Categories
Contemporary Fiction Young Adult

The Sea Is Salt and So am I (Book Review) – by Cassandra Hartt

Thank you so much to Roaring Book Press via Bookish First for the finished copy of The Sea Is Salt and So am I! Book received in exchange for an honest review – all opinions are mine!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Sea Is Salt and So am I
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Cassandra Hartt
  • Publisher & Release: Roaring Book Press, June 8th 2021
  • Length: 374pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟✨ for fans of YA contemporary

Here is the Synopsis from Amazon:

I’ll Give You the Sun meets Normal People in Cassandra Hartt’s The Sea Is Salt and So Am I, a stunning YA contemporary debut that asks if the secrets we keep and the people we love can change who we are.

West Finch is one hurricane away from falling into the sea.

Yet sixteen-year-old Harlow Prout is determined to save her small Maine hometown. If only she could stop getting in her own way and find someone, anyone, willing to help. But her best friend Ellis MacQueen “fixes” problems by running away from them—including his broken relationship with his twin brother, Tommy. And Tommy’s depression has hit a new low, so he’s not up for fixing anything.

In the wake of the town’s latest devastating storm, Tommy goes out for a swim that he doesn’t intend to survive. It’s his unexpected return that sets into motion a sea change between these three teens. One that tests old loyalties, sparks new romance, and uncovers painful secrets. And nothing stays secret in West Finch for long.

Exquisitely honest and shimmering with emotion, The Sea is Salt and So Am I is a captivating multi-POV story that probes the depths of what it means to love and trust—both ourselves and others.

I’m going to open this with one of my infamous OneReadingNurse medical rants: Don’t stop taking your psych meds or antidepressants (or any other medication) just because you feel better!! I wish Tommy had gotten lectured a LOT harder on page for this.  Also parents: for f*cks sake don’t trust that your teenager is taking their meds, the lack of parental oversight in this book had me so frustrated as a medical person!

Anyway! It’s really a decent book though and takes a good look at mental health and why teens shouldn’t think everything is their fault. It explores how our actions affect those around us. There is great description and scenery, a small town atmosphere, and a silly dog named Goose sho is only 6 but everyone seems to write off as ancient. Why do they keep saying a 6 year old dog is ready to drop dead of old age!?  They are all environmentally conscious too and have to consider both sides of an issue surrounding a protected bird species.

This book focuses on three teens in a Maine town that is one storm short of being lost to sea, and the lifelong attention-seeking competition between them. There are twin brothers and a then a girl that entered the picture about 5-6 years prior to the start of the book, and they just constantly swing attention seeking behaviors back and forth through poor life decisions, making each other’s lives miserable, and refusing to be happy for each other. Like typical teenagers, they have no concept of “the big picture” and believe that the entire world, and all of the others’ life decisions just revolve around them, are caused by them, etc.

This is what the competition looks like: One brother lost a leg, and the parents spent a fortune on a running blade…so the other brother probably started feeling bad, and said well I’ll eventually bottom out and kill myself. Fast forward to now and I swear it’s a competition. “Oh yeah? Well I’m going to crash a car”. “I’ll top you by going off my meds again.” “Well I’m going to ruin your relationship and engage in risky sexual behaviors like picking up a random person at Friendly’s” … (These are not actual quotes from the book). The two brothers just. never. quit. Then Harlow is trying to fix everyone and everything but is so self absorbed, and each one thinks it’s their fault that the others are behaving as such. The other part is that their parents all seem too wrapped up in other things to be paying half enough attention and its one big confusing  summer in West Finch.  That said though, I think Harlow is probably the most likeable of the three.

The real issue though? None of these kids should be, or feel, responsible for each other.

There is a lot of vague writing concerning the teens’ back story, which is why i dropped so many stars – I don’t like when authors vaguely hint at things and expect us to make significant connections.  The connection I made was that all three teens are terrible people, secretly in love, and in competition for both parental and friendly attention. I never figured out the animosity between Harlow and Tommy that led up to the Ruby thing, but it seems like they’ve been picking at each other for years until it ended in outright sabotage.

One other huge issue was that God should be capitalized in text, even when *cringe* used in the slang. I think it appeared 2-3 times and I’ve never seen it lowercased like that. I don’t know if the author meant is as a slight but it comes across as such.

Ultimately: this is a good and probably important YA read, I know a lot of people are focusing on mental health these days so it’s a well timed book.  I can recommend it as an honest look at mental health, keeping secrets, and trying to come of age.

Categories
Fantasy Mysteries Young Adult

Book Tour: Curse of Infiniti by Rachel Hetrick!

Thank you so much to Feather and Dove Tours, and Rachel Hetrick for having me on the book tour for Curse of Infiniti! This is a clean reading, fast paced, and compulsively readable fantasy novel with a mystery twist.

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Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Curse of Infiniti
  • Series: The Infinity Trilogy, #1
  • Author: Rachel Hetrick
  • Publisher & Release: Via Veritas Vita Press – November 2020
  • Length: 331 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟✨ yes for fans of the genre!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Can she collect enough fragments of her past before the nightmarish figure from her dreams catches up with her?

