Ugly by Kelly Vincent

Ugly by Kelly Vincent
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: YA
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

Sophomore Nic Summers tries to ignore the taunts of “ugly lesbian.”

Because she’s not sure they’re entirely wrong. But she also has bigger concerns for now, including prepping for the school’s art contest. And while she isn’t certain of her sexuality, she does know her life is on the verge of falling apart when her best and only friend, Sam, drops the bomb that her family’s moving to Scotland. Together, to soften the blow and distract themselves from the inevitable, they start Operation Social Interaction for Nic—or OSIN for short—to try to find her some new friends.

But it’s an uphill battle for the introverted teen artist.

As Sam’s last day nears, Nic’s self-confidence wavers even more, and she starts questioning everything. If lesbian doesn’t feel quite right, maybe she’s transgender? It isn’t until she stumbles across the label “gender nonconforming” that things start to make a little more sense, and fall into place. But finding the right label doesn’t really tell her what to do next, and before she knows it, Sam is gone.

Mustering all her resources, Nic realizes she needs to find her own path and live her own truth.

What a heartrending book about a girl who doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone. Nic doesn’t feel like a girl, but doesn’t feel like a boy either. She’s confused. Her self-confidence is nonexistent. She’s carrying a secret burden. And, on top of it all, her best (and only) friend is moving away.

I enjoyed the book. I liked the growth that Nic makes through the story, and the way she is able to open up and see that there is more to life for her. Even though I’m way past the target age, I was able to remember back to my own high school years and remember the feelings of not quite fitting in. Thankfully, though, I never had to go through the bullying that she did… even from people she didn’t know. It did make me wonder if there weren’t any nice kids in that school.

I think it’s a book that all kids could benefit from reading… no matter how they feel about themselves. Kind of a “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” kinda thing. This would be an excellent book for discussion.

I’ve not read anything by this author before, but I’m looking forward to reading more. Thanks for a job well done, Ms. Vincent.

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Enemy’s Keeper: Forbidden Ties by Kyrie Wang

Enemy’s Keeper: Forbidden Ties by Kyrie Wang
Publisher: Tellwell Talent
Genre: Historical, Young Adult
Rated: 3 stars
Review by Rose

1075 A.D. England Nine years after the Norman Conquest

Orphaned during a rebellion against William the Conqueror, Heather’s life is just settling down when her childhood sweetheart disappears to save the son of a murdered Norman knight.

This quarrelsome son, Matthew, is determined to destroy the English rebels who decimated his household. Heather stays out of it—until she is accidentally entangled with a young rebel leader named Toby.

As she is whisked off through the forests of medieval England, inhabited by a dangerous but misunderstood tribal society, Heather is forced to take a side. Her decisions will put into peril everything she holds dear.

This book is full of non-stop action. There’s not a lot of setup in the story itself…reading this is rather like being thrown into the pool and told to swim. That’s not always a bad thing, because it definitely draws you into the story quickly.

Because it is action-based though, you don’t really get to know the characters very well. We get to see things mainly from the main character, Heather, who has the experience of trying to reconcile what she has been taught about different groups of people with their actual actions – not a bad lesson for young people to learn. Some older people would do well to learn the same lesson.

My major complaint about the book, even knowing it was the first book in the series, is that is just ended. Not really on a cliffhanger, but more like it was the end of a chapter. It did not leave me with the overwhelming urge to know what was coming next. Also, the action was there but the overall plot has not yet revealed itself. It almost feels like it was part of a larger work that was divided into smaller works…it would have been nice if this book had more of a plot arc leading to the next book.

