan of Brigid Kemmerer’s work.

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Why I’m Team Keefe for Keeper of the Lost Cities

Read enough children’s books and you know exactly how the romance will go.  Shannon Messenger, however, kept readers guessing for several books before revealing her hand.

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Writing Rambles: Writing Fantasy Dialogue

Unfortunately, a number of fantasy novels feature rather ridiculous sounding dialogue. So what makes realistic fantasy dialogue. And how do you get that feeling of another world without adding “–eth” to everything?

10 Middle Grade Titles for Fall

10  Middle Grade Books for Fall

Looking for a spooky story? Or maybe just a seasonal read, evocative of crunching leaves underfoot and a briskness to the air? Here are ten middle-grade books that will satisfy your desire to curl up with a book this fall.

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Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe

Twelve-year-old Eva Evergreen possesses only a pinch of magic. And that will make passing her Novice Quest incredibly difficult. She has one month to find a town to live in, and then do enough good for the inhabitants that they will recommend her to the Council–otherwise she will lose her magic forever. Eva’s plan is to do small repair magic to help the locals. But the mayor of her new town insists that Eva protect the town from the Culling–a magical storm of unknown origin that even the most power witches and wizards fail each year to contain. Eva has no idea how to succeed, but she certainly means to try.

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Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

When Ollie finds a woman trying to throw a book into the local swimming hole, she can’t help herself–she grabs the book and runs. It tells the story of a farm where, long ago, a woman’s husband disappeared, taken by the smiling man. Then Ollie finds herself on the same farm for a school field trip–and something is not right. The bus driver gives an eerie warning, leading Ollie to flee the bus. Can she survive through the night? Or will the smiling man come for her, too?

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Well Witched by Frances Hardinge

Needing money for the bus, Ryan and his friends steal coins from an old wishing well. Little do they know that the Well Witch guards the waters–and she wants compensation. Now Ryan and his friends are developing strange powers, all to serve at the Well Witch’s command. But what if some wishes were never meant to come true?

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Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker

Seven young foxes gather round to hear a scary story. But will the heroes, Mia and Uly, make it through unscathed? The kits cannot bear to find out. Will any of them stay long enough to hear the end?

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Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle longs more than anything to be a sorcerer, but her grandmother keeps her practicing goblin magic. So Beetle is excited when her old friend Kat comes back to town after attending a school for sorcery. But Kat’s aunt has plans to tear down the local mall–the place where Beetle’s best friend Blob Ghost is tied to for eternity. Now Beetle and Kat have three days to figure out how to release Blob Ghost before they are destroyed forever.

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The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner

Gianna Zales is looking forward to run in sectionals–if she can pass science class. Unfortunately, she forgot all about her leaf project.  If she can’t collect enough leaves in time, her arch nemesis will run in her place.  But how on earth is Gianna supposed to focus on school when she’s worried about her Nonna’s memory, she’s wondering if her best friend Zig might ever be something more, and her dad keeps embarrassing her by driving her around in the family hearse?

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Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert plan to adopt an orphan boy to help on the farm, but a mistake sends them eleven-year-old Anne Shirley instead.  Anne has an imagination as big as her heart, but also a penchant for getting into scrapes.

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Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Luna can see ghosts–the spirits of her ancestors that mostly appear as fireflies in a tree in her yard. But then her ancestors start getting restless, saying something dark is approaching. Can Luna and her friend Syd save Luna’s family by reciting a spell to waken the dead? Or will they only make things worse?

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Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

When Clara Wintermute goes missing after her twelfth birthday party, the police suspect master puppeteer Grissini and his two orphaned assistants.  Though the police find nothing, Grissini’s increasingly suspicious behavior draws the attention of the children, who determine to find Clara and return her to her family.  Their journey will entangle them with Grissini’s ancient enemy, a witch who desires to save her own life at any cost—even if that means taking the life of a child.

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

One day the Green Wind catches up September and takes her to Fairyland—but all is not how it should be.  Fairies are scarce, winged beasts are forbidden to fly, and the Marquess has stolen the spoon the witches use to see the future.  September agrees to travel to the capital and retrieve the spoon, but somewhere along the way she realizes that her quest has grown bigger than she anticipated.