As she wakes up in a bedroom she doesn’t recognize, Ellayne becomes increasingly aware of one thing: she has no memories-no identity-no name. Dark figures not only haunt her nightmares, but also stalk her in reality. Ellayne finds herself on the run, chased by a hooded archer with deadly aim.

When the source of her memory loss is uncovered, Ellayne and the companions she’s made along the way must find a way to reverse the damage done to her by magic before she loses her memories again.

*If you enjoy escaping into enchanting worlds full of adventure, mystery, magic, and with a hint of romance, then pick up this story today and find yourself lost in the magical land of Phildeterre. (This is a clean novel appropriate for all ages).

I will first say that the book is definitely appropriate for all ages! The main character states she is 22 though so technically not a YA but I would still totally recommend for the age group.

The Plot & Story: This is a super fast paced read. Ellayne wakes up with no memories, and we pretty quickly realize that things seem fishy in the Black Forest. What follows is a twisty adventure as Ellayne escapes a mysterious and deadly pursuer, meets some boys who rival her own level of snark, discovers magic in the world around her…and eventually the fate of the royal family. How does it all the together?

Setting & World Building: I liked the Black Forest setting, and how well the trees and inhabitants were described. There was also some mention of food, buildings, and magic, although in whole I think the world, in the broadest sense, could have been fleshed out a little more. Three moons are a pretty visual, what else is unique and magical about the land? I especially liked a magic pub under a waterfall, and one overflowing bookshop! Is there any lore? There is plenty of room in a trilogy to grow the world.

I also liked the inhabitants, sirens and elves are described as well as magic runes and some unique jewelry. There is a good amount of history as well with magic vs non magic wielders…and a map. Bonus points for the map!

Usually I comment on the magic system but I feel like it’s spoilery, so just know that there is magic!

The characters: this is a novel driven by characters and plot. Ellayne is snarky, articulate, caring, and persistent, essentially everything I like in a main character.

“I’m not a damsel in distress.” Ellayne narrowed her eyes at him. “I’m a woman with a curse. There’s a difference.”

Ellayne

She meets and is rescued by two men who are best friends, and their snark almost rivals hers. The banter and dialogue had me cracking up and taking the time to enjoy the book.

“I’d classify myself as a tragically handsome elf with the passion of a young fairy and the wisdom of the oldest dragon.” He held out his hands and shrugged, raising an eyebrow. “But no,” he said with a wink. “I’m no saint.”

Armannii the Elf

There are also some hilarious side characters and evildoers, but I kind of feel like the less you know about the characters the better. It’s enough to know that they are likeable!

Misc: I kept thinking there was going to be a twist that no one saw coming, and she waited until the tail end of the book to drop it on us! I did really like this one, and can’t wait to read the sequels!


If the book sounds good to you, here are the purchase links!

On Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Curse-Infiniti-Trilogy-Rachel-Hetrick/dp/1953139000/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+infiniti+trilogy+by+rachel+hetrick&qid=1605760451&sr=8-1

On Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/curse-of-infiniti-rachel-hetrick/1137708335?ean=9781953139009

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Young Adult

Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver is yet another book that I have had forever and wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to!  I love the Temeraire books and some how never got around to reading her others .. Until now

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Spinning Silver
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Naomi Novik
  • Publisher & Release:Del Rey, July 2018
  • Length: 465
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟✨yes for pretty much anyone!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.

When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk–grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh–Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.

But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.

Part of me wants to just sit here and gush about Slavic/Polish fairytale tropes, or compare the magic in Spinning Silver to that in the Winternight trilogy, but I’ll mostly spare you and just talk about the book

The World-Building & Magic: Novik is such an amazing world builder.  We are in a cold winter country of Slavic inspiration, where the Boyars own everything and the Tsar is unfortunately possessed by a demon.  Frost vs fire/summer/chaos is a reoccurring theme in these tales and in this case it takes the form of a nameless, cruel winter king vs the flame demon.  The magic of the Staryk (including the King’s Road) is introduced slowly until the plot turns to their kingdom and the real magic is revealed.

I think giving glimpses of the magic was a great tactic to build the tale slowly and not overwhelm Miryem’s story at first.  The whole story has great descriptions though from the snow and weather to the people, lore, food, forests, animals and everything else.   A standalone doesn’t have room to drown in politics or religion but we are given enough of both to understand the country’s issues and power struggles as they relate to the book, also giving it a depth that many retellings don’t achieve.

A power claimed and challenged and thrice carried out is true

Staryk King

The Characters: as much as I liked the magic and world building, the characters are brilliant too. Miryem was always strong and smart, a true thorn in the villagers sides, and eventually an equal to the Staryk King. The trope is “headstrong maiden takes on Winter King.” Novik’s take on it was fresh and interesting to me and I didn’t even dislike him a tiny bit at the end. Their arc included much bargaining and begrudging respect and was generally fun to read

I wouldn’t hold myself that cheap, to marry a man who’d love me less than everything else he had, even if what he had was a winter kingdom.

