Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Recommended for You” by Laura Silverman

SUMMARY

Shoshanna Greenberg loves working at Once Upon, her favorite local bookstore. And with her moms fighting at home and her beloved car teetering on the brink of death, the store has become a welcome escape.

When her boss announces a holiday bonus to the person who sells the most books, Shoshanna sees an opportunity to at least fix her car, if none of her other problems. The only person standing in her way? New hire Jake Kaplan.

Jake is an affront to everything Shoshanna stands for. He doesn’t even read! But somehow his sales start to rival hers. Jake may be cute (really cute), and he may be an eligible Jewish single (hard to find south of Atlanta), but he’s also the enemy, and Shoshanna is ready to take him down.

But as the competition intensifies, Jake and Shoshanna grow closer and realize they might be more on the same page than either expects…

REVIEW

The truest and most positive way I can start this review is by saying that it’s impossible not to notice that this book is incredibly well-meaning. It’s written with such earnestness and belief in its story, and I don’t see that often, so I have to start off by saying that. It’s as cute, bookish, and bright-eyed as it sets out to be. Was it a perfect book? Well, no, few are. But what “Recommended for You” gets right is its chipper tone and commitment to its story and characters.

At first, I didn’t think I would like Shoshanna. She, like me, tends toward the over-the-top, and I can’t tell whether it was because of secondhand embarrassment or just plain annoyance that I didn’t like her. But I’m glad I stuck with it, because a lot of the book is actually about her journey to realizing that about herself and learning to be, er, a little less overzealous at inappropriate times, and she matures without losing any of what makes her Shoshanna. I am all about positive growth, and I’m also all about being true to yourself, quirks and all, so I loved that she was able to do both. Her sincerity was hard not to find endearing after a while. I also loved the bookstore aspect. The work environment was great and I loved the coworkers’ dynamics, and of course, Shoshanna’s bookishness was delightfully relatable.

Where this book fell a little short, eerily similarly to its protagonist, was in its overzealousness. I felt like “Recommended for You” was trying to do a LOT – we have the romance development, the work at the bookstore, the friend drama, the parents fighting…almost every source of conflict that is common in YA contemporary books was here, and it was all just…Much. It was So Much. And there were some really forced conversations about social justice that, while they had good messages, felt extremely shoehorned. In a fast, fluffy read, the weirdly forced social commentary and ~15,000 different conflicts felt like they weighed it down. There wasn’t really a need for that and I think the book would be stronger if it stuck to one or two conflicts instead of subscribing to the “every area of the protagonist’s life must fall apart!” notion.

However, none of that could abash this book’s sunny optimism, and I would recommend it for you. :p (Yes, I had to!)

ENDNOTES

Best Scene: the baking scene, probably. So sweet.

Strengths: fluffy, quick, upbeat, character growth

Weaknesses: too many side plots/too much going on

Content: none! Seriously. The characters don’t even curse??? When was the last time I saw that??? Thanks for that, Laura Silverman, I APPRECIATE YOU. This one’s veeeery clean.

Rating: 3.5/5 Golden Grasshoppers

Posted in Blog Tags

The Bookish Baking Tag

I’ve been wanting to do book tags for a while, but since I don’t really have any blogger friends :(, I haven’t been able to. Then along came Lauren at Lala’s Book Reviews! She recently did the Bookish Baking Tag from Hammock of Books and tagged whoever wanted to do it…well, that’s me! So I couldn’t wait to do this. Let’s get cracking 🙂

Rules:

  • Thank whoever tagged you
  • Link back to them and the original creator (Kay @ Hammock of Books)
  • Answer the 12 prompts, and feel free to use these graphics
  • Tag 5+ friends to share the sweetness

 

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I’m going to go with Julie Berry’s Lovely War. Opening up with one of the most adorable meet-cutes I’ve ever read and an intriguing introduction to our narrators – who just happen to be members of the Greek pantheon, meddling in mortal affairs – Lovely War had me swooning, and completely hooked, from page one.

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I’m assuming this is a hyped-up book that I enjoy? So my pick would have to be The Illuminae Files trilogy! Everyone has heard of Kaufman & Kristof’s first space opera series, but there’s a good reason for that. Its unusual narrative style and fast-paced plot are absolutely gripping, and it’s easy to fall for the characters. This one is a tour de force and there’s a reason it’s surrounded by hype! carrot-1

She’s the Worst by Lauren Speiller has a wonderful message about cherishing your siblings. I happened to read this book right before my older brother went off to college and I was really struggling with regrets about my relationship with him; this book helped me step back and realize that it’s never too late to rekindle your bond with your family and get closer to a sibling you drifted away from.

