Searching for Normal

Author: C.J. Darlington

Series: Riverbend Friends #2

Publisher: Focus on the Family

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The second book in the Riverbend Friends series picks up where the first left off, but now readers get to focus on Shay and see her story. A great YA/Coming of age story that is perfect for young adult readers.

The second book in the Riverbend Friends series focuses on the life of Shay Mitchell. Her life changed forever six months ago when she came to live with her aunt and started a new school that brought about her being bullied. Living with her Aunt Laura above a bookstore is nice, but none of her new friends know the real reason she came to live with her aunt and what happened in her past that is causing her to be bullied. While living with her aunt, Shay learns the truth about her biological father and rushes at the chance to meet him. All she wants is a normal family life and to be happy without all the bad stuff hanging over her. But what she wishes for and how she thinks it will happen might be the farthest thing from a happy normal life.

With this second book in the Riverbend Friends series, I am falling in love with these four friends and the way these books are written to young adults, especially young girl readers. For me, this is the perfect series because it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, it shows these girls going through hard things and the way they lean on each other and find a deeper relationship with God through the problems they are facing. They go through hard things, but they realize that even through bad, good things come out of it, like the new friendships they find with each other. I think that is one of the most important things, especially now, finding a few good friends you can trust and rely on through the hard times makes getting through those hard times a little bit easier.

Shay and her story picked up where the first book left off but also gives readers some good back story as to what happened to her and makes the first book even better because I was able to reflect on why she reacted the way she did to some of what happened in that book. I liked this character and how she handled what happened to her, her aunt was one of my favorite characters with her taking Shay in and dealing with how she was treated by both family and school issues. I would recommend reading the first in the series with this one, it could be read after but in my opinion to get the most out of the series go in order. Young girls will be the target audience for this one and parents can enjoy the fact that it is a good story that is clean and no questionable content. I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Real, Not Perfect

Author: Stephanie Coleman

Series: Riverbend Friends #1

Publisher: Focus on the Family

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A great teen book about family, relationships, and the struggles young girls can face growing up and why it is important to have a close relationship with God.

Tessa’s life has always been pretty easy; she goes to swim practice, gets good grades and has two loving parents. All of that changes as she comes home one afternoon to find out her parents are getting a divorce and her best friend is moving away. To top things off, she is put in drama, the worst class ever. As Tessa tries to cope with her new family life, her mom gets more and more depressed, her best friend is posting about how great her new life is, and Tessa feels like everyone has a great life except her. Her goal is to convince herself and others that she is fine and nothing is wrong, but it only takes a little bit for her new friends to realize she is anything but fine and they help her discover that it is ok for things to not be perfect.

This was such a great fast read; I loved how real it was (no pun intended). It’s true though, being real and not perfect in this day and age of social media is so hard to do. Everyone tries to put their very best little snap shots up to post for all to see when that isn’t real life. Life is hard and messy and if we realize that and let others see the real life we are living, it will take away the stress and weight of trying to be perfect all the time. Tessa is going through what a lot of kids end up going through these days and to see her angry, hurt and letting her emotions get the best of her at times is what really made this book connect with me. This is the first book in the series about four friends that have different lives but find a way to connect with each other through their struggles and come closer because of it. While Tessa was the main character, readers get to see a small glimpse into the lives of the others that will shine in their own upcoming stories. The fact that Tessa didn’t get the perfect fairy tale ending was something I give props to the author for, very rarely does life give us that fairy tale ending and to see things play out there the way they did is going to be bringing me back for more. I am thankful that teens will have a realistic view of life when picking this one up. I recommend this to young teen girls that are looking for characters they can relate to and want to feel connected to a storyline that is more than just an escape.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Don’t Hate the Player

Author: Alexis Nedo

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Release Date: June 15, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A fun read for all the video game fanatics out there.

Emilia Romero likes to be an ordinary kid, playing field hockey and keeping up with her grades. The problem is she is not normal; when she gets home, she turns on her persona of a hard-core gamer and competes as the only female member of a highly competitive esports team. While it is hard to keep her two lives separate, she feels it is the best way to stay safe since female gamers are not highly accepted and often harassed. When Emilia goes to compete in the tournament, her two worlds collide when she is recognized by a member of their rival team. Jake Hooper has wanted to be with Emilia for years and now that his team has made it to the tournament he is shocked to see her and find out she has been leading a double life with no one knowing of her gaming life. They both work to help their teams win the tournament but also keep others from finding out about her secret.