That said, I did enjoy the writing and I still plan on reading the next book in the series because I want to see who Heather ends up with… because there are at least two possible characters that might turn out to be a love interest.. and I’m all about the love interests. 🙂

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BFF: A Story About Bullycide by Lindsey G. P. Bell

BFF: A Story About Bullycide by Lindsey G. P. Bell
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

Thirteen-year-old Abby and her father have just moved from a leaky old sailboat in California to an inherited mansion in South Carolina, and Abby does not fit in. This is the story of the summer adventures she shares with new best friend, Hollis, and two boys from their class rescuing an injured heron. But when school begins, Abby is shocked to learn that Hollis is a bullied outcast…who, pushed to the limit, takes her own life—a phenomenon known as bullycide. BFF attempts to portray the loss felt by those left behind.

This book deals with suicide, which may be triggering for some readers.

This book is so touching and, unfortunately, so important and needful in this time. There is so much to love about it. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and the friendships portrayed reminded me of friendships I had when I was growing up.

While I wish we had found out more about Abby’s mom and, possibly, had a little closure there (I was left feeling incomplete with that), I am glad that Abby’s dad was there for her… all the time and in all the ways. And, it was a learning experience to find out about her grandparents. The small town south…especially during the time setting of the book… was probably pretty accurate in the descriptions of how a lot of people felt about differences. I also wish we had found out more about Hollis’ background and family. I was left with a lot of questions.

Even with that, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even with the tragic ending. I was completely drawn into the story and was returned to my own childhood. I am looking forward to reading more by this author. I loved her voice.

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Twelve Weeks to Midnight Blue by Steve Searfoss

Twelve Weeks to Midnight Blue by Steve Searfoss
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Economics, Business
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

Teach your kids about business and economics in a fun, meaningful way and inspire them to be entrepreneurs. Millions of Americans are small business owners or work at companies, yet there are not many books that explain to kids what business is about, the way there are books for kids about being a firefighter, farmer or astronaut. Beyond basic business concepts, KidVenture shows that character matters in business. The ability to persevere when there are setbacks and being someone who is trustworthy are key ingredients of success.

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KidVenture stories are business adventures where kids figure out how to market their company, understand risk, and negotiate. Each chapter ends with a challenge, including business decisions, ethical dilemmas and interpersonal conflict for young readers to wrestle with. As the story progresses, the characters track revenue, costs, profit margin, and other key metrics which are explained in simple, fun ways that tie into the story.

The synopsis of this book tells you much of what this book might be about. However, I think I can tell you what this book seemed like to a “grown-up”. One like me I suppose. I think this is reading for a 10- to 14-year-old depending on their reading skills. Although there is a theme of learning to manage and understand money, there is also a story here. Making it flow. Making it read like a story about a boy and his family and friends. This is not a textbook. It might accomplish more than a textbook, but it doesn’t have that somewhat dry academic type of flow. The POV is always from Chance, the kid who wants a new bike and wants to find a way to buy it. I think this kid’s perspective is what it needs to hold the attention of middle grade or young YA readers.

While this is well-written and easy to read, there is something it accomplishes much more than merely learning about money, or math, or business. It provides numerous opportunities for conversation between parents and children. Short sentences like “What would you do?” “What would be the benefits?” leave open doors for discussion. What is a short 128 page book, can be shaped in many ways.

No wonder Steve Searfoss is such a successful entrepreneur. It takes the ability to communicate on many subjects to many ages, and he seems to be able to do so. I hope more KidVenture books are forthcoming.

Movie Review: Candy Jar

Movie Review: Candy Jar

Director: Ben Shelton

Writer: Chad Klitzman

Stars: Christina Hendricks, Uzo Aduba, Jacob Latimore, Sami Gayle, and Helen Hunt.

Rated: 4 Stars

Review by: Astilbe

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Anything is possible if you work hard enough at it, right?

Lona and Bennett would have been loathed to admit it, but they truly were two peas in a pod. They were both intelligent, hardworking, and stubborn teens who knew their many hours of studying and carefully-selected extracurriculars like debate club were going to get them admission to their dream colleges. There was nothing that was going to stand in their ways, not even each other. The acting was so well done that I kept forgetting this was a fictional story. That was how convincing both of these actors were at playing competitive and nerdy high schoolers.

