Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE by Stacey Lee

Stacey Lee’s UNDER A PAINTED SKY was one of my favorite reads of 2016, and I also thoroughly enjoyed OUTRUN THE MOON, so I was thrilled when I won a copy of her latest, THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE. Here are the cover and description.

The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey LeeAs one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, fifteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of using her extraordinary sense of smell to mix elixirs that help others fall in love.

All while remaining incurably alone.

For Mim, the rules are clear—falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa dreams of ditching the hermetic life of an aromateur in favor of high school, free time, and a boy to kiss.

When she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the school soccer star to help fix the situation, she quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice. It’s a calling.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The scents – I don’t think I could talk about this book without mentioning how much I learned about the sense of smell. I can’t even imagine how much research Stacey Lee conducted for this book. Imagine a world where you could read emotions based on how the person smells … well, I suppose that would be both a blessing and a curse. But I certainly found it fascinating to read!

2. The descriptions – Ms. Lee’s descriptions–particularly of the characters–are so evocative and artful. Here are a couple of them that stuck with me after I had finished reading the book.

My own nose–which looks like someone took pliers to Mother’s, tweaked it longer and pinched a bump on the bridge to be funny–doesn’t detect a single wayward molecule, though Mother’s the expert.

Sure, he’s cute, even up close, but overrated-cute. His eyes squint and he has one of those Count Dracula hairlines that, like the economy, is one day headed for a recession.

3. The stakes – On the surface, the stakes in this book might seem more quiet, but to Mim they’re all-important. The contrast between Mim’s calling as an aromateur and her longing for more out of life is so well-drawn. I loved how the tension kept ratcheting up with every choice she made until the stakes became all or nothing.

4. The love clients – Obviously the nature/course of love is a theme in this story, and I enjoyed seeing how it played out with the client Mim and her mother start out with at the beginning of the book. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s super sweet!

5. The resolution – I think it’s a sign of how great the tension in the story was that I was worried it couldn’t end well, but I was satisfied, which is all I can say without giving anything away :).

Have you read THE SECRET OF A HEART NOTE yet? If not, go pick it up!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S by Lee Gjertson Malone

I’m back with another MMGM! I have to say the cover of this one caught my attention when it kept popping up in my Twitter feed, so I clicked on it to read the description, and then I had to get my hands on the actual book. I’m so glad I did.

The Last Boy at St. Edith's by Lee Gjertson MaloneSeventh grader Jeremy Miner has a girl problem. Or, more accurately, a girls problem. Four hundred and seventy-five of them. That’s how many girls attend his school, St. Edith’s Academy.

Jeremy is the only boy left after the school’s brief experiment in coeducation. And he needs to get out. His mom won’t let him transfer, so Jeremy takes matters into his own hands: He’s going to get expelled.

Together with his best friend, Claudia, Jeremy unleashes a series of hilarious pranks in hopes that he’ll get kicked out with minimum damage to his permanent record. But when his stunts start to backfire, Jeremy has to decide whom he’s willing to knock down on his way out the door.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The friendships – Really, you could say the theme of this book is friendship and figuring out what it means to Jeremy. He has two girl best friends, one of whom he takes for granted, and even when he meets another boy, he doesn’t really get that they’re friends. Jeremy learns how to navigate those friendships during the course of the story.

2. The crush – The description of Jeremy’s crush and how he can’t even explain why this girl is different from the hundreds of other girls who surround him is so spot on. The moment he met her was one of my favorites in the book, and watching him stumble through his interactions with her was just priceless.

3. The pranks – I also loved not so much the pranks themselves but Jeremy’s yo-yoing emotions as he and Claudia performed them. At heart, he’s a good kid and doesn’t want to get in trouble, even when he thinks he needs to in order to achieve his goal of getting kicked out of St. Edith’s. But the prank where they get post-its and … well, I won’t spoil it :).