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The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner is my all-time favorite YA series, and one of the first ones I ever read. Ever since I read “The Thief” in 7th grade, I’ve been in love with the world and characters, and revisiting the series always makes me feel like a carefree middle schooler again.

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Tweet Cute by Emma Lord! This is probably my favorite rom-com of 2020 so far because it’s incredibly sweet but also hilarious (a LOT of so-called “rom-coms” are severely lacking in the “com” department…not this one!) and just completely delightful. This book just made me happy, and it’s a perfect light, happy read when you’re having a rough time. 🙂

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 Oscar Bell from Night Music by Jenn Marie Thorne! He’s a piano/composition prodigy who knows how special he is and isn’t afraid to let you know, but who can somehow make you love him all the more for it. He’s also quirky, sweet, attentive, and self-assured but has his struggles, too – so basically, PROTECT HIM.

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Hmm…Every Reason We Shouldn’t by Sara Fujimura. This is the only figure skating-themed YA that’s ever gotten a seal of approval for its portrayal of skating from this insanely picky ex-skater, and for that alone it deserves this spot. But it’s also a wonderful story about the crossroads that teenagers have to face as they grow up, which resonated with me and which I think might be just as familiar to other high school students.

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Embarrassingly, I kind of have nothing for this one! I’ve never really read a holiday book.

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Uhh…honestly, If I’m Being Honest. I was expecting reading this book to be an experience somewhat akin to being punched in the face, not because of its length (once you’ve read “Gone with the Wind,” no YA book will ever seem long again…) but because it seemed like a very angry book and I don’t have a good track record with anger. Turns out that while, yeah, there was a little bit of that, it was also about personal growth, kindness, forgiveness, and open-mindedness – all things I can get behind!

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Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch is my go-to summer read. It’s sweet but poignant, fun but substantial, and both the setting and the romance are all-around, utterly swoonworthy. It’s been over a year since I’ve read this, and I still smile when I think about the dress-shopping scene.

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For some reason, I read a TON of books with Asian representation. (I cannot explain this, as I am, unfortunately, white.) So, since that’s kind of my norm, I’m going to pick something with a different kind of representation and go with This Train is Being Held, which has Dominican and Cuban protagonists and deals a lot with Latin-American culture. I go to a Latino-majority high school (half of the student body actually commutes over the Mexican border to come to school every day!), so a lot of what it talked about was familiar to me through my Mexican-American friends, but there’s a definite difference between Southern California Mexican-American culture vs. NYC Dominican/Cuban-American culture, so I also learned a lot.

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I’ve been challenging myself to read a classic novel every month since January 2018 and have yet to fail, so I have a couple of favorite classics I’ve compiled in that time. But the one that probably has the most appeal to YA fans would be Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. It’s my favorite of her books by far and I love that it has a bookish protagonist! Catherine Morland is an incredibly relatable character for all of us readers out there and its slightly campy plot is super fun. (Other favorites that I also recommend: This Side of Paradise, Much Ado About Nothing, The Count Of Monte Cristo, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby.)

That was really fun! I don’t know any of y’all but I follow your blogs and like them a lot, so to spread the love, I’m tagging:

1. Caitlin at Caitlin Althea

2. Alexia at Right Writing Words

3. Scorpio Book Dreams

4. Jenniely at Jenniely Books Writing Lifestyle

5. 24 hr YA book blog

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “The Little Bookshop of Love Stories” by Jaimie Admans

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I don’t typically read adult romance because…well. You can probably guess. But I’ve recently started requesting adult books from NetGalley because I’ve all but run out of YA to request (most of it historical/literary fiction – the first adult ARC I read was a short story collection about a Japanese family called “Inheritors” which was excellent, but not reviewed here because I imagine it would have almost no appeal to my readers), and I couldn’t resist this. To my delight, it was exactly as charming, sweet, and clean as its cover appeared, so I’m posting it here because I feel like it might appeal to some YA readers who are looking to dip their toes into adult romance but aren’t so sure about all the sexy stuff that abounds in that genre.

