Tag Archives: genre: young adult

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

The Shadow Cipher

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

Series: York, Book 1
Published by: Walden Pond Press on May 16, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz like where they live. Not only is there a community in their apartment building, but it is one of the five remaining Morningstarr buildings, part of the architectural vision of the mysterious Morningstarr twins who built much of early New York City. But the Morningstarrs did more than just build magnificent buildings before they disappeared; they built a puzzle, the Old York Cipher, into their design of the city. And legend has it that the one who solves it will find an untold treasure waiting at the end. Tess, Theo, and Jaime set out on a mission to solve a puzzle that no one has been able to solve for nearly 200 years. They hope doing so will prove the cipher is real and save their building. And they also know that once the remaining buildings are destroyed, the likelihood of anyone ever solving the puzzle will go from slim to none. Their journey involves solving a mystery, but it is not one that is without danger. For where there is talk of treasure, there will always be people with less-than-honorable intentions sniffing around…

This is a fun urban fantasy story with some hints of steam punk that I really enjoyed reading. Following these amateur sleuths on their adventure was even a bit exhilarating at times. This is billed as a middle grades book, and it has a spirit and energy that fits for that audience (but also audiences of all ages) quite well. It is a bit on the hefty side for middle grades, both in terms of length and some aspects of the plot, but I think it would be a great choice for earlier advanced readers or older students looking to jump into reading longer novels.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy received from the publisher.]

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Cold Summer

Cold Summer by Gwen Cole

Published by: Sky Pony Press on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Kale Jackson has an exciting special ability, but it is one that he is beginning to think is not quite so exciting anymore. He travels through time. That might sound fascinating to many people, but Kale cannot control it. Though he can usually tell when he’s likely to travel shortly before he does, he can’t stop it or force it to happen. And with his recent travels taking him back to World War II, fighting on the front lines as a sharpshooter, the danger has taken much of the fun out of the whole experience. Of course there’s also the fact that he cannot explain to most people why he disappears for days at a time without any notice. They would never believe him–including his own father.

But one person who has always believed Kale is Harper, a childhood friend who used to live next door. And when Kale finds out she’s returned for the summer, he has the smallest glimmer of hope that quickly fades. In the years that have gone by Kale has changed. But so has Harper. Although she promised she would never ask Kale where he travels, she is more assertive and insistent that Kale not resign himself to being alone. The two quickly reforge a friendship that has the potential to become something more. That is, until Harper looks up Kale’s involvement in World War II online. What she finds has the potential to change everything.
This is a wonderfully written young adult science fiction story that doesn’t rely on all of the tropes that are so common these days in the genre. Yes, there’s angst and a budding relationship, but they don’t drive the story. Instead we see Kale, a young man who feels very much at the mercy of this thing he can’t control or explain, finding his way back to feeling like he has some agency over his life. And we see Harper, a young woman who has recently claimed her own agency, working to feel comfortable with her choices while trying to help Kale do the same. And everyone will have to love Uncle Jasper. Definitely recommended reading!

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.]

The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz

The Wingsnatchers

The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz

Series: Carmer and Grit, Book 1
Published by: Algonquin Young Readers on April 25, 2017
Rating: 5 stars (★★★★★)

Felix Carmer III, aspiring inventor and tinkerer, sees his work as a magician’s apprentice as worthwhile but only a means to an end. But with his employer’s show not doing so well as of late, he finds himself invested in helping them win the grand prize in a magic competition–which may be more difficult than it seems. When he unexpectedly crosses paths with a faerie–a faerie??–he learns that there is a real magic that goes well beyond the tricks they perform in the show. But he also learns things that make him question some of the scientific advancements that have recently intrigued him as well.

