Tag Archives: YA

This is Not the End by Chandler Baker

This is Not the End by Chandler Baker

 This is Not the End
by Chandler Baker

If you could choose one person to bring back to life, who would it be? Seventeen-year-old Lake Deveraux is the survivor of a car crash that killed her best friend and boyfriend. Now she faces an impossible choice. Resurrection technology changed the world, but strict laws allow just one resurrection per citizen, to be used on your eighteenth birthday or lost forever. You only have days to decide. For each grieving family, Lake is the best chance to bring back their child. For Lake, it’s the only way to reclaim a piece of happiness after her own family fell apart. And Lake must also grapple with a secret–and illegal–vow she made years ago to resurrect someone else. Someone who’s not even dead yet. Who do you need most? As Lake’s eighteenth birthday nears, secrets and betrayals new and old threaten to eclipse her cherished memories. Lake has one chance to save a life…but can she live with her choice?

Rated: ★★½
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication: August 8, 2017
Genre: Young Adult
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

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This is Not the End by Chandler Baker

If you’re looking for something super sci-fi and devious, this is not for you. More contemporary than anything else, This is Not the End by Chandler Baker is a very interesting YA book that I initially disliked but really ended up enjoying it by the end. The reasons for which will likely be made in a spoiler vlog in the next day or two. That said, yes, there is something devious, and yes, there is a kernel of sci-fi, but where the heart of the story lies is with Lake facing her truths and the truths of expectations unknowingly placed.

The premise, I have to be honest, feels a little flawed. That there is a procedure that can bring people back to life, but can’t actually be modified to help the living is weird. I know, sci-fi, suspension of belief, but there has to be something there to make it rational, and for me there wasn’t. Then, to limit that choice of resurrection to someone on their 18th birthday and only then, is just weird and feels arbitrary. Why 18? I suppose, for the story’s sake, it needs to be 18, but in general, it just doesn’t seem realistic.

Aside from the unrealistic premise, the story was actually really, really good! I was completely absorbed by it, right there with Lake trying to decide WHO she should resurrect, and then trying to figure out WHAT was actually going on. I had figured out a major spoiler fairly early on, but Baker still managed to surprise me with it as I hadn’t guessed the entire truth. Untangling the relationships Lake has with her family, friends, and boyfriend was well written. It felt so realistic, which is what ultimately won me over — because I could see these characters as actual people and actual situations.

Ultimately, This is Not the End by Chandler Baker isn’t about a cool sci-fi premise, or about some shadowy black market world. It’s about people, relationships, and how they all face their traumas and deal with the repercussions. Solid pacing, good use of the dual time framing technique, and incredibly human characters all make this a solid recommendation from me.

The Secrets We Keep by Deb Loughead

 The Secrets We Keep
by Deb Loughead

First she blamed herself. Now she doesn’t know who to trust.

When Kit disappeared at a party and was found drowned in the quarry the next day, Clem knew who to point the finger at: herself. She was the last person to see him alive, the last person who could have helped. If she had just kept a closer eye on him instead of her crush, Jake, maybe Kit would still be here. She knows she made a mistake, and wishes she could just forget about it — but Clem’s friend Ellie says she’ll expose Clem’s secret if she doesn’t play along with Ellie’s lies.

Jake seems to have his own difficult secrets, and when he and Clem start to talk, they make a plan to help themselves move on. But when an unexpected discovery at the quarry makes everyone question what they thought they knew, Clem and Jake decide it’s up to them to uncover the truth.

Rated: DNF
Publisher: Dundurn
Publication: December 10, 2016
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

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The Secrets We Keep by Deb Loughead

I started The Secrets We Keep by Deb Loughead because I was just like yessss, murder mystery, young adult, possible romance, this is so great! I’m such a fan of mysteries and all that angst over characters thinking x person’s death is their fault when in reality something else entirely happened. So, I was super excited to get into this. And then, it all fell through when I actually read the words on the page.

This is a super short review because obviously I Did Not Finish-ed the book. Maybe the story itself is decent, but the writing, I could not get past it. It feels like the written equivalent of the Steve Buscemi’s gif where he is dressed like what he thinks teens wear saying How do you do, fellow kids?