4. Jeremy’s character arc – So the prank discussion leads to Jeremy’s growth. I loved how experiencing the pranks led him to figure out what was really important to him in a number of areas. Did he really want to get kicked out? What was more important, getting credit or staying safe? He had to answer these questions and more and come out stronger.

5. The stakes – I have to say the stakes surprised me several times. I thought the pranks wouldn’t be a big deal and then–bam!–things were much worse than anticipated. Well done, Ms. Malone, on raising the stakes! I wasn’t sure how things would turn out in the end.

Overall, I thought this was a fast-paced and enjoyable read. I highly recommend it!

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

YA Review: BECOMING JINN by Lori Goldstein

I’ve been meaning to read BECOMING JINN for a while, particularly as I enjoy Lori Goldstein’s posts on YAtopia and I like to support authors who share their knowledge with those of us still in the trenches. I’m so glad I finally did! Let’s jump right into it.

Becoming Jinn by Lori GoldsteinAzra has just turned sixteen, and overnight her body lengthens, her olive skin deepens, and her eyes glisten gold thanks to the brand-new silver bangle that locks around her wrist. As she always knew it would, her Jinn ancestry brings not just magical powers but the reality of a life of servitude, as her wish granting is controlled by a remote ruling class of Jinn known as the Afrit.

To the humans she lives among, she’s just the girl working at the snack bar at the beach, navigating the fryer and her first crush. But behind closed doors, she’s learning how to harness her powers and fulfill the obligations of her destiny. Mentored by her mother and her Zar “sisters,” Azra discovers she may not be quite like the rest of her circle of female Jinn … and that her powers could endanger them all.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I’ve read about many paranormal characters, and yet somehow I’ve never read a story about a genie. I’m sure others exist, but this was the first to catch my attention. With my preconceptions being Aladdin, it could pretty much go wherever; I was just along for the ride!

2. The friendships – I loved the way this book looked at friendship from so many different angles. Azra had closed herself off after the loss of her best friend as a child, losing out on potential friendships from many different avenues. During the course of the story, she has to figure out what friendship means and how to be a friend.

3. The twists – Admittedly, I anticipated a couple of the twists, but Azra didn’t see them coming, so they worked. Sometimes those are the best kind. And they kept coming right up until the end, so I’m anxious to see what happens in the sequel.

4. The stakes – Just when Azra thinks she’s figured out what’s at stake if she doesn’t follow the rules, she discovers the consequences are even worse than she thought. The stakes keep ratcheting up throughout the novel, both physically and emotionally. Very well done!

5. The romance – I always love a good romance, and her crush in this book is so sweet. Then there’s her best friend, a boy who could possibly be more as well. I’ll be interested to see what happens next, as there were many complications for the romance at the end of the book.

Have you read BECOMING JINN? What did you think?

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!

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: SPINNING STARLIGHT by R.C. Lewis

While I enjoyed R.C. Lewis’ first book, STITCHING SNOW, it didn’t quite edge up to love for me. But her latest, SPINNING STARLIGHT, rises above the debut, in my opinion. While the two books are both sci-fis and the covers are complementary, they are not connected. But on to the description …

Spinning Starlight by R.C. LewisSixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it’s hard to escape it. So when a group of men show up at her house uninvited, she assumes it’s just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired.

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi’s vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home-a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers’ survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back?

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The fairy tale – I liked the use of a more obscure fairy tale, “The Wild Swans.” I confess I don’t get tired of the Snow White or Cinderella retellings, either, but it was fun to read something different.

2. The challenge – Think about how hard it would be to try and communicate if you couldn’t speak or even make a sound. Then add on to that the fact that in your world they’ve phased out the written word and everything is voice-activated, so you can’t even write out your distress message. I found it somewhat disturbing to consider this is where technology might take a civilization–but also believable in some ways. Yikes!

3. The romance – So on that note, how do you fall for someone when you can’t speak to them? More pertinently, how do they fall for you? I was impressed with how Ms. Lewis developed the romance and made me believe it despite this major obstacle.

