Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer

Information

Goodreads: Defy the Night
Series: Defy the Night #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: September 2021

Official Summary

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.

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Review

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.

One of my biggest complaints about the Cursebreakers series (as much as I enjoyed it) is that the politics rarely made sense. I can tell that Kemmerer really wanted to address that here, and there are a lot of more explanations of the political system and why things are being done and why things that look like better options are not being done. While it’s still not perfect, I am much more satisfied with the explanations in Defy the Night, and I love how far Kemmerer has come in this regard.

On the flip side, she still has a fixation (like in Cursebreakers) with trying to create a morally gray love interest who does evil things and asking questions like whether the evil is necessary and whether the person is really bad, etc. It didn’t work out for me in Cursebreakers, and it’s still not working out for me here. There are often things I really do NOT think the love interest HAD to do and that there were clearly kinder options. I like the love interest as a whole, and I think the romance is quite swoon worthy, but I just don’t think this repeated theme of, “Are people who do evil things actually good?” is working out the way Kemmerer likely hopes it is for readers.

I enjoyed Tessa as a character, and while she’s introduced as some thieving badass scaling walls, that’s not her persona in most of the book. Her defining character seems to be kindness, and her hopes are for peace and healing. (In many ways, like the female characters in Cursebreakers. Sorry, I can’t stop drawing comparisons. They’re just too obvious.) I do love THIS recurring theme, that kindness is important and possibly more powerful than fear or violence or even cleverness.

The side characters really shine here, too, from the king to the Palace Master to Tessa’s friends at home. Some of them disappear from the narrative, only to come back stronger later and really add something to the narrative. Characterization and making readers care about the people in her books is truly one of Kemmerer’s strengths.

This book really isn’t Cursebreakers, as much as it reminds me of it. It’s a fast-paced fantasy with memorable characters that can stand on its own. It’s found a lot of fans already and is likely to find a lot more.

Briana
4 stars

The Curie Society by Heather Einhorn, Janet Harvey, Adam Staffaroni, Joan Hilty, Sonia Liao

The Curie Society Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: The Curie Society
Series: None (yet)
Age Category: Young Adult Graphic Novel
Source: Library
Published: April 27, 2021

Official Summary

A covert team of young women–members of the Curie society, an elite organization dedicated to women in STEM–undertake high-stakes missions to save the world.

An action-adventure original graphic novel, The Curie Society follows a team of young women recruited by an elite secret society–originally founded by Marie Curie–with the mission of supporting the most brilliant female scientists in the world. The heroines of the Curie Society use their smarts, gumption, and cutting-edge technology to protect the world from rogue scientists with nefarious plans. Readers can follow recruits Simone, Taj, and Maya as they decipher secret codes, clone extinct animals, develop autonomous robots, and go on high-stakes missions. 

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The Curie Society is an exciting and inspirational graphic novel that invites readers to see the potential of women in STEM and the potential of STEM to improve the world. While there was a risk the story could have been a bit too “on the nose” with its “women can be smart scientists, too!” message, the overall effect is not preachy but genuinely uplifting and celebratory, and the fact that the book includes actual science and discussion of science and formulas, rather than hand wavy explanations, is a big plus.

I do think The Curie Society suffers from one flaw I find affects a lot of graphic novels — which is that while the art and the premise and the side stories are all excellent, the overarching plot is a bit predictable and lackluster. The general gist is that the three protagonists (conveniently all roommates at college) need to go on a secret mission to stop some bad guys, but who the bad guys are and what their motives are is signaled practically from the start of the book.

Luckily, I enjoyed the book for other things. Each protagonist has her strengths (and flaws), and it’s fun seeing them as capable individuals (except the one who keeps flipping out and screaming in the face of danger!) and as a team. They do a good job of representing the diversity of students one finds at a college, in terms of class, race, interests, etc. They come together through the Curie Society but also through their excitement for learning, which gives the story some great college vibes, for readers looking for that in YA.