The disconnect between the age the character is supposed to be, and the way it is written, the words used, is so severe and jarring, I just cannot keep going with it. It feels wrong. It feels as though the author is trying to write how she thinks teens talk and think, but at the same time, passing judgement on them?

If you can get past the writing, then I hope the story is an enjoyable one. It definitely seems like there’s something intriguing there, and hopefully my initial hunch that Ellie knows more than she’s saying is wrong, but for me, I’ll never find out. The Secrets We Keep by Deb Loughead is just a bust.

Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking

Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking

 Between the Blade and the Heart
by Amanda Hocking

Valkyries have one great responsibility: to return immortals to the afterlife by slaying them. As a Valkyrie, Malin has always known that the balance of the world rests on her ability to carry out orders. But when Malin discovers that her mother spared the life of an immortal who was destined to die, her world is thrown into chaos.

Malin not only wrestles with the knowledge that her mother might not be who she thought—she’s also thrust into the path of a gorgeous blue eyed guy named Asher who needs her help slaying the rogue immortal who destroyed his family. The balance of the world is at stake. And, as Asher competes with Malin’s ex for her love and loyalty, so is her heart.

Valkyrie #1

Rated: ★★★
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication: January 2, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, YA
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

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Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking

The synopsis had me hesitant on picking up Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking, worried that it would be just another love triangle ya cookie cutter novel. But! It was so much better than that! The world created by Hocking was interesting and unique, though I’m not entirely sure how accurate some of the mythological aspects were. Even still, it was a good story and I really loved the characters and world!

I was immediately skeptical of the book as soon as I opened up when I saw that Odin and the valkyries in this world were listed as Vanir, when they are actually part of the Aesir (well Valkyries were 50/50 but we’re not here to get that deep into it). I don’t understand why the change, since it seems so superficial, which then gets me wondering if it just wasn’t researched well enough? Or maybe the author thought Vanir, Aesir, all the same, eh? Which, it isn’t considering there was a war between the two. I am someone that has studied world mythologies, so it definitely got me started on the wrong foot. That said, I doubt other readers will notice the difference or care. But, I will say it did leave me wary for the rest of the beings mentioned and just how on point Hocking may have been with describing them/their purpose/origin.

Now that my one pet peeve is out of the way, the world was so interesting! I loved how there were mortals, immortals, hybrids, etc. just all mixed in together in this modern world. There was such a great combination of yeah, this world has all this magic and swords and fates in it, but there’s also bars and magical equivalent of hookah and school and vehicles. That your friendly, and handsome, mechanic could be mortal, but also have horns, was just such a super cool concept to me (please, can we see him again in the sequel??)

The story quest itself, and the theme of Free Will vs Fate was interesting, and I might have to re-read it to think it through a bit more because honestly, what really sold me on this book was the one thing I was worried would ruin it. The romance! What the synopsis failed to mention was that Malin’s ex was a lady and I died! I am SO IN LOVE with Quinn, I could not put the book down once I saw her. I just want all the things for her and just want Malin to talk with Quinn and sort herself out so they can be together. Like yeah, Asher’s great and all, but QUINN! My wlw heart was just so excited! It was also especially great to see that even with mentions of angels and demons, sexuality wasn’t taboo and to be LGBTIQA+ wasn’t a shock to the characters or presented as such to the reader.

I am so grateful to end my year on such a high note with Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking. A YA book with a unique world build, fantastic characters (with great use of romance), and just fun, this is something I definitely can recommend to readers who enjoy kick-ass female protagonists who can kick butt and fall in love and not have it be detrimental to either.