Miryem

The rest of the characters, and there were many, all brought something interesting to the book. Women were the property of their fathers and husbands and Wanda totally transcended that to bargain for her own future. Irina surprised me by being cunning and strong when her people needed her. Stepon had a curious point of view in which he narrated a few interesting and exciting events, and I think there was a hidden significance there that was lost on me.

There were Staryk characters too that surprised me and Miryem’s parents were just lovely people. The found family aspect was ❤❤❤❤❤

Themes: oh gosh there were so many good themes, such as not judging people for their race or religion. Not taking people at face value. Keeping to your word and knowing the value of a bargain. Knowing your own self worth and standing defiant in the face of anything less. I think this is a really great young adult book as far as themes and content go.

A note on the audiobook: the audio is 18 hours long, distributed by Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group. Lisa Flanagan is amazing with the Slavic accents and distinguishing between the characters. It was hard though sometimes to tell which point of view was speaking at first – and that is the only fault I found with the book as well is that I think we should have had headers or new chapter titles with the name of the speaker. I really enjoyed listening though!

Overall: if you like tales with a twist of magic, fiercely strong female characters, Frost Kings and equally frosty moneylenders, lore and lyrical writing in a cold, cold world…. This is definitely your book!

Categories
Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fantasy Middle Grade Young Adult

Spotlight & Interview with Crisanta Knight Author Geanna Culbertson!

Hi everyone! As promised this week, I have a special interview to bring to you guys! Have you read the Crisanta Knight books?? If not, I guarantee you will want to after reading this amazing interview!

I want to take a quick second to thank Geanna Culbertson for taking the time to answer a few questions about her writing, content, content in general, and plans going forward!  I originally became a fan of her clean content and writing style after winning a giveaway that introduced me to the books, and even more so once we incidentally got to chatting about inappropriate content! (See Question 3)!

Alright I’m done talking, here she is!


Meet the author!

Image: Author Geanna Culbertson

Geanna Culbertson is the award-winning author of The Crisanta Knight Series. The series follows the kids and siblings of fairytale characters, all of whom live in a magical world called “Book,” where citizens train to be the next generation of main characters in stories. The majority of this coming-of-age series is told from the empowering, sassy perspective of Cinderella’s daughter—Crisanta Knight. 

Image: the Crisanta Knight book covers

Her full biography can be found on her website, here:

https://crisantaknight.com/bio-by-me/book-bio/


1) How did the Crisanta Knight books take shape for you? Did you know from the start it would be a fairytale re-imagining?

When I was a sophomore in school I took a course devoted to classic and contemporary fairytale analysis. It was a fabulous experience that I loved. Having all that exposure to the classic tales filled me with so much wonder and inspiration, and one day on my way to class the name for the school in my book series: Lady Agnue’s School for Princesses & Other Female Protagonists popped into my head. Later that week I drew out a map of the world, aka the realm of Book and I wrote the prologue and first chapter to go along with it. So that’s how it all started!

In terms of the “reimagining” aspect—I am a girl who is a big believer in the power of change and moving forward. People remake stories all the time; I want to know what happens next. Furthermore, I am someone who is extremely passionate about heroic female characters and living a life where you are always challenging yourself to be better, stronger, wiser, etc. Those qualities helped my main character of Crisanta Knight take shape. 

As the plot formed, fairytales were the main backdrop, but my love of superheroes, princesses, action-packed comedy, and elaborate world-building fused with that and started to grow. The idea for the story simmered in my mind for a little while and then eventually I came to a point where I had to explore it. And so the adventure began . . .  

2) I like the focus on character, identity, and friendship in the books so far! What are some of the topics and themes you think are important for girls and young women to see on-page?

At the beginning of my author journey, I set out to write a story that would inspire others the way my favorite tales have inspired me, featuring characters who balance heart, humor, and a genuine sense of honor. I always thought it was important that a great story not just be about an exciting external plot—magic, adventure, larger-than-life stakes—the true power of story has to be in the internal arc. Some themes I explore throughout my series that I think are very important for girls, young women, and all people are: self-acceptance, trust, taking fate into your own hands, making proactive choices, fighting for what matters to you, understanding, respect, perseverance, and more. However, the overarching theme of my series is CHANGE. To paraphrase a line in Book One, change is a beautiful thing because within it is the opportunity to do anything and become anyone. I hope that as my readers experience the series, they are inspired by all these themes to try and live as fiercely, wisely, kindly, and optimistically as possible. 

3) We talked a bit about “clean reads” and your philosophy on content, could you talk about that a bit?

There is a word I came up with in college: “scandalosity.” It’s a term that encompasses inappropriate, intimate things that take a movie from PG-13 to R, if you catch my drift. I tried to put that word into one of my college English papers lol, but the TA said she’d dock me a letter grade. Anyway, my books are scandalosity free. It’s not my thing, neither is extreme violence or gore—basically anything that would cause adults to want to cover the eyes of their under 18 children. 

