When The Moon Was Ours – An Enchanting and Enigmatic Modern Fairytale

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When The Moon Was Ours – An Enchanting and Enigmatic Modern Fairytale

Lush and vivid imagery make for a beautifully written, if somewhat enigmatic, modern fairytale.  Fresh character concepts blend with universal and timeless themes to make something that feels weighty and exotic, and yet, still welcoming.  In short, Anna-Marie McLemore spins a pretty and a pretty strange tale that I gave four stars.


Goodreads Summary

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

My Thoughts

The book is paced for a leisurely read – rife with descriptions of pumpkins and petals, well drawn emotions, and pauses where characters ponder how much self discovery they can handle.  Both Miel and Sam are carefully crafted characters that transcend the page, and I enjoyed their journey towards acceptance.  I loved their friendship – the kind that lasts despite  the ugliness of life.  At the same time, the magical realism did, as usual, leave me feeling like I was a step behind.  I never fully understood the mystical bond of the Bonner sisters, and that left me a little frustrated.  Don’t get me started on the glass pumpkins – that is a mystery beyond my comprehension.  However, if you are willing to embrace the tale and let go of some of your rational questions, this is enchanting.  Some language and sexual situations make this most appropriate for the 15+ crowd.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Shadow Run – Her Ship. His Plan. Their Survival

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Shadow Run – Her Ship. His Plan. Their Survival

When you put the idea out there that a book is for fans of Firefly and Dune, there is going to be a lot of expectation and some skepticism.  I have never gotten through Dune – I tried, but I thought it was boring.  I do, however, drop everything when Firefly or Serenity show up on the TV.  Don’t expect a Captain Tightpants, but it is pretty shiny.  I gave Shadow Run 4 stars.


Goodreads Summary

They can steal her home. They can attack her ship. But they cannot touch her crew.

Nev just started as the cargo hauler on the starship Kaitan Heritage. His captain, Qole, is the youngest-ever person on Alaxak to have her own ship. She’s brassy and bold, and she brooks no argument from her crew of orphans, fugitives, and con men. Nev can’t resist her, even if her ship is a rust bucket.

As for Nev, he’s handsome and impetuous—and Qole and the crew have no idea that he’s actually a prince in hiding. He thinks Qole holds the key to changing galactic civilization, but when her cooperation proves difficult to obtain, he resolves to get her to his home planet by any means necessary. Word of Nev’s presence on board spreads quickly to other ships, however. Soon a rival royal family is after Qole, and they’re more interested in stealing her abilities than in keeping her alive. Before he knows it, Nev’s mission to manipulate her becomes one to save her.

To survive, she’ll have to trust her would-be kidnapper. Nev may be royalty, but Qole is discovering a deep reservoir of power of her own—and stars have mercy on whoever tries to hurt her ship or her crew.

My Thoughts

Shadow Run is a  great read from beginning to end. I loved the action, which felt pretty non-stop.  It is surprising how much character development actually made it into the story considering that the crisis mode is on continually.  I will say I didn’t connect with the female narrator until the second half of the book, but the male narrator is a pretty solid anchor until that point.  Fans of Firefly will find the tightknit crew and the complete inability to do anything the easy way very satisfying.  Themes of honesty, integrity, and finding your real home add nice depth to the adventure.  I’m definitely adding it to my high school classroom library and recommending it to fans of Amie Kaufman’s Illuminae, Tessa Elwood’s Inherit the Stars,  and other fast-paced action reads.  Language and situations are suitable for grades 8+, but adult readers of YA will find it enjoyable as well.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You might have missed Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff, and that would be a real shame

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You might have missed Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff, and that would be a real shame

This haunting and otherworldly book is such an enchanting tale.  I read it in just a few hours, but I’m still thinking about it months later.