Frostblood by Elly Blake

Frostblood by Elly Blake

 

Frostblood
by Elly Blake

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has concealed her powers of heat and flame from the cruel Frostblood ruling class her entire life. But when her mother is killed trying to protect her, and rebel Frostbloods demand her help to overthrow their bloodthirsty king, she agrees to come out of hiding, desperate to have her revenge.
Despite her unpredictable abilities, Ruby trains with the rebels and the infuriating–yet irresistible–Arcus, who seems to think of her as nothing more than a weapon. But before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to compete in the king’s tournaments that pit Fireblood prisoners against Frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her–and from the icy young man she has come to love.
Frostblood Saga #1

Rated: ★★★
Publisher:  Little, Brown Books
Publication: January 10, 2017
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Borrowed from the Queens Public Library

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Frostblood by Elly Blake

I remember there being hype over Frostblood by Elly Blake, and the summary peaked my interest, so I picked up the ebook from my library and thought I’d give it a go. It surpassed my expectations and I’m actually really interested in continuing the series!

Blake’s world is really interesting, The concept is deceptively simple. A world divided seemingly between those with Frostblood powers and those with Fireblood powers, where the Firebloods have been hunted almost to extinction by the Frostbloods in power. It’s only logical that fire and frost be enemies, it needs to explaining, but Blake actually gives it to us! There’s a solid mythology behind the world, reasons given for why the Frostbloods and Firebloods are at odds, and I’d love to get deeper into hopefully with the second book in the series. There are gods and beings and they directly influence what is happening and it’s just so great to see a YA story where the author knows what the basis of their world is.

Though it clocks in at 376 pages, it felt surprisingly short for me, which is a good mark of how well the pacing worked for Blake. The book was broken up into various little mini arcs, each with their own tension that subtly built up to the finale. We go from death of Ruby’s mother, to training with the monks, to meeting the King so quickly and fluidly, there simply isn’t time to get bored and lose interest. The downside to this, however, is that we don’t get the time to build the romance between Arcus and Ruby.

Speaking of which, Ruby’s character growth was fantastic and I cannot wait to see her face the consequences of her actions in the sequel. But, what I really want to see is what happens with Arcus. As I said, there wasn’t enough time to build a proper romance, but it was one that I wanted nonetheless. I was excited at the prospect and giddy when eventually a kiss was shared (giddier still when a secret revelation was made at the end, though I had hoped/guessed at it long before). Will Arcus actually be ‘the one’ for Ruby? Or was he simply the one that was there? I’m hoping if he’s ‘the one,’ that we can actually see his character grow, or even just have him better developed. And, well, if he isn’t, then we do get a love interest that can match Ruby.

Frostblood by Elly Blake was a solid start to a new YA fantasy series that combines solid world-building with great pacing and main character growth to create a lovely story I thoroughly enjoyed.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

 

Beautiful Creatures
by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything

Caster Chronicles #1

Rated: ★½
Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company
Publication: December 1, 2009
Genre: YA, Southern Gothic, Urban Paranormal
Personally purchased title.

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Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Either I hyped myself up far too much, or I just didn’t get it for being out of intended target age range, but I could not fall for Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Though the premise was an interesting one, and the setting built it up to be part of one of my favorite genres — Southern Gothic — it just fell flat at the end.

Before it all fell away, things were pretty decent! I could get behind narrator Ethan, just a regular ole kid desperate to leave his small town behind. I mean, I grew up on the whole “I hate my parents and this whole town” genre of pop punk bands. So, I got it. I related. I was rooting for him to escape. Then, we get Lena, desperate to fit in outcast that lives moves in with her uncle, the town recluse/eccentric. She’s mysterious and stand-offish, and oh yeah, just so happens to be the girl that Ethan has been having dreams about for the longest time. So, obviously, they fall quickly in love, to the disappointment of the parent figures in their lives, as well as society. Sound familiar? It should because it’s so painfully overdone and by the book, and while there was nothing new about it, it wasn’t terrible! It was familiar and sometimes, that’s okay!

But, if it was all following a tried and true method of writing a YA urban paranormal/fantasy book, how did it fumble? Why was I let down? The answer is simple. The entire book continually set the message of trying to escape your fate, your destiny, your town. It almost beat us over the head with the message that you didn’t have to get swept away by everyone else’s expectations and could forge your own way. And then suddenly, by the end, the message dissipates. Your own path you thought you could take? Sike, you’re stuck reliving the same roads you’ve always been on because there is no escape! It was SO FRUSTRATING! And I think, that is a major departure from most of the books in this same genre.