Grit, faerie princess of the Seelie court, has never really felt like she fit in anywhere. Yes, she’s a princess, but she was born with only one wing and many would say she doesn’t act like a princess. But she isn’t going to set aside her sense of adventure or curiosity just because it is what people expect of her. And when faeries from across Skemantis start disappearing, she finds herself on a quest to help find out who is behind it. And that quest brings her to a young magician’s apprentice named Carmer. And while he seems an unlikely ally, he may just be the one person who can help her find out what is going on and put an end to it before more faeries are hurt.

I do not give many five-star ratings, but there was no question for me when I finished this book that it deserves it. I found myself quickly lost in the world of Skemantis, invested in the characters, and drawn to turn each page by wonderful pacing, description, and action. I particularly enjoyed the partnership between Carmer and Grit, both the way it developed and the dynamic between the two of them as the story drove on. For the first book in a series, this is a great start, and I look forward to reading future installments.

[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy of the book received from the publisher in advance of publication.]

Guyliner by j. leigh bailey

Guyliner

Guyliner by j. leigh bailey

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on October 17, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Connor is seen as the golden boy, and he’s okay with that as long as it means a ticket out of the small town where he lives. He gets good grades, is athletic, works a part-time job, has a great girlfriend, and gets along with pretty much everyone. And that includes the new kid, Graham. Graham is a self-assured star soccer player who wears eyeliner. Wait, eyeliner? But that’s not the only thing Connor notices about Graham. He’s drawn to him and can’t get him out of his head. And that’s just not acceptable–it doesn’t fit into Connor’s plans. He can’t be with a guy and get where he wants to go, can he? But as the two spend more time together, Connor begins to wonder if he really can deny the truth about how he feels. And even if he can, is what he’d be giving up worth the tradeoff?

I struggle to find the words to describe just how much I enjoyed this book. I cannot help wondering how many young men out there go through exactly what Connor goes through in this book. And Graham, too, to be fair. While we often reflect on the fact that it is “easier” to come out now than it was years ago or that young people seem to be coming out at earlier and earlier ages, we can’t simply dismiss the idea that it can be challenging for many people. And the pressure we all feel to be a certain kind of person or achieve certain things–even when it’s not made explicit–can be overwhelming on its own. To face the reality that being true to yourself means giving up many of the things that we’re taught to expect out of life as children (or to at least realize that they won’t happen quite as we expect) can be scary. And it’s even scarier to have to sort that all out as a young adult.

This is, hands down, one of the best young adult LGBT stories I’ve ever read. And I give it a very strong recommendation for all readers, both young and old.

Darkness Savage by Rachel A. Marks

Darkness Savage

Darkness Savage by Rachel A. Marks

Series: The Dark Cycle, Book 3
Published by: Skyscape on October 11, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Aidan faces a difficult decision. He always knew his gift (though he often thought it a curse) would be the key to defeating a demonic force. He just never expected that force would manifest in his own sister. He will need to find a way to stop her; it’s just a matter of whether he can stop her and save her at the same time. He works to bring his team together, his “Lights” as he’s been told they are called. And his friend Rebecca, who he was certain was not a Light, suddenly finds herself with powers all her own. With so much at stake and so many variables at play, what will Aidan decide? And will he have the power to carry out his plan of action?

The final installment of this series does not disappoint! This unique world that Rachel Marks has created managed to draw me back in as quickly as it did in the last two books. And the twists and turns that are thrown at the reader–it’s quite a journey! This is an absolutely fitting third act. My only major disappointment is that the story has come to an end. I certainly look forward to more from this author.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Choices by Jamie Mayfield

Choices

Choices by Jamie Mayfield

Series: Waiting for Forever, Book 1
Published by: Harmony Ink Press on June 6, 2013
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Brian McAllister knows that he’s unlikely to find acceptance for his sexuality living in a small community in Alabama. He’s heard the comments people make at school. He’s sat through the sermons in church. So he’s never told anyone–the last thing he would need would be to lose his best friend or to have his foster parents send him away. So when his best friend, Jamie Mayfield, confronts him when he’s acting strange and said confrontation ends in a kiss, Brian thinks it’s all over. To his surprise, however, Jamie lets Brian know he feels the same way. The two embark on a clandestine relationship, but in a small town secrets can only stay hidden for so long. And once they’re found out, it’s hard to make them ever go away.