Goodreads Summary

Only women and girls are allowed in the Red Abbey, a haven from abuse and oppression. Thirteen-year-old novice Maresi arrived at the Abbey four years ago, during the hunger winter, and now lives a happy life under the protection of the Mother. Maresi spends her days reading in the Knowledge House, caring for the younger novices, and contentedly waiting for the moment when she will be called to serve one of the Houses of the Abbey.

This idyllic existence is threatened by the arrival of Jai, a girl whose dark past has followed her into the Abbey’s sacred spaces. In order to protect her new sister and her own way of life, Maresi must emerge from the safety of her books and her childish world and become one who acts.

My Thoughts

I loved the setting – a sanctuary for women and girls with a magic and mythology that feels epic.  I loved the well drawn characters and their transformations in the course of the action.  The action is engaging and builds to a satisfying and suspenseful climax.  While there are dark elements in this tale, Maresi is ultimately an uplifting read with themes about friendship and finding inner strength in the face of fear.  Fans of Naomi Novak’s Uprooted will definitely want to check this out, but I think anyone who loves a good fairytale or folktale will be swept away by this read.  This is a translation, but you wouldn’t know it – the prose is fluid and magical all on its own.  I can definitely see many of my high school girls enjoying this, particularly those who like the His Fair Assassins series and Marie Lu’s Rose Society books.  It’s going on my classroom library wishlist.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Quests of the Kings by Robert Evert is not what you expect 

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Quests of the Kings by Robert Evert is not what you expect 

The blurb for Quests of the Kings had the magic words: “. . .  for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Kristin Cashore.”   That turned out to be pretty misleading.  Since my expectations where high, I was pretty disappointed.  The biggest difference is tone, and if you understand and embrace that before you begin reading, I think you have a better chance of enjoying the book than I did.


Goodreads Summary

From the author of the Riddle in Stone books comes a thrilling new series for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Kristin Cashore.

Across the realms, the kings’ quests captivate the imaginations of nobles and commoners alike. These dangerous competitions pit the most daring adventurers against each other as they compete for riches and glory for their kingdoms. 

Plain and ordinary Natalie, a sixteen-year-old peasant girl, loves listening to stories about famous adventurers, but the thrilling action of the kings’ quests seems far removed from her everyday life of mucking out stables and working every odd job she can find to support her siblings and disabled mother. However, after a violent run-in with Brago, a ruthless adventurer who believes Natalie is a threat to his mission, she is dragged unwillingly into the latest contest. 

On the run from Brago, Natalie seeks refuge with a rival adventurer, the legendary Sir Edris, and his squire, Reg. As they toil together to find the object all of the kings desire–an ancient golden harp–Natalie starts to feel safe with the fatherly knight. Yet, despite Edris’s protection, Brago is never far behind. When one of Brago’s cruel plots separates Natalie from her protectors, she must become as strong and cunning as the adventurers of old to save her friends and stay alive. 

My Thoughts

So, you think this sounds and looks like a serious book, right?  You would be wrong.  This reminded me more of the T.H. White take on Arthurian legend.  It is lighthearted, even at the most dire of times, and the quest is complicated and strung along as characters bumble and fumble around.  Entire pages are dedicated to conversations and bickering about unimportant things for the sake of humor, and the really terrible things are treated with fleeting gravity.  It is very Monty Python at times.  If that is what you enjoy, this book does play the comedic element to the hilt.  The main character’s appearance is made fun of in a variety of ways, her feminist stance takes the form of tirades that everyone ignores, and her ideas always go really wrong.  The men who get stuck with the thankless job of protecting and rescuing her frequently end up really regretting it.  I don’t particularly enjoy the style, so this became a chore rather than a pleasure to finish.  The language and sexual references are intended to be comedic and are pretty harmlessly bawdy and immature, but I’m not sure they are appropriate for the crowd most likely to appreciate the style – middle school readers.  I would say this is probably grade 7+ interest level but more appropriate for grades 9+. 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lucy Worsley’s Maid of the King’s Court

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Lucy Worsley’s Maid of the King’s Court

I adore Lucy Worsley’s historical television specials.  I was in the middle of her series on the wives of Henry VIII when this book popped up on my radar.  While it probably won’t grab your attention if you are expecting something as adult as the show The Tudors, I would have been pretty fascinated by it as a middle school reader.  