I think that there is a lot of unnecessary violence and scandalosity in stories these days. You don’t need to rely on that to create something compelling or intrigue an audience. Strong storylines should always take the lead and if you are going to have romantic moments, action, death, etc. it needs to serve a greater purpose and push the story forward. If it’s just being used for shock and awe, it has no point there and it is lazy writing—storytellers trying to make an impact through cheap shots. 

Action and drama can be handled with style and class, and should genuinely matter to plot/character development. I once heard director David Leitch say something akin to: “You should learn as much about a character from a good action scene as from dialogue.” I agree with that. Death (the killing of characters) can also be a valid event in a story if it truly is integral to plot/character development. But again, there is no need to make it overly graphic. Like, maybe a death needs to happen, but there are many ways that it can be portrayed. No need to scar someone traumatically. 

Also, if utilized in a story that targets younger audiences, death should be eased into. Take Harry Potter for example. You don’t start in Book One with characters dramatically dying left and right. The story progressively explores the themes of loss and death—each book getting more intense so audiences of different ages are eased into some of the harder moments as they grow with the characters and the scope of the story.

Romantic encounters are also fine if they meet the same criteria of being integral to plot/character development (though it’s important to note that you can get the feel of intimacy across without random boobs or whatever flying in your face). I come back to the idea of handling things with style and class i.e. the choices of how intense moments are portrayed.

I’m often quite surprised by the types of content targeting the YA and middle grade markets. I feel like every other TV channel is showing something with murder or scandalosity. However, I firmly believe that audiences of all ages want more than that. People watch those darker things because that’s what’s on; that’s what the media is putting out there the most. But there is plenty of cleaner, goodhearted programming out there that is beloved, proving my point. There just needs to be more of it.

That is what I have brought, and intend to keep bringing to the world. My stories will have action, romance, drama, and deal with intense topics—morality, loss, anger, and so forth—but they will always be handled with care, finesse, and consideration of all the above factors. Any book I ever write can be equally and appropriately enjoyed by an eleven-year-old, a twenty-five-year-old, and a seventy-two-year-old.

4) I wish I had read all the books to know where this is going, but so far (The end of book 3) you have Crisa worrying about herself before she starts worrying too much about boys! Is there hidden advice in that? 

Growing up, most of my favorite stories have had male main characters. I think part of the reason for this is that while a male main character may have a love interest, that love interest/romantic relationship is never the point of his story; it is just another factor. Meanwhile, in most female-led fiction, the love interest/romantic relationship is of equal value and importance to that female protagonist’s individual journey. It shouldn’t be that way. She should come first. Most girls have more on their mind than boys. They just do. The complexities of growing up, taking ownership of your choices and goals, accepting yourself, and learning who you are and who you want to be is way more pivotal to a person than deciding which hot guy you want to end up with. So while there are romantic, shippable elements to my series, I do not belittle my female characters and their potential by limiting the scope of what they focus on to romantic entanglements.

5) What is your favorite fairytale? Do you have a favorite fairytale twist that you’ve written so far? (Mine is definitely everything you did with Aladdin, from the sarcastic cave to the flying furniture!)

In terms of my favorite fairytales—Cinderella has been close to my heart since I was very little. That’s why I made my main character Cinderella’s daughter. If we’re talking strictly about Disney interpretations of fairytales, The Princes & the Frog is one of my favorites. Then in terms of the classic, old-timey tales I have a lot of respect for Snow White because that story created the roots of the fairytale-loving culture we have today.

In terms of the twists I’ve written, that’s such a hard question!!

I have highlighted so many fairytales and classic tales in my series now—diving really deep into quite a few. For example, the majority of Book Five takes place in Camelot, so there are a lot of characters, myths, and settings I work with there. In that space, developing Merlin as a character has been really interesting, specifically regarding his relationship to Crisanta. However, as Book Eight is freshest to me, I would have to say that diving into Mulan and Alice in Wonderland lore in that novel has definitely been one of my most challenging and rewarding fairytale exploration experiences thus far. All of Book Eight really was an intense adventure to write—Toyland, Swan Lake, Rumpelstiltskin, there’s just so much!

6) Many books in the series have been nominated for and received Feathered Quill book awards (yay -congrats)!!! Can you talk about that a bit?

I feel very grateful for the many awards that different books in my series have won. In terms of Feathered Quill, I have won six awards so far. Winning such an array of awards in the last two years has been awesome—two awards for Best in Teen Fiction (13-18 years), two awards for Science Fiction/Fantasy, Best of Backlist, and The Write Companion Award for Best Overall TOP PICK (Adult, Children’s and Young Adult categories included).

Winning these awards, combined with the wide array of other awards that my series has won, is quite flattering. I think what makes me the happiest about this range though, is that it shows the huge scope of audiences that my series appeals to. I have always believed that one of the strongest elements of my series is how many different kinds of people it can connect with. If in one week I can get fan mail from a nine-year-old girl, a twenty-year-old college student, a forty-year-old woman, and a fifty-year-old father, then it means I have done my job right. Because, at the end of the day, this isn’t a story about a princess, or even fairytales. This is a story about a good-hearted, honorable person trying to figure out how to best live her life, live up to her potential, and do right by the world, the people she cares for, and herself. That’s a story anyone should be able to relate to theoretically.