I must admit that their strong personalities overwhelmed me a little at first. They were both so determined to be right about everything that neither of them was very good at listening to others. I admired their strong work ethics, but they both seemed like people who would be exhausting to spend a lot of time around in real life. They never took a break!

Luckily, those character flaws in these two characters provided plenty of fodder for both the dramatic and comedic moments in this film. Their personalities were so similar to each other that they were often on the same wavelength. This lead to moments of friction when they disagreed, but it also brought them of opportunities to find the funny side of their high-pressure lifestyles.

There’s something amusing about watching two characters realize just how much they have in common and what a good couple they might make. This was obvious to the audience from the very first scene, and it made me wonder if or when these characters would figure it out as well.

Candy Jar was a lighthearted romp that I’d recommend to viewers of all ages who love teen romances, dramas, or, better yet, both of these genres!

Within the Folds of a Swan’s Wing by Jennifer Walker

Within the Folds of a Swan’s Wing by Jennifer Walker
Publisher: Totally Entwined
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What if the one element that has always defined you as a geeky outcast has the potential to catapult you into being the next big thing?

A Black girl adopted into a White family, Jodie has always felt out of place, especially at her mainly middle-class, white high school. Used to being a ghost in the halls, she has always found solace alone in her room surrounded by a world of Stephen King novels, Oreo cookies, Dave Brubeck jazz riffs and origami. Forever classified as a geeky outcast, she finally finds two unlikely friends who share her interests and accept her as she is—Bethany, the visually-impaired new girl, who has autism, and Jared, the home-schooled, self-proclaimed nerdy frozen-yogurt clerk who she’s crushing on big-time.

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There is so much hope tucked into these pages.

Jodie was a well rounded and loveable protagonist who changed in so many exciting ways through the course of this novel. When I first met her, she was a withdrawn, socially isolated teen who often turned to overeating to help her deal with difficult emotions like loneliness or embarrassment. I appreciated the fact that her problems were so well written. They gave me compassion for her struggles and made me yearn to find out if she’d develop healthier coping mechanisms and if she’d find a way to make genuine connections with the people around her.

What made me adore it even more than I already did through Jodie alone was how beautifully the secondary characters were written as well. Bethany was such a sweet, gentle girl, and the friendship between these young women soon blossomed into something marvelous. Similar patterns were repeated with several other teens and adults in Jodie’s life. There were multiple times I paused from reading and wished these characters truly existed in our world. Not only did they genuinely feel real, they were also the sort of folks I’d happily become friends with because of how kind and welcoming they were to everyone.

This was one of those young adult books that could easily cross over to the adult section of any library. There were many themes in it that were just as relevant for readers decades older than the intended audience as it was for. Sometimes folks of all ages need to be reminded why inclusivity is important or how a series of small and seemingly inconsequential changes in one’s life can ultimately lead to transformation.

I’d heartily recommend Within the Folds of a Swan’s Wing to young adult and adult readers alike. This is a must-read in my opinion!

The Midnight Before Me by Elizabeth Lo

The Midnight Before Me by Elizabeth Lo
Publisher: Westbrook Publishing
Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Young Adult
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Alstroemeria


My name is Midnight Thunder. The town crazy person; the Demon Eyes girl. The girl whose existence rests on a curse that saves her from death yet sets her on a path to an inevitable end.

I live in a world full of magic: spells, curses, enchantments, and everything in between. It would be a whimsical place, but, like anything, it’s imperfect. Little by little, my own country has begun to fall apart beneath its own mistakes. The queen’s gone a little bit more than mad, our military has collapsed, and of course, the only way to break the deadly curse at the root of it all is to sacrifice… me.

Midnight Thunder is just a girl who wants a simple life, and her picture of happiness is just a tree where she and her brother Black used to spend a lot of time together. But can her “Demon Eyes” that have been the reason for her isolation from society, suddenly become the solution to her finding true happiness? The Midnight Before Me seeks to answer the age-old question, “What makes life worth living?”
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The plot of this story is so emotionally driven for a group of main characters that would have you believe they have given up hope on finding their meaning. This emotion powers through and pushes our characters together, making the anticipation for things to come truly agonizing when it comes time to finally put down the book and go to sleep.