I also love that, though I did find the plot predictable, this does really read like a fully fleshed out story, which is not true of all the graphic novels I’ve tried. A lot of thought clearly went into all the details, the characters and their relationships, the art, the backstory, the potential future stories, etc.

This is just such a fun and smart read that I think it can find an audience in nearly anyone, but of course you’ll love it most if you like stories about STEM and college and secret societies saving the world.

Briana
4 stars

Dark and Shallow Lies by Ginny Myers Sain

Dark and Shallow Lies book cover

Information

Goodreads: Dark and Shallow Lies
Series: None
Published: August 31, 2021

Official Summary

A teen girl disappears from her small town deep in the bayou, where magic festers beneath the surface of the swamp like water rot, in this chilling debut supernatural thriller for fans of Natasha Preston, Karen McManus, and Rory Power.

La Cachette, Louisiana, is the worst place to be if you have something to hide.

This tiny town, where seventeen-year-old Grey spends her summers, is the self-proclaimed Psychic Capital of the World–and the place where Elora Pellerin, Grey’s best friend, disappeared six months earlier.

Grey can’t believe that Elora vanished into thin air any more than she can believe that nobody in a town full of psychics knows what happened. But as she digs into the night that Elora went missing, she begins to realize that everybody in town is hiding something – her grandmother Honey; her childhood crush Hart; and even her late mother, whose secrets continue to call to Grey from beyond the grave.

When a mysterious stranger emerges from the bayou – a stormy-eyed boy with links to Elora and the town’s bloody history – Grey realizes that La Cachette’s past is far more present and dangerous than she’d ever understood. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who she can trust. In a town where secrets lurk just below the surface, and where a murderer is on the loose, nobody can be presumed innocent–and La Cachette’s dark and shallow lies may just rip the town apart.

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Review

Dark and Shallow Lies is a riveting thriller that brings readers to the heart of bayou, where secrets abound even though half the residents of La Cachette are psychic. Ginny Myers Sain brings her setting and her story alive with a strong voice and a twisty plot that will have readers second guessing everything.

While I was initially uncertain about the psychic angle of the book and how it would tie in with the dark and gritty problems of a dead girl and her friend who deeply wants answers, everything ultimately comes together. The psychic powers seem real, but the holders aren’t omniscient, and protagonist Grey starts to wonder how often they’re a blessing and how often they’re a curse. There’s also tons of space for Grey to get in some real world investigation, talking to people want happened, exploring the area, etc. as she tries to figure how her best friend died.

The investigation itself is absorbing, as readers go along with Grey to find and sort through any available clues. It’s also refreshingly realistic. I felt as if the steps Grey takes to find her answers were ones a teenager could reasonably take. She isn’t some sort of teen Sherlock Holmes with a uniquely impressive mind, and she doesn’t do anything too wild that should probably get her killed herself or at least grounded for the next decade. She does what she can, relying on her tenacity and her deep love for her friend to guide her.

Full of heart, voice, and dark secrets, Dark and Shallow Lies engrossed me from the first page. And even though it’s a thriller, and I now know how it ends, I think it’s good enough to bear up to multiple reads.

Briana
4 stars

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Krysta’s Review)

Inheritance Games book cover

Information

Goodreads: The Inheritance Games
Series: Inheritance Games #1
Source:
Library
Published:
2021

Official Summary

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.

Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

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Review

I went into The Inheritance Games not knowing what to expect, but hoping for a puzzle-filled mystery that might be something like a YA version of The Mysterious Benedict Society. What I got was more romance than mystery, more character-driven than plot-driven. The puzzles prove not particularly difficult or clever. Even so, The Inheritance Games is worth a read, more for its thriller-like aspects than for the games it promises.