7) As an author looking for feedback from reviewers and readers, what do you hope to see from those people?

I love positive reviews; I mean who doesn’t? But I particularly love it when people go into specific details about their favorite parts or moments in a book. Getting five stars is awesome, but knowing how specific jokes landed, or how twists affected my readers, what they connected with most, etc.—it is great feedback for me.

Also, I like to use a “Mario Cart” comparison when it comes to how reviews affect me (you know, the video game). So in that videogame, as you’re driving your racecar along, players can throw exploding mushrooms or other brickabrack at you. When that hits you, your car spins or you crash temporarily or slow down. That’s what negative reviews are; they don’t take you out of the game, but they can still hit you hard. Positive reviews are like the magical stars or rainbows or bonus coins that you pick up as you’re driving along. You could still keep going on fine without them, but they give you extra power and supercharge you. ☺

8) Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed! Is there anything else you’d like to talk about or add?

The Crisanta Knight Series is my beginning. I have so many other wonderful series and standalone novels coming down the line. For example, in addition to working on the Crisanta Knight finale right now, I am working on the first novel in my new “guardian angels” series that releases next year. Also, my magical, heartwarming Christmas standalone novel releases November 3, 2021—official book announcement and book trailer launching in June. 

***Audiobook Two for The Crisanta Knight Series releases this summer as well.

For more information, you can visit: www.CrisantaKnight.com

To stay updated on my latest book news, sign up to be a part of my email list through the website.

And go ahead and follow me on social media too, if you like:

Instagram/Twitter/Pinterest: @gculbert14

Facebook: @CrisantaKnightSeries

#crisantaknight #crisantaknightseries #geannaculbertson

Categories
Fantasy Middle Grade Young Adult

ARC Review: Anders Reality by Adam Roach

Thank you so much to the author for the early copy of Anders Reality! This one published on March 5th and is a great low/urban fantasy pick for Middle Grade March, from an indie author!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Anders Reality
  • Series: n/a
  • Author: Adam Roach
  • Publisher & Release: Indie, 3/5/21
  • Length: 288
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ for the target age group!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

WHAT IF FOR SOME, WHEN THEY SLEEP, THEY DON’T SIMPLY DREAM, BUT FALL INTO ANOTHER WORLD?

As “Dreamers”, they’re sworn to protect a world called Luceria and that duty has never been needed more than now. There was a time when Luceria was a beautiful magical place, but has become dark and dangerous because of The Taker.

The Taker is a Dreamer who wants the magic of Luceria for himself and wants the ability to stay there forever and rule with those Lucerians he’s turned into his own army.

For the past six months, Ander has been having nightmare like daydreams that he can’t seem to stop or get away from. He doesn’t know where to turn or who to trust and its beginning to affect every aspect of his life. On the night of his 14th birthday after spending the day being tortured by the school bully, Ander goes to bed and shortly after falling asleep, he feels like he’s falling and lands in the abandoned looking, terror filled world of Luceria.

Is this the same place as his daydreams?
Why is this happening to him?
Are there others like him on Earth who can fall into this other world?
Where has everyone gone?

Ander has more questions than answers as he begins to try and navigate not only the notion of another reality, but who he really is meant to be.

ANDERS REALITY is a YA Low-Fantasy Novel and is written for ages 10 and up.

Screenshot_20210309-164901

I am reviewing this one through the lens of “appropriate for age 10+”, not so much as an adult critique!  It is definitely appropriate content wise for the target age range and I think they will enjoy the story. The main character just turned 14 and in general the book does read to the young side!

When Ander is asleep, and sometimes when he is awake, he travels to an alternate land called Luceria. Eventually we learn that it used to be a wonderful and magical place, until the Taker started corrupting the world searching for a key that unlocks a strong power.

Ander and his two friends are all freshmen and he has a bully. He seems to get along with everyone else but is super sensitive and does seem to cry easily. It was fun watching that storyline resolve. He has to choose to be brave in both realms, both to defend himself at school and to choose to save Luceria.

I liked the idea overall, just had a lot of questions as an adult about the world and the inhabitants, but I think these will go over the target age range’s head.

My questions were: why cats? Why did the tether takers have to maim themselves, or were they just humans dressed like cats while the Lucerians were real cat-people? Whose heads were on stakes? Where did that whole VR Gaming thing with the tethers and available items come from?  Why keep all the dreamers in pods? Oh…. What the heck, THAT guy was the bad guy? And so forth.  I don’t think kids will question these things and it was appropriate length, with fast paced action for middle grade.

Overall? A good story, with high school friendships and being at odds with parents, and bully problems.  A lot of kids will relate.  I liked the low fantasy elements.  Recommend for kids who like contemporary/urban scifi/fantasy!!