All the YA Novels We’ve Reviewed So Far in 2021 and What We Thought (46 Books!)

We love young adult books here at Pages Unbound. Here are 46 of them we’ve reviewed so far in 2021. (Ok, we reviewed one more, Ace of Spades, while I was drafting this post, so we’ve reviewed 47 by the end of August.) Check out our thoughts here, and click on the titles to see the full reviews.


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The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

4 STARS

The Hazel Wood is an intriguing story, one that breaks the mold of YA fantasy and presents readers with something darkly original. While it does have a sequel, the story is satisfying–and perhaps even stronger–on its own.

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THE LIVES OF SAINTS BY LEIGH BARDUGO

4 STARS

This is a beautiful book any Grishaverse fan will be pleased to read, but even if you aren’t familiar with the world, I think you can appreciate the strange and magical stories Bardugo has created about these saints.

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Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

4 STARS

Rule of Wolves is another stunning installment from Bardugo to the Grishaverse. Fans of Bardugo’s work will not want to miss out on this exciting adventure–especially as it seems to be setting up a future novel, maybe even the ones readers have been waiting for since Six of Crows.

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CINDERELLA IS DEAD BY KAYLNN BAYRON

3 STARS

Still, the weaknesses I see inn Cinderella Is Dead are really common in YA books, and many readers do not mind them at all. While they do prevent me from finding the book to be a five star read, I think it has enough originality and fast-paced action to be enjoyable. Readers who enjoy YA fairy tale retellings will want to give this one a try.

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This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

2 STARS

With a smart, determined protagonist, ties to Greek mythology, and magic that permeates our real world, This Poison Heart has a lot of potential, and I can see why Goodreads users are loving it. Personally, however, I was put off by poor pacing, clunky characterization, and general vagueness about the magic system, and the novel didn’t grip me the way I’d hoped.

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THE INFINITY COURTS BY AKEMI DAWN BOWMAN

5 STARS

The Infinity Courts is a spellbinding story about death, family, and fighting for what you believe it is right. While books about artificial intelligence and questions about what it means to be “real” and whether it’s wrong to hurt or kill an AI have obviously been done before, Bowman brings heart and creativity to the questions and lets readers seem them through the eyes of protagonist Nami. Readers will be as torn as she is, wondering if humans and an out-of-control AI can learn to coexist and what it means ethically to decide they cannot. The result is a captivating book that will have readers glued to the pages for the plot even as they ponder some of the big questions of life. (Or, er, of death?)

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Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

4 STARS

Etiquette and Espionage isn’t my favorite book ever, but I think it’s just a matter of my personal taste. If someone likes this sense of humor, or if someone is looking for a lower YA book, this could be a great choice.

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INCENDIARY BY ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA

4 STARS

Incendiary is a solid YA fantasy, one that provides enough detail for readers to immerse themselves in the world, without ever sacrificing action or drama. Renata and her friends will win over readers, making them want to cheer her on, even as they wait desperately for book two to be released.

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MY LAST SUMMER WITH CASS by Mark Crilley

4 STARS

The story behind the themes is a bit predictable, but there were a couple twists that mildly surprised me; I do think the questions the book raises are more interesting than the overarching plot, even when the plot is fun. The friendship between the two girls, lasting over years, is also sweet.

This is a book I would recommend if you’re interested in stories about art, identity, and friendship.

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WICKED SAINTS BY EMILY A. DUNCAN

2 STARS

Wicked Saints will possibly appeal to readers who want more of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. However, the danger in trying to copy another book’s success is that any failure to reach the bar set by the first book becomes more pronounced. Wicked Saints is no substitute for the Grisha trilogy, and it is disappointing to open up a book with a promising summary only to find weak characterization, a bland romance, and a nonsensical plot. I won’t be picking up the sequel.

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HUSH BY DYLAN FARROW

3 STARS

Hush may be appreciated more by readers who missed the dystopian boom after The Hunger Games was published, and so may think that this book reads as more original than it is. For my part, however, Hush proves a lackluster read. I have no plans to read the sequel.