The premise of The Inheritance Games is that billionaire Tobias Hawthorne has left his fortune to teenager Avery Grambs, disinheriting his family in a surprise move that is revealed at the reading of the will. Among the disappointed heirs are Tobias’ four grandsons–two of whom end up in an uncompelling love triangle with Avery. Complicating matters is the injunction that Avery must reside with the Hawthorne family in Tobias’ estate for at least one year, or her inheritance is forfeit. Naturally, some of the family do not wish Avery well, so she must solves the clues left by Tobias to uncover why he chose her, of all people, to receive his money.

The clues, however, are not nearly as clever as I was expecting, both from the premise and from the enthusiastic reviews the book has received. Very often, the solutions are quite obvious and even elementary. For instance, Tobias might leave a message missing a single word, where the word can only be one thing. Since the book starts by suggesting that Avery must be some sort of genius, or at least really good at puzzles, since she plays chess all the time and aces an “impossible” physics test, I thought Tobias’ game would put her to the test. But I think any quick-witted child could play the game and win.

What makes the obvious puzzles even more frustrating is that Avery, the narrator, has a terrible habit of repeating all the information and the answer, as if readers must be dense. So if the message missing a word reads, “The sky is _____,” Avery feels the need to work through the puzzle piece by piece. She might say, “The sky is ____. The message was missing a word. We needed to find out the word to solve the puzzle. The sky is ____. Skies are usually blue. So blue must be the missing word. The sky is blue! Blue was the missing word! Blue was the answer! We had to find something with a blue sky.” This might be excusable if the puzzles were harder, but I really do not need Avery to spell out everything in excruciating detail this way. It takes away from the momentum of the plot, and really does make it seem like the readers are not expected to be able to figure out anything without having theirs hands held all the way.

I suspect, however, that many readers are not reading The Inheritance Games for the puzzles, but for the romance. The summary promises four magnetic Hawthorne boys to allure and entire readers (and Avery), and the plot really plays that up. It does not matter that Avery and the boys have zero chemistry and really no reason to be attracted to each other. The book asserts that the boys are amazing, and readers are supposed to buy into that, and the connected assumption that Avery must want to date them, as a result.

The strongest, most compelling part of The Inheritance Games is really the thriller aspect. Why was Avery chosen? Who is out to get her? Will she solve the puzzle and survive her year living with a house of people who hate her? Those were the questions that kept me reading, more than the disappointing puzzles or the boring love triangle. The book is worth a read. It is just not as clever as the summary suggests.

4 stars

Movie Review: Chaos Walking (2021)

Chaos Walking

I cannot remember the last time I watched a movie as disappointing as Chaos Walking. Knowing that the film is based on the popular teen novel The Knife of Letting Go, I expected an exciting dystopian story about a young man learning that his village leadership harbors secrets. The storyline, however, proves overly simplistic and lackluster, while the characters are undeveloped–as is the romance. Even some fine acting by Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland could not save the film. Chaos Walking is undoubtedly a flop.

Not having read The Knife of Letting Go, I cannot compare the book with the movie adaptation. I can say, however, that the movie made me reconsider my plans to one day read The Knife of Letting Go. Even though dystopian YA books still feel redundant, thanks to the craze for them after the release of The Hunger Games, Chaos Walking shocked me with how simple, unoriginal, and unsurprising the plot is. I knew the big twist about ten minutes into the movie. And what is the point of a dystopian novel if not to surprise readers, along with the protagonist, with some big, terrible truth about the world?

That truth, too, typically says something interesting or important about society, but if there is a message in Chaos Walking, I did not see it. In theory, one should be able to say something insightful about groupthink or mob mentality or even misogyny. But the movie never reaches far enough to provoke thought in the audience. And, in the final moment, it devolves all responsibility for tragedy onto the figure of one man, instead of saying something, too, about the men he led astray.

Chaos Walking is a slow-paced, boring film with a predictable plot and no real depth. I wanted to feel something for the characters, but they are never developed enough for audiences to really sympathize with them, their dreams, and their desires. A half-baked romance/infatuation completes the mess. I would not recommend this film for viewing, nor would I suggest that the producers try for a sequel.

