Toward a Secret Sky

Secret Sky

Author: Heather Maclean

Publisher: Blink

Release Date: April 4, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A deliciously intriguing story that can’t help but be devoured. An adventure that needs to be read again and again just to let it all sink in.  There better be another book to follow because I want more.

Maren Hamilton is seventeen and has just watched her mother be buried. She is now left all alone and is sent to live with her grandparents in Scotland.  That wouldn’t be so bad except she had never met them.  It is hard enough fitting in at a new school, let alone one in a new country.  Just when Maren thinks she is starting to relax and feel like it could be home, she receives some of her mother’s things from her work, including an encrypted journal that makes her realize she never really knew her mother or others around her.  Now, she is in danger along with anyone she gets close to.  One by one, she pieces together the clues left by her mother but not before her small town becomes the victim of something evil.  Maren needs the help of Gavin, her newly appointed guardian angel, who she has quickly fallen in love with even though it is against all rules.  He may be her angel but they are also dealing with demons and forces of evil the likes of which she could never have imagined.  Before all is said and done, Maren will learn some of the hardest life lessons and hopefully come out the other side alive and better for it, or maybe not.

I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this book. There was just the right amount of action, romance, suspense, drama and even supernatural to keep me hooked throughout.  All of those together can sometimes be a difficult combination but it worked here flawlessly.  Maclean did an excellent job of bringing these characters, and the different settings, to life in a dramatic and beautiful way.  The main setting in Scotland is set up mostly by Gavin, which I liked.  This is the kind of story that I can see fans of the Twilight series falling in love with.  There is a lot of push and pull between the characters, especially Maren and Gavin; they want to be together but know it isn’t permitted.  When you have characters in this kind of situation it can become tiresome with the back and forth, but for some strange reason it worked here.  Maybe it was because nothing felt forced.  The characters did what they would naturally do and it showed with the way it came across on the pages.  All I must say is there better be another book to follow because I want more.  The ending wrapped things up nicely but also left it open easily for another to come.  I highly recommend this to young adults looking for a thrilling supernatural read that will leave them wanting more well past the last page.

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

The Kingdom of Oceana

OceanaAuthor: Mitchell Charles

Publisher: Butterhorse Media

Release Date: November 27, 2015

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A beautiful tale set on a beautiful island that makes for a fun and exciting read.

Sixteen-year-old Prince Ailani has always been in his brother’s shadow and feels that he is where he is destined to be. They live on the island of Hawaii, where there is adventure, surfing, shark taming, fire walking, and even a thousand-year-old curse that they are about to unleash on their paradise. The boys discover an ancient tiki mask at a forbidden burial ground. Then without knowing it, they set about a chain of events that will send the islands of Oceana out of control.  Prince Ailani must get in touch with his inner strength, and his ancestral spirit animal in order to overcome the obstacles they are about to face.

It pains me to say that I have had this on the shelf for a while and just now picked it up. This was a fun adventure that is rich in history and full of fun.  Mitchell Charles did a great job of creating a wonderful tale showing sibling rivalry at its most intense, magic, love and so much more.  While reading, I felt like I was on the islands, and wished I was there experiencing the beauty.  That’s the great thing about a well written book, it can transport you to a magical place you might never be able go to in real life.  The mythical elements were fun to read.  I particularly enjoyed the playful banter between Ailani and the Kahula.  It had just enough humor to keep me smiling but not so much that it took away from the suspense and mystery of the story.

Since I have finished I keep looking and hoping for a second book to come out and continue the story, fingers crossed it will still happen.   I think this could be considered a great YA read, especially with the length, not too long to intimidate younger readers but enough to fully flesh out the story.  I recommend this book to readers that enjoy a good thrill set in a beautiful and magical place.

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

As Red As Blood

as red as bloodAuthor: Salla Simukka

Series: Lumikki Andersson #1

Publisher: Crown for Young Readers

Release Date: January 17, 2017

Rating: 3 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

This book had such potential to shine like the fairy tales it eludes, but for me it fell flat.

