We Were Beautiful

We were beautifulAuthor: Heather Helper

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: April 2, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An emotional novel that will make you want to laugh, cry, and reach through the pages to hug the characters tight as they go through their trials.

Mia Hopkins has had almost a year to deal with the car crash she was involved in that killed her older sister and left her face scarred. She has been told over and over that it will take time to heal and move on, but she doesn’t want to move on. The night of the accident is a blank to her; she can’t remember what happened that night and the little alcohol that was found in her blood doesn’t help matters. With her mother gone and not able to handle being around her and her father having to go away to work, Mia ends up going to spend the summer with her grandmother. Being in a new place and around new people, Mia tries to figure out how to move on and live the life she has left.

We Were Beautiful is a powerful read with a message that is hard hitting and can help those struggling with deep emotional issues who are having trouble moving beyond. Mia is scarred, not just on her face but deep inside emotionally having to life with what happened, and worse not even remembering what happened. The worst part of it all is the way she feels abandoned by her family. Her mom leaving her is the worst part of all, she knows she is hard to look at but having her own mother turn on her is worse than the accident itself. Being forced to go live with her grandmother turns out to be just what she needs. I loved the way Hepler brings out the best and worst in these characters, showing readers their flaws and heartaches and how they go about moving forward with their lives. We all have hard times and scars we must live with, inside and out. This is the first book by Hepler I have read, and I was incredibly impressed with the way she brought these characters to life leading me to route for them, cheer with their victories and cry with their hardships. While there wasn’t much action the story itself moved quickly. The tension between the characters and what they are going through is plenty to keep the pages turning and the reader pleased. I recommend this to young adult readers that want a story that will teach them a lesson about forgiveness and moving on in the hard times.

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

To Best the Boys

best the boysAuthor: Mary Weber

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: March 19, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

YA with a strong female lead who tries to get ahead in a male driven society.

Every year in Pinsbury Port, a mysterious letter is sent out to all eligible-aged boys inviting them to compete for scholarship at the all-male Sternwick University. The poor and the rich alike look to see their name and how likely it is they will make it. Rhen Tellur opens to see if she can decide which substances the ink and parchment are created from. Even though Rhen is a girl, she wants to be a scientist like her father. She wants to help find a cure for the disease ravaging their town. When the disease hits home, she decides to compete for the scholarship. With the help of her cousin, she disguises herself to get the best of the boys competing and get the prize. Not everyone is willing to accept a girl in this competition and things turn dangerously deadly before things are over.

While this book started very slow for me, I think it is a good book for girls looking to find empowerment in their mind and academics, especially math and science. I had trouble connecting with the characters at the beginning and unfortunately that stuck with me through a lot of the story. I did enjoy the fact that we see a strong female leading not letting the men and their idea of what a woman should be limited to keep her from following her passion and helping others. Rhen, the main character, is strong and determined but also a little scared with what could happen if she isn’t able to accomplish what she sets out for. The story reminded me in a way of The Hunger Games but set in a much different time and location with characters that were big into girl power and advancing their status in a much different way. Once part way into the story, the plot picked up and the characters came to life in a way that kept the story going till the last page. I think if readers can make it past the first few chapters that were a struggle for me they will find an enjoyable read. I recommend this to young readers that are patient and willing to keep turning the page for a story they will enjoy.

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

Within These Lines

Within these linesAuthor: Stephanie Morrill

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A trying time mixed with a forbidden relationship makes for a great read!

In 1941, Evalina Cassano is an Italian American teenager living in San Francisco.  Her family owns a very successful restaurant and she has a bright future ahead of her after being accepted to attend Berkley.  But the heart wants what the heart wants and hers belongs to a young Japanese American boy named Taichi Hamasaki, the son of the produce farmers that help supply her parents’ restaurant.  The relationship is difficult enough as it is, but on December 7th, the Japanese strike Pearl Harbor and overnight America develops an anti-Japanese sentiment.  Tacichi’s family burn everything they own from Japan that night before the FBI interrogates them.  As the days continue, his family volunteers to go to an internment camp.  This will be a test on an already frowned upon relationship, but can their love remain within these lines?