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THE GILDED ONES BY NAMINA FORMA

3 STARS

I was excited to read The Gilded Ones because it seemed like a fresh, action-packed fantasy–just the type of YA book I would enjoy. However, in the end, I could not suspend my disbelief enough to overlook the glaring plot holes. And the depressing vision of a world where girls and women are almost all at the at the mercy of wicked men left me feeling disquieted. I wanted to love this book, but, unfortunately, it did not live up to expectations.

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THE COURT OF MIRACLES BY KESTER GRANT

3 STARS

I enjoyed the action and the intrigue of A Court of Miracles. While it is not a perfectly executed story, it does provide entertainment. And, while I was reading it, that was largely what I wanted. Further, I am not overly attached to the storyline of Les Misérables, so I was able to take the many changes in stride. Readers looking for a YA book that provides plenty of action, drama, and intrigue will likely find this book a winner.

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HOUSE OF EL: THE SHADOW THREAT BY CLAUDIA GRAY

3 STARS

The book is far from perfect. I did not ever feel like I truly go to now Zahn or Sera, and I still have many questions about the world of Krypton itself. However, the story does do a great job at raising interesting questions. How much do genetics determine who we are? Can we ever overcome our genetics to be our own person? What qualities should we look for in people? Do we sometimes overlook the qualities one should have–such as a scientist who needs creativity as well as logic? These questions will likely inspire much reflection on the part of readers. And that, I imagine, would make the author proud.

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ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL BY ROBIN HA

4 STARS

Almost American Girl is a powerful portrayal of both the difficulties and joys of moving to a new place, finding new friends, and starting over. Even readers who do not generally pick up graphic novels may want to give this beautiful memoir a chance.

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One Year at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks

3 STARS

One Year at Ellsmere does at least have Faith Erin Hicks’ wonderful artwork, but that is not enough to make the book feel like it is worth reading. Not when so many graphic novels are being published and there is a wealth of amazing content to choose from. There is an interesting premise here, but it needs an extended storyline and more detailed worldbuilding for the book to be really great.

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Speak for Yourself by Lana Wood Johnson

4 STARS

Speak for Yourself is a gripping novel that combines academic competition, app creation, and a hint of romance to create a story that will have readers cheering on Skylar page after page.

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The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson

4 STARS

So is The Box in the Woods worth reading? Absolutely, if you enjoy an atmospheric mystery and funny banter between characters, or if enjoyed the first three books. If you were disappointed by the way Truly Devious case was cracked, however, you will likely be disappointed again.

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WENCH BY MAXINE KAPLAN

3 STARS

I enjoyed Wench primarily because I loved Tanya’s character. Readers who are excited to see a tavern wench in the starring role may feel the same. However, a lack of detailed worldbuilding and uneven pacing prevent this book from being the truly phenomenal fantasy I hoped it would be.

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A VOW SO BOLD AND DEADLY BY BRIGID KEMMERER

2 STARS

My best guess is that A Vow So Bold and Deadly is meant to depict how leading a country is hard, and sometimes there appear to be no right choices. And, normally, I would find such a book fascinating. In this case, however, the characters were not shown to be trying to do right, but sometimes failing or making a hard call. They were more like different people every time we met up again with them. The way they acted in book one seems very different from how they acted in book two and again in book three. The characterization was everywhere! And normally characterization is Kemmerer’s strength. In the end, it seems rather like Kemmerer was not quite sure how to create her own fantasy world that has rules and politics that make sense–and the whole book suffered as a result.

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THE THEFT OF SUNLIGHT BY INTISAR KHANANI

5 STARS

The Theft of Sunlight is basically everything I like in YA, or just in a really enjoyable story. Strong, nuanced characters. A plot that hooks me and then keeps bringing surprises. Questions about life and morality and one’s own identity. I spent a long time thinking about this book once I finished it, which for me is always the mark of a good read.

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Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee

4 STARS

Ultimately, however, Luck of the Titanic is an engaging novel sure to delight readers looking for a historical fiction that focuses on the little-known tales of the past. The interesting premise, combined with Valora’s amusing disguises and subterfuges, will keep readers turning pages, even if they know how it all must end.

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Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

4 STARS

Six Crimson Cranes is an imaginative, immersive fairy tale retelling that focuses on family and friendship and finding oneself through hard work and sacrifice. Readers will fall in love with protagonist Shiori as she fights to free herself and her brothers from a curse, before their kingdom falls to usurpers.

