Millie Maven and the White Sword

Authors: Ted Dekker and Rachelle Dekker

Series: Millie Maven #3

Publisher: Scriptuor Publishing

Release Year: 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The final book in the Millie Maven trilogy wraps up in the best possible way leaving readers with all the right feelings and completely satisfied with the story. A must read for middle graders and really anyone that wants a faith filled, action packed story.

Millie Maven has grown over the few weeks she has been at FIGS, the mysterious school for the gifted she has arrived at after living with her “Mother,” the aunt who raised her after her parents were in a car accident. Her mother never treated her well and Millie now must bring her mother back to FIGS in order to save the school and her new friends. Her hardest battle is in front of her and if she can’t find the truth and believe in herself.

Finishing this series was both sad and satisfying. Sad because it is over and satisfying because of the way it played out. I loved everything about this series. Being a Dekker fan for many years, I always enjoy the way Ted puts little pieces from other novels into new ones he writes tying them together. That was the case here with Millie being from Paradise and several other little tidbits sprinkled throughout, don’t want to spoil anything for anyone.

This series really is a great one for middle grade readers to dive into. So much adventure but with content you don’t have to worry about what your kids are reading. Many young adult books today are still written with questionable language and content that make it unsuitable for that age group in my opinion. Not the case with Millie Maven; parents can give these books to their children confident that what they find within the pages will be the right kind of material and not the immoral points that so easily find their way in nowadays. I highly recommend this series to all Dekker fans, young and old, especially new young readers ready to dive deep and enjoy reading a fantastic series.

Millie Maven and the Golden Vial

Authors: Ted Dekker & Rachelle Dekker

Series: Millie Maven #2

Publisher: Scriptuor Publishing

Release Year: 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Millie Maven is back and continuing her adventure with more action, drama, and tension that will leave readers glued to the pages.

Millie Maven and The Golden Vial picks up right where the first in the series left off. Readers see Millie still trying to find her place at FIGS while not finding her power and feeling like she doesn’t belong. With friends by her side, she knows that where she is at is must be better than where she has been. In a world where love and truth win above all, you just need believe in yourself and the Great Teacher who loves you most of all.

This second installment in the Millie Maven series picks up right where the first left off and will draw readers even further into the world created and closer to Millie herself. Everything about Millie Maven screams for you to want to see her succeed and come out better than where she started. So much hardship has already occurred in her short life at the hands of her “Mother” and to see her happy for the first time can’t help but bring a smile to your face. The themes of love, forgiveness, friendship, hope and faith resonate throughout the pages and are written at just the right level for young readers. There is a little more danger Millie faces but it never gets dark enough that I would say it isn’t suitable for middle grade readers. Fans of Dekker will notice ties to his other works and enjoy the fast-paced writing and relatable characters.

Millie Maven and the Bronze Medallion

Authors: Ted Dekker & Rachelle Dekker

Series: Millie Maven #1

Publisher: Scriptuor Publishing

Release Date: 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A perfect book for middle grade readers that is filled with action, adventure, faith and so much more.

Millie Maven is twelve years old and lives with her aunt and uncle after her parents were killed in an accident. They treat her horribly by making her clean the house and sleep in the attic with only a suitcase that holds her clothes and all her possessions. On the night of her twelfth birthday, she is taken on a grand adventure to a land far away with a mysterious school for Gifted students called FIGS. While she is there, she discovers more to life than she has been told and the truth is far more wonderful than she could have imagined.

The first book in the Millie Maven series starts off with action, adventure and empathy for Millie. It is clear from the start she has had an incredibly difficult life and nothing she does is ever good enough. When she meets Aggie and is taken on the greatest adventure of her life, nothing will ever be the same. Millie is the perfect protagonist for middle grade readers. The book reads quickly and is easy to follow all the way through. I got these for my 10-year-old son but wanted to read them first since I have been a Ted Dekker fan for many years. If you have read any Dekker before, especially the circle series and paradise novels, you will see references to those in these books. One thing about Dekker is he ties little pieces of other novels in together. It won’t take away from the current story if you haven’t read the others, but it will add something to it when you put them together. I know this was written with his daughter but to me it is just another Ted Dekker novel with his voice and his writing style. Fans of his and young readers will thoroughly enjoy reading this book. 