Categories
Fantasy Middle Grade Young Adult

Book Review: The Severance Game by Geanna Culbertson

It’s Middle Grade March! So back in 2019 I won Crisanta Knight, book #2 – The Severance Game – in a giveaway, then never read it because I kept forgetting to get book one! So I finally read book one (click to see review here) and now I am digging into the series in earnest! I promise no spoilers!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Severance Game
  • Series: Crisanta Knight, #2
  • Author: Geanna Culbertson
  • Publisher & Release: BQB Publishing, December 2016
  • Length: 460pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ yes for fans of book one, middlegrade/YA, and people looking for clean content!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

A lot of questions ran through my head as I desperately clung to the roof of a magic train crossing over a gaping canyon. Like: How did I get here? What could I have done to avoid this fate? And, did I remember to shave my underarms before coming on this quest?

But even after taking on a witch in a gingerbread house, bloodthirsty actors, and a whole mess of magic hunters and other fairytale shenanigans, the biggest, most pressing question pulsing through my brain as my fingers started to slip and my enemy bore down on me was this: Could I really trust the person whose life I’d ruined to keep me from falling?

With antagonists closing in, inner demons threatening to consume me, and vivid nightmares chewing up my soul every time I shut my eyes, I was running out of options. I knew the moment to decide whether or not I could truly trust any of my friends was fast approaching. But my head and heart were stuck. For just like the precarious position I now found myself in, the pain of holding onto the path I’d chosen thus far was outmatched only by the worry I had over (gulp) letting it go…

The Plot/ story: per the end of book one, Crisa and friends are now on their quest to find the Author and change their fates. They escaped Century City, and book two starts the search for the lost mermaid princess of Adelaide’s heart. Travelling through the Forbidden Forest first, and eventually coming back to Adelaide, we see them confront all sorts of magic, beasts, and dangers.

Crisa’s dreams start to make a little more sense too as we learn about her spark of magic.  Despite the action and quest, dangers, antagonists, and more, this book took on a more personal nature for the characters and it’s mostly about Crisa coming into herself as a responsible protagonist.  

The main theme is that she wants to break the princess archetype of a damsel in distress, and be a hero. 

The World: unlike book one, now we are out in the world.  The woods of Red Riding hood, the grove of Hansel & Gretel’s witch, and even Earth of all places.  The sheer number of fairytale characters pulled into this book is amazing, and especially in the forbidden forest I liked how the world expands in both scope and magic.

The Characters: I hate to say but Crisa was such an insufferable brat in this book, it was hard watching her push her friends away.  She gets it into her head that she can’t trust them and has to do everything by herself in order to be strong… but is that how heroes work?

SJ and her potions keep the journey afloat, and she is patient while Crisa wraps her head around her problems.  Blue and Jason mostly sideline but reinforce the notion that the group should be working as a trusty unit. Daniel… Is just Daniel, he’s as bad as Crisa and… Dyhfgdhfvj no spoilers

The Antagonists omg I want more antagonists.  Arian and Tara and Nadia seem like a nasty lot, but we still don’t find out the motives in this book.

Overall: A+ for another clean, middlegrade / YA appropriate read with practically nonexistent content. I have to say I liked book one better, but definitely plan to read book three sometime soon. Crisa’s internal monologue was just too repetitive and, similar to the thorough nature of the Far Forest Scrolls books – it takes a LOT of pages to advance the plot. Book one was a faster read and I hope that three picks up the pace again now that we have established the group as a unit!

What are you reading for Middle Grade March!?

Categories
Adventure Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: Namesake by Adrienne Young

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for the early digital copy of Namesake by Adrienne Young! It is always hard to review sequels and such without spoilers so I will just share my general feelings about the book! To recap, here is the review for Fable

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Namesake
  • Series: Fable, #2
  • Author: Adrienne Young
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, 3/16/21
  • Length: 368
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ if you liked the first book

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Trader. Fighter. Survivor.

With the Marigold ship free of her father, Fable and its crew were set to start over. That freedom is short-lived when she becomes a pawn in a notorious thug’s scheme. In order to get to her intended destination she must help him to secure a partnership with Holland, a powerful gem trader who is more than she seems.

As Fable descends deeper into a world of betrayal and deception, she learns that the secrets her mother took to her grave are now putting the people Fable cares about in danger. If Fable is going to save them then she must risk everything, including the boy she loves and the home she has finally found.

Namesake is the second book in the Fable duology.  Due to the continuation of the storyline, this can absolutely not be read as a standalone.  If you skim my review for book one, you can find most of what I have to say about the world building and characters in general.  

There is more action than in Fable. This one was a much quicker read, although at the end of the day, the action fell into anti climax before drifting off to the ending. A few times during the action, Fable would think something like “ok *THIS* is the only way out,” and then she would never explain what *THIS* is and it drove me nuts.  Something else would just happen.  There is a chance that this will be clamped down in the final book though.

The title? Do you want to know where Namesake fits into the book? Hahahah probably the best storyline, you have to read to find out.  The only magic in the whole duology and it’s a great plot line.

Holland is the only new character worth mentioning, and we see a bit more from Zola and Saint as well.  I really liked this trio of adversaries.  Talking about any more characters may spoil book one. Learning more about West was also good for the story. The Fable and Saint storyline resolved a little bit cleanly for my tastes, and I swear that Fable and West never actually resolved any of the issues they were having.  These were big, real, practically unforgivable issues and they just *poof* went away in the next chapter, the same with the issues the crew were having with the situations. *Poof*.  The magic of the 7-9 grade level books.