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Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson

4 STARS

 If you like Matson’s books, it’s a no brainer to pick this one up, as well. If you haven’t read any of her books yet but like contemporary novels with fast-paced plots, complex characters, great girl friendships, and family relationships, check this out.

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THE COUSINS BY KAREN M. MCMANUS

4 STARS

Karen M. McManus solidifies her reputation as a talented writer of YA thrillers with The Cousins. Like her previous release One of Us Is Lying, the book switches among various perspectives to give readers an insider’s look at the potential suspects. Someone in the cousins’ pasts did something to get their parents disinherited. Do any of them know why? Or could they be harboring dangerous secrets of their own? This strategy works to make the readers feel empathetic towards the characters, even as they harbor their own suspicions. A great thriller keeps the audience guessing until the end and this book did that for me. So, while it may not be a perfect read, The Cousins will certainly entertain.

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Into the Heartless Wood

INTO THE HEARTLESS WOOD BY JOANNA RUTH MEYER

3 STARS

While I was expecting more from Into the Heartless Wood after absolutely loving Echo North, it’s a fine book. Readers who want something woodsy and atmospheric and don’t mind a bit of slowness will likely enjoy it. It’s a nice pick if you like fantasy but don’t want over-the-top epic fantasy or drawn-out wars.

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The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni

2 STARS

The book is fine, I guess. It’s interesting. People will probably like the hunky love interest. I liked Kiva myself, and her 11-year-old helper in the infirmary. I wanted to like the book, but I just couldn’t when so much of it doesn’t make sense. I know I’m in the minority on this point, however, because I always am.

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SHURI: WAKANDA FOREVER BY NNEDI OKORAFOR, ET AL

4 STARS

Shuri: Wakanda Forever is both a thrilling superhero comic and an emotional look at Shuri’s journey of self-discovery. Fans of Shuri and of Marvel will not want to miss this latest installment in her story.

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The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

4 STARS

The Girl from the Sea is an engrossing story that expertly blends a story of self-acceptance with a hint of romance and a dash of magic. The beautiful artwork only adds to the tale. Readers who enjoy graphic novels, especially ones that blend the fantastic with the everyday, will want to pick this one up.

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IN THE HALL WITH THE KNIFE: CLUE MYSTERY #1 BY DIANA PETERFREUND

2 STARS

In the end, the mystery was easy for me to solve, and I was bored most of the book. I wouldn’t recommend it, and I will be on the lookout for better YA mysteries to read.

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CHARMING AS A VERB BY BEN PHILIPPE

3 STARS

Charming as a Verb has been on my radar for awhile and I had high hopes. A rom com where the romance begins with one party being blackmailed by the other? Intriguing. Unfortunately, however, the characterization of the protagonist, Henri Haltiwanger, felt incomplete and even a little confusing. This was enough to make the book only a so-so read. Something that’s okay, but generally unremarkable.

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The Endless Skies by Shannon Price

2 STARS

This was a big miss for me. I was excited about the book, and I like to think that Tor usually publishes great stuff in their imprint, but this felt very surface-level. I didn’t care about practically anything that was happening, and that made it boring.

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Pride and Premeditation by Tizrah Price

4 STARS

Pride and Premeditation is a fun romp. Yes, the author tries a bit too hard to adopt a writing style reminiscent of Austen’s. And, yes, much of the plot feels like wish fulfillment for contemporary audiences, who seem to like protagonists of historical fiction to be far ahead of their times. And, yet, Pride and Premeditation is an enjoyable read. Because this Lizzie is witty and clever, just like the original. And this Darcy is caring and noble, again like the original And the plot is absolutely a riot. What Austen fan would not find the thought of Mr. Bingley being accused of murder equally hilarious and intriguing? Pride and Premeditation is not like the original, but perhaps that is its charm. It takes an old tale and gives it a clever little twist that many a fan will not be able to resist.

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THE BLACK KIDS BY CHRISTINA HAMMONDS REED

5 STARS

The Black Kids is a beautifully written novel with a powerful story focused on friendship, family, and identity, along with a vibrant protagonist. It is a standout novel, and one certain to stay with its readers.