A Sky in the Storm

Author: Sabaa Tahir

Series: Ember in the Ashes #4

Publisher: Razorbill

Release Date: December 1, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The final edition to the Ember in the Ashes series delivers all the feels! Fans of the series will not want to miss out on this one.

Back for one more adventure, Laia of Serra, Helene, the Blood Shrike, and Elias Veturia who is now the Soul Catcher, battle together to stop Commandant Keris Veturia and the Nightbringer from ruining what is left of the empire. After years of battling each other, Laia and the Blood Shrike work together to stop the upcoming apocalypse and destruction of their people. Thinking that her love, Elias, is gone and doomed to a life as the Soul Catcher, Laia loses hope that she will be alone forever. Elias stays in the Waiting Place helping the souls that come to pass on and find peace. It will take all of them working together to keep the Nightbringer from destroying their world and all they hold dear.

As with any series, the last installment is highly anticipated. A Sky Beyond the Storm is no different. As I started reading, I found myself holding my breathe through several chapters, asking what was going to happen? Would my favorite characters make it out alive? Each new chapter brought a new intensity and had me invested deeper in the story. With multiple viewpoints, readers can see much of the story than if only a single viewpoint had been provided. The connection between the different characters and the way they changed over the course of the four books was beautifully done. Enemies became friends, families are torn apart, and nothing is as it seems. The short chapters make it a quick easy read even at over five hundred pages.

Several moments/characters I will take away as my favorite from the series, one such is the saving, “Emifal Firdaant.” Once you read it, you will understand that one just resonated with me and every time I read it my heart fluttered. Of all the characters, I really felt a connection with Helene and Harper, something about the way the characters were written really struck a chord with me and even as secondary characters part of the time they really carried the story. Overall, this was a fantastic conclusion to a wonderful series. So many great moments and creativity that many novels lack. This world that was built will draw readers in and give them a great escape they may need in the crazy world we live in. I recommend this for older YA audiences as the themes get a little heavy and mature at times.

Pudge and Prejudice

Author: A. K. Pittman

Publisher: Tyndale

Release Date: January 12, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Set in fictitious Northfield, Texas during 1984, this story takes readers on a journey similar to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!

Elyse Nebbitt and her family have just moved to Northfield, Texas and she is faced with finding her place in a new school. Elyse has always had trouble fitting in, being overweight hasn’t helped either. Her beautiful older sister Jayne quickly fits in and starts dating Charlie Bingley, one of the stars of the football team.  While Elyse can’t help but being attracted to Charlie’s best friend, Billy Fitz, Elyse is too insecure in her own body to believe anything could develop in that relationship.  Her new friend, Lottie, helps Elyse to accept herself for who she is and what she can become.

Pudge and Prejudice was just a fun read. I enjoyed the way the characters were laid out with different personalities. There is someone in this book for everyone to relate to in one way or the other. Pudge is bigger, a little insecure at times, but overall a fun character to read about. The rest of her family and friends she meets in her new town make for a well-rounded cast of characters that will leave readers smiling and nodding their heads at the different antics they get into. Her sisters are very different than her in size and attitude at times and the romance aspects of the book progress at a rate that is very relatable for teen angst and drama, although I will say that the end relationships did make me wonder if it was something that would really happen or just playing out well for the sake of the story.

Charlie and Billy are brought into the story to meet the girls by helping the family move in and one thing leads to another as our story progresses. The pace of the story was perfect for teens and anyone wanting a quick read that doesn’t require a lot of deep thought. Overall, this was a fun enjoyable read that I recommend to young readers, probably more suited for girls than boys, but the sports aspect of the story would appeal to male readers.

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

Check out our Q & A with the author!

2020 Top YA Fiction

Merry Christmas all! And what a better present than to share some more top of the year recommendations! Today we are sharing our top picks for young adult fiction!

Twin Daggers by MarcyKate Connolly

With one of the best opening lines of a book this year, Twin Daggers had our emotions wreaking havoc through the whole book. Top notch suspense and fantastic character development made this an easy choice for top pick.