4. The flashbacks – Often as writers we’re cautioned about using flashbacks, but when they’re done well, they’re very effective. In this book, they have the dual purpose of showing Liddi’s relationship with her brothers and revealing bits of herself that she can’t due to her inability to speak. I felt they were well-placed and powerful.

5. The stakes – Let’s add another layer of difficulty onto the communication challenges. Once Liddi ends up on Tiav’s planet, even if she could tell him what’s going on with her brother, she faces deep-held beliefs on that planet that could mean the natives won’t help her anyway–including Tiav. So it’s not only a matter of communicating but of trust. Hey, in this case, maybe it’s good she can’t talk?

Overall, it was a well-told story with a fantastic romance in a fun sci-fi world. Hey, I grew up in a family that pretty much kept the TV on anything that included space or aliens :). Anyway, if you haven’t checked this one out, I recommend it, and I look forward to whatever Ms. Lewis writes next!

Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: SEABORNE: THE LOST PRINCE by Matt Myklusch

Several years ago I won a contest for a signed copy of Matt Myklusch’s first book, THE ACCIDENTAL HERO, and I became an instant fan. I loved all three of the Jack Blank books and passed that enjoyment on to my husband. I look forward to sharing them with my kids soon. (You can read my review of the final book in the series here, but be warned of spoilers.) My seven-year-old was already eyeing the cover of Mr. Myklusch’s latest, SEABORNE: THE LOST PRINCE, with interest. Check it out.

Seaborne: The Lost Prince by Matt MykluschWhen 13-year old Dean Seaborne runs afoul of the Pirate King, he is given one last chance to redeem himself before he gets thrown to the sharks. His orders are to find and steal the treasure of Zenhala, a mysterious island where gold grows on trees. Dean infiltrates the island posing as its legendary lost prince, but the longer he stays in Zenhala, the more he questions his mission—and himself.

Forced to undergo intense and fantastical trials to prove his royal lineage, Dean can’t help but wonder if he really is the lost prince he’s pretending to be. With sea serpents, assassins, and danger on all sides, he might not live long enough to find out.

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The humor – I tried to find a good passage to demonstrate the humor, but it’s not really one-liners or even paragraphs at a time that make the humor in this book. Sure, those happen, but it’s more about the situations Dean finds himself in.

2. The adventure – Sea serpents! Kites that skim across the ocean! Kayaking and soaring over waterfalls! Pirates! I mean, this story is all about adventure.

3. The dialogue – The dialogue is clever throughout, but I especially liked the interchange between Dean and one of his seconds in the trials because of how it could be interpreted multiple ways.

Dean nodded. “Fair enough. I hope you’ll make it easier than your brother did.”

“The regent told my father you had only good things to say about Junter’s service.”

“I was being polite.”

Jin grimaced. “No need for that. Junter’s performance yesterday was an embarrassment. He disappointed my father and brought shame to my family. Rest assured, I will not fail as he did.”

“Good man,” Dean said. He studied Jin, trying to get a read on him. He was more talkative than his brother and said all the right things, but what he left unsaid rattled Dean. He wouldn’t fail in what?

Exactly! This conversation is one of many where the choice of words is key.

4. The twists – Is Dean the lost prince? Who wants him to be? Who doesn’t? There are so many rabbit trails in this book, but I’m not surprised. That’s one of the things I loved about the Jack Blank series as well–always a twist on the horizon! I’m sure there will be more in the rest of the series.

5. The stakes – Just when you think you understand what’s at stake for Dean, things step up a notch–but not necessarily in a life-or-death way. Yes, he has to face life-threatening trials, but the stakes end up hitting him even harder than his life as he has to decide who he wants to be as a person. Very well-done.

Have you read this book yet? Or the Jack Blank series? Let me know if you’re a Matt Myklusch fan in the comments!