Book Reviews, Lists, Discussions, and Displays

Tag: Young adult fiction (Page 1 of 54)

Book Review: The Whaler’s Daughter

The Whaler’s Daughter – Jerry Mikorenda – Fitzroy Books – Published 24 July 2021

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Synopsis

In 1910, twelve-year-old Savannah lives with her widowed father on a whaling station in New South Wales, Australia. For generations, the Dawson family has carried on a very unusual way of life there. They use orcas to help them hunt whales. But Savannah believes the orcas hunted something else—her older brothers, who died mysteriously while fishing. Haunted by their deaths, Savannah wants to become a whaler to prove to her father that she’s good enough to carry on the family legacy and avenge her slain brothers. Meeting an aboriginal boy, Figgie, changes that. Figgie helps Savannah to hone her whaling skills and teaches her about the Law of the Bay. When she is finally able to join the crew, Savannah learns just how dangerous the whole business is. A whale destroys her boat and Savannah sinks into the shark-infested waters. That’s when the mysterious spirit orca Jungay returns to rescue her, and she vows to protect the creatures. That vow tests her mettle when the rapacious owner of a fishing fleet captures the orca pod and plans to slaughter them

My thoughts

The Whaler’s Daughter caught my attention, despite the dull cover, as I knew it was similar to true historical events and I wanted to see how the author would combine history with fiction.

A message of environmental protection, the author does a great job of conveying the historic events and perspectives from an approach that it is relevant for modern readers.

Few might know the story of Eden and the orca’s that worked with whalers in Australia. This story, I hope, will bring that story into the light. While much of the story in The Whaler’s Daughter differs from what is recounted of the events in Eden, there is enough to align the stories.

Along with themes of protecting the environment, caring for and working with animals, The Whaler’s Daughter also raises themes around the roles of women. Savannah is a strong and headstrong character. She knows exactly what she wants and that is to ride in the whaling boats along with her father’s crew. As she fights for her place, she has more encounters with the orcas. She initially fears and hates them, holding them accountable for the death of her family members. But as she gets to know them more, learns of the plans of the nearby towns leaders and gets her first encounter on a whaling boat, Sav must change everything she thought she knew.

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Book Review: When We Were Strangers

When We Were Strangers – Alex Richards – Bloomsbury YA – Published 27 July 2021

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Evie Parker is devastated in the wake of her father’s sudden death. But she knows something her mother doesn’t: the day of his heart attack, her dad was planning to move out. After finding his packed bags, an impulsive Evie puts everything away, desperate to spare her mom more heartache.

To make matters worse, Evie soon learns the reason her father was going to leave: he had been dating his twenty-two-year-old receptionist, Bree, who is now six months pregnant. Desperate to distract herself, Evie signs up for a summer photography class where she meets a motley crew of students, including quirky and adorable Declan. Still, Evie can’t stop thinking about her father’s mistress. Armed with a telephoto lens, she caves to her curiosity, and what starts as a little bit of spying on Bree quickly becomes full-blown stalking. And when an emergency forces Evie to help Bree, she learns there’s more to the story than she ever knew…

My thoughts

I am a massive fan of Accidental, so I was eager to pick up the author’s latest novel, When We Are Strangers. Again, Alex Richards delivers a novel that is full of emotional tension.

Evie Parker is distraught to learn of her father’s death. But when she finds his bags packed, ready to leave her and her mum for his pregnant mistress, Evie decides to unpack them and hide the truth from her mother. As she carries the weight of both the secret and her grief, Evie finds herself turned towards photography and entered into a photography course by her uncle. The course and her eclectic classmates give Evie the outlet she needs, but when she happens upon her father’s mistress and begins to capture images of her, Evie learns there is so much she didn’t know and so much she has still to learn.

When We Were Strangers is both gut-wrenching but also uplifting. For all the grief and emotional baggage Evie is carrying, there are moments of light, humour and human connection. I very much enjoyed Evie’s voice. She narrates the story and her teenage-ness just shines through so authentically and uniquely. She is sad, lonely and grieving and that comes through in her words and thoughts. At times she seems whiney or sulky, but that is so perfectly real. She has the right to be snarky and she uses that to the best effect.