For being one of those “growing up gay in a conservative town of bigot stories,” this one was actually on the easy end of the reading scale. The angst level isn’t through the roof, and the supportive characters are written in a believable and understanding way. I tackled this one fairly quickly because it kept my attention and I never ended up putting it down until I was done.

The Midnight Gardener by R.G. Thomas

The Midnight Gardener

The Midnight Gardener by R.G. Thomas

Series: The Town of Superstition, Book 1
Published by: Harmony Ink Press on November 12, 2015
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Thaddeus Cane’s mother died when he was a baby. He’s spent as much of his life as he can remember with his father, moving so frequently from town to town that he’s never really made any friends. But when they arrive in Superstition, Thaddeus hopes they might be in a place where they can stay for a while.

One evening, Thaddeus looks out his window and sees a young man tending to the garden next door. There’s something intriguing about him, and Thaddeus finds himself paying attention whenever he sees the man out there–though he’s curiously only out at night. And when Thaddeus finds himself running from a wild animal a few nights later, he crawls over the fence and into the presence of Teofil. From there, things begin to get really strange and Thaddeus soon learns there is much more to his life and his history than he ever could have imagined.

I love young adult fantasy. Toss in a light m/m element, and I’ll read it up as easily as drinking a cup of tea. While this one is a bit slow in the beginning (though it’s necessary for readers to connect to Thaddeus), it picks up quickly. And the backstory is definitely very interesting.

I look forward to the next book in this series. I need to know what happens between Thaddeus and Teofil, and I also need to know if Thaddeus and crew are successful in their quest.

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

An Accident of Stars

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

Series: The Manifold Worlds, Book 1
Published by: Angry Robot Books on August 2, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Saffron Coulter is a typical teenage girl dealing with the things teenage girls, well, deal with. Except she’s stuck in a school system where the “boys will be boys” mentality means her and her classmates have to put up with some really rough behavior. Which is why Saffron is taken aback when the mysterious Gwen Vere stands up for her to one of the biggest bullies in the school. Gwen tells her she’s looking for a job at the school. Saffron is intrigued and wonders if someone like Gwen could give her hope for change.

When Saffron learns Gwen has been spotted behind the school, she rushes to find her and thank her. What she finds is something she never could have imagined. She comes upon Gwen running into what looks like a portal of some kind. Throwing caution to the wind, Saffron follows–something that could lead to great adventure or be the biggest mistake of her life.

Saffron finds herself in Kena, one of several other worlds besides her own. And while Kena is full of magic, it’s not a happy fantasy realm. Its leader, Vex Leodon, misled people to come to power and is nothing short of a tyrant. But it just so happens that Gwen is part of a group dedicated to bringing him down. Having followed Gwen into Kena, Saffron has little choice but to take a side and hope she can find a way back home. But when the opportunity to get back presents itself, will she take it? Or will Kena prove so inviting she will choose to stay there forever?

I know that describing a book as “fun” isn’t very specific, but that’s really how I have to start this one. I enjoyed being thrust into the world of Kena with its people and its history. Foz Meadows has done an outstanding job building and presenting this world to readers. The rich backstory and the political dynamics make for a strong setting and compelling plot.

Of course, I have to also acknowledge a well-written young adult science fiction/fantasy story that doesn’t revolve around the female protagonist’s love interests or include a love triangle. Have we finally moved on from that trope? Let’s hope so.

What I would say I most love about this story is the strong character development. As I went through the story, there weren’t many moments when I found myself questioning a character’s behavior. And those moments were shortly answered with a bit more history of a character or relationship dynamics.