1 star

Delicates by Brenna Thummler

Delicates

Information

Goodreads: Delicates
Series: Sheets #2
Source:
Library
Published:
2021

Official Summary

Marjorie Glatt’s life hasn’t been the same ever since she discovered a group of ghosts hiding in her family’s laundromat. Wendell, who died young and now must wander Earth as a ghost with nothing more than a sheet for a body, soon became one of Marjorie’s only friends. But when Marjorie finally gets accepted by the popular kids at school, she begins to worry that if anyone learns about her secret ghost friends, she’ll be labeled as a freak who sees dead people. With Marjorie’s insistence on keeping Wendell’s ghost identity a secret from her new friends, Wendell begins to feel even more invisible than he already is.

Eliza Duncan feels invisible too. She’s an avid photographer, and her zealous interest in finding and photographing ghosts gets her labeled as “different” by all the other kids in school. Constantly feeling on the outside, Eliza begins to feel like a ghost herself. Marjorie must soon come to terms with the price she pays to be accepted by the popular kids. Is it worth losing her friend, Wendell? Is she partially to blame for the bullying Eliza endures?

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Review

Delicates is a worthy follow-up to Sheets, focusing on what it means to be a friend, and what it means to be complicit. This story intertwines the concerns of Marjorie, Wendell, and Eliza as they navigate the desire to fit in and to be valued. While Marjorie is congratulating herself on being accepted by the popular kids at school–even if they are not very nice to her–Wendell is upset that Majorie has stopped spending time with him, because she is afraid of looking weird. Meanwhile, bullied by others, Eliza is reaching out to Marjorie, but feeling rejected as Marjorie refuses to be seen with her, and even tries to stop Eliza’s budding friendship with Wendell. Their lives become entangled in a moving reflection on the costs of remaining silent when people are struggling.

The shift to a focus on Eliza and Wendell, as well as Marjorie, in this sequel is a daring one, but one that works spectacularly well. Sheets stars Marjorie as the protagonist, the character readers knew they should be rooting for. Delicates, however, reminds readers that Marjorie is the heroine only of her own story. For others, she is a side character, one who could help or harm them on the journey they themselves are taking. In a bold twist, Delicates suggests that while Marjorie likely sees herself as the hero, others could possibly see her as the villain.

Brenna Thummler uses the multiple perspectives of Delicates to great effect, showing how Marjorie believes that she is a good person, one who is struggling through life and therefore deserves sympathy. Marjorie’s self-concern, however, ultimately blinds her to the fact that just about everyone is struggling. She ignores Wendell’s pleas to hang out because, well, he’s dead and clearly her social life is more important then his. Worse, she believes that being neutral in the face of bullying absolves her of guilt. But Eliza is there to remind Majorie that witnessing something wrong and doing nothing to stop it makes her a bully, too.

In many ways, Delicates is a difficult read. Things become quite bleak for the characters, to the point that they begin to feel that there is no escape. Ultimately, however, it ends on a note of hope, as well as with a call to action. Every moment is a good moment to remember to be kind. And Delicates is a wonderful and moving read with just that reminder.

4 stars

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (Briana’s Review)

Pumpkinheads

INFORMATION

Goodreads: Pumpkinheads
Series: None
Source: Library
Publication Date: Sept. 2019

Official Summary

Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends.

Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.

But this Halloween is different—Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.

Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if—instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut—they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .

What if their last shift was an adventure?

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Review

Read Krysta’s review here.

I really wanted to read this book in autumn 2019 when it came out, and then I missed reading it again in autumn 2020 because my library was closed for the pandemic, and I dislike reading ebooks of graphic novels. I love pumpkin patches and corn mazes and had this idea that the book would be a perfect autumnal read that would make me feel as if I were visiting one, even if I couldn’t get to one in person. Well, I read the book in summer 2021, and it turns out the fall vibes are so strong that I felt very pumpkin-patchy even with the hot summer sun shining down on me!

