YA Book Review

Brainwalker

Four Stars

Title: Brainwalker
Author: Robyn Mundell and Stephan Lacast
Publisher: Dualmind Publisher
Synopsis:

Fourteen year-old Bernard is full of out of the box ideas—ideas that nobody appreciates. Not his ultra-rational father, not his classmates, and definitely not his teacher, who’s fed up waiting for Bernard’s overdue science project. You’d think with a hotshot quantum physicist for a dad, the assignment would be easy as “pi”, but with his relationship with his father on rocky ground, Bernard is under more pressure than a helium atom.

And Bernard’s impulse control flies out the window when he’s stressed. So instead of turning in his project, he moons the class and gets suspended. Now his dad’s got no choice but to bring him to his work. At the Atom Smasher. It’s the chance of a lifetime for Bernard, who knows smashing atoms at the speed of light can—theoretically—make wormholes. How about that for the most mind-bending science project ever? But when he sneaks into the particle accelerator and someone hits the power button, Bernard ends up in the last place he’d ever want to be.

Inside his father’s brain.

And it’s nothing like the spongy grey mass Bernard studied at school. It’s a galaxy, infinite and alive. Like, people live there. A mysterious civilization on the brink of extinction, as unaware of their host as he is of them. But there’s zero time to process this. Bernard’s about to be caught up in an epic war between the two sides of his dad’s brain over their most precious resource:

Mental Energy.

With his father’s life at stake, Bernard must go up against the tyrannical left side of his father’s brain to save the dying, creative right side. But how the heck is he supposed to do that when he’s just a hopelessly right-brained kid himself?

Overall Review:

I enjoyed reading Brainwalker. I thought the premise was pretty clever – definitely an approach to teenage urban fantasy that I’ve never seen before. I found myself quite enamored with Bernard and all his geeky questions and theories. He’s charming and creative and perceptive – a great counter character to his father, who is obviously having a hard time and is kind of blah.

Bernard accidentally travels through a wormhole and ends up in his Dad’s brain. The plot hinges on a left brain vs. right brain conflict, which is definitely interesting. He also finds out that his Dad’s brain is shutting down due to energy loss and function failure. The science molded with fiction is pretty entertaining, and it creates an interesting conflict for the story.

It’s written well. The characters are well rounded, the conflict is great, and the science is surprisingly interesting. I think the author took a few liberties with the left-brain being totally logical and the right brain being totally logistic, but hey- it’s science fiction, right? Besides…underneath all the neurology, it’s really a story about connection and love and fighting for what’s important.

This is a great read, and perfect for the 12-15 age range.

I received a digital copy of this title for an unbiased opinion and reviewing purposes.

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The Graces

Three Stars

Title: The Graces
Author: Laure Eve
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Length: 432 Pages
Synopsis:

Everyone said the Graces were witches.

They moved through the corridors like sleek fish, ripples in their wake. Stares followed their backs and their hair.

They had friends, but they were just distractions. They were waiting for someone different.

All I had to do was show them that person was me.

Like everyone else in her town, River is obsessed with the Graces, attracted by their glamour and apparent ability to weave magic. But are they really what they seem? And are they more dangerous than they let on?

This beautifully-written thriller will grip you from its very first page.

Overall Review:

I liked this book overall. I’m always game for a new approach to YA fantasy stories, and the mystery that surrounds witches plays nicely into that. The author did a nice job mixing real world (high school, friends, etc.) with the mystical world where witches exist. It was a nice blend.

The story follows a girl named River, who automatically reminds me of the girl from Serenity, but I digress. She wants to be a Grace SO badly, and she slowly starts to fall in with their family. At first its hard (and if it wasn’t I’d be disappointed), but the family finally starts to trust her. The conflicts they encounter (both interpersonal and with external forces) is strong, and it was dramatic enough to keep my interest and move the plot forward.

The magic elements in the book were…interesting. I think I’ve gotten used to the Harry Potter style of magic, so when things started happening randomly and without apparent control, I didn’t really connect with that. There wasn’t an organized system for the magic, so I couldn’t really identify if the Graces and River were using it correctly or not. It was weird- I would have liked to see a little more explanation about how it works and why it’s hard to control. As a book about witches, I thought that lack of this was a huge negative. The other huge negative was River’s obsession with Fenrin. It was kind of unfounded- there was nothing written that established why she connected with him so strongly. I would have really liked to see that developed a little more.

