Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: DREAM A LITTLE DREAM by Kerstin Gier

I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since I reviewed a young adult book, but that’s all right. I enjoyed catching up on the middle grade, too. Today I’m reviewing a book I picked up because I thought it might work as a comp title for my violin story, and the magic side of it does, so bonus! But also, I thoroughly enjoyed it, so here goes.

Dream A Little Dream by Kerstin GierMysterious doors with lizard-head knobs. Talking stone statues. A crazy girl with a hatchet. Yes, Liv’s dreams have been pretty weird lately. Especially the one where she’s in a graveyard at night, watching four boys conduct dark magic rituals.

The strangest part is that Liv recognizes the boys in her dream. They’re classmates from her new school in London, the school where she’s starting over because her mom has moved them to a new country (again). But what’s really scaring Liv is that the dream boys seem to know things about her in real life, things they couldn’t possibly know–unless they actually are in her dreams? Luckily, Liv never could resist a good mystery, and all four of those boys are pretty cute….

 

Here are the five things I loved most about the book.

1. Liv’s pull into the boys’ world – Based on the description, you can see this dream world is nothing to joke about. There’s some serious stuff going on there, but Ms. Gier does an excellent job convincing the reader Liv would continue exploring it despite the danger. Her drive to solve a mystery no matter what overrides her self-preservation, and it kept me engaged even when I wanted to shout, “Get out while you can, Liv!”

2. The literary quotes – As Liv is a fan of Sherlock Holmes (thus the mystery focus), by far the most quotes are from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but Liv also loves poetry, and both she and the boys quote from various poets throughout the book. It was originally written in German, so there are also references to German poets and folk songs. Oh! And after she sees Hamlet, there’s a quite funny dream involving it …

3. The secondary characters – From Liv and her sister Mia’s Christmas-loving au pair Lottie, to full-of-himself Jasper (who she labels Shaving Fun Ken), to Persephone Porter-Pergrin chattering non-stop until she freezes at the sight of Jasper, each character is so well-drawn. I also enjoyed how Ms. Gier used the dream doors to represent the characters in the fantasy world.

4. The swoon-worthy boys – While the description makes it seem like all four of these boys are to be admired, really only two of them deserve attention from a personality standpoint. One of them–Grayson–is off-limits as Liv’s future stepbrother, which leaves Henry. He’s cocky, obnoxious, and continually leaves Liv guessing–which is probably why I loved him. Some readers might not like this kind of boy, but I generally do. Note that Liv tends to be rather cocky and outspoken herself, so it’s a good fit. I enjoyed the romance side of the story, and since it’s planned as a trilogy, I’m interested in seeing where it goes.

5. The ending – I wasn’t sure how this book would leave room for further stories, but it managed to tie up the main story and then end with rather a cliffhanger. However, it wasn’t the kind of cliffhanger I found frustrating. I’m anxious to read the next book but not foaming at the mouth :).

Overall, I thought this book was a unique take on dreams, and I really enjoyed the setting. Have you read DREAM A LITTLE DREAM? What did you think?

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee

Sometimes I have a book on to-be-read list that I keep saying, “I’ll read that soon.” UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee had been that book for months and months. Finally a friend of mine listed it among her favorite reads for 2015 and I made it a priority. Of course then I kicked myself for not reading it sooner :). I could not put this one down, folks. Here’s the gorgeous cover and description.

Under A Painted Sky by Stacey LeeMissouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.

Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – Girls disguised as boys! I mean, you know I wrote one of those, right? I never get tired of this premise, and there are so many ways to do it well. For Samantha and Annamae, the disguises are necessary for their own safety. Do they work? Well, you’ll have to read it to find out!

2. The writing – I love the way Ms. Lee weaves music into Sammy’s thoughts. It’s so gorgeous. Sammy often speaks to her father, who–small spoiler!–dies in the opening pages. Here’s an example.

“Father, you told me music is a world that measures virtue by grace notes, and truth by the vibration of pitch against your soul. Will I ever find my way back there? Or is that world gone forever, now that you are no longer part of it?”

3. The friendship – It’s clear in the beginning Sammy hasn’t had many opportunities for friendship. Although her Chinese heritage doesn’t brand her a complete outcast from society like Annamae as a slave, she is a curiosity and an outsider. The bond these two girls forge is beautiful.

4. The romance – Although the romance isn’t as much of a focus as the friendship, it’s still a major part of the story. And of course, when the girl is disguised as a boy, that complicates things. I like the way Ms. Lee handles it, with the question being as much, “Does he suspect the truth?” as “Is he upset he might have feelings for a boy?”

5. The hope – Despite a lot of ugly things that happened to Sammy and Annamae during the story, I felt hopeful at the end. In large part this hope originated with the three cowboys they traveled with, but also with other people they met along the way who demonstrated there was a better future in store for the country. Everything wasn’t resolved perfectly–there were a few questions I would have liked answered–but I was hopeful.