Lumikki Andersson likes to keep to herself and out of the business of others. Even though she is only sixteen she is living by herself and going to a charter school for the gifted.  It is an ideal situation after the problems she had at her old school with some not so nice girls that attended the school.  Trying to stay out of others business usually works well for her, until she stumbles upon thousands of washed Euro notes hanging in the school’s darkroom and three of her classmates acting very suspiciously.  It doesn’t take long for Lumikki to become completely involved in the center of the problem these three have found themselves in.  They all end up going against a drug lord, Polar Bear, and many others that end up hunting them for what they have and know.  Lumikki is now in a race to stay alive and uncover the truth to try and save them all.

When I first heard about As Red as Blood I thought it sounded like a very intriguing read, especially for a YA, which are some of my favorites.  I’m not sure if it is the fact that it was translated from Finnish or maybe just the story itself, but it didn’t live up to my expectations.  One of my biggest pet peeves is a book marketed to young adults that has vulgar language.  I’m not naive, I know that is how many kids speak but I still don’t like seeing it in books for this audience.  I also felt like the story didn’t really get going until it was almost over.  The best part of the book for me was the last twenty-five pages or so.  Finding out more about the main character should have come earlier to help make the connection and establish a better relationship.  I still think some of it could have been lost in the translation and don’t want to fault the author too much on that part.  The two female leads really had good potential and I think there is further development to explore there, I just don’t feel compelled to explore it personally.

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

 

The Valiant

 

the-valiant

Author: Lesley Livingston

Publisher: Razorbill

Release Date: February 14, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Sword fights, Julius Caesar and betrayal worse than Brutus makes for a captivating and impressive story.

 

 Fallon has always dreamed of being a warrior in her father’s army.  But the Celtic King has other plans.  Having lost his oldest daughter, Sorcha, to the armies of Julius Caesar, he refuses to let Fallon suffer the same fate and gives her hand in marriage to the brother of the man she loves.  She flees in the night and is captured and sold into slavery.  She ends up in the hands of an elite training school for female gladiators owned by Caesar. She now finds herself placing her survival in the hands of the man she has hated for longer than she can remember.  Fallon is in for the fight of her life as treachery is around every corner and she doesn’t know whom to trust.  To top it all off, she finds herself falling in love with a roman soldier, something she never would have dreamed.  With danger ahead, Fallon will have to use all her training to stay alive and prove how valiant she can truly be.

 

 I don’t even know where to start, other than to say that this was such a powerful and exciting story I am sad to see it end.  This is the type of book that you almost hate to read because you know that whatever you read next isn’t going to stand much of a chance of being even remotely as good.  Usually with a good story, it starts with a coincidence and only one.  From that point on, everything needs to come together as the characters should do and act.  That is a hard feat to accomplish but was done so well here that I loved every moment of the story.  There were so many twists that played out beautifully.  I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say the reveals of who some of the characters actually were and how they tied in together had me smiling and pumping my fist at how well Livingston pulled it all off.  This is a story that is unique, genuine, and highly entertaining.  I can’t really say which group of readers I will be recommending this too because I don’t want to leave anyone out that would enjoy the story as much as I did.  There is something here for almost everyone, in my opinion.  I heard there is a sequel coming out and that can’t come soon enough.  This will for sure be one of my top picks for the year.

 

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

 

Recruits

recruitsAuthor: Thomas Locke

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: February 14, 2017

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An out of this world Fantasy adventure that will leave the reader aching for more!

Sean and Dillon Kirrel are twin brothers who have always enjoyed looking into the possibilities of other worlds. So much in fact, that they have sketched out what one might look like.  Shortly after they turn seventeen, they are approached by a man telling them he is interested in them for a potential job.  It turns out that he is looking to them for a unique gift they have, the ability to transition between worlds, including the one they have sketched and imagined.  He shows them how to transition between the different worlds and it is quickly clear that the twins are destined for great things in this world and beyond.

I haven’t read much science fiction, just not my go-to books, but the way Thomas Locke writes I think I might just have to add more to my pile. Recruits was a very interesting story.  For the most part, the story is set on Earth, and the times it is on another planet.  In this book, we don’t see enough of the planet to need a large amount of setup for the location.  And even though it talks about many different planets, it is mostly dealing with humans so you are not having to picture all kinds of different beings, except towards the end.  The writing was quick and clean without a lot of unnecessary information to slow down the story which I appreciated.