SUMMARY

Today is the Mondayest Monday ever. Hallie Winstone has been fired – and it wasn’t even her fault!

Having lost her job and humiliated herself in front of a whole restaurant full of diners, this is absolutely, one hundred percent, the worst day of her life.

That is until she receives an email announcing that she is the lucky winner of the Once Upon a Page Bookshop!

Owning a bookshop has always been Hallie’s dream, and when she starts to find secret love letters on the first pages of every book, she knows she’s stumbled across something special.

Things get even better when she meets gorgeous, bookish Dimitri and between them, they post a few of the hidden messages online, reuniting people who thought they were lost forever.

But maybe it’s time for Hallie to find her own happy-ever-after, too?

REVIEW

The best comparison I can come up with for this book is that it vaguely resembles the British equivalent of a Hallmark movie. However, that’s not a perfect comparison, because even though it has the chaste romance, quirky premise, and predictability of a Hallmark movie, it’s earnest, wholesome, sweet, and swoon-worthy in a way that very few of those are. (I should know. My mother has watched one every single night of quarantine and I am not exaggerating this figure in the slightest.) “The Little Bookshop of Love Stories” never claims to be anything but a sweet, escapist romance for book lovers, but that’s a very good thing to be, in this escape-seeking book lover’s mind. 🙂

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that this book…is good for the heart. (One thing it has in common with cardio, I guess.) It’s wholesome, it’s unabashedly kindhearted, its hero and heroine and their families and friends and neighbors are good people, and it desperately wants to make you believe in love. Yes, it can be sugary-sweet at times, but it means so well and is so overflowing with sincerity that it’s very hard to fault it for that. (Not to mention that its leading man is the kind of guy this world needs a lot more of. Swoon.) The characters’ love of books comes through loud and clear, the romance is a little bit slow-burn (one way it did remind me of Hallmark: it baited me with near-kisses but kept waiting almost the entire book for the one climactic time they finally did!) but earned and heart-melting, and you kind of can’t read it and not want to visit the quaint English country town it is set in. The world is having a time of it right now, and “The Little Bookshop of Love Stories” created an idyllic little pocket of goodness for me to escape into. How could I possibly not love this book?

ENDNOTES

Best Scene: um, honestly, anything that takes place in the bookshop made me *puppy eyes emoji that I wish I could use here.* And the dancing scene.

What Stood Out: the book’s unabashedly optimistic outlook and earnest sweetness.

What Bugged Me: this book didn’t really need a villain, so the one it had seemed kind of unnecessary.

Content: almost none to speak of – a little strong language (mostly British curse words and/or ones that are considered to be milder in British English than they are in American English) and a few sexual references but otherwise, almost shockingly clean for a romance novel.

Rating: 5/5

 

Posted in Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesday: Books Set in NYC

Sometimes, when I’m preparing to write a Theme Party Tuesday post, I browse my Goodreads shelves to find ideas for topics. That’s what I was doing today: I had no idea what I wanted to write about, so I decided to pick a book and find a theme that worked for it.

That book was Ismee Williams’ “This Train is Being Held,” which I loved but never reviewed. Since a “books that involve trains” or “books with dancers” list would be very short, I decided to base the list around the fact that the book is set in New York City…and a list was born.

5. Most Unexpected Use of Setting: “Wardens of Eternity,” Courtney Moulton 

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What it’s About: an orphaned young woman in 1930s New York who’s spent a lifetime searching for clues about her mysterious heritage discovers she’s descended from a long line of Egyptian magic-wielders sworn to protect…I think it was a tomb? I haven’t read this in a while.

Why I Liked It: the writing of this book was pretty clumsy at times, but I’ve never seen a more interesting use of magic in a real-world setting. Magic tends to bother me in YA because it’s often taken very lightly, but here, it has real-world ramifications. Even though this is very much an alternate history, we never forget that we’re in the real world of Great Depression-era New York. In addition, basing the story on Egyptian mythology made it very unique among magical YA novels, most of which seem to base their magic systems in European mythologies. (But, let’s face it, I mostly included this because I wanted to diversify my list so it wasn’t all contemporary rom-coms.)

NOTE: not all of this book actually takes place in New York (some of it is in Egypt) but the bulk of it does.

Where I Read This: at a Greek restaurant in a strip mall at family dinner the night before my brother went off to college.