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Book Review: Daughter of Sparta

Daughter of Sparta – Claire M. Andrews – Daughter of Sparta #1 – Jimmy Patterson Books – Published 8 June 2021

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Daphne has spent her entire life honing her body and mind into that of a warrior, hoping to be accepted by the unyielding people of ancient Sparta. But an unexpected encounter with the goddess Artemis—who holds Daphne’s brother’s fate in her hands—upends the life she’s worked so hard to build. Nine mysterious items have been stolen from Mount Olympus and if Daphne cannot find them, the gods’ waning powers will fade away, the mortal world will descend into chaos, and her brother’s life will be forfeit.

Guided by Artemis’s twin-the handsome and entirely-too-self-assured god Apollo-Daphne’s journey will take her from the labyrinth of the Minotaur to the riddle-spinning Sphinx of Thebes, team her up with mythological legends such as Theseus and Hippolyta of the Amazons, and pit her against the gods themselves.

My thoughts

For every reader who loved Percy Jackson or Greek Mythology, Daughter of Sparta is the book for you. I get so many requests in my school library for books that feature mythology, especially Greek mythology. Daughter of Sparta is a thrilling adventure. It is fresh yet fans of the mythological legends will recognise some familiar characters and quests.

There is so much in this story. The author could have used just one legend to inspire the story but we have multiple, with multiple gods, creatures and challenges that Daphne must face. It makes this book endlessly engaging and there is never a dull moment. I did find it a little confusing to keep track of all the characters, but having the familiar Greek gods and characters was helpful.

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Book Review: Ace of Spades

Ace of Spades – Faridah Abike-Iyimide – Feiwel Friends – Published 1 June 2021

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Synopsis

When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

My thoughts

Ace of Spades is heartbreakingly devastatingly yet as I was reading I knew that this is the reality for so many people and young people. It is thrilling, twisty and kept me guess right up until the last page. My main concern was how on earth the author could give me a satisfactory ending that was still realistic and boy, did Faridah deliver. Absolutely superb.

I was on the edge of my seat while reading this and often had my head in my hands and heart in my mouth. All the emotions and all the feels. Honestly, it wasn’t an easy book to read but oh my gosh it is such a powerful and reflective book of our current political and social landscapes.

Ace of Spades is a thriller, a mystery and realistic novel all in one. It’s #Diverse #OwnVoices #ReadWoke and every other on trend hashtag you could want. It’s gut punching and shows just how much resilience and strength it requires for people to survive in a society that seeks to destroy them. Ace of Spades is a debut novel and my gosh it is impressive.

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Book Review: Kind of Sort of Fine

Kind of Sort of Fine – Spencer Hall – Atheneum Books for Young Readers – Published 22 June 2021

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Synopsis

Senior year of high school is full of changes.

For Hayley Mills, these changes aren’t exactly welcome. All she wants is for everyone to forget about her very public breakdown and remember her as the overachiever she once was—and who she’s determined to be again. But it’s difficult to be seen as a go-getter when she’s forced into TV Production class with all the slackers like Lewis Holbrook.

For Lewis, though, this is going to be his year. After a summer spent binging 80s movies, he’s ready to upgrade from the role of self-described fat, funny sidekick to leading man of his own life—including getting the girl. The only thing standing in his way is, well, himself.

When the two are partnered up in class, neither is particularly thrilled. But then they start making mini documentaries about their classmates’ hidden talents, and suddenly Hayley is getting attention for something other than her breakdown, and Lewis isn’t just a background character anymore. It seems like they’re both finally getting what they want—except what happens when who you’ve become isn’t who you really are?

My thoughts

A story about surviving high school, with humour, honesty and a delightful freshness.

High school is tough – especially when you had a meltdown in front of the entire school and district. For Hayley, returning to school after she had a public breakdown in the school driveway is hard enough. When her parents and teachers decide that she is working too hard, she has to make a choice – drop tennis or drop her advanced placement courses. She drops tennis and is forced into TV production. She thinks it will be a joke. Instead, she is surprised to find herself having fun. She is teamed up with Lewis. For Lewis, senior year is the year he is finally senior producer at the school’s TV production class. It’s also going to be the year he recasts himself. No longer just the fat guy, Lewis has big plans.

When Hayley and Lewis are teamed up in TV production class, they seem like two opposites. Instead, they work really well together and they start to film documentaries that showcase the secret lives of their fellow students. It’s a bit of a journey of discovery for them both. Not only do they learn more about their classmates then they ever would have imagined, they also pushed themselves in new ways – physically and mentally and learnt more about themselves.

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Book Review: The Passing Playbook

The Passing Playbook – Isaac Fitzsimons – Dial – Published 1 June 2021

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Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother and a Messi-in-training. He’s also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio.