The writing itself was easy and fun to read. The author did a good job building the characters and the setting, and giving the family a feeling unique to other characters in the book. The thing I liked best was River- I could see the difference in her as the story progressed. She was dynamic and relatable for me.

FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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The Argent Star

Two Stars

Title: The Argent Star
Author: Emerson Fray
Publisher: Createspace Independent
Length: 368 Pages
Synopsis:

Ren Argent wanted to be an archeologist and spend her life exploring the lost cities of Earth. But when a new planet is discovered and her father is appointed King, she has to leave behind everything she knows to rule over a place she’s only heard of in legends.

Not long after her arrival she discovers there are insurgents hiding in the darkened forests and the planet is on the brink of civil war. It won’t be long until the Monarchy steps in to “neutralize” the threat.
Will she be able to stop the hostile takeover? Or will her actions ignite a rebellion across the universe?

Overall Review:

My first thoughts on this book was that it was way too technical. I feel like there was so much jargon to sift through, and it wasn’t written in a way to make it interesting. The ideal situation with jargon is The Martian, but The Argent Star is a far cry from Andy Weir’s bestseller. This book also had a crazy and abrupt cliff hanger that feels like he was trying too hard.

The positives were that the scenery was nice and described well, and the writing style was easy to read. The conflict was believable, with enough moral dilemmas and political issues to keep the small cast of characters moving through the plot.

I did think it could have benefited from more hardships, though. There can never be too much conflict, and things happened a little too easily for the characters. I didn’t feel like there was enough information about the characters, either, and it made it difficult for me to get attached to them and care about them.

Bottom line? If you have other books to read, maybe pass on this one for other YA fantasy works. FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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The Sea of Tranquility

Five Stars

Title: The Sea of Tranquility
Author: Katja Millay
Publisher: Atria Books
Length: 426 Pages
Synopsis:

Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.

Overall Review:

This was a beautiful and emotional book. The characters were raw and damaged, which I found refreshing. I feel like a lot of times in YA the characters are very fluffy, but these ones were written so real it hurt. It was so character-driven, which is my favorite kind of writing- so I really enjoyed this book.

This book was a slow build, which worked perfectly for the plot. It wasn’t a boring slow, but more a strategic one that let me in to the story and to the characters in a natural way. Before I knew it, my heart was pounding and I had to catch my breath. The best part is that one of the passages in the book describes EXACTLY how it made me feel.

“When you look at her what do you feel? … Joy, fear, frustration, longing, friendship, anger, need, despair, love, lust.”
“Yes.”
“Yes, what?”
“All of it.” 

I particularly liked Nastya, who was pretty fragile and completely tough at the same time. She was smart and perceptive, even though she was sad and broken. Josh was kind of a loner, but he had the capacity to understand and protect. Between the two of them, they find a cautious romance that gets crazy heated as the story progresses.

The author has talent and it’s obvious through her words. I would love to read more of her work. She’s definitely on my must-read list!

FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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A Thousand Salt Kisses

Three Stars

Title: A Thousand Salt Kisses
Author: Josie Demuth
Publisher: Wise Ink
Length: 354 Pages
Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Crystal White is the new girl on Starfish Island. Dragged to the remote community by her environmental activist father, she is eager to find fun that doesn’t involve touching fish guts or listening to local folklore.

During a midnight swim with some new friends, Crystal is pulled out to sea by the waves. Convinced she’s going to drown, Crystal is rescued by Llyr, a handsome stranger. As she searches for him in the following weeks, she finds there may be more truth to the Starfish legends than she thought.

Over a sizzling roller-coaster summer, Llyr introduces Crystal to magic she’d only ever dreamed of. But as Crystal comes to love Starfish Island, it begins to drive her family apart. A nearby power plant is devastating local marine life, and her parents are stuck in the middle. As the magic and mundane parts of Crystal’s life converge, she finds herself risking everything to save Llyr, her family, and herself.