I highly recommend this book. I think perhaps I didn’t pick it up for a while because of the Western setting, but that was a mistake. It’s a fast-paced read with a well-drawn friendship and tension-filled romance. So worth moving to the top of your reading pile!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: STORY THIEVES by James Riley

Hi there, MMGM readers! I know it’s been forever since I did a middle grade review. It should be no surprise that a James Riley book would bring me back into the fold, considering how much I love the HALF UPON A TIME series. I’ve been meaning to read STORY THIEVES for a while, and I’m thrilled it lives up to my expectations for a James Riley book. Here’s what it’s about.

Story Thieves by James RileyLife is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores. 

But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen—his classmate Bethany climb out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half-fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character.

Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret, so Owen makes her a deal: All she has to do is take him into a book in Owen’s favorite Kiel Gnomenfoot series, and he’ll never say a word. Besides, visiting the book might help Bethany find her father…

…Or it might just destroy the Kiel Gnomenfoot series, reveal Bethany’s secret to the entire world, and force Owen to live out Kiel Gnomenfoot’s final (very final) adventure.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The cover – Normally I don’t talk about the outside of a book, but I have to with this one. I brought STORY THIEVES along with me to a couple of my kids’ activities, and people kept asking me, “What is that book? What’s it about?” So obviously the cover grabs attention and makes people want to read the book! Way to go, Vivienne To! (Yes, I just looked up the illustrator so she can have credit.)

2. The premise – Um, seriously, who doesn’t want to jump into their favorite book and hang out with the characters? I so identify with Owen. Poor Bethany, trying to rein him in and explain that mixing the real world with the fictional world is a bad idea. And it so is …

3. The stakes – That bad idea? Do you really want to become Harry Potter? Or Katniss Everdeen? Think about what they go through. No thanks. Now think about the havoc Voldemort or President Snow could cause if they got out into the real world and had the same power. Pretty terrifying.

4. Kiel Gnomenfoot – I love this character so much! I love that he delivers zingy liners whether he’s in the book or in the real world–which, ok, is still a book that I’m reading, but whatever.

5. The ending – I love where the characters are at the end and the adventures they have left to explore. I’m so ready for the next book, which is already out, by the way.

Man, I already used up my five things, but you know James Riley’s books are hilarious, right? Even the acknowledgements, where he promises to send all readers a thousand dollars in cash … but I already tried, and he says his publisher nixed it. Oh well :). Still worth the read!

Reading, Review, Young Adult

DAMAGE DONE and a Few Other YA Books You Should Read

Yes, I know it hasn’t been very long since I did one of these roundups. But here’s the thing. I went on one of those request binges at the library and was deluged with books, so I read them all very quickly and didn’t have time to devote to individual reviews. Actually, that’s not completely true with this first one …

To be completely honest, I was afraid if I tried to do a full review on DAMAGE DONE by Amanda Panitch, I’d give too much away. It’s billed as a YA GONE GIRL with good reason. If I could have justified it, I would have stayed up until 2 a.m. reading this book. Instead, I split it over two days. It’s clear from the beginning the narrator is unreliable–she admits in the first chapter that she lied–but it’s unclear about what until much later. I thought I knew what the final reveal would be, but there were still surprises, and I’m a very suspicious reader! Definitely check this one out.

Damage Done by Amanda Panitch22 minutes separate Julia Vann’s before and after.

Before: Julia had a twin brother, a boyfriend, and a best friend.

After: She has a new identity, a new hometown, and memories of those twenty-two minutes that refuse to come into focus. At least, that’s what she tells the police.

Now that she’s Lucy Black, she’s able to begin again. She’s even getting used to the empty bedroom where her brother should be. And her fresh start has attracted the attention of one of the hottest guys in school, a boy who will do anything to protect her. But when someone much more dangerous also takes notice, Lucy’s forced to confront the dark secrets she thought were safely left behind.

One thing is clear: The damage done can never be erased. It’s only just beginning. . . .

One more thing about this one, since I realized the description doesn’t mention it but you’ll find out very early in the book. It does involve a school shooting and there are other graphic details, so if you will find any of that difficult, this may not be the book for you.


It’s no secret I love Sherry Thomas’ Elemental Trilogy. I reviewed both THE BURNING SKY and THE PERILOUS SEA (still my favorite of the three), and these books topped my list of favorite YA reads for 2014. Yes, I could have written another full review for this one, but I’d still be listing the same things I love about it. Basically, it’s an epic magical battle with a sweeping romance–the perfect end to the series.