I go more in depth on the theme of the book and the ending being such a huge disservice to what was a decent story in the Pages and Pause Screen podcast, so if you want to know more specifics about why I had issues with it, give it a listen! Otherwise, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl simply fell flat for me. Will not be picking up the second book in the series and honestly, probably wouldn’t recommend this to readers.

 

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Labyrinth Lost
by Zoraida Cordova

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.

Brooklyn Brujas #1

Rated: ★★★½
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication: September 6, 2016
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Personally purchased title.

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Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Listen, a book that takes place in the outer NYC boroughs, features witchcraft, has a potential bi protagonist, AND oh yeah, she’s latinx as well? I WAS SOLD IN A HEARTBEAT! Maybe it was wish fulfillment, but Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova was just everything I have wanted in a very long time. Because of this, it had the potential to let me down, and yet, it gave me life.

Centered around a family of brujas based in Brooklyn, Labyrinth Lost follows middle daughter Alex as she fights against who her family thinks she should be, struggles to find who she actually is, and oh yeah, travels through a magical land akin to the Underworld after a spell goes awry, risking her life in the process. What really makes this book so special isn’t the magic (though it’s pretty cool), but the emotion. The ties that bind Alex so tightly she feels like she can’t breathe, but when they’re gone, she feels lost. That everything is centered on her relationship with the family, and on the search for her place within it, while magical events are afoot, just makes this feel so real and let’s it stand out from every other typical YA magical girl story.

I would be a liar, however, if I didn’t admit that it does still follow some YA conventions — namely romance with 2 love interests. However, like with everything else in the book, Cordova gives it her own take. We have a potential love triangle that DOESN’T really involve the two parties fighting constantly and forcing Alex to choose; there are moments, yes, but mostly, they are able to put differences aside for Alex’s sake and because to do otherwise would put them all in danger. Also, it’s a queer love triangle!

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova is a great read that stands out among all the other YA magical girl stories. Cordova creates multidimensional characters that feel real with realistic reactions and emotions that carry the fantastic story forward. I cannot wait for the second book in the Brooklyn Brujas series to come out!

For more in-depth commentary on Labyrinth Lost, check out the Pages and Pause Screen Podcast where I talk about the story along with my co-host Ally as it happens (Full Spoilers).

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song
by Victoria Schwab

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwaba young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Monsters of Verity #1

Rated: ★★★★
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication: July 5, 2016
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Personally purchased title.

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This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

I had been dying to read This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab after hearing from so many what a wonderful fantasy author she is. I bought the book without reading the synopsis or knowing anything about it really, while I was in Portland’s City of Books about a year ago. I just thought okay, good cover, people have said good things, I’m taking a chance! That chance lay on a bookshelf for almost an entire year before I finally picked it up for the Pages and Pause Screen podcast.

I absolutely LOVED it. I knew almost immediately this book would be a five star book. The writing was flawless and the characters were so well rounded and well written. The world-building, which can prove to be cumbersome to deal with for many, seemed seamless. Everything flowed naturally, so that any little bit of information we learned about this world, about monsters and music, came alongside the action and not in large chunks of awkward exposition that breaks rhythm.

Schwab does a fantastic job deconstructing the typical male and female roles in fantasy. Usually, we’ll see the aloof, broody male that has anger issues, and the serene, docile female that quiets the rage of the other. And then, of course, this leads to an inevitable romance, that will down the line be tested. Schwab changes everything up! She gives up the perfect gem that is Kate Harker — angry, vicious, cynical, calculating, and August Flynn — a soft boy trying to do and be good in a world that only considers him capable of being a monster, that only wants him to be a monster.