4. Best NYC-set Retelling: “Alterations” by Stephanie Scott

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What it’s About: a budding fashion designer from a working-class Miami family is selected for a prestigious fashion internship in New York; after she returns home, she has to grapple with her feelings for the son of the wealthy family that employs her mother – and perhaps his brother as well.

Why I Liked It: so, this is a retelling of a classic movie called “Sabrina,” which I have never actually seen. Nevertheless, this was a cute story, and its depiction of New York City through the eyes of a first-time visitor is as sweetly starry-eyed as any I’ve ever seen. This was just…really wholesome I guess? “Alterations” wasn’t a perfect book but it’s hard not to be endeared to it.

Where I Read This: in my bedroom, because I read this at the beginning of the COVID quarantine. :/

3. Prose so Pretty You’ll Probably Cry: “Night Music” by Jenn Marie Thorne

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What it’s About: sparks fly over a New York summer when a brilliant composing student comes to study under washed-out pianist Ruby Chertok’s illustrious father.

Why I Liked It: I’ve played the violin since I was nine, so if a book is about classical musicians, I do not care what it is, I will read it. So a classical musician rom-com? Yeah. I was sold. But what I thought would be a sweet summer rom-com actually turned out to have a lot of weight; it’s about a romance, and it’s about music, but what it’s really about is finding your identity as you transition into adulthood, and it was beautiful. Thorne’s prose is gorgeous, and I fell more and more in love with the characters and the setting and the writing with every page. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Where I Read This: again, in my bedroom because quarantine had started by the time I read it. :/

2. Best NYC-set Rom-Com: “Tweet Cute” by Emma Lord 

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What it’s About: classmates and rivals Pepper and Jack (yes, like the cheese!) wind up on opposite sides of a viral Twitter war between their families’ grilled cheese restaurants – and find themselves falling for each other as they duke it out online for sandwich supremacy.

Why I Liked It: okay, read that summary and ask me again why I ate this thing up with a spoon.

It’s an OVERACHIEVER HIGH SCHOOL ROM COM. It has GRILLED CHEESE. And ENEMIES-TO-LOVERS. And TWITTER WARS. And INSANE TUMBLR SHIPPERS. It’s everything you could ever want in a book and months later, I am still living for it. This is the only book wish NetGalley has ever granted me (yk that “wish for this” button?) and if there could only be one, I’m insanely glad it was this. Read this if you want to be absurdly happy for some amount of time, okay?

Where I Read This: I…cannot remember, how embarrassing.

1. Best Overall: “This Train is Being Held” by Ismee Williams

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What it’s About: NYC teenagers from different worlds meet, bond, fall in love, fall out of love, fall back in love, and repeat after meeting on the subway.

Why I Liked It: this is kind of a weird way of describing a book but the only word I can think of that adequately sums up this book is “lyrical.” There’s something incredibly graceful about it – its prose, which is elegant even in its use of colloquialism; the way it tackles difficult issues with a light, gentle touch; the softness of the romance, which is built upon a real connection and feels utterly authentic. It’s almost literary in that deft touch it has with its subject matter; in that, “This Train is Being Held” is a masterclass in why YA is nothing to sneeze at. Take that, book snobs.

Where I Read This: various places but the one I remember is while sitting in my car before school one day, trying to finish it before 7:52 so I’d have enough time to sprint to class by 8:00. (I did.)

That’s all for this week, but if you have any other NYC-set book recs or a suggestion for next week’s theme, PLEASE leave me a comment because I kind of have no idea what I’m doing and am 100% making this up as I go. Thanks, lovelies 🙂

 

 

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Say Yes Summer” by Lindsay Roth Culli

SUMMARY

The perfect book to kick off summer! For as long as Rachel Brooks can remember, she’s had capital-G Goals: straight As, academic scholarship, college of her dreams. And it’s all paid off–after years of following the rules and acing every exam, Rachel is graduating at the top of her class and ready to celebrate by . . . doing absolutely nothing. Because Rachel Brooks has spent most of high school saying no. No to dances, no to parties, and most especially, no to boys.

Now, for the first time in her life, there’s nothing stopping Rachel from having a little fun–nothing, that is, except herself. So when she stumbles on a beat up old self-help book–A SEASON OF YES!–a crazy idea pops into her head: What if she just said yes to . . . everything?