At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boy’s soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans – he’s passing.

So when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him after he discovers the ‘F’ on Spencer’s birth certificate, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even if it means coming out to everyone – including the guy he’s falling for.

My thoughts

A story about sport, friendship, romance and becoming comfortable with sharing who you are. The Passing Playbook is a trans coming out story but also about belonging and accepting yourself

Spencer is starting at a new school. It’s a fresh start and one he wants to control. He decides to keep secret the fact that he is trans. When he is recruited for the boy’s soccer team, Spencer knows he walks a fine line between passing and being revealed as trans. When the league’s discriminatory policy benches Spencer he has to decide how much he trusts his team mates and how much he is willing to risk to fight the decision.

Sports stories offer such a great backdrop for relationship and character development. It seems to bring out the best and worst in people. As Spencer starts to settle into his new school and tries out for the soccer team he has to decide how much he will risk to protect his new friendships and place on the team. He loves soccer, always has, so he relishes the chance to play on the boys team – something he has always wanted to do.

While Spencer’s school is meant to be pretty liberal and progressive, he is still uncertain how, if or when he wants to come out as trans to his classmates. As he starts to get to know Justice and develops a friendship (and something) with him, he starts to learn more about the risks Justice faces if he were to ever reveal his own true identity.

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Book Review: Harmony

Harmony – Richard Yaxley – Omnibus Book – Published 1 March 2021

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Synopsis

In 1914, Tom Stott falls in love with Gracie O’Donnell, but their love is thwarted by circumstance and war. Tom finds himself part of the blood-soaked landings at Gallipoli, while Gracie marries another. A deception, born in a place and time on the brink of war, traverses the world as successive generations seek freedom in a century of change. It isn’t until American teen Noah Clifford joins his mother Deborah, his grandfather Will and his great-grandmother Gracie in Australia that the secrets of the past are revealed, secrets that will take them back to the beaches of Gallipoli…

My thoughts

Harmony is a unique novel than spans multiple generations. Rich with a variety of character voices and a writing style that makes you pay attention to every single line, Harmony is a novel that compels the reader as much as it disorientates.

I don’t usually read historical YA fiction. I’m even less likely to pick up a war novel. And while Harmony could easily be believed to fit easily in either of these genres, it is not so easily categorised. Harmony does begin with a tale of heroism and a young boy heading off to war. Our first in a line of characters is Tom Stott. Farm boy, brother, son. Also the sweetheart to Gracie O’Donnell. However, when Tom answers the call to arms he leaves behind a pregnant Gracie who must marry another man.

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Book Review: We Are Inevitable

We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman<br /> CR: Simon &amp; Schuster

We Are Inevitable – Gayle Forman – Penguin Teen – Published 1 June 2021

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Synopsis

So far, the inevitable hasn’t worked out so well for Aaron Stein.

While his friends have gone to college and moved on with their lives, Aaron’s been left behind in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, running a failing bookshop with his dad, Ira. What he needs is a lucky break, the good kind of inevitable.

And then he meets Hannah. Incredible Hannah – magical, musical, brave and clever. Could she be the answer? And could they – their relationship, their meeting – possibly be the inevitable Aaron’s been waiting for?

My thoughts

What does a failing bookshop, a group of lumberjacks and a grieving teen have to do with each other? If Aaron had his way, absolutely nothing, but in this funny, heartening novel together they have the power to change everything.

Aaron doesn’t know what his future holds and he is still reeling from his past. His mother has left, his brother is dead and his father seems to be ailing more and more each day. Aaron knows the bookshop that was once his parents’ whole world is struggling. If he had his way, he would sell it and finally be able to move on with his life. Just as Aaron is ready to sell a range of new people enter his life and seem determined to do everything they can to bring the bookshop back to life.

As a reader, it’s no surprise that I love bookshops and I know many other readers feel the same way. Bluebird Books plays a big role in this book. It’s the perfect setting for this story, falling apart, disorganised but has so much charm and love woven into its very fabric – exactly like the story of awe Are Inevitable itself.

The characters are so vibrant in this book, just as they are varied. First there is Aaron. Grieving, worried about his father and the bookshop, left behind by his classmates and floundering a bit. He is described by another character in the book as an unreliable narrator. Just as my heart hurt from him he frustrated me a little as he is so persistent in pushing others away from him and being so distrustful. We see the story from his point of view, but it’s still easy to see how his hurt rules his decisions.