This book is perfect for gamers and those into that world. If you are not a big gamer, this will be a hard one to keep your interest. The characters and their relationships are written well giving us a drive to see them succeed with the goals they have set throughout. Setting a lead character of a girl gamer is different and unique right now and will really hit a spot with a select group of readers. I enjoyed the way this showed the problems that girl gamers face, just like so many facets of life, females will face lots of challenges when it comes to a more male dominated area. Many of the secondary characters got on my nerves at times and I had to brush past them to try and enjoy the rest of the story. I enjoy finding different types of books that are not the same old same old that tend to be the most picked up and read. I would recommend this to young readers that enjoy video games and that lifestyle.

Ember of Night

Author: Molly E. Lee

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Release Date: May 4, 2021

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Great world building with a heroine you can’t help but root for in a story that takes readers on a wild ride.

Harley feels completely alone and unloved in this world, except for her baby sister, who she tries desperately to protect from their abusive father. About to turn 18, Harley has saved all she can from her job at a dinner to be able to get her own place and take her sister with you. Just when she thinks her life can’t get any more complicated, a stranger shows up and tells her she is the key in a war against Heaven and Hell. Not what she wanted to hear and definitely not something she has the time or energy to deal with. Draven has shown up at the dinner and is working with her to fight the war that is coming. With more at stake than she has ever had to deal with, Harley feels more alone than ever in a battle that will take all she has to give and maybe more.

I want to start with the positives on Ember of Night: the world building was great and the characters are very well put together. Harley has such a passion for helping protect her sister that I couldn’t help but feel invested in her story and the outcome. Those points of the book were really great for me; unfortunately, the rest fell flat. The story was slow at times, I didn’t connect with some of the other characters, and the way the twists came about at the end, especially the very last page, did not sit right for me. Sometimes YA books just go a little too predictable and it just didn’t work for me. I also have a problem with books marketed to young adults that have a large amount of language and mature themes throughout. It’s much more acceptable if it is marketed to adults with those themes, these are just problems I have, may not be a problem for others. I do think readers that enjoy Twilight and other fantasy type novels will enjoy this one.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Runaway Train

Author: Lee Matthew Goldberg

Publisher: Wise Wolf Books

Release Date: April 26, 2021

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Go back to the 90’s on an adventure of self-exploration and finding yourself after almost losing everything.

Nico is sixteen when her world is turned upside down, her sister died of a brain aneurysm and her parents can’t deal with her acting out while being so self-absorbed in their own lives. Nico decides it might be best if she ran away and discovered herself before totally spiraling out of control. She sets out to find the grunge scene and the home of her idol, Kurt Cobain. While on the road, she discovers more about herself than she ever expected and is able to check a few items off her bucket list.

Runaway Train had a lot of potential but tried way, way too hard to portray a hip teenager in the 90s. For being a young adult novel, I always hate it when there is so much harsh language and mature themes. I get it, I was there in the 90s as part of the alternative scene, but it can be portrayed in a different way to still be effective.  So many times throughout the novel it was obvious Goldberg was trying to channel a teenage girl in the 90’s, and speaking as someone who was a teenage girl in the 90s, he missed the mark big time. Not once could I picture myself as Nico or any of the other characters in the book, and not just that they acted different than I would have, none of what was being said worked for me as slang or anything else for this time period. I do remember wearing Doc Martins and the music of the era is correct but once again used in over the top ways. Watch Captain Marvel and you can see how to portray the 90s without going to this level.  It is a good story of self-exploration and adventure, but not enough to make me want to give it another shot or recommend to anyone. And yes, the title reference to Soul Asylum was not lost on me.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Replaced Parts

Author: Stephanie Hansen

Series: Transformed Nexus #1

Publisher: Fire & Ice Young Adult Books

Release Date: January 5, 2021

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A sci-fi thriller for young adults that will take them to far away planets with action, suspense and nothing is as it seems.

