Archive for the ‘Young Adult’ Category

Despite commitment issues…with trilogies, that is…I was convinced to read Madly by Amy Alward, the first in the Potion trilogy. I’m glad I did. Will I read volumes 2 and 3? I can’t commit!


When Princess Evelyn mistakenly drinks the love potion she prepared for Zain, she falls in love with the first person she sees, which happens to be her reflection in a mirror. Of course the royal family can’t have this. Plus it’s wreaking havoc with her magic…and her life.

The King calls a Wilde Hunt, an ancient tradition in which alchemists the world over try to find the exact ingredients for the antidote, for anything less will kill Princess Evelyn. Taking place in the current century, the Hunt pits the Kemi family, primarily Samantha Kemi apprenticing as an alchemist to her grandfather, who hails from a long line of famous, old-school alchemists against the ZoroAster corporation, a manufacturer of synthetic potion ingredients.

Madly nicely blends the old and the new. Characters zip around in cars and trucks, fly on airplanes and teleport. They communicate via social media, telecasts, cell phones, etc. Yet they use Bunsen burners, test tubes, and mortars and pestles. They look for ingredients including flowers, unicorns, abominable snowmen…the things fairy tales are made of. There is danger at every turn.

And what would a fairy tale be, old or modern, without a wicked witch and a love interest, both of which are here in full force. For a fun read, fairy tale, adventure, romance, try Madly out. You may be bewitched.


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Victoria woke up in a white hospital bed. The problem is that she wasn’t supposed to wake up. The night before she took an overdose of sleeping pills that she’d been accumulating. She was found by the elderly Juanita, her nanna, who she deeply loved. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.

Books about attempted suicide, the post-attempt individual and group therapy sessions and the bonding of the teens in the group are not uncommon. However,  put in the hands of Francisco X. Stork (author of Marcelo in the Real World) The Memory of Light is more than a young adult novel about depression. One reason it that it is semi-autobiographical, as per the Author’s Note at the end of the book. Stork was 24 years old when he took 60 sleeping pills in his suicide attempt. That knowledge makes the book more meaningful.

Also, Stork has created a diverse cast of characters. Vicky’s roommate is Mona, who comes from a broken home and is searching for her little sister Lucy. She needs meds to control her mood swings. Gilbert hears voices and there is the fear that he is schizophrenic and E.M. has an uncontrolled temper.

The contrast in illnesses is also a contrast in life. Vicky seems to have the idyllic life–coming from a wealthy family, having everything she could possibly want, private school, plentiful opportunities. Gilbert, on the other hand, has to help his grandfather with his gardening business because Antonio is getting on in years and can’t do it by himself. Gilbert’s grandmother is showing the signs of schizophrenia that Gilbert is starting to exhibit. E.M. comes from a family in which his father physically abused his mother.

The Memory of Light is realistic in its depiction of mental illnesses. In its realism, there aren’t necessarily the happy endings we typically read. However, Stork provides hope to those individuals who accept and treat their illnesses, whether it is depression, schizophrenia, or a myriad other illnesses.

Stork implores teens, especially, who know or suspect something is wrong or who just know they are hurting to talk to an unbiased individual or professional, someone who won’t judge them. Mental illness knows no income or educational or racial boundaries. Sometimes the pressures of day to day life in school or at home are too much.

I could not put The Memory of Light down. It was that good.

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It is the tail end of World War II. Throughout the war, the Germans headed east through Poland and Prussia while the Soviets headed west through Lithuania and Prussia, destroying everything in their path. The result, hundreds of thousands of displaced persons. Truth be told, both armies showed a barbarism that is unequaled.


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys folds the wandering of refugees into the story of the “deadliest disaster in maritime history, with losses dwarfing the death tolls of the famous ships Titanic and Lusitania.” Told in first person by four dramatically different people, the plight of refugees is vividly told by the characters and experienced by the readers.

Emilia, a pregnant Polish teenager, is saved from the rape of a Russian soldier by Florian, a disillusioned and deserting German soldier who has taken retribution against his superiors for their duplicity. Joana, a Lithuanian, is traveling to find her mother after years of separation. Alfred is a foolish, dimwitted German soldier who has seen the light of Hitler’s words and fancies himself medal-worthy, although he is far from it.

These four end up in the port of Gotenhafen and board the evacuation ship the Wilhelm Gustloff carrying 10,000+ passengers, which was ultimately torpedoed by a Russian submarine.

Characters in Salt to the Sea run the gamut from the self-centered, fearful of everyone Eva to the selfless old shoemaker Heinz. While you can understand Eva’s survival instinct and don’t dislike her for it, it is Heinz that comes through as the shining star, the wise old man always with words of comfort and encouragement.