Overall, I do enjoy the story and world Young has built here.  It’s a fun, high seas world with a tidy resolution and despite my gripes, they are good for that 12-18 ish age range.  Would I recommend the duology? Sure, if you like characters and romantic inklings more than constant action. 

Categories
Mysteries Suspense Thrillers Young Adult

ARC Review: The Girl in Cell 49B by Dorian Box!

Thank you so much to Fiction Press via Bookish First for the digital ARC of The Girl in Cell 49B by Dorian Box! This is an amazing sequel to The Hiding Girl!  These are fast paced, intense books, with fun, hope, and an absolutely fierce young woman lead! For The Hiding Girl: Click to see that review here!

Quick Facts: 

  • Title: The Girl in Cell 49B
  • Series: Emily Calby, #2
  • Author: Dorian Box
  • Publisher & Release: Fiction Press, March 1st 2021
  • Length:  286 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 5🌟 for entertainment value

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Arrested for murder on her sixteenth birthday and extradited to a corrupt juvenile prison, Emily—“the missing Calby girl”—fights for her life against a vindictive prosecutor in an explosive trial as the dark secrets behind the prison walls close in.

Emily Calby disappeared at age twelve, the only survivor of a notorious home invasion. Three years after her terrifying odyssey in The Hiding Girl, she’s safe, living in anonymity with her mentor, ex-gang member Lucas Jackson—before life blows up again on her Sweet Sixteen birthday. Arrested for carrying her birthday gift—an illegal handgun from Lucas—a fingerprint scan shows her to be the missing Calby girl and worse: she’s wanted for murder in another state.

Extradited to a corrupt juvenile prison in the middle of nowhere, Emily struggles to adjust to a new code of survival while battling a vindictive prosecutor willing to resort to any means to convict her. As The Law thwarts her every move, she begins to appreciate its awesome power. She discovers an unused prison law library and buries herself in the books, casting her destiny.

As she fights for her life in court, the dark secrets behind the prison walls close in. Her cellmate, a spookily prescient drug addict, is in grave danger. So is her first love, a gentle boy sentenced to life without parole. Emily’s desperate to help them, but how can she, when her explosive trial brings one new disaster after another? A courtroom thriller like no other.

Emily Calby is facing the consequences of her actions from one book, even though it was definitely self defense. She is trying to learn about law and the legal system to help in her murder trial, where the prosecutor is an absolutely vile woman. I can just imagine how so many juvenile offenders are shafted by the legal system, but Emily is determined not to be a statistic.

I was getting Orange Is the New Black mixed with Legally Blond vibes from the time spent in the girls juvenile detention center, and liked how Emily reaches out to the other girls to try to help them … She is such a fierce young lady! The lawyers couldn’t have possibly been any different but I ended up really liking Paula, the public defender too.

Once again the book handles some dark topics though like rape, sexual assault, murder, drugs, and the broken legal system

Lucas had me cracking up again too, I wish we could have seen more from him. I seriously love him and all of these characters. Emily has a lot of personal growth in this one too, including her first crush and continuing to grapple with her PTSD and identity. She learns a lot about privilege too.

These books aren’t by any means fine literature but they are thrilling, fun, and Box’s legal background shines in this one. I devoured it and hope there are more Emily Calby books!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme

Thank you so much to Tor Teen for the digital ARC of The Stolen Kingdom via NetGalley!  This is a great standalone YA fantasy, with everything from a king killer plot to just a twist of romance!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Stolen Kingdom
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Jillian Boehme
  • Publisher & Release: Tor Teen, March 2nd 2021
  • Length: 332
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 sure for fans of YA fantasy!

Here is the description from GoodReads:

For a hundred years, the once-prosperous kingdom of Perin Faye has suffered under the rule of the greedy and power-hungry Thungrave kings. Maralyth Graylaern, a vintner’s daughter, has no idea her hidden magical power is proof of a secret bloodline and claim to the throne. Alac Thungrave, the king’s second son, has always been uncomfortable with his position as the spare heir—and the dark, stolen magic that comes with ruling.

When Maralyth becomes embroiled in a plot to murder the royal family and seize the throne, a cat-and-mouse chase ensues in an adventure of dark magic, court intrigue, and forbidden love

This book to me is exceptionally well done as a stand alone fantasy.

The Magic: My favorite magic systems are the ones tied to the land, tied to a Kingdom, because they not only make sense to me but add so much to the richness of the world building.

A pure, healing magic, was given to the original King of Perin Faye by the land’s deity. Corrupted into dark and destructive magic when it was stolen, it twisted a king killer into something terrifying.  This is the legacy passed down through generations to the current king.

The plot/story: the plot ran at breakneck pace, again making it a great standalone.  A rebel lord has decided to replace a true descendent of the first king on the throne to seize power.  He finds a magic wielder and a plot to murder the ruling family is put into action.  Will the corrupted magic even allow this?  The current king is away while his sons entertain the heir’s wedding party.  The first son/heir is incredibly important as the stolen magic requires a vessel at all times.