Each chapter gives us the perspective of a different character, which brings the story such energy and depth, helping the readers be in two places at once and worrying about outcomes for all of the characters involved rather than just Midnight.

Lafayette is a troubled soldier, but the interactions between him and Midnight fill the novel with a warm life that would be missing otherwise. Their unspoken bond connects the readers to the story, and gives new meaning to “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

Midnight and Lafayette live in an entirely unique fantasy world of magicians and non-magical beings that is put together in a way I have never seen before in the world of Fantasy. Each of these qualities act as interchanging parts that bring suspense to the reader making them question how every aspect fits into the story.

Desperate for a happy outcome The Midnight Before Me was written so thoughtfully by Elizabeth Lo that it has me caring for each character and wondering what their lives are like after the end of the novel.

This is an excellent story for young adults and children alike, filled with lessons of finding one’s true purpose, living life to the fullest, and not being afraid of the things that make us different. It is in these qualities where our true power lies, and as an adult I am thankful to have been reminded of their importance in my life. You will not regret picking up a copy for yourself and letting Midnight Thunder show you that it should not take death to teach you how to live.

Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed by Christine Dore Miller

Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed by Christine Dore Miller
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sixteen-year-old Andrea Cavanaugh is elated when Josh, a bright-eyed piano prodigy, becomes her first boyfriend. But the closer she gets to him, the more she realizes that he’s not the boy she first fell for. In its poignancy and emotional darkness, Forgiven are the Starry-Eyed takes you deep into the delicate and devastating web of shame that spirals from the depths of dating violence when dreamy teenage love turns dark. Andrea must find not only an escape, but a belief that she is even worthy of freedom.

Love isn’t supposed to hurt.
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I appreciated the way the author showed the audience the many warning signs of an abusive relationship through multiple examples in the storyline itself. This was so much more effective than sharing a list or having another character spout them off once Andrea was more deeply involved with Josh. It also gave the audience a chance to think for themselves, especially when it came to the small moments of discomfort the main character felt on her first date that can so easily be brushed off.

There were some pacing issues in the beginning that I found distracting. What made them even more noticeable was that one scene from a faster-paced section was included out of chronological order early on. This was the only thing I wish had been written differently about this tale. Everything else about it was so accurate, interesting, and sympathetic that I wish every teenager would read it before they jump into the dating pool for the first time.

The ending was perfect. I often wondered how Ms. Miller was planning to resolve everything, especially since this was a fairly short novel and there were still so many loose ends to tie up by the time I got to the last ten pages or so. It was delightful to see where she went with the plot at that point. It was satisfying but also left room for a sequel if she ever decides to write one. I, for one, would love to know what happened to Andrea next!

Forgiven Are the Starry-Eyed was a timely, educational read that I’d recommend to teen and adult readers alike.

Crave by Tracy Wolff

Crave by Tracy Wolff
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal
Length: Full (400 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rated: 4.5 stars
Review by Lupine

My whole world changed when I stepped inside the academy. Nothing is right about this place or the other students in it. Here I am, a mere mortal among gods…or monsters. I still can’t decide which of these warring factions I belong to, if I belong at all. I only know the one thing that unites them is their hatred of me.

Then there’s Jaxon Vega. A vampire with deadly secrets who hasn’t felt anything for a hundred years. But there’s something about him that calls to me, something broken in him that somehow fits with what’s broken in me.
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Which could spell death for us all.

Because Jaxon walled himself off for a reason. And now someone wants to wake a sleeping monster, and I’m wondering if I was brought here intentionally—as the bait.