Read the full review.

Fractured Tide by Leslie Lutz

This was unlike any book we’ve read in a long time! Lutz crafted a fun, chilling, yet engaging tale that let us glued to the edge of our seats!

Read the full review.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Although this book wasn’t for everybody, we thoroughly enjoyed getting to see President Snow’s back story. For someone we hated through the entire Hunger Games series, we actually felt sorry for the guy in his early life!

Read the full review.

Ignite the Sun by Hanna C. Howard

If you enjoy magic, romance, and adventure in your YA reads, this fantasy tale is for you. Howard wrote one of the perfect protagonists for this story that held our attention the whole way through.

Read the full review.

Chasing Helicity: Through the Storm by Ginger Zee

With her knowledge of science and weather, Ginger Zee has crafted yet another wonderful tale that will delight young and old readers alike. Helicity Dunlap and her adventurous spirit made us quickly fall back in love with her story!

Read the full review.

Midnight Sun

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Publisher: Little Brown Books

Release Date: August 4, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Twilight from Edward’s point of view, not much else needs to be said about this one. Fans of the series will not want to miss out on the phenomenon.

When Edward Cullen meets Bella Swan, his life is changed forever. Edward is seventeen, and he’s been seventeen for almost a hundred years after he was bitten and became a vampire. He and the rest of his family have chosen a ‘vegan’ life, meaning they only hunt animals and not humans. The scent of Bella is almost too much for him, her scent is like his own personal brand of heroin. Readers follow Edward as he meets, falls in love with and almost loses Bella when another vampire starts to hunt her. The story is familiar to anyone who has already read the series but being told from this perspective is new, intriguing and highly entertaining.

I, like so many others, have waited a very long time to get this book in my hands. I remember when I first heard about Stephanie Meyer writing this, it seemed almost too good to be true, another side to this story. Oh, how I longed to read it, but we all had to wait a very long time. 2020 has been the year none of us thought it would be and has caused a lot of heartache. One bright spot though has been being able to escape in the pages of books such as this. Not only do we get Edward’s point of view in this story, we also learn so much more about the rest of the Cullen’s through his head as he hears their thoughts and they interact. Reading Midnight Sun was just what I wanted it to be, an escape from reality into the pages of a familiar story. These stories are not the overall best ever written but I did see an improvement in this one as compared to her writing of almost 15 years ago and you can’t argue with the millions of teens and young women who have fallen in love with the series. There is something about the story that draws you in and keeps you glued to the edge of your seat until the very last page. Midnight Sun adds a different dimension to the characters and parts of the story we haven’t seen before. Instead of just seeing Edward as a brooding vampire that is aching for something he shouldn’t have, we get to see and hear what he is going through. In the first books of the series, I saw myself as more of Team Jacob; after reading this though I have to say I am leaning more towards Team Edward now. I loved escaping into the story for a few days and reliving all that I enjoyed about the original. I would recommend this to anyone who loved the original series and wants to get more out of it by hearing another point of view.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Author: Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Release Date: May 19, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Fans of The Hunger Games will not want to miss this prequel that will have readers view President Snow in a new way you never thought possible!

The Hunger Games is about to have its tenth game and eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is getting ready to be one of the first mentors the games have ever had. His family has fallen on hard times and it is up to him to repair the powerful Snow name and prove they will come out on top. The odds are not in his favor as he is given the assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest assignment he could have gotten. If he is able to help her succeed and win the games, he will no longer be looked down upon and be able to resume the high status his family has always held. If she fails so does he. It doesn’t take long though for him to develop feelings for her making his job that much harder.

Fans of The Hunger Games will not want to miss this newest addition. I picked it up knowing there was no way I would ever feel any empathy for President Snow, the villain of the first three books. Within the first few chapters, I forgot to look at him in that way and was wrapped up in this story and how a young Snow developed into the foul, loathsome dictator we know from the series. Suzanne Collins did an outstanding job turning this character around for us and making him be seen in a whole new light. So many little references to the trilogy are tied in here and each time I came to a page with these I would find myself smiling. We find out the origin of the song Katniss sings to Rue and the song she sings in MockingJay. These instances were some of my favorites. If you pay close attention to names throughout, you will be able to connect them to descendants later on in the story. So much is tied while it is its own story. If you’ve read The Hunger Games, you are probably like me in thinking there is no way you could every feel anything other than hatred for the character of Snow. Don’t be surprised when you walk away shaking your head at how wrong you were. The book read quickly and was thoroughly enjoyable. I recommend this one to all readers that have read The Hunger Games and want a look into the origin of Snow and so much more.