The Immortal Heights by Sherry ThomasIn a pursuit that spans continents, Iolanthe, Titus, and their friends have always managed to remain one step ahead of the forces of Atlantis. But now the Bane, the monstrous tyrant who bestrides the entire mage world, has issued his ultimatum: Titus must hand over Iolanthe, or watch as his entire realm is destroyed in a deadly rampage. Running out of time and options, Iolanthe and Titus decide to act immediately and deliver a final blow to the Bane.

But getting to the Bane means accomplishing the impossible: finding a way to infiltrate his crypt in the deepest recesses of the most ferociously guarded fortress in Atlantis. And everything is only made more difficult when new prophecies come to light, foretelling a doomed effort…

Iolanthe and Titus will put their love and their lives on the line. But will it be enough?


I have a definite soft spot for books with celebrity characters. (That may be why I’ve written one 🙂 ). I never get tired of reading them, so when I saw the description for Jennifer E. Smith’s THIS IS WHAT HAPPY LOOKS LIKE, I was intrigued. And when I started reading the emails between the two main characters, I was immediately hooked. I devoured this book in two days. What a poignant and believable love story. While I wanted to find out what happened after the end, I was satisfied with where Ms. Smith left the characters. I did go read the sequel novella, of course, but I would have been *happy* without it :). (Anyone who’s read this book will get an extra kick out of those happy faces.)

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. SmithWhen teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O’Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds. 

Then Graham finds out that Ellie’s Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media’s spotlight at all costs?

 


I’ve read a couple of books in Bloomsbury’s If Only series now, and they’re just delightful. Kristin Rae’s WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN has me itching to visit Italy, which is on my list anyway, but now it’s become a higher priority :). Anyway, in addition to the excellent setting descriptions, the story surprised me with being more than the light YA romance I expected. Pippa’s decision to take off on her own in Italy had to do with some underlying family issues I thought Ms. Rae handled well. I highly recommend this one!

WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN by Kristin RaePippa has always wanted to go to Italy … but not by herself. And certainly not to sit in art school the entire summer learning about dead guys’ paintings. When she steps off the plane in Rome, she realizes that traveling solo gives her the freedom to do whatever she wants. So it’s arrivederci, boring art program and ciao, hot Italian guys!

Charming, daring, and romantic, Bruno is just the Italian Pippa’s looking for—except she keeps running into cute American archeology student Darren everywhere she goes. Pippa may be determined to fall in love with an Italian guy … but the electricity she feels with Darren says her heart might have other plans. Can Pippa figure out her feelings before her parents discover she left the program and—even worse—she loses her chance at love?


So, there are a few books I’d recommend. Quite a variety this time–a psychological thriller, a fantasy, and two contemporary romances. Hopefully something that will interest each of you!

I still have a few more books from the library, plus I’m heading to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale in the next week, but feel free to pass along any recommendations you have for me!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: WINTER by Marissa Meyer

Anyone who was following me on Twitter last week was probably expecting this review. For that matter, if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, it won’t surprise you either, considering I reviewed the first three books in The Lunar Chronicles series and CINDER, SCARLET and CRESS made it onto my favorite reads lists for 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively. No doubt WINTER will be on my 2015 list. I was torn between wanting this book to never end and wanting to race to the end, but despite 823 action-packed pages, it still only took three days :). (I feel I should mention the fourth book, FAIREST, which chronicles the story of evil queen Levana. Yes, I enjoyed it and felt it added to the storyline, but in a I-so-want-out-of-her-head kind of way. Plus, it made me wait an extra eight months for this one :(.) Anyway, on to the description, which, if you haven’t read the other books in the series, will have spoilers.

Still reading?

Ok.

Winter by Marissa MeyerPrincess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend, the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have to power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

Here are the five things I loved most, which I stress because I could wax poetic for a lot longer.

1. Winter – She’s not the traditional Snow White–but she is. Yet again, I am thoroughly impressed with how Marissa Meyer weaves in familiar elements while making this story completely her own. The people love Winter, and I loved Winter.

2. The interlocking stories – I mentioned this with CRESS, but it’s even more pronounced in WINTER with Levana, Winter and Jacin’s viewpoints added into the mix. Ms. Meyer expertly juggles nine (by my count) POVs throughout the novel without losing or confusing the reader. That is downright amazing.

3. The stakes – Oh my stars, as Ms. Meyer’s characters would say. The stakes kept getting higher with every chapter. New challenges for the characters at every turn. New scrapes to get out of–and sometimes changes that couldn’t be taken back. Wow. Just wow.

4. The romance – All of those romances that were set up in the first three books had to be resolved in this one, and I was satisfied with every one. Keeping in mind that these are supposed to be teenagers so they can’t all get married like in the original fairy tales. Thorne is still my favorite :).

5. The ending – I mentioned the length of the book at the beginning of this post, but there was so much happening in this book. Seriously, I was at page 200 thinking, what on Earth–or Luna–else can happen for another 600 pages? Ms. Meyer had so much in store, and every. single. page was earned. I loved every bit, and the ending was perfect.