It’s the year 2163 and our world and government are more corrupt than ever. Not only here on Earth, but their control reaches to other planets as well. Sixteen-year-old Sierra is on a mission to save animal test subjects and help those she can. Her father disappeared years ago and when she discovers clues as to where he is, she knows she has to go try to find him and bring him home. Together with a friend she has never met in real life, only online, she takes off on an interplanetary mission to bring him home. Once she gets there, she discovers her father is secretly trying to save the human test subjects and stop the mad scientist, Cromwell. Sierra must decide if her original mission of bringing her dad home is worth abandoning the ones he has been trying to help or if she now needs to join his cause.

If you are a fan of Science Fiction and dystopian novels, this is definitely one you need to put on your list to read. If you are like me and that is not the normal genre that you like to read, it might be a little difficult for you to get through. I enjoyed most of the book, a few parts went over my head as it is not the normal kind of book I pick up to read, but overall it was enjoyable. The writing is well done for a sci-fi thriller, lots of different lingo and words that coincide with a book set in the future and on another planet, and characters that are very different from the kinds of people we would expect to see in a book set in modern times and here on earth. All those points make it what it is intended, a good sci-fi read, they also make it hard from someone that is not used to reading in that genre to follow. But like I said, it is well written for the intended audience. I picked this one up looking for a good YA read, for me though I just had trouble getting into the story and connecting with the characters enough to really enjoy the story as much as I could have. This is the first in a series and I see it being one that I recommend to sci-fi lovers.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

A Gentle Tyranny

Author: Jess Corban

Series: Nede Rising #1

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After a slow start, this turned out to be a story that I really enjoyed and can’t wait to see what comes next.

A new look at the popular YA Dystopian genre that so many readers love. A Gentle Tyranny sets up in the world of Nede where women have taken over and have “Gentled” the men. It has taken years of research and testing to be able to tame these men and set up a new hierarchy that on the outside seems tame, but on the inside, nothing is as it first seems. Raina Pierce is seventeen and has been selected to compete for the apprenticeship of becoming the Matriarch of Nede. Her grandmother currently holds the position leading some to believe that Raina is the obvious choice. The trials she must go through show Raina that all that she learned growing up was only part of the story. The world is not what she expected and not so gentle after all. Will she be selected to take over and make the changes so desperately needed? Or will she even be alive to see who wins?

A Gentle Tyranny started really slow; I almost gave up on it but am glad I stuck with the story. It was hard to picture the new world and connecting with these characters was difficult. In any new series, especially a dystopian such as this, the world building takes time.  About halfway through, things started to pick up and catch my attention. Once I felt the connection with the characters, I was more invested in the story and couldn’t wait to see how it played out. I really enjoyed Raina in the forest and her interaction with the men, so different from what she was led to believe.

As a debut novel, Jess Corban finally found her footing and took off. While this isn’t my favorite of the year, I will definitely be giving the next in the series a chance. Hopefully now that the world is built, the pace will be quick and the enticing characters will continue to engage the readers. I recommend this to fans of dystopian that are willing to be patient and let the story go where it will and be happy with the payout at the end.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Covet

Author: Tracy Wolff

Series: Crave #3

Publisher: Entangle Teen Books

Release Date: March 2, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The third book in the fantastic Crave series is not to be missed! Tracy Wolff has crafted characters that readers will fall more in love with and be on the edge of their seat waiting to see if they survive the trials before them!

Grace thought the roughest thing she was going to have to deal with after the death of her parents was moving to Alaska to live with her cousin and uncle. That was, until she finds out she is now at a boarding school for the paranormal and she is a gargoyle, her cousin is a witch, her boyfriend is a vampire and his dead brother who was living in her mind is now alive and saying he is her mate. Katmere Academy has its share of high school drama and now that Grace has found herself in the crosshairs of The Circle and Hudson has an arrest warrant issued for him, she finds herself on the verge of a breakdown trying to figure out what to do and how they are all going to come out of this disaster alive.

I have fallen in love with the entire Crave series and characters. Grace is a fantastic protagonist for this series. A lot of comparison between this and Twilight, but Grace is so much stronger than Bella. She starts the series with the devastation of losing her parents and grows so much stronger through each crazy new even she encounters. In Covet, there is so much going on. This is not a story you can breeze through by any means; it is a lot to unpack and digest but so worth the time spent with these characters and all they go through.

Hudson is probably my favorite character, and to say that after what we are led to think about him in the first book shows how well Tracy Wolff has developed this character. With that said I have to say that all of the characters have amazing arcs and developments from book one until now, each character has shown growth, moments that surprised me and made me have a deeper connection with them and the story.