Goodreads Summary

In the vibrant, volatile court of Henry VIII, can even the most willful young woman direct her own fate and follow her heart in a world ruled by powerful men?

Clever, headstrong Elizabeth Rose Camperdowne knows her duty. As the sole heiress to an old but impoverished noble family, Eliza must marry a man of wealth and title — it’s the only fate for a girl of her standing. But when a surprising turn of events lands her in the royal court as a maid of honor to Anne of Cleves, Eliza is drawn into the dizzying, dangerous orbit of Henry the Eighth and struggles to distinguish friend from foe. Is her glamorous flirt of a cousin, Katherine Howard, an ally in this deceptive place, or is she Eliza’s worst enemy? And then there’s Ned Barsby, the king’s handsome page, who is entirely unsuitable for Eliza but impossible to ignore. British historian Lucy Worsley provides a vivid, romantic glimpse of the treachery, tragedy, and thrills of life in the Tudor court. 

My Thoughts

Eliza is plucky and smart and her narrative voice can speak to the modern girl without feeling out of place in her own time. Many of her struggles are universal to women of all eras, so she is easy to connect with.  The details about everything from marriage contracts to cosmetics are well blended into the storyline and add the historical aspects without miring readers down.  It is hard to write about this time in history without addressing infidelity and the rather icky bargains courtiers were willing to make for wealth or power.  Nevertheless, it is handled fairly delicately.  Themes of loyalty, friendship and looking to your own conscience add weight to the story line.  All of this means that an older middle school student interested in the topic will probably enjoy the book.  As an adult reader with some other books on the topic under my belt, I found this one a little dull.  The ending was also hard for me to embrace, though it was the ending I wanted, because it seemed a little bit of the stretch for the character I’d come to know in the course of the story.   In short, language, situations, and interest level are appropriate for the mature 7th grade and up set.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Bone Witch

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The Bone Witch

I had really high expectations for Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch, especially because the publisher said it was for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sabaa Tahir.  The comparison is fair – these authors offer fantasy with diverse cultures and exotic settings.  They all feature magical elements and female protagonists who find themselves outside of their comfort zone in battles they never asked to fight.  My problem is that those comparisons lead me to expect a lot of action in The Bone Witch, and when it didn’t deliver, I was disappointed.  That is a real disservice to this book, though.  The Bone Witch has a lot to offer fantasy readers, and it is a solid four star read if you go into it with the right mindset.


Goodreads Summary

The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

My Thoughts

This is a beautifully detailed book that develops a strong narrative voice and a rich culture and setting.  There is an elaborate way of life that readers must come to understand in order to see what the narrator is up against, but that takes a lot of time to establish.  If you are looking for more action, it is likely you will grow impatient with the minutiae of Tea’s life and training.  Readers who pick this up with clear expectations that this book is building to what I believe will be an epic battle in the next book will fare better.  I was particularly interested in the dual narrative – the author alternates  between Tea in the present and Tea in the past.  I liked how that built a lot of suspense, and I thought it was an interesting way to break up the monotony of dancing,  combat lessons, and detailed clothing descriptions.  I found the ending very intriguing, so I’m pretty sure I will pick up the next book, and hope that all the heavy lifting is done and we can advance to some pretty fierce action.  The exotic setting and the necromancy will interest many of my high school readers, but I question how many of them would stick it out, so I would recommend it to readers who have the patience to let a story build over those who want girls hacking away with swords every second (not knocking that, since usually I’m that reader).  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cecilia Vinesse’s Seven Days of You

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Cecilia Vinesse’s Seven Days of You

This is a book about letting things go:  Old hurts, old friends, and old dreams.  It is also a book about seeing all the good things that are waiting to fill the void.  It gets ugly, as only teen drama and talk shows can, but I ultimately enjoyed how it turned out in the end.  I gave Seven Days of You four stars.