This is a fantastic novel that explores the era of Japanese internment camps in the United States for young adults.  This was a dark time in our country’s history that is rarely brought to light because of the embarrassment of what was done.  This living situation were ridiculous and Morrill brought those to light in this book.  The hatred that was felt toward the Japanese during this time was misplaced at individuals who had nothing to do with the Japanese Empire.  I thought the author did a great job of showing this through a teenage relationship.  I especially liked how outspoken and hotheaded Evalina was (Italian for sure) and Taichi showed more characteristics of the Japanese culture with being more passive and trying to save Evalina the heartache of knowing just how miserable he really was.

Personally, I think that this book should be a welcome addition to middle grade reading classes.  It does a great job of showcasing the history and mixing it with characters that the age genre will enjoy!

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

The Triumphant

The triumphantAuthor: Lesley Livingston

Series: The Valiant #3

Publisher: Razorbill

Release Date: February 12, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The last book in the Valiant series wraps things up better than readers could have hoped for bringing the series full circle. Fans of the series will not want to miss out on this thrilling finale.

Fallon and her band of gladiatrix sisters have won their battle and reclaimed the Ludus Achillea, but it came at a price. Cai, Fallon’s love has lost his Decurion rank and is now having to serve as one of Caesar’s Gladiators for helping in the uprising. Fallon is fighting for his freedom and learns that Caesar’s enemies are planning revenge. These enemies assassinate Caesar and leave Fallon and the others with no one to protect them and on a mission to save Cleopatra, who could very easily be their next target. They must work together to free Cai and get Cleopatra out of the city before the bloodshed spreads.

I have loved this series since the first book came out. The female gladiators are strong, resilient and determined in every challenge they face. This is the perfect series for young girls looking for strong female leads that face the odds and learn from their mistakes and adversaries to come out on top. Fallon has always felt behind her sister and trying to prove herself. In this final book in the series, readers see her come into her own and find a strength she didn’t know she had deep within herself. I love the way she is shown strong but also flawed and afraid at times. She relies on those around her to help her make the hard decisions and face the toughest of enemies. It took me a while to get through this because I had to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I needed soak in every word and detail to really get a connection with the characters and what is about to happen in the story. These stories really are the better stories that I take with me and remember long after I have turned the last page instead of looking back a year later and questioning if I actually read it or not. I would recommend that readers start with the first two in the series before reading this one, there is just too much back story that will keep this moving forward instead of seeming confusing. For readers that enjoy a great historical fiction with lots of action and strong female leads, I highly recommend The Triumphant, they won’t be disappointed.

Dark of the West

Dark of the West

Author: Joanna Hathaway

Series: Glass Alliance #1

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Intricately written with a passionate voice, this new series transports you to a new world filled with hope, despair, and sacrifice.

 Athan Dakar is the youngest son of a military leader.  Although his father loves war and the chaos that comes with it, Athan could really care less.  His brothers have each been bred to lead the charges of his father’s plan, one by land and one by sea.  Athan’s path is for the air.  On the other side of the world, young Aurelia is the princess of a small kingdom.  Her brother is preparing to take over the kingdom from their mother, so Aurelia has had little interest in political matters until she learns of her possible marriage to an ambassador that repulses her.  Can either Athan or Aurelia be truly happy with life?

 All that changes when a lone bullet snuffs out the life of Athan’s mother.  His father is convinced that the plot was schemed by Aurelia’s mother and is determined to return the favor.  But he is master of the long game and waits for his chance.  When Athan and his father travel to Aurelia’s home, he is tasked with spying on her.  But he finds himself drawn to her in an ensuing forbidden romance that neither side can comprehend.  Both teenagers must find a way to be loyal to each other but also to their families, but can these two survive simultaneously?

 The language in this book was very passionate and flowed smoothly throughout the book.  I was hooked in the opening teaser and just wanted to dive right in, but first had to go read the events that set everything into motion.  The characters fleshed out quickly and came to life in an instant, especially Athan’s family.  The book is told somewhat between a revolution era novel and the great war.  It just feels like a little bit of both and transports the reader to a world unlike any other that I’ve had the pleasure of reading about.  This will definitely be a book unlike any you’ve read before.