And so begins a summer of yes. Yes to new experiences and big mistakes, yes to rekindled friendships and unexpected romances, yes to seeing the world in a whole new way. This book is a fresh and fun take on the coming-of-age novel that explores the quintessential themes of growing up: taking risks, making mistakes, and, of course, love. And who knows? Lindsey Roth Culli’s hilarious and heartwarming debut may just inspire your own SAY YES SUMMER.

REVIEW:

I have a soft spot for post-high school books right now, for reasons that are probably obvious if you have read any of my past reviews. Maybe it’s preemptive nostalgia for a time that, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I will probably never experience. Whatever the cause, though, I’m currently rather enamored of books set in the pre-college summer. This one caught my eye for a few reasons.

As an overachiever in high school, I completely empathized with Rachel’s “really? Is this it?” feelings upon graduating and realizing how much she missed out on. No, I never wanted to get wasted with people I would never speak to again, and I still don’t (shudder), not to mention my dating prospects were nonexistent – but I still felt myself wondering what it would be like to have had a high school experience that stood out. So as dumb and impulsive as it admittedly was, Rachel’s idea of spending the summer saying yes to every available opportunity is something I’m probably just desperate enough to try. Reading about Rachel’s new experiences and relationships felt like living an alternate reality of my own life (other than the hot boy suddenly deciding that he liked me…never in a million years) because Rachel’s coming from the same place that I would be. That made them fun to read about. And the tone of the story is so unabashedly optimistic and upbeat that you can’t help but have fun following Rachel’s new adventures in yes-saying.

So, was this a perfect book? Of course not. A lot of the characters weren’t all that well-developed, most of Rachel’s decisions were kind of insane, and the strange love triangle dynamic definitely rubbed me the wrong way. But the writing was great, and ultimately, reading about someone else’s life-altering post-senior summer was exactly the escape I needed from a senior summer that’s shaping up to consist mostly of me sitting on my bed reading books.

ENDNOTES

Best Scene: Clayton and Rachel’s Canada date made me want to hop in my car and make for the Mexican border (which…is 20 minutes away from me so that’s not saying much) ASAP.

What Stood Out: reading this felt like drinking a strawberry milkshake: it’s what you drink when you can’t handle anything else because it’s easy to get down, undeniably delicious, and makes you happy.

What Bugged Me: Rachel’s decision to resolve a love triangle by dating both guys behind each other’s backs came off as all kinds of deranged.

Content: scattered cursing and a few innuendos, but mostly clean.

Rating: 4/5 Golden Grasshoppers

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized

REVIEW: “Aurora Burning ” by Jay Kristof and Amie Kaufman

SUMMARY

Our heroes are back… kind of. From the bestselling co-authors of the Illuminae Files comes the second book in the epic series about a squad of misfits, losers, and discipline cases who just might be the galaxy’s best hope for survival.

First, the bad news: an ancient evil—you know, your standard consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy deal—is about to be unleashed. The good news? Squad 312 is standing by to save the day. They’ve just got to take care of a few small distractions first.

Like the clan of gremps who’d like to rearrange their favorite faces.

And the cadre of illegit GIA agents with creepy flowers where their eyes used to be, who’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on Auri.

Then there’s Kal’s long-lost sister, who’s not exactly happy to see her baby brother, and has a Syldrathi army at her back. With half the known galaxy on their tails, Squad 312 has never felt so wanted.

When they learn the Hadfield has been found, it’s time to come out of hiding. Two centuries ago, the colony ship vanished, leaving Auri as its sole survivor. Now, its black box might be what saves them. But time is short, and if Auri can’t learn to master her powers as a Trigger, the squad and all their admirers are going to be deader than the Great Ultrasaur of Abraaxis IV.

Shocking revelations, bank heists, mysterious gifts, inappropriately tight bodysuits, and an epic firefight will determine the fate of the Aurora Legion’s most unforgettable heroes—and maybe the rest of the galaxy as well.

REVIEW

As I said in my Theme Party Tuesday post, I ventured out in a pandemic to get this book. So yeah, I think you could say I was pretty excited.

And OH MY GOULASH IT DELIVEREDDDDD.