Goodreads Summary

Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days…until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.

Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?

My Thoughts

The characters are fairly immature teenagers, and they all have their good sides and their bad sides. This book mostly revolves around an incident that broke up a friendship years ago, prompted by jealousy over middle school crushes.  If you are expecting more grown up issues, step away from this book.  If you are still holding a grudge from junior high and expressly avoid that person to this day, you will relate.  I loved the fact that the book did give a lot of the cultural aspects of the setting a role in the book, but don’t expect actual natives to be part of the cast.  I thought that was a missed opportunity, and I couldn’t decide if it represented the self absorption of teens or reiterated the the stereotype of self absorbed Americans.  I was horrified that the main character repeatedly pointed out her failure to learn the language despite living in the country for years.  Really?  I chose to enjoy the book despite those flaws, but I did notice them.   I will say that the book made me get a bit of wanderlust (which my husband promptly shut down – boo). Teens looking for a familiar story in an exotic setting will probably find this engaging, and there is definitely enough conflict to satisfy those who long for drama.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Other F Word

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The Other F Word

Natasha Friend’s The Other F Word is a funny and honest look at the mess that is family.  I enjoyed it, even though it made me cry a teeny, tiny bit.  I gave this book a four star rating.

Goodreads Summary

A fresh, humorous, and timely YA novel about two teens conceived via in vitro fertilization who go in search for answers about their donor.

Milo has two great moms, but he’s never known what it’s like to have a dad. When Milo’s doctor suggests asking his biological father to undergo genetic testing to shed some light on Milo’s extreme allergies, he realizes this is a golden opportunity to find the man he’s always wondered about.

Hollis’s mom Leigh hasn’t been the same since her other mom, Pam, passed away seven years ago. But suddenly, Leigh seems happy—giddy, even—by the thought of reconnecting with Hollis’s half-brother Milo. Hollis and Milo were conceived using the same sperm donor. They met once, years ago, before Pam died.

Now Milo has reached out to Hollis to help him find their donor. Along the way, they locate three other donor siblings, and they discover the true meaning of the other F-word: family.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed the dual narrative perspectives – it was a smart and interesting way to give two viewpoints about the topic, and the fact that it gave a male and a female perspective made this a book that I would hand to readers of both genders.  The narrators are funny and embarrassed of their family and amazed by their family and pretty much feel like real teenagers.  The decisions the characters face bring up a lot of emotions, and the book does a good job at portraying them honestly and in a way that allows readers to connect with them even if this is nothing like their own situation.   I also appreciated the fact that it gave both of the main characters a journey that was meaningful.  This really is a book about family, and it does highlight the fact that family can mean a lot of things.  Themes of grief, independence, and belonging add a nice weight to the story. I’m adding it to my high school classroom library wishlist and recommending it my my school librarian.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+, but adult readers of YA can enjoy it as well.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Sarah Cohen-Scali’s Max is definitely the most disturbing YA I’ve read this year, but it is also one of the most powerful

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Max is an uncomfortable read.   The cover and the Amnesty International endorsement make it clear that this is a pretty hard core book.  In short, the images may disturb you.  I thought it was fascinating and innovative, so it got a four star rating, but it might be too much for some YA readers.


Goodreads Summary

Nazi Germany. 1936.

“I should have been born yesterday, but that’s not what I wanted. The date didn’t suit me. So I’ve stayed put. Motionless. Rigid. Of course that means a lot of pain for my mother, but she’s a brave woman, and she’s putting up with the delay without complaint. I’m sure she approves of my tactic.