My one and only complaint about this book is the harsh language, I have let it go through the first two and was hoping it would ease up a little, but it has only gotten more widely used. Good story telling can be done without all that, especially if you are marketing to a young adult audience. It might not bother some and I can look past it for the most part if the storytelling is done well, which it is here, but I still need to say something about it with a YA audience.

That really is my only complaint, this is the kind of story that I can’t wait to finish anything else I have going on and get back to reading to see what is going to happen. The description is also so vivid that as I am reading, I see it playing out like a movie in my mind, not something that happens with every book I read, even though I wish it would. More writers need to look at these kinds of books and apply these methods to their own works. I recommend this book to those that enjoy a great paranormal story with lots of action, love, heart, suspense, and danger at the turn of every page.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Winterborne Home for Mystery & Mayhem

Author: Ally Carter

Series; Winterborne Home #2

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Release Date: March 2, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The follow up to the first Winterborne Home is just as good, if not better, with more mystery, action, adventure, and so much more! Young readers are in for a real treat!

After all the craziness of finding Gabriel Winterborne alive and helping get his uncle arrested for attempted murder, April and the others living at the Winterborne estate thought they had found a home and happy ending. The kids are the only ones who know that Gabriel Winterborne is not only a famous billionaire but also a vigilante. He’s not the only one, another masked figure breaks into their house and the kids fear for their safety and home they have created with one another. April and her friends must work together to solve a mystery that is decades old and find a way to stay together.

The second edition in the Winterborne Home series is just as good as its predecessor, an action-packed adventure that had me more drawn in and connected to the characters than the first one. One of the best aspects about this installment was the character connection. I was connected in the first but not on the level I was with this one. April had a way of pulling at my heart strings at every turn. She has been through so much and just when she thinks she has a home and family, everything gets turned upside down once again. After April, Tim would be the strongest character and I hope we get to see him develop further. It would be nice to see more from all the other kids as well. I feel as if there is still so much story to tell in this series and hope there is more to come.

This is the perfect book for Middle Grade readers, a fast paced, engaging story but at a level that won’t be over their heads and will keep them into the story and wanting more. I read this one ahead of my ten-year-old reading it to be able to talk with him about it and see if it would interest him and be appropriate for his level. I am happy to check off a big yes to all of those. Not only will those his age enjoy it, but parents can read it and enjoy as well. It is refreshing to read/be able to recommend a good, clean, engaging book for young readers. This will be a great series for boys or girls and those that love a good mystery.

Kingston and the Magician’s Lost & Found

Authors: Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Release Date: February 16, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A fun, magical adventure for young readers that I can highly recommend to my ten-year-old and enjoy watching him continue to discover the magic of reading.

Kingston Preston has moved back home after being away from Echo City, Brooklyn for the past four years. When he was eight and his magician father disappeared during one of his tricks, his mother took them both away. Being in a place so full of magic and reminders was too much for her to take. Now that they are back home, Kingston is ready to find out what happened to his father. When King disappeared, magic in Echo City went with him. Magic is frowned upon now in the city and Kingston finds a magic box left behind that gives him clues as to what happened to his father. He can’t tell his mother about his find and so he works with his cousin, Veronica, and old childhood friend, Too Tall Eddie, to find out the mystery of what happened to his father.

Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found was a breath of fresh air. I read this so I would know if it would be a good fit for my ten-year-old to read. I have to say that not only will I let my son read it, but I really enjoyed reading it! The story was good, fast-paced, and entertaining. The characters were engaging and kept me interested in the story and what they were going through. There is magic, code breaking, a family torn apart and a battle against good and evil. Kingston and his mom have had a good relationship but they both have missed his dad since he disappeared and being back where it happened is hard on them both. I love the secondary characters and how they brought a little extra humor to the tense situations. Too Tall Eddie was probably one of my favorite characters.

The story wrapped up nicely but has been left open solidly for more to come. I’m not sure if this is planned as a series and if so, how many, but there is definitely more story to be told here. One of the best things about this book was that it was fast paced, suspenseful but also clean. I don’t have to worry about harsh language or mature themes that would not be appropriate when my son reads it. I recommend this to middle grade readers and even parents for a fun family read with good family values, good vs. evil and to just enjoy the magic of reading.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.