Maybe a better question is, will Maralyth play along with this scheme of murder or will she fall for the prince?

The Characters: I liked the characters! A vintner’s daughter, Maralyth, has hidden her magic but doesn’t really know why it is considered illicit. The second prince, Alac,  who doesn’t want the throne OR the dark magic of his father, is the other point of view.  They are both drawn unwillingly into this insane queen maker plot.  There is instant attraction between them, but then it buds slowly over months.  I liked this tiny bit of romance.  Both characters had full arcs as they realized how tied to the kingdom they are, and the side characters were great too.  Why not throw in an insane and terrifying king, and funny guard? There is banter for days between them all.

The World: so much magic and lore. I wish she had discussed the religion more, although it only played a side role it would have added to the lore. There was more than enough world building for a standalone for sure. Food, wealth distribution, bit of history, economy, political structure, plus two sides of the same magic. Betrayal and a tiny bit of intrigue too.

Very low content as well, just a FEW kisses and a bit of poison and swordfighting.

I just can’t get over how the magic was tied to everything in the plot, I kind of feel like this is how fantasy magic should be! Plus strong, brave, funny characters, and plenty of action, this book was a huge win for me!

Check it out, again it publishes March 2nd!

Categories
Contemporary Paranormal Science Fiction Young Adult

Book Review: Mortal Remains by Mary Ann Fraser

Thank you so much to Sterling Teen for the giveaway win! I won a finished copy of Mortal Remains and found it to be a quick and entertaining YA contemporary / paranormal read.

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Mortal Remains
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Mary Ann Fraser
  • Publisher & Release: Sterling Teen, 2/2/20
  • Length: 360pg
  • Rate & Recommend:  🌟🌟🌟🌟⚡ for Young Adult Readers and fans of YA

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Morticia. Ghoul Girl. Freak. Eighteen-year-old Lily McCrae has heard it all. But despite what the bullies say, she loves her job doing makeup for the dead for her family’s failing funeral home business. Lately, though, Lily’s best friend Mallory is too busy reinventing herself to hang out, her stepbrother Evan is preoccupied with college applications, and her father is pushing her into taking over the family business without even asking her opinion, so she feels lonelier than ever. She finds herself spending all her time in the prep room talking to her “clients.” After all, the dead are the only ones who really listen.

Then the neighboring house is leveled in an explosion, dredging up memories of Adam, the boy who lived there and saved her life the day of the accident that left her scarred and disabled, and of the things she saw there that she just wanted to forget. When she, Mallory, and Evan go exploring and find a mysterious hatch in the rubble, they discover that someone’s been trapped inside. Someone who says his name is Adam. Trouble is, Adam has been missing for four years. And this Adam doesn’t have any memory of her and seems to be keeping a lot of secrets. As she spends more time with him, she can’t help her growing feelings even as his unwillingness to be open leaves her troubled.

Lily is forced to reconcile her feelings for Adam as together they delve into his mysterious past while she also struggles to figure out what she wants out of life and tries to fix her rocky relationships with Mallory and her parents. Will Lily ever decide who she wants to be? And is love enough to overcome truth?

Wow, for once I am actually in the minority of favorable opinions on this one.  GoodReads seems split but hey, I enjoyed it.

Lily works in her family’s funeral home.  She is extremely talented at the makeup and fixing required to make bodies presentable for open casket funerals, although this profession earns her quite a bit of bullying and teasing from peers.  Lily had an accident as a child as well that left her slightly crippled, and now she finds her solace talking to bodies and honoring their lives.

Measure twice, box once

Adam was the neighbor kid that Lily used to hang out with until his father chased her off.  Did she see a body one night??  When Adam’s house is blown up and he is found weeks later in an underground laboratory, with none of his old memories, all weirdness breaks loose.

Tread lightly on hallowed ground

I think the relationship arcs in this book are great.  Finding Adam starts to slowly bring  out the self confidence and self acceptance that Lily needs to find her own path.  The father wants her to take over the mortuary  business, the step mom is kind of just mean, actually they both are.  Lily needed an external source to start seeing her actual worth.  Watching her gain the confidence to deal with the bullies AND her family was nice. Both teens have a great character arc.

Each death helps us to become more human

The supernatural part includes Adam and whatever his father was doing down in that underground lab.  No spoilers here but the mystery involved kept the story moving as they searched for answers about his life.

Don’t lose yourself in the narrative of death and dying

There was a bit of teen partying too, Lily had one friend that still tried to bring her out into the social world of her peers, with mixed results.  There are not so subtle hints at party safety and drunk driving included.  These parts were good to round out the lives of the characters and give them that real teenager aspect.

Leather has no place in a mortician’s wardrobe

So yes – a cute budding romance (only to kissing, nothing more), a paranormal mystery, also a murder mystery, mortuary science, a girl overcoming her fears and her bullies, and friends sticking together.  No language or sex or anything else that kids really don’t need to be seeing either.

I would happily recommend this one to teens and fans of YA!