“My wish, the first of my future life, is to come into the world on April 20. Because that’s the Führer’s birthday. If I’m born on April 20, I will be blessed by the Germanic gods and seen as the firstborn of the master race. The Aryan race will henceforth rule the world.”

In the Lebensborn program, carefully selected German women are recruited by the Nazis to give birth to new members of the Aryan race. Inside one of these women is Max, literally counting the minutes until he is born and he can fulfill his destiny as the perfect Aryan specimen.

Max is taken away from his birth mother soon after he enters the world. Raised under the ideology and direction of the Nazi Party, he grows up without any family, without affection or tenderness, and he soon becomes the mascot of the program. That is until he meets Lukas, a young Jewish boy whom he knows he is meant to despise. Instead, the friendship that blossoms changes Max’s world forever. 

My Thoughts

So, why is this one of the most unsettling books I’ve read this year?  It is the adult tone of the narrator, which never varies from his introduction in the womb until the end of the book.  It is the unflinching descriptions of rape, murder and human experimentation.  It is the Nazi rhetoric that the narrator is born believing in wholeheartedly and without question.  Honestly, it makes for compelling and horrifying reading.  I found it hard to put down, but I’m not sure it is something everyone should pick up.  Readers who aren’t careful might just miss the message, and I honestly feared that this much exposure to Nazi rhetoric was a bad idea, even though I understood the ultimate goal.  It is a book that I think needs to come with a careful discussion and guidance.  As a teacher, I can say it’s going to be problematic for schools because of the content – graphic descriptions of awful crimes against humanity and blunt descriptions of sex, mostly non-consensual.  I get the message the book is intending to share and it is a powerful work.  I really liked the book and I believe it is an amazing concept, but it isn’t something I would hand to a YA reader. 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

If you liked Red Rising, give Jenny Moyer’s Flashfall a look

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If you liked Red Rising, give Jenny Moyer’s Flashfall a look

Jenny Moyer’s Flashfall had a premise that reminded me of Red Rising, one of my favorite books, so I was pretty excited to get my hands on it.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I definitely got vibes of both Red Rising and The Hunger Games from the opening scenes and the initial situation, but I’m also glad to say that this story really did have something new to offer fans.  There is all the rebellion, action, and adventure I crave, but there is also a fresh storyline with some unexpected developments.  I gave Flashfall four stars, but the more impressive endorsement is that I have had a hard time keeping it in my classroom library.  I recommended it to one kid, and I haven’t seen it on the shelf since – word of mouth has kept it in high demand.  I’m really surprised there hasn’t been bigger buzz about this one, so if you missed it when it published in November, it is worth your time to check it out.

 

Goodreads Summary

Orion is a Subpar, expected to mine the tunnels of Outpost Five, near the deadly flash curtain. For generations, her people have chased cirium—the only element that can shield humanity from the curtain’s radioactive particles. She and her caving partner Dram work the most treacherous tunnel, fighting past flash bats and tunnel gulls, in hopes of mining enough cirium to earn their way into the protected city.

But when newcomers arrive at Outpost Five, Orion uncovers disturbing revelations that make her question everything she thought she knew about life on both sides of the cirium shield. As conditions at the outpost grow increasingly dangerous, it’s up to Orion to forge a way past the flashfall, beyond all boundaries, beyond the world as she knows it. 

My Thoughts

Orion is a strong female protagonist with an admirable goal and a strong protective drive for the people she loves. She is easy to empathize with, and she is flawed enough to be believable.  The relationships in the story are engaging, and the romance is developed slowly enough to feel right.  I think the biggest draw for readers, though, will be the fast pace of the story – the action is pretty constant and the threat is real.  While I feel like the overarching world building is a bit fuzzy – I never quite understood exactly why Orion and her family were being used to mine this particular substance, or even where or when the story was set – I was still quite happy to just enjoy the story.  I will definitely be on the lookout for the sequel.  Fans of dystopia won’t be disappointed.    Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+, but adult readers of YA can enjoy it as well. 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.