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Book Review: This Poison Heart

This Poison Heart – Kalynn Bayron – This Poison Heart #1 – Bloomsbury YA – Published 29 June 2021

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Synopsis

Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.

When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.

My thoughts

This Poison Heart starts with a magical realism vibe but by halfway becomes a thoroughly fun paranormal title with myths, eternal creatures with super speed and strength, and centuries-old feuds. I love books about plants and gardens. I love the vibe they give to books and This Poison Heart brings with it that same plant and garden goodness I adore, with the added benefit that Briseis can control the plants around her – or sort of. She has long hidden her gift and isn’t sure how to master it when she fears it and what it can do.

When Briseis and her mothers receive news that Briseis has been left an estate as an inheritance by her birth family, they think it might be the thing to save their struggling finances. Moving to the country also gives Briseis the first chance to really stretch her powers of controlling plants. Away from the city, she discovers that her birth family have a strange affinity with plants, especially poisonous ones. As Briseis revives the gardens that surround the estate, she begins to learn there is far more to her powers and far more to the secrets that surround her family’s history.

There is a lot to like about This Poison Heart. It kind of felt like two books joined together. The first half is focused on getting to know Briseis, her two mothers, their florist business and their struggling finances. The inheritance is a welcome reprieve for them, as is the move to the country. The banter between Briseis and her mothers is lots of fun, as is the banter the two older women share. They are full on mother-embarrassing, which Briseis pretends to hate but really loves. The move also allows Briseis to experiment with her powers, bringing the garden back to life, learning about the apothecary business her aunt and birth mother were running. She also meets Carter, who works at the bookshop in town and she finally makes a friend who knows the extent of her magical powers and doesn’t shun her for them.

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Book Review: Fire With Fire

Fire With Fire – Destiny Soria – HMH Books for Young Readers – Published 8 June 2021

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Synopsis

Dani and Eden Rivera were both born to kill dragons, but the sisters couldn’t be more different. For Dani, dragon slaying takes a back seat to normal high school life, while Eden prioritizes training above everything else. Yet they both agree on one thing: it’s kill or be killed where dragons are concerned.

Until Dani comes face-to-face with one and forges a rare and magical bond with him. As she gets to know Nox, she realizes that everything she thought she knew about dragons is wrong. With Dani lost to the dragons, Eden turns to the mysterious and alluring sorcerers to help save her sister. Now on opposite sides of the conflict, the sisters will do whatever it takes to save the other. But the two are playing with magic that is more dangerous than they know, and there is another, more powerful enemy waiting for them both in the shadows.

My thoughts

I do love a good dragon book and this one is unique, taking us away from the traditional fantasy world and into a very familiar landscape of high school, modern society and dragons, of course. Most people don’t think dragons exist – why would they?, but Eden and Dani know the truth. They have been raised as the next generation of dragon hunters. Taught by their parents, legendary slayers in their own right, to keep humans safe from the furious beasts.

When Dani discovers a dragon close to home and becomes soul bonded with it, everything she ever knew or was taught about dragons is challenged. Nox is powerful and can breath fire, with a deadly tail, but he doesn’t wish to harm anyone. Instead, he protects the dragon eggs entrusted to him and wants Dani’s help to hatch and raise them. Dani is torn between her old and new worlds and has no idea how to tell her parents. Eden is Dani’s elder sister. She trained Dani and only wishes it was she that people referred to as destined to be the greatest slayer. Instead, her dedication to the craft is unrecognised and her skills surpasses by the uninterested Dani. When The High Sorcerer enlists Eden’s help she is flattered and wants to use the opportunity to show everyone that she has what it takes to be the best slayer.

Written in alternating chapters, we readers get to see this story from both Eden and Dani’s perspective. They are both equally likeable as much as they are flawed and make some really silly mistakes. They are teens in a world of dragons and magic and choices that mean life or death. I found myself rooting for first one sister and then the other and then switching again. It’s easy to judge Eden’s choices yet harder to know see how easy it is for her to by lured by the promises she is made. Same with Dani, she makes some obvious mistakes trusting the wrong people and then not trusting those allied to her – like Nox, she’s rather mean to him I think – but this is so true to her character and upbringing and it makes both Dani and Eden genuine and authentic teen characters, trying to figure out school (high school for Dani, online college for Eden), friendships, romantic relationships and getting along as sisters – or at least not betraying, capturing and killing each other (though a far big of that does happen).

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