There were a few aspects that did leave me scratching my head. The twins are basically on their own at seventeen.  Their parent’s lack of involvement is explained but I didn’t totally buy it.  Additionally, the ending tied up all the loose ends and all but I didn’t feel it left it open well enough with suspense for the next in the series.  It also felt like there wasn’t enough closure and explanation; it was almost like, BAM finished.  The attack at the end could have been played out with a little more explanation.  Overall it was a very enjoyable read and fans of Science fiction and Fantasy are sure to love it.

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

The Lost Girl of Astor Street

astor-streetAuthor: Stephanie Morrill

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: February 7, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Losing your best friend at age 18 is horrible, but in mafia riddled 1924 Chicago, there’s no shortage of suspects as her killer.

At age 18, Piper Sail doesn’t have much to worry about or so it seems. One of the affluent Presley girls, Piper is finishing school and hoping to go to a university so that she can side step all the questions about finding a husband and settling down.  Her father is getting ready to be remarried, which is not one of her favorite topics to discuss.  She and her neighbor Lydia have been friends forever and recently Lydia has started to have seizures.  Instead of getting help, her parents have asked Piper to keep it a secret, even from Lydia.  Lydia herself is smitten with the family’s chauffeur, so when her parent’s want to send her to the Mayo clinic in Minnesota, she is devastated.  Lydia tells Piper that she is going to tell him how she feels and the neighbors that she cannot watch their child this summer.  Then that night, Lydia disappears.

When Piper realizes that Lydia didn’t just run away with the chauffeur, she is determined to find out what happened to her friend. But being a young woman in Chicago is no easy task, especially in 1924.  Piper enters a world of speakeasies, mafia, gambling, and nastier underbelly activities that Chicago has to offer.  Was it the chauffeur?  Why was she afraid of the neighbor kid’s dad?  Why is the handsome detective so interested in her?  Who is her brother’s new girlfriend?  As Piper unrolls the answer to each question, will she be able to find Lydia before it’s too late?  Or was Lydia even the intended target?

This book is truly a great read of YA fiction crossed with historical fiction. This is not something that you will typically see teens reading, but Morrill does a great job of making this an interesting mystery coupled with some unforgettable characters that is sure to be a hit with any audience.  Piper is a determined young woman that many will find they identify with.  She doesn’t believe the police are looking in the right places, so she takes up her own investigation.  What she doesn’t realize is that other female characters in the book begin to admire her.  She becomes a bit of a role model to those characters and will undoubtedly be to some readers as well.

I like that Mariano humored her throughout the book and then fell in love with her. Their chemistry was natural and played out very well.  My only nitpick was that I felt it wrapped up too fast.  I wish there would have been a bit more played out between Piper and Alana, but I also realize that you can’t draw out too much without possibly losing this genre’s attention.  A must read for YA historical fiction lovers.

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

Unfolding

unfoldingAuthor: Jonathan Friesen

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: January 31, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

When a Tornado hits a small town in Oklahoma, it brings more than just destruction and devastation.

Oklahoma is known for its tornados and the destruction they bring. When Jonah was just a baby, a twister hit his town and not only destroyed parts of it, it also left a baby on the lawn next to his.  He has since fallen in love with Stormi.  Jonah is plagued with scoliosis and epileptic seizures.  Stormi doesn’t seem to have a care in the world.  She goes through life seeing things before they happen.  She listens to these prophecies inside her even when she doesn’t like what they are saying.  Her latest feeling is telling her to get out of town.  She goes to Jonah for help and they both leave and discover the secrets the town has been keeping could do more damage than a twister ever has.

Jonathan Friesen has crafted a unique story that twists and turns faster than the EF5 tornado that has hit the town more than once. With characters that are easily relatable, even if they are considered weird and different by many, the story is easy to follow and hard to put down.  The best thing about this book, in my opinion, is how it shows that even if you have a condition or disability it doesn’t limit your ability to help others and believe in those you love.  Jonah had many problems but he never once let that stop him from trying to help Stormi and others.  He had a determination that is very lacking in many of that age.  Stormi knew that others didn’t want to believe in her predication and thought she was unnatural; however, still she follows her heart and does what she can and knows to be right.  I loved how Friesen crafted the secret the town has hid for so long and the way it came out.  There is a lot to like about this book and not much to dislike.  So few novels, especially YA read this quickly but still have a good message that doesn’t get lost in the mindless ramblings of characters that aren’t needed.  This is a story that I will recommend to YA lovers and readers of all ages who just enjoy a really good story with a message.

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