Fractured Tide

Author: Leslie Lutz

Publisher: Blink YA Fiction

Release Date: May 5, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Not at all what I expected, but in the best of ways! Leslie Lutz has crafted a fun, chilling and engaging tale that will leave readers glued to the edge of their seats.

After her father is sent to prison, Sia ends up helping her mother run their scuba diving tours business. Still a teenager, she has taken on more responsibility than most her age. Together they go out and explore the reef and find secrets in sunken crafts. On their latest dive things don’t go as planned, a mysterious creature emerges from the deep, their boat sinks and Sia washes up on the shore of a deserted island with even more mystery. When she finds the other survivors from the boat, it is the first good sign since they started out that morning. The island isn’t what it seems and Sia’s best hope for finding answers are at the center of the island where the most danger is also. With their last hope fading and Sia looking to save herself and the others, they make their way through the jungle to hopefully find a way off the island and back to their families.

This was unlike any book I have read in a long time. The science fiction element to it was interesting and kept the story flowing quickly and fluidly. Writing this from Sia’s diary was interesting and unique. For a little while I wasn’t sure what to think of all that Sia was being put through. Even at the end, I had to scratch my head at the way it all played out. Without giving anything away, I will say I am still satisfied with the ending even with the questions I have. That’s a rare combination, to be satisfied and still have questions, not something that happens often and only a very talented author can do that with their writing and please the reader. Sia’s relationship with each of the other characters is what made the story work. She is a great protagonist and the story wouldn’t be the same with anyone else in that role, but I really liked the interactions with Sia and Sarah, their relationship was real and genuine. There weren’t any fake niceties between the two of them and every aspect of why they acted the way they did towards each other made perfect sense with the story. I love when a story unfolds as it should and nothing feels forced.  I would recommend this book to readers that enjoy a well-crafted science fiction thriller that will give you goose bumps and knowing the next book you pick up won’t be near as good.  

The Hive Queen

Author: Robin Kirk

Series: Bond Trilogy #2

Publisher: Blue Crow Books

Release Date: August 29, 2020

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A dark apocalyptic thriller that will leave readers transported to a completely different world and a story like none they’ve ever read before.

The Weave has been destroyed as Fir and his brothers escape to the east to find a land of freedom. Fir searches for the Master of men, a fabled warrior who promises freedom to men from the Weave. On their way, they find more trouble than they thought possible. The Hive Queen, Odide, brings Fir and his brothers into her hive and quickly bespells him to betray his brothers and risk all their lives in the process and almost forget the love he had for Dinitra. Now he is faced with a choice, loyalty to his brothers, allegiance to the Hive Queen, or follow his heart and love for Dinitra. Between the Hive and the Master, Fir is faced with the hardest decisions he has ever had to make, and nothing has prepared him for what is yet to come.

For me, The Bond lacked world building and character connections. Just when I felt I was connecting to the characters by the end of the book, my main protagonist is changed in The Hive Queen and I have to start from the beginning to make the character connection and feeling myself firmly in this world. It isn’t something that was ever achieved for me. I lacked a real connection with Fir, I expected to pick up this book and continue with Dinitra, 12, and their story; instead, they aren’t even mentioned until the last third or so of the book. I was really hoping to connect and enjoy this story more, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. While I think Science Fiction lovers will enjoy this story much more than I did, it isn’t a story for everyone. I know the first one was compared to The Hunger Games, and I can see that in a way, but not as deep as the connection could have been. I did enjoy the devious game the Hive Queen herself was playing throughout and the way Fir is able to reconnect with Dinitra, those were the redemptive qualities for me. Not enough to make me want to read again but I was able to finish the story.

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