If I’m being completely honest, I remember loving “Aurora Rising,” but it hasn’t stuck in my brain in a super intense way. I vaguely remembered the characters but not their distinct voices; I sort of remembered the plot but no specifics; I forgot a lot of key facts about the world it’s set in. I could probably have used a reread of the first book before diving into this one, but I didn’t care. I was going to get my hands on this book come hell or high water, and it was going to get into my brain as fast as it could.

And WOW. Even given the small amount of information I remembered from “Aurora Rising” to begin with, I knew enough to know I felt like I was reading a completely different series. Each character’s voice read incredibly fresh and new: I felt like I was meeting the characters all over again. The fun action set pieces, which were my favorite part of the last book, were just as fun and action-y as they were in AR. I fell in love with their found-family dynamic and individual friendships all over again, probably moreso for having already spent time watching that dynamic develop in the first book. I was swept up in the stakes, taken utterly CAPTIVE by that CLIFFHANGER (WHY????), came away with a few new ships…

Oh yeah. This was a RIDE.

This isn’t a super coherent review, I know, but I just had to gush, dang it, I LOVE this thing. A rare sequel that surpasses its original.

ENDNOTES

Short Summary: everything you love about “Aurora Rising” turned up to ELEVEN, and it WORKS.

Favorite Scene: there are many. The one in which we learn about Zila’s backstory was a highlight; literally anytime Fin is speaking; also, the scenes where Tyler and Saedii (new character, you’ll love her) are imprisoned together, and noooo, of course it’s not because I totally ship them, why do you ask? *side eye*

What Stood Out: a lot of sequels try to give the audience more of what it loved the first time around and fail miserably. This book tries it and hits it out of the park.

What Bugged Me: the cliffhanger ending, for one. RUDE. Also, my one small critique: some of the romantic scenes between Auri and Kal are…mind-numbingly cheesy. I LOVE cheesy stuff, and sometimes it was cute, but a few other times it was…yikes. I do like them together, but there is a reason that they weren’t my favorite pairing, implied or otherwise, in this book. (Scarlett/Fin slow burn? GIVE IT TO ME. Vaguely implied Tyler/Saedii that could or could not be romantic depending on how you read it? I WANT MORE. But Kal/Auri? Ehhh…)

Objectionable Content: three f-bombs (truthfully, I’ve never read a more well deserved f-bomb in my life…seriously), a small few other uses of strong language, a fade-to-black sex scene, and a lot of non-graphic violence.

Rating: 11/5 Supernovae ❤

Posted in Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesday: Favorite YA Sci-Fi

Hey guys! Today is a very exciting day in my reading life because I have obtained a copy of Aurora Burning. (I know – buying a physical copy of a new release, at full price, during a pandemic? Must have REALLY wanted that book. YEAH. I DID. AND 150 PAGES IN, I LOVE IT. I’d probably be done with it already if I didn’t have to stop to work out…

Anyway.)

In honor of the latest installment in one of my all-time favorite YA series, which happens to be sci-fi, I’ve decided to make that the theme of my latest Theme Party Tuesday and share five of my favorite YA Sci-Fi novels!

NOTE: although I adore “Aurora Rising,” I don’t want to repeat authors, so I’m going to talk about “Illuminae” instead because I love them equally, I’ve never talked about it on this blog, and I’ll be reviewing “Aurora Burning” soon anyway.

5. Most Thought-Provoking: “A Conspiracy of Stars” by Olivia A. Cole

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What It’s About: an intrepid, curious young woman studying the wildlife of the alien planet she lives on becomes increasingly skeptical of the colonial government she lives under as her research leads her to unravel its sinister aims.

Why You Should Read It: “Conspiracy” was not my favorite of the books on this list, but none of them made me think more than this one did. I think a lot of what makes sci-fi so fascinating is its ability to take relevant, timely social issues and apply them to alien settings. This lets us detach the issues enough from the reality we experience them in to see them differently, and that’s exactly what this book does. By uprooting colonialism and plopping it down on an alien planet, Cole lets us see its brutality in a way that no history textbook about the Belgian Congo ever could. It also got me thinking about the rights of indigenous peoples, which don’t get even close to enough attention in literature, so that’s great too. This is about as thought-provoking as young adult fiction gets, and I recommend it for people who aren’t sure about sci-fi but are passionate about human rights and social justice – you’ll find enough to like in this book to be convinced that sci-fi isn’t so bad after all.

Where I Read This: on a sick day home from school in 11th grade.