Overall Review:

This was a cute romance story. Pretty charming and very young adult- haha. It had a lot of drama, and it does a decent job of pointing out the reality of being a teenager. It was a fun and easy read, and even though it was lacking in some areas, it’s definitely a fun summer book.

The book focuses on Crystal, who recently moved to Starfish Island. She has a summer fling with a merman…which is an interesting premise, but it was written in a very unrealistic way. Not that a relationship with a merman is totally realistic, but the story was lacking a connection to the world the author created. That connection was also missing between the characters. I didn’t get much spark between them. And while the characters themselves were written well, the relationship was just off for me.

I was also disappointed with the amount of information about the merpeople. I wanted more. For such a different world which was such a central part of the story, more history and culture about this people would have gone a long way.

The ending was CRAZY. It was a huge cliffhanger, which made me pretty bummed. I hate cliffhangers- haha.

FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Dark Touch

Four Stars

Title: Dark Touch
Author: Aimee Salter
Publisher: Alloy Entertainment
Length: 239 Pages
Synopsis:

Tully isn’t alone in her skin. Whenever she touches someone, they feel everything she feels. All her ugliness. All her darkness. All her pain.

The only thing she wants is to be left alone—and to finally get out of her small Oregon town. But then she meets Chris. He’s everything she’s not. Light. Trusting. Innocent. And he wants Tully. Tully knows she should spare him the heartache of being with her. But when he touches her, she’s not sure she’ll have the strength to push him away…

From the author of Every Ugly Word comes a poignant, emotionally raw story about the violence that plays out behind closed doors and the all-consuming passion of first love.

Overall Review:

In reality, I gave this book a 4.5. 4 stars just weren’t enough, but there were a few things that prevented it from receiving a 5.

Dark Touch was beautiful. It’s dark and raw and captivating and vulnerable. It was mature, but not too heavy for the Young Adult readership. It follows Tully, who goes through such a personal journey of acceptance and self love. This book stripped me down and messed with my minds in ways I did not expect. It was fantastically painful in parts, brutally honest, and very deep. I don’t even know how to accurately explain how I felt while reading it- it just moved me in a way a young adult book hasn’t in a long time and in a way I haven’t experienced.

Tully was raised by an abusive and alcoholic father after her Mom passes away. The abuse is horrific. It’s not a part of my life, but having it presented in such a way makes me truly feel for people who have been affected by it. It’s such a dark element of life, and while that was definitely portrayed, it was balanced with a message of hope in the form of Chris.

I liked the fantasy elements of the book, with Tully’s special ability and how it shapes her life. That was cool- it was melded into everyday life for her in a way that was smooth and seamless.

The main thing I had issues with was how tidy everything ended. When a book like this is so messy and so hard all the way through, a nice ending where everything works out just seems a little far fetched to me. Other than that, it was fantastic.

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A Study in Charlotte

Five Stars

Title: A Study in Charlotte
Author: Brittany Cavallaro
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Length: 336 Pages
Synopsis:

The first book in a witty, suspenseful new trilogy about a brilliant new crime-solving duo: the teen descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. This clever page-turner will appeal to fans of Maureen Johnson and Ally Carter.

Jamie Watson has always been intrigued by Charlotte Holmes; after all, their great-great-great-grandfathers are one of the most infamous pairs in history. But the Holmes family has always been odd, and Charlotte is no exception. She’s inherited Sherlock’s volatility and some of his vices—and when Jamie and Charlotte end up at the same Connecticut boarding school, Charlotte makes it clear she’s not looking for friends.

But when a student they both have a history with dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

Overall Review:

I LOVE mystery novels. Love them. And there’s no better mystery story than Sherlock Holmes. This was a fun read for me because it plays off the original series, but puts it into a teenage/modern setting. The awesome thing is the personas of the characters stay in tact. Charlotte is a perfect descendant of Sherlock Holmes, and Jamie makes her perfect John Watson. The characters were also fresh- they’re obviously unique, but the balance is fantastic.

The story is charming and nostalgic, but even more than that it had a fun plot and pretty great conflict. The mystery is developed nicely, and the way the author teams the two of them together works well to offset any cheesy correlation to the old Holmes/Watson duo. It advances as the book goes on, and it becomes quite complex and fun. I can tell it was well planned and well researched. I’m excited this is a two-part series. I can’t wait for book two to come out!