The alternating chapters by the four individuals works well.  The writing and storyline keep readers wanting more. Salt to the Sea is heartbreaking at times, poignant at other times, scary most of the time.

My only criticism, and it isn’t a big one, is that the background of the story is included in the Author’s Note at the end. Having very little knowledge about the war in Prussia, a little history at the outset would have been nice. However, Sepetys includes a list of resources used in researching the book which was several years in the making.

There is no happy ending because how can there be with the devastation and destruction brought about by the war? But there is hope because there are people who tend to others before themselves, although they are vastly outnumbered.

Although it is the beginning of the year, I’m sure Salt to the Sea will be on my 2016 Top Ten list.



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Parker Grant is blind. Three months earlier, at the beginning of summer vacation, her father died. Her aunt, uncle, and two cousins moved into her house to avoid the necessity of Parker having to learn a whole new routine. Right now she’s practically self sufficient. Each morning she walks by herself to the local park and sprints laps. NotIfISeeYouFirst

Parker has a set of rules, some of them necessitated by her blindness, such as Rule #2: Don’t touch me without asking or warning me. I can’t see it coming. I will always be surprised, and probably hurt you. But it’s Rule #INFINITY–There are NO second chances. Violate my trust and I’ll never trust you again. Betrayal is unforgivable.  —  that will be tested in the upcoming school year when two high schools merge into one and she again comes in contact with Scott.

When they were 13, Scott and Parker were a couple…until he betrayed her trust. Then she shut him out. Now they are in the same trigonometry class. Are the feelings still there, three years later?

I liked Not If I See You First for several reasons. One reason is that it shows that blind people can be fully functional. Parker runs track, can help in the kitchen, and is a good student. While, yes, there are some areas in which she needs an assist, for the most part, she is self sufficient, spunky and independent.

I also liked the book because of the characters. Parker has a devoted group of friends in Sarah, Faith and Molly. They embrace her and are there for her through thick and thin. It’s the kind of friendship that most of us want.

I like Linkdstrom’s writing. It’s easy going. The story is interesting and unusual.

Finally, there aren’t many young adult books about people with disabilities, especially blindness. Blind by Rachel DeWoskin is the only one that comes to mind. So this is an area that needs more books.Blind

I will admit that the ending was a cop out, in my opinion, but that’s a minor criticism. Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom should be on your reading list.

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Jennifer Donnelly, author of Revolution and A Northern Light has given us another engrossing history lesson in These Shallow Graves. The rich and privileged Josephine Montfort is called into the headmistress’s office of her elite boarding school, Miss Sparkwell’s School for Young Ladies, only to find her close family friend, Abraham Aldrich, waiting for her with the sad news that her father, Charles, has died. It was deemed an accidental death–the gun Charles was cleaning went off accidentally.

TheseShallowGravesWhen Jo goes to bestow a bequest to the editor of the Standard, a newspaper Montfort owned, she overhears a reporter, Eddie Gallagher, stating that the death was not accidental. It was actually suicide. Jo, an aspiring reporter herself, cannot believe what she has heard and confronts her uncle, Phillip Montfort (Charles’ brother) who, indeed, confirms the story after Jo will not let up.

Jo feels compelled to find out what would prompt her father to kill himself and enlists Eddie’s aid. Being the career minded, aggressive reporter that he is, Eddie agrees and introduces Jo to the world of 1890s New York that no proper lady should experience, that of pickpockets, pimps, paupers and more.

Readers are apprised of life in Manhattan during the late 1800s, the wide divide between the haves and have nots, children left on orphanage doorsteps because there are too many other siblings to take care of, unscrupulous men who take in these orphans, train them to rob and steal in payment for their care, madams and prostitutes and more.

Jo’s actions, unlike those of teenagers of her station in life, goes against all expectations of her grandmother, uncle and mother; so much so that it may ruin the chances of a marriage proposal from the highly desirable Bram Aldrich.

These Shallow Graves is a most enjoyable read!

I also must recommend Donnelly’s other books, Revolution and A Northern Light, especially Revolution. To borrow my own words, “Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly: Historical fiction (also A Northern Light by Ms. Donnelly) combined with some time travel transports Andi Alpers from her 21st century Brooklyn home to the middle of the French Revolution. Wonderfully written and totally engrossing.”





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Mosquitoland‘Life is a journey, not a destination’ is one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s well known remarks and is so true for Mosquitoland by David Arnold because the end is somewhat predictable and anticlimactic (however, there is a small surprise thrown in).