I definitely recommend giving this one a read.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Series: Harry Potter, Book 8
Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books on July 31, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

The Boy Who Lived. The Chosen One. The One Who Defeated the Dark Lord. One might think that Harry Potter is fearless. He’s up for any challenge. But no one told him that moving on, raising a family, and trying to have a normal life would be more challenging than anything he’s faced before.

And one of the biggest challenges for Harry is his son. Albus Severus and his dad have never really clicked. The connection between them doesn’t feel the same as the connection Harry has with James. And when Albus is sorted into Slytherin and becomes friends with none other than Scorpius Malfoy, the divide only grows wider. A divide further complicated by the rumors that Scorpius may not be Draco’s son. A divide further complicated by Harry’s scar acting up. And a divide further complicated by a centaur’s vision of a darkness around Albus.

For Albus, living in his father’s shadow is challenging. There are expectations. And it’s always made very clear when he doesn’t meet them. But there’s got to be a way for him to do something to break beyond that, right? Something he can do that makes him stand out on his own? And with Scorpius at his side, he’s sure he can accomplish anything.

I’ll start by saying that if you’re not a big reader of plays, this one might be a little challenging. They don’t read like prose. They’re not meant to. And you often have to fill in some of the action and internal monologues based on your own reading of the characters. That’s just part of dramatic works as casual reading.

The story here is engaging. I enjoyed getting a glimpse back into the wizarding world. You’ll find your old favorites and even some new characters that are a part of the next generation. And the flashbacks to Harry’s childhood that were left out of the original novels were also very telling.

Is this another epic Harry Potter adventure? No. But I don’t think it’s meant to be. It’s not a seven-novel saga with a major arc. It’s a single story, focusing on the future of the wizarding world, and reminding us that the past can come back to haunt us in ways we never imagined. And those ways are exponentially more when magic is involved.

I’ve seen some comments online to the effect of “I’ve read better fanfiction.” And while I don’t want to get into a whole debate in this review, I don’t see how that is necessarily a standard of what makes for a good story. For one, it diminishes fanfiction as something “less than” quality published work. And I’ve read many fanfics that were better than some published work. And secondly, what’s the point of the comparison? Just because you’ve personally read something you think is “better” than something else, it doesn’t–by default–make that something else bad. When I give a book a three or four star rating, I don’t say “But I’ve read 15 five star books that were better so this is awful.” Context is important, and I think it’s something that we as readers and reviewers need to remember. /soapbox

If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, pick this up. If nothing else, you’ll get a few hours of entertainment and enlightenment out of it. And you’ll get to go back to Hogwarts one last time…

 

Haffling by Caleb James

Haffling

Haffling by Caleb James

Series: The Haffling, Book 1
Published by: DSP Publications on January 5, 2016 (2nd Ed.)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Sixteen-year-old Alex Nevus lives a challenging life for a teenager. Living with a schizophrenic mother, he does all he can to keep things together for his younger sister, Alice. He will do everything he can to keep his family together. And while he manages, it’s always just by a thread. And he tries hard to ignore the fairy that he hallucinates, worried he might end up just like his mother someday.

When Alex’s mother disappears on the day of a court hearing, he knows he has to find her. And his quest to find her takes him to a strange place–the land of the Fey. What he learns there helps explain some of what’s going on in his life, but it stirs up more questions than answers. And in the land of the Fey, all questions come with a cost.

Alex learns there might be a bigger threat to his family than the court system. To save them, he’ll need to find a way to stop May, queen of the Fey. And it won’t be easy.

Complicating things is the fact that the boy of Alex’s dreams, Jerod Haynes, just started talking to him. As much as Alex has longed for a relationship, Jerod’s timing is terrible. Or is it actually the best timing ever?

I really enjoyed this fun and action-packed story. Once things get moving here, they move quickly and stay that way right up until the end. There’s a rich history between the Fey lands and the lands of the humans that the author has developed. And there are some fun references to other stories that certainly made me smile.

This is the start of a series and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]