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Three Stars

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Books
Length: 352 Pages

Synopsis:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

Overall Review:

 

I was really interested in reading this book, and then when I saw they were making a movie out of it, I knew I needed to review it before it came out. First of all, supernatural stories have never been my thing. Candidly, they really freak me out, but this one had more of a fantasy vibe. That combined with knowing several people who absolutely loved it, I swallowed my fear and pressed on.

The story is focused on a boy named Jacob, who had a horrible tragedy fall on him. Everyone thinks his head is full of darkness, of evil, so they return him to the place it all started- a broken old house where is Grandpa used to live.

I thought the book was well written- the way words flowed and elements were expressed and explained were beautiful. I thought Jacob’s character was done very well, especially since he was such a unique person. I did not, however, like the darkness. He was so dark, and it kind of freaked me out. The setting was great, the other characters and their abilities (like invisible Millard!) were fun, but it just wasn’t my thing. I tried- and I can recognize that it was well written- but I just didn’t enjoy this one.

My biggest concern was the identity crisis the book found itself in. It had a lot foul language, but it was also pretty conservative in other areas. It’s almost like the author wasn’t sure what he wanted it to be.

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The After Party

Two Stars

Title: The After Party
Author: Anton DiSclafani
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Length: 384 Pages

Synopsis:

From the nationally bestselling author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls comes a story of 1950s Texas socialites and the one irresistible, controversial woman at the bright, hot center of it all.

Fortier is the epitome of Texas glamour and the center of the 1950s Houston social scene. Tall, blonde, beautiful, and strong, she dominates the room and the gossip columns. Every man who sees her seems to want her; every woman just wants to be her. But this is a highly ordered world of garden clubs and debutante balls. The money may flow as freely as the oil, but the freedom and power all belong to the men. What happens when a woman of indecorous appetites and desires like Joan wants more? What does it do to her best friend?

Devoted to Joan since childhood, Cece Buchanan is either her chaperone or her partner in crime, depending on whom you ask. But as Joan’s radical behavior escalates, Cece’s perspective shifts—forcing one provocative choice to appear the only one there is.

A thrilling glimpse into the sphere of the rich and beautiful at a memorable moment in history, The After Party unfurls a story of friendship as obsessive, euphoric, consuming, and complicated as any romance.

Overall Review:

I was excited to get my hands on this book- it sounded really interesting and I wanted to let myself disappear in the world of Texas Glamour in the 50’s. I don’t know if my expectations were just too high or if there were some holes in the piece, but the book fell a little flat for me.

The book follows two women who are childhood friends and stay friends until the story takes place. The premise is interesting…but all in all, it was just too tidy for me. From the changing of names (they were both named Joan), to the two different sections of the psyche both women represented, and even to the rebellion story…it was just too neat and packaged. It wasn’t realistic for me, and it just missed the mark a bit.

One of the things that bugged me the most was that the women didn’t want to work to change their realities. They had no goals and no drive, and except for the “big secret” that turned out to be a huge letdown for me, there really wasn’t much keeping me going.

I received this ARC from Blogging for Books.

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The Young Elites

Four Stars

Title: The Young Elites

Author: Marie Lu

Publisher: Penguin

Length: 384 Pages

Synopsis:

I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

Overall Review:

This is a dark fantasy book, and I really enjoyed it. Lots of magic, fantastic villains (oh, how I love villains), and all of the princes and kingdoms you could ever want. I liked how the author set the scene. A fever that only left a few survivors- it makes Adelina special and unique going into the story. And then you find out that she has some pretty unique abilities and you start to love her even more.

I really felt for Adelina. She was kind of thrust into a world where everyone seems to be opposing her. She was abused by her father and felt totally worthless. She has a straight up weird relationship with her sister, and society shuns her because of what she can do.

I think my favorite part is that Adelina isn’t a hero. She’s not the good guy. Do you feel for her and become attached to her- absolutely. But she’s dark and broken. She’s complicated. And she’s fantastic. I really recommend this book. It was a dark read, but it was fresh and fun and a great take on fantasy that I think most people will really enjoy.

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