And the fun of the book is that it depicts THE ultimate pumpkin patch. This pumpkin patch has everything: pumpkin slings, pumpkin ice cream, fudge, succotash, kettle corn, hay rides, a corn mazes, candy apples, a smores pit, and a dozen other things I’m forgetting. The protagonists visit them all as they go on a quest to locate another employee/just have fun on their own last night employed at the patch. I would love to visit this place if such an epic pumpkin patch existed near me.

Besides the fact that the book allowed me to live a little autumn day dream, though, I don’t have much to say about it. Technically there’s a bit of plot: the two characters running around looking for another employee that one of them has been crushing on, so he can confess his love. I don’t think that part was particularly interesting or even the point, though; it’s just so there’s some kind of framework for the book.

However, I liked it for what it was. I didn’t expect much in the way of storytelling, just autumn atmosphere, and that’s exactly what I got. I could see myself rereading this each autumn just for the fun of it, too.

Briana
4 stars

Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

Lost in the Never Woods

Information

Goodreads: Lost in the Never Woods
Series: None
Source:
Library
Published:
2021

Official Summary

It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road, and gets pulled into the mystery haunting the town.

Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, claims that if they don’t do something, the missing children will meet the same fate as her brothers. In order to find them and rescue the missing kids, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.

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Review

Lost in the Never Woods is a quiet fantasy that reflects on grief, loss, and moving forward. Wendy Darling and her brothers went missing five years ago, but only Wendy returned. Now, more children in her town are going missing, and the townspeople look to her to have the answers. Wendy, however, cannot remember anything–not even when the boy from her dreams, Peter Pan, appears, asking for her help. Lost in the Never Woods chooses to focus on the aftermath of travelling to fantastic worlds, rather than on the adventure itself. Readers looking for high fantasy will be disappointed, but readers looking for a coming-of-age novel with just a hint of magic will be delighted.

To be clear, Lost in the Never Woods is not a straightforward retelling of Peter Pan. The story occurs after Wendy’s return from Neverland, and what happened during her stay there receives only brief references. The book is concerned more with Wendy’s current situation– just having turned 18, longing to go to college to escape her small town and the guilt she feels over her brothers’ disappearance. Even when Peter Pan appears, he brings very little magic with him. Readers will not receive an introduction to mermaids, to pirates, or to fairies. The main characters are merely Wendy and Peter, and they are involved in a missing persons case, not in swashbuckling escapades.

The depiction of grief and the way it can tear apart a family is very real and raw here. Wendy and her parents seem unable to move on from the tragedy in their past. Her parents are withdrawn, and her father has taken to drinking. Wendy herself seems stuck, not fully willing to accept that soon she will be in college and will need to forge her own future. Wendy’s feelings are the focal point of the novel, the reason the story exists.

Regrettably, however, the story is a little too repetitious, and could have easily been cut to half the length. Although Wendy ostensibly is looking for the missing children, the bulk of the narrative returns again and again to her guilt. She has the same thought processes over and over, to the point where story gets bogged down in Wendy feeling sorry for herself all the time. In one respect, this could be considered a genius artistic choice–the readers get to experience the same sensation of being stuck as Wendy. In another respect, it just makes for a redundant read.

The begging and the ending of the book are probably its greatest strengths. The beginning gets to build up the mystery and suspense, while the ending gets to present readers with the climax and then closure. The middle however? A good edit with generous use of the backspace would have helped. This makes for some uneven pacing that not all readers will appreciate.

Ultimately, Lost in the Never Woods will appeal to readers who enjoy character-driven stories that are slow and quiet. Going in with the proper expectations–that this is a story about a young woman coming to terms with loss, and not an adventure set in Neverland–will likely make a world of difference to readers.

4 stars

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.


Hazel Wood

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.