Like I said, I had to limit myself to five here. Who else had to read this book as soon as it was available? Tell me what you thought!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee

A couple of weeks ago my critique partner Kip Wilson sent me the lovely gift of a signed copy of THIS MONSTROUS THING by Mackenzi Lee. I’d been hearing a lot about this book already from another writer friend of mine, Anna-Marie McLemore (if you haven’t read THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS yet, do it!), so it was already on my to-be-read list. Kip just moved it up! In any case, it’s a fantastic read at any time but especially for Halloween :). Here’s the cover and description.

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi LeeIn 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.

His brother, Oliver—dead.

His sweetheart, Mary—gone.

His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.

Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.

But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.

Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…

And here are the five things I loved best.

1. The re-imagining – It’s not a FRANKENSTEIN retelling. It’s a “here’s how someone would have fictionalized the true story of FRANKENSTEIN in a world where mechanical geniuses could attach clockwork body parts far beyond their time.” Ms. Lee explains the liberties she took even with the FRANKENSTEIN passages to fit her premise, and I loved it! Yes, the original is amazing, but this new twist on it carries its own brilliance.

2. The familiar – Even though it isn’t a traditional retelling, so many of the original themes of FRANKENSTEIN make an appearance in this story. As background, I’ll say that I never read FRANKENSTEIN in school. I picked it up along with several other classics after college, and it was one I especially enjoyed. Mary Shelley effectively makes you empathize with both Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. THIS MONSTROUS THING is written entirely from the viewpoint of Alasdair, but it still gives a compelling glimpse into the minds of both characters.

3. Alasdair – I loved Alasdair as a character, with his struggle to reconcile what he’d done and the push and pull of his desires for the future versus what was right. I also appreciated his resistance to who had written FRANKENSTEIN. It’s such a teenage boy response. I’m not spoiling this for anyone, right? Maybe some YA readers won’t know, but it’s not really a secret :).

4. The setting/world building – I enjoyed the world Ms. Lee created, this alternate history where mechanical parts had been integrated to such a degree. Here’s a snippet.

A gasp of December air slapped hard enough that I pulled my coat collar up around my jaw. The sun was starting to sink into the foothills, and the light winking off the muddy snow and copper rooftops turned the street brass. A carriage clattered across the cobblestones, the clop of the horses’ hooves replaced by the mechanical chatter of the gears. I got a faceful of steam as it passed.

5. The resolution – I was quite satisfied with the ending. And no, I’m not going to tell you if it ended the same way as FRANKENSTEIN–which, by the way, if you haven’t read that, you should really read both.

So, I highly recommend you go out and pick up/borrow a copy of THIS MONSTROUS THING. If you’ve already read it, tell me your thoughts in the comments!

 

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE SECRETS WE KEEP by Trisha Leaver

Although I didn’t win this book through PitchWars like the last couple I reviewed, I did pick it up after learning about it from Trisha Leaver’s PitchWars mentor bio. As soon as I read the blurb, I was dying to read the whole book. Check it out.

The Secrets We Keep by Trisha LeaverElla and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy’s shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she’s chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook and her best friend, Josh, over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy’s world.

When–after a heated argument–Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy’s death and everyone’s grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy’s life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options–confess her deception or live her sister’s life.

Here are the five things I loved most about this book.

1. The premise – I am a sucker for anything involving twins. I don’t know why. One of my manuscripts is even about twins. But the idea of waking up and being confused and everyone thinking you are your twin and you think they’re happy it was you who died, plus you feel guilty, and then you’re in too deep … wow.

2. The secrets and lies – At the heart of this story is a mystery Ella must solve–a mystery about her sister, the secrets she was keeping and the lies she’d told. But she never would have known about them if she hadn’t embarked on her own journey of secrets and lies. I loved how twisted it all was.

3. The character arc – Ella doesn’t start out in the best place, even before the accident. Her sense of her own self-worth and how everyone around her sees her is very skewed, which is partially what leads her down the path of impersonating Maddy. But it’s only through being Maddy that she’s able to grow as Ella. I liked seeing how she came into her own.

4. The romance – It’s almost like there were parallel romances going on in the story. Not for Ella, but a glimpse at the romance Maddy had with her boyfriend and Ella’s realization of what she’d missed with her best friend. Because of Ella’s viewpoint at the beginning, I thought the Maddy/boyfriend side of the story was going to be shown very differently than it was. I really appreciated how learning about that romance ended up being almost a factor of Ella’s character growth.

5. The stakes/ending – This was one of those books where I couldn’t stop reading because I kept thinking, “This is so messed up, how can it possibly end well?” Those are some awesome stakes. And as for the ending, well, I’m not giving that away, but I was satisfied. I stayed up too late to get to it :).

Have you read THE SECRETS WE KEEP? I highly recommend adding it to your TBR list.