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OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS BY JUSTIN A. REYNOLDS

3 STARS

Still, by the end, I was actually wondering what Jack would do to solve his problems and end the cycle of time travel. Unfortunately, I only stuck around to the end because I didn’t have another audiobook, so, in another version of events, I would have stopped listening very early on. I am bumping up the star rating for the ending, but I rather wonder how many other people will make it that far.

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These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan

2 STARS

I don’t know that this is a bad book, but it depends on what you’re looking for. Fun steamy Fae book you aren’t going to take too seriously? Sure. A thoughtful fantasy with strong world building and complex characters? Probably not. It wasn’t my thing, but I can see why people looking for a readalike for ACTOAR would be into it.

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GAME CHANGER BY NEAL SHUSTERMAN

3 STARS

Game Changer is certainly a book trying to speak to its political moment. As a result, I imagine it will be a bit controversial. However, if a few readers come away with the eyes opened a bit more or with a commitment to fighting prejudice in their own lives and communities, I think the effort on Shusterman’s part will have been worth it.

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Recommended for You by Laura Silverman

3 STARS

On the whole, Recommended for You is a pretty forgettable read. It hits all the normal notes for a rom-com, but relies too heavily on the premise of being set in a bookstore to try to distinguish itself meaningfully in other ways. I finished the book because it is short, but I never felt invested in it.

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RAVAGE THE DARK BY TARA SIM

3 STARS

Ravage the Dark entertained me immensely while I was reading it, and I think it is a stronger book than Scavenge the Stars. Objectively speaking, however, I have to admit that the worldbuilding is close to nonexistent and that the plot structure is a little too unwieldy. I think fans of YA fantasy will enjoy this one, but it may not be the type of book one wants to return to again and again.

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HUNTED BY MEAGAN SPOONER

3 STARS

If you like fairy tale retellings and “Beauty and the Beast,” check it out. If you want really original take on the story or a YA fantasy that’s epic and complex, this might not be for you.

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Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater

5 STARS

Mister Impossible is a worthy addition to the Dreamer trilogy, a whirlwind ride of action, adventure, and mystery. Fans of Stiefvater’s work may miss some of the characters that they have come to love in previous volumes, but this story gives them new ones to enjoy. And the cliffhanger will certainly have readers clamoring for book three, that they may know that everyone lives happily ever after. We hope.

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The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater (Series Review)

5 STARS

I loved the Raven Cycle. It has a feeling of magic about it that is not quite like anything else I have read. I can only hope that Stiefvater continues to write these characters and their enchanting world.

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CONCRETE ROSE BY ANGIE THOMAS

5 STARS

Concrete Rose faces the difficulties of life head on, acknowledging the hard choices that many teens make every day. It tells these teens that they are seen, and heard, and loved. And it reminds them that they are not alone in their struggles, and that there is hope for a brighter future, if they have the courage to imagine it.

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Love And Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

3 STARS

Aside from Olive’s constant need to feel sorry for herself, however, the book is pleasant. It feels like a love letter to Santorini, with the author wanting readers to understand all its beauty and wonder. I had fun exploring with Olive, and I hope that one day we can have more travel stories from Jenna Evans Welch.

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Parachutes by Kelly Yang

4 STARS

On the whole, however, Parachutes is a wonderfully-told story with a timely message about the need to take sexual assault seriously and to listen to the the stories of the survivors. This book is so painful in part because it reads as so true–organizations and privileged individuals and families do very often leverage their wealth and reputations to silence the people that they have harmed. Too often, protecting someone or something that is deemed more “important” takes precedence over protecting people and getting them justice. Seeing that happen to Dani and Claire is heartbreaking, but it is that emotional reaction from readers that I think Yang is hoping to use to inspire her readers to action.

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I Am Not Starfire by Mariko Tamako and Yoshi Yoshitani

3 STARS

DC has released many great graphic novels for tween and teen readers lately. I Am Not Starfire is a solid offering, but not one of the best. The idea is good; the execution is only so-so.

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Namesake by Adrienne Young

4 STARS

Altogether, however, Namesake is a strong YA novel, one that offers adventure, mystery, romance, and a great deal of intrigue. Readers who love books set on the high seas or even books about pirates will want to check out Adrienne Young’s gripping duology.