I am not typically a person who jumps at the opportunity to read a YA vampire book of any kind (I’m a young adult who never liked Twilight). However, after being offered the opportunity to read an up and coming twist on the subject, I couldn’t resist. It was written in first person, present tense which isn’t my favorite POV, but honestly that was easy to overlook once I got hooked on the story.

Crave is written beautifully, with lines that will leave you virtually breathing in the cold Alaskan air and wishing you were there right along with the characters. I appreciated Grace’s wit and dark sense of humor with every turn of the page.

The sexual tension between Grace and Jaxon was a little quick to be introduced (I prefer a slow burn), but the relationship between the two will certainly have you on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next… and be warned: it’s hot. I admit to referring to Jaxon as my new book boyfriend more than once. The supporting characters are developed and written in such a way I can see each of their faces painted in my head. Each chapter introduced a new adventure with Grace and her entourage as well as offering very clever and fun chapter headings (for example, “No I Really Don’t Want to Build a Snowman” or “Shining Armor is So Last Century”).

I loved the original ideas and the twists on the ordinary vampire cliché. I never thought I’d say this about a vampire romance, but Crave is absolutely worth the read.

In Over Her Head: Lights, Camera, Anxiety by Krysten Lindsay Hager

In Over Her Head: Lights, Camera, Anxiety by Krysten Lindsay Hager
Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rated: 3.5 stars
Review by Poppy

Cecily feels like she has it all: great best friends, the beginnings of a career as a model/actress, and she’s dating her favorite singer, Andrew Holiday. Then Cecily’s best friend Lila begins to ditch her every time Lila’s boyfriend calls. Cecily feels lost, but she and Andrew begin connecting more and she’s never been in a relationship where she felt so understood. Andrew even begins to confide in her about his anxiety. Soon Cecily experiences her own anxiety on a magazine photo shoot, but she manages to impress the magazine staff. Just when it seems like all her dreams are coming true, everything comes crashing down when a photo of Andrew with another girl appears online. He swears nothing happened, but Cecily is crushed. She feels like she’s lost two of the people closest to her.

Was her perfect relationship real or was she in over her head?

Ahhh… all the angst of the teen years.
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I am the mother of teen daughter. I’ve seen how it doesn’t take much to create problems, or to cause the tears to flow, so it shouldn’t have surprised me that our heroine is in tears in the first few pages of this book. As an adult, I honestly rolled my eyes a bit at what seemed to be an overreaction to the situation, but…I do remember being a teen. I wouldn’t go back to those days on a bet!

Cecily is a sweetheart. I really liked her. And I liked Andrew. I didn’t read the book prior to this one, so I didn’t get to see their relationship develop, but for a star, Andrew seems incredibly honest and down-to-earth. I really felt as if Cecily couldn’t have done better in the romance department.

It doesn’t take long, though for the troubles to begin, largely how I’m sure it does IRL. She said this, they saw that, did you see this video, OMG social media said, plus add in cliques and mean girls … and bit by bit it tears down Cecily’s entire support system, from Andrew to her best friend, Lila.

I appreciated the author keeping things clean on the page. My own kid is frequently a little shocked at what she reads in her YA books. Look, we all know kids are having sex, but it’s not necessarily something that needs to be described on the page. This author has my admiration for keeping it real, but clean.

She’s talented in her character creation, too. The book was populated with a cast of well-rounded, unique individuals and I never confused one with the other. The writing itself was also strong and well done. I have no complaints about her skill.

I have to say, I honestly don’t miss the drama of those difficult teen years which made this book a little hard for me to read, but I’m not the target audience, (and honestly, I think being a teen is far more difficult now than when I was a teen) and I feel as if Andrew was a little too good to be true (though I’m betting this book has caused more than one teenaged girl to swoon and dream of having their own Andrew). Otherwise, a solid entry into the contemporary YA field. If this is a genre you love, I’d certainly suggest this book, though maybe start with book one. While I didn’t feel I was missing any information, and I had no trouble following the plot, I’m sure my experience with these characters would have been richer with that background.