4. Best Sci-Fi Retelling of a Non-Sci-Fi Story: “Last of Her Name” by Jessica Khoury 

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What It’s About: in this outer-spacey “Anastasia” retelling, a teenage girl from a rural backwater planet discovers that she is not who she believed she was.

Why You Should Read It: I know I’ve yelled about this book at least once on my blog, but in case you missed that post, here’s a rundown of reasons:

  1. Anastasia. Duh. I will read anything that claims to be an Anastasia retelling. I am such a massive sucker for that story.
  2. Fun space adventures! Action! Peril! Romance! Identity-seeking! Destiny-forging!
  3. This has an absolutely fascinating mythos and I loved the worldbuilding.

But in the end…it’s just plain fun. This was one of the first new releases I’d ever read, and at the time, I’d never rooted for a character so hard. “Last of Her Name” was a huge part of what got me into YA. Read this if you want to fall in love with a character, and you can’t decide whether you want to read sci-fi, historical fiction, or fantasy, because you will, and it’s got all of them.

Where I Read This: while walking around in my backyard to get my 10,000 steps.

3. Sleeper Hit: “Rebel Seoul” by Axie Oh

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What It’s About: a down-on-his-luck teenage boy in future Seoul, South Korea jumps at the chance to work on high-level government operations as a companion for Tera, a bionic teenage girl designed by the government as a weapon. What he doesn’t realize is that it’s going to be hard to separate business and pleasure with Tera around.

Why You Should Read It: I really didn’t expect to love this. Yeah, I did, but it had a lot of qualities I would usually dislike: the writing wasn’t nearly as strong as some of the other entries on this list; it had a slow start; and the secondary romance was shoehorned as heck. But against all odds, Rebel Seoul made me fall madly in love with its awesome worldbuilding, sweet camaraderie, fast-paced action, and touching romance. Tera and Jaewon’s romance felt very real (well, as real as a romance between an ex-gang member and a bionic human weapon can feel) and earned because their connection built over time. Jaewon had to earn Tera’s trust, then her respect, then her affection – I LOVED THAT, MORE, PLEASE. (We do not see that enough in YA.) By the end of the book, I was in love with Neo-Seoul, with Jaewon, and with the two of them together. And great news if you loved “Rebel Seoul” as much as I do: it has a sequel, which is also great 🙂

Where I Read This: frantically, over two days, wherever I could – be that before bed, during meals, or even in class. (When senioritis was hitting me hardest, I started taking whatever book I was reading to school. Yeah. I know.)

2. Sentimental Favorite: “Enchantress from the Stars” by Sylvia Engdahl 

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What It’s About: a college student from an advanced intergalactic civilization is sent to a small, less-developed planet to defend them from the incursions of an imperialist planet seeking to take it over for their own gain.

Why You Should Read It: lots of anti-colonialist books on this list, for some reason – I guess that subject just lends itself well to sci-fi? (You’ll see a little of that in my #1 pick, too.) While “Enchantress” is certainly thought-provoking, it’s on this list for sentimental reasons. At the time that I read “Enchantress,” this was my first sci-fi novel. I was in eighth grade, about a week shy of my fourteenth birthday, and thought I hated sci-fi. Getting wrapped up in the romance of this tale (the “lush, adventurous, transportive” sort of romance, not the love kind, although there’s some of that, too, and it’s great), I realized that I didn’t. It kinda blew my middle-school mind, and I loved every minute. Couldn’t recommend this more.

Where I Read This: on a spring break vacation to New Mexico in eighth grade.

  1. All-Around Favorite: “Illuminae” by Jay Kristof and Amie Kaufman  (all three, but I especially love the first one)

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What It’s About: two teenagers who escape the destruction of their planet must survive repeated attempts by various parties to kill them off before they can discover their nefarious secrets.

Why You Should Read It: what can I say about “Illuminae” that hasn’t already been said? It’s clever, romantic, epic in scale, addictive, shocking, beautiful, terrifying – HOLY CRAP, THIS THING IS A TOUR DE FORCE. If you only read one YA novel this year, this would be one I’d suggest. (Now, not uncontested, mind you, but it would definitely be in the running.)

Where I Read This: I can’t even remember – I think it had something to do with drama practice?

What do you think of these picks? What YA sci-fi would have made your list? Have any theme suggestions? Let me know in the comments!