 The only drawback that I see may be that off the length and overall complexity of the story being of interest to young readers.  Part of what made me enjoy the book so much was that it made me be engaged throughout the whole story and constantly think about different parts that I had read as I continued.  Several of today’s more popular young adult books are much shorter and the content is more cut and dry.  There was some occasional foul language, which is becoming more persistent in YA literature, but it did not detract from the story.

If you want something different the includes espionage, assassinations, romance, military battles, and politics, then you should grab a copy today.

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

Between Before and After

Between before and afterAuthor: Maureen Doyle McQuerry

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A past/present mash up story between a mother and daughter that shows the similarities through the differences in age and time.

Molly is fourteen years old and has the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her parent’s marriage is falling apart, and her mother is falling into a deep depression. She knows her mother has been keeping a big secret, which is part of her problems. Molly helps look after her brother Angus and when her Uncle Stephen shows up claiming to have been involved in a miracle curing a young boy, things get even more interesting. Elaine, Molly’s mother, realizes she can no longer hide behind her stories she has loved and must face the truth of what he life has become. Going between 1918 New York and 1955 California, Between Before and After shows how a family can overcome adversity and find new life even in the most trying of times.

Between Before and After is a very interesting tale told in a unique way. The past/present mash up is becoming a very popular method of story delivery, but it is not usually told from more than two or three viewpoints. So, having multiple viewpoints can be a gamble, but it played out well in this scenario. In 1955 with Molly’s view-point, readers see very little of Elaine and what is going on in her head and how she is really involved with her family. She is much more removed than a normal mother figure would be. Reverting to 1918, readers get a glimpse into Elaine’s history, which makes everything in her present make much more sense. Molly and Elaine are the main characters, but the secondary characters are important and add greatly to the story. I especially liked Stephen and Mr. Seward. The last few chapters that were set in 1955 and the characters that were thrown together really brought everything full circle. I enjoyed the way that all played out; it made perfect sense and tied up the loose ends. At the end of some of the chapters, there were little snippets from Hansel and Gretel.  I understand how this tied into the story, but some readers may feel this takes away from the flow of the story and skip over these parts. I think shorter segments might have played out better and not have been as much of a distraction. Overall, I would recommend this book to young readers that enjoy historical novels with a great tie in between the timelines and viewpoints.

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

Pretty in Punxsutawney

Pretty in Punxsatawney_RD3Author: Laurie Boyle Crompton

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A great coming of age story that shows how important it is to not judge a book by its cover and find what’s beneath the surface.

Andie loves movies more than most anybody she knows. When she moves to Punxsutawney with her family right before the start of her senior year in high school, she gets caught in her very own version of Groundhog Day. Being the new kid in school is hard enough but having to live the first day at a new school over and over again is even worse. Andie gets stuck in a time loop reliving the first day of school with only her realizing the day is repeating. After watching Pretty in Pink and other classic teen romances, she becomes convinced she needs to meet her true love and get a kiss to break the curse. Each day she tries to infiltrate a new clique and finds the best in each of them she never would have seen or known otherwise. With each passing day, she learns more about her new friends but also loses hope she will end the time loop and be able to continue with her life.

Confession time, I have seen neither of the main movies it talks about here: Groundhog Day or Pretty in Pink. Even so, I knew what the stories are about and was able follow along without a problem. This was a very cute story that has a lot of heart to it. I loved the way Andie used each new day as a way to learn something and bring all that together in the end to help solve her problem instead of getting discouraged to the point she gave up altogether.  Even though I found certain parts of it predictable, it didn’t take away from making me want to keep turning the pages to find out what was going to happen. Andie’s relationship with her parents played out well, the more she continued in the time loop the more worried they became with her behavior and with good reason. I enjoyed the fact that this is a YA read that is clean and not anything I would have concern letting my children read. I recommend this book to young readers that want a fun romance with heart, and maybe even older readers looking for a little nostalgia.

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