Mary Iris Malone (Mim) is the main character and for a while you are not sure of her age. The book begins with a letter she is writing on September 2 to an unknown Isabel. She explains that a month earlier her father, soon after a divorce from her mother Eve, married Kathy and moved the new family from Ashland, OH to Jackson, MI (Mosquitoland). She further explains that she was called into school principal Schwartz’s office of her new school but before entering she overhears a conversation he is having with Kathy and her father, Barry, in which she hears Kathy say that “We all just want Eve to get better, you know?”

From that small snippet of conversation, Mim deduces that Eve is ill and needs her help. On the spur of the moment she decides to go to her mother in Cleveland, calmly walks out of the school and heads home (hoping she’s got a reasonable head start before Kathy and Barry realize she is not appearing in the principal’s office). She steals a coffee can with money from Kathy’s dresser and heads to the Greyhound bus station, purchasing a ticket to Cleveland.

The remainder of the book is Mim’s accounting of her journey, interspersed with letters to Isabel and reminiscences of how ‘into the moment’ her mother was as contrasted with her father who was more straight-laced. Along the way she meets a variety of people beginning with Arlene, her seatmate on the bus who Mim describes as “…a Grande Dame from the Old School, if ever there was one”, Beckett Van Buren, her heartthrob, Walt a Down’s Syndrome boy she takes a liking to as well as a variety of malevolent creatures.

Of course there are a few epiphanies along the way about family and friends.

What makes this book so enjoyable is Arnold’s unique writing style. He knows how to turn a phrase, such as The Leaning Tower of Tuft, referring to the bus driver whose tuft of hair Mim sees before seeing the man himself.  Or here, in the second letter to Isabel, “I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange.”

Mosquitoland is an enchanting journey with remarkable characters.

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What are the chances of reading two consecutive books with a character named Trent as a prominent character? Well, that is neither here nor there.

Mardi and Molly, sixteen year old twins, beautiful, spoiled, rich witches used to clubbing in Manhattan’s TripleMoonhot spots have been banished by their father, Troy, to the sedate little East End hamlet of North Hampton for the summer when their names become linked with the deaths of two students, Parker and Samantha, after a penthouse party. In an attempt to rein in their use of magic and to teach them ‘values’, the girls are babysitting Troy’s friend, Ingrid’s two children and are forced to get summer jobs like ‘normal’ kids. However, that’s like putting the fox in the chicken coup because they are exposed to two gorgeous guys who happen to be warlocks.

As the summer progresses, things get worse instead of better. The White Council of witches is seeking to censure (or worse) the two teens because of their visible use of magic which will cause attention by mortals to the existence of witches. The use of magic has been curtailed for the past ten years when mortals became suspicious of witches’ existence. In addition, there are witnesses who have come forward to say that Mardi and Molly actually pushed Parker and Sam in front of the oncoming number 6 subway train and therefore criminal charges are being contemplated against the twins. The problem is the twins have only vague memories of that night’s happenings.

However, getting their memories back and finding out who killed Parker and Sam takes a back seat in Triple Moon behind the girls hooking up, borrowing expensive stylish clothes, hooking up, drinking expensive wines, eating caviar, being jealous and secretive with each other and did I mention hooking up. Mardi races up and down North Hampton in her vintage red 1972 Ferrari. Molly rides Ingrid’s bike in stylish espadrilles or designer heels.

Ingrid and her sister Fryda, also witches, understand the seriousness of the matter and have even called in help from New Orleans in the form of Jean-Baptiste Mesomier, who specializes in regaining memory. However, the twins still remember little and do not take it seriously.

I do remember reading one of Melissa de la Cruz’s early books and liking it, however I don’t remember which one. Quite honestly, if I didn’t have to read Triple Moon for a journal review, I wouldn’t have read past page 2. I found the book truly mind-numbing and while I’m all for getting kids to read anything as long as they read, I would put Triple Moon at the bottom of the wish list. Not even the chapter names which are song titles (many of which her audience would not know) make this book palatable.

Mardi and Molly could care less about others, only thinking of themselves. Mardi drives a vintage Ferrari. Molly has a closet full of clothes. The boys in the story are gorgeous, blue-eyed, ribbed and rich…of course, rich. The girls think nothing of ‘hooking up’ and ‘removing clothing’, reneging on promises to babysit so that they can be with boys, drinking, etc. And while I don’t think every book has to have a moral, Molly and Mardi are no role models and surely project the wrong image for teens. If this isn’t offputting enough, it almost appears that Ms. de la Cruz got tired of reading her book because it hastily draws to a close with an improbable ending, even for a book about witches.

While I realize that Ms. de la Cruz is a prominent YA author and teens love to read her books, I could not in good conscience recommend Triple Moon to any reader.

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