The two form an unlikely alliance considering their end goals are complete opposites — at first. Slowly, the come to know each other and then, just when you think here comes the romance, there isn’t! It ends! Do you realize how amazing this is? That, in a YA fantasy, there are two protagonists, a male and female, and they grow close and DON’T kiss kiss fall in love? I can’t remember the last time I’ve read something this compelling without romance (if you have, please do rec them to me!). It felt so good, so refreshing to have two characters meet, go through something, and then realize things are still what they are (cryptic wording simply because I don’t want to go into spoilers). Though, Schwab is fantastic at crafting their platonic relationship because if you wanted to, there’s plenty that can be construed as romantic and as hinting towards a romance. And if you don’t, then it isn’t there, taking over the spotlight of a wonderful story or being crammed down your throat.

Leaning away from the characters, the story and world is extremely interesting as well. Crimes actually have real, tangible, physical repercussions in the form of the three types of monsters: Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai. We’re told that particular acts of violence will result in their creation. At first glance, this monster system makes sense. Seems flawless, but then something happens towards the end and you realize there are cracks. This opens up what can be a great discussion on whether all acts of violence deserve to be treated the same way, whether creating one malchai by accident is just as bad as creating a malchai on purpose. There’s a reason we (in the US) have different levels of murder in the judiciary system, as well as labels that can be applied instead of murder.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab is simply one of the best YA fantasy books I have read in recent time. Set in a unique world with it’s own set of rules and norms, redefining what the other and monsters are, and putting together a pair of protagonists that fall on different ends of the spectrum in this world, yet not having them fall in a romance, are all things that set this novel apart from many others in the genre. Definitely, pick this up, find a friend, and discuss!

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

 Beasts Made of Night
by Tochi Onyebuchi

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

A gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy.

Rated: ★★★
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication: October 31, 2017
Genre: Fantasy, YA
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

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Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

If there is one way to guarantee I’ll read your book, just mention sin eaters, and I’m in. The concept of people existing for the sole purpose of consuming the sins from another is just so fascinating to me. So, when I picked up Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, I already went in with high expectations and was not disappointed! Though, I did need to step back away from it for a moment.

The concept is a fantastic one, and not all that far-fetched considering the real life medieval use of indulgences. In the city of Kos, there exists a specific subset of people that have the ability to swallow sins. Each sin they swallow, they take into themselves, the feelings of shame, madness, revulsion. They are permanently marked with these sins. As such, you can only imagine how the sin-eaters are treated. Not with reverence, but disgust over the various marks of defect on their skins. The fact that they “seemingly” have no problem with taking another’s sins. Little do they care that the sin-eaters are forced to do so by a corrupt system that relies on them entirely. None moreso than the wealthy and the royals (I have so much I want to say about this book but with regards to the royals, I’ll simply say I love how it does not follow typical YA convention — tweet me if you want to discuss!).

There is a smidge of romance, which really leads to the amazing build-up at the end! And boy, that ending was just fantastic! I cannot wait for the follow-up. It was a great payoff to everything that Onyebuchi steadily built and weaved through from the start.

Now, all that said, why did I mention earlier that I needed to step back away from it for a moment? Easy peasy. I was reading and kept wondering WHY I wasn’t as into it as I should have been. It had all the elements and the writing was strong. So, why? I stepped away and thought about what I was having trouble with. That’s when it hit me — the culture/language, it wasn’t something I was used to. Most YA fantasy tends to come to us from a very European backdrop. We have a few that stray (The Bone Witch is one), but they tend not to really use the words. Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova does, but I felt comfortable with that because I am latinx. So, after realizing that was what was giving me difficulty, I looked at myself and said get over it. If I can read Tolkien and all the gobbledegook languages he made up and not have a problem with it, this should be no different. I picked it back up, and it was night and day. Everything was so much easier. I got sucked it and loved every second of it. All it took was me identifying what was blocking me, to get my head in gear, unblock, and fall into an amazing story!

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi is an amazing YA novel that finally breaks away from traditional European fantasy. It creates its own wonderful mythos and is so extremely rich in detail, I could taste the foods, smell the smells, and believe in the culture. I really cannot convey how much I want everyone to read this, and if you think you don’t ‘get’ it, think about why, and go again.

*Small note – there is an exclusive Pages and Pause Screen podcast on the patreon talking about potential racism in ya fantasy and ya fantasy reviews, for any interested listeners.