Pebble by Jane McKay

Pebble by Jane McKay
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The small drone sped away from its dying star.

It did not look back at the doomed orb as it traveled through black space. It had a single mission – find a new viable planet and report. Many years of travel later it saw a possible candidate for its mission. The drone spied the blue-washed planet ahead. Would it find a world for its people or be doomed to a lonely existence on a faraway world?

Read the exciting story of Pebble as it helps to battle for its new family on its new home world, Earth. Can it help protect them from a menace from outer space?

Kindness is essential.

It’s always nice to meet characters who think logically and plan ahead. Some of the dangers they faced could be predicted far in advance, and they did a good job of predicting what might happen and figuring out the best ways to respond if their first few attempts to deflect the antagonists or escape didn’t work out so well. This kind of common sense is a breath of fresh air, especially in the young adult genre.

I had trouble keeping track of the large cast of characters in general. Not only were there a lot of them, their character descriptions and development weren’t always strong enough for me to read a familiar name and immediately know who the narrator was referring to. If only this had been easier to figure out.

With that being said, I enjoyed the many exciting plot twists in this book. There were multiple subplots that wove themselves together in all sorts of attention-grabbing and also surprisingly kind ways. This was especially true when it came to Pebble’s backstory and how its programming tipped the scales into surviving dangerous circumstances over and over again.

Pebble was an adventurous read.

Bloodstone by Rebecca Henry

Bloodstone by Rebecca Henry
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Paranormal, LGBTQ, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

There’s something wicked in the wind on Ambrosia Hill and strength is held within a stone.

Zinnia knows nothing is as it seems in the witching world, and she realizes the aunts calling her back to the Fern House was not without consequences. Zinnia must embrace her witch abilities and undergo her biggest test yet. Can she learn to rely on her personal magic, the strength in others, and trust that what she sees isn’ t always reality? There’ s something wicked in the wind this Halloween on Ambrosia Hill and Zinnia must fight for those she loves most.

What might you find if you peeled back the stereotypes and looked at who someone really was?

The romantic subplot made me smile. I’ve enjoyed seeing it gradually develop from a friendship into a heartwarming romance since first meeting these characters in Amethyst. Not only was the slow burn approach perfect for them, it also gave me plenty of time to notice all sorts of similarities between them that make me think they’d be a great match. I can only hope that any sequels in the works will include more of this storyline as it’s such a nice contrast to the sometimes-scary work a witch must do.

Once again, I would have liked to see more character development. Yes, it is happening slowly, but I found myself wishing that Zinnia especially would be given more opportunities to show the audience how she’s changed as a result of coming out of the closet as a member of the LGBTQ community as well as accepting her identity as a witch. This was the only thing holding me back from choosing a five-star rating.

I know I’ve mentioned the beautiful world building in both of my previous reviews of the first two books in this series, but it continued to impress me this time around. Ms. Henry has been doing a wonderful job so far of feeding the audience exactly enough information about witchcraft and witch culture in this universe to keep my interest levels high. Just when I think I have it all more or less figured out, she adds yet another layer to it that deepens my previous understanding of how it all worked and makes me eager to see what might happen next. As far as this reader is concerned, there’s still a ton of ground to cover for these characters, and I hope for many more updates to come in the future.

While the plot itself could technically function as a standalone work, this is the third instalment of a series that should be read in order to best understand the complex and memorable world the author is building here.

Bloodstone made me yearn for more.

Junk Magic and Guitar Dreams by T. James Logan

Junk Magic and Guitar Dreams by T. James Logan
Publisher: Bear Paw Publishing
Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

A guitar, a box of junk, and a pile of trouble…

Fifteen-year-old Otter is in a dark place.

Child Services wants to put him in foster care, or even a home for troubled youth.

Living on his own, he’s one bad decision away from the street. His band’s first gig is only two weeks away, but his crush on their new lead singer has him tied in knots.

Then he inherits a box of random junk from a dead grandfather he barely knew, only to discover that the junk is infused with his grandfather’s memories. Can this “junk” help Otter win the girl of his dreams, reconnect with his family, and keep him out of juvenile detention…maybe even become a rock star?

You’ll love this touching, contemporary fantasy because it will play power chords on your heart strings.

Get it now.

Otter is a kid just orphaned and emancipated at the age of fifteen. He lives in a trailer park and helped his mother as she was dying of cancer. Now he must take care of himself. A woman from child services wants to put him in foster care, but Otter is dead set against this. He wants to take care of himself. He gets a job and misses school.

He has some things in his favor though: some good friends and neighbors and music. He plays bass guitar in a band, and music is a driving force for him. His grandfather leaves him an interesting box of junk, but it’s not just any junk. While going through it, Otter relieves the memories of his grandfather. He comes to understand him and learns some important things. This is an interesting aspect of the story, to see how Otter uses this knowledge in his life.

Otter has a nefarious neighbor, and in dealing with him, one sees how naïve Otter really is. He gets sucked into some bad things without realizing the truth, and this escalates. His best friend warns him, but he blows off the advice. Things get worse when someone steals his bass guitar when his band has an important gig coming up. Otter is already living on starvation wages. Then when Otter is with this troubled neighbor, the neighbor and his cohorts do something terrible in Otter’s presence. What will Otter do? If he calls the police, his life could be in danger, but he wants to do the right thing. This truly is a dark hour for him.

The story is underlined with his romantic interest, friendship, and other themes of family, racism, poverty, dreams, music, immigration, and other important issues. The characters are realistic, and one’s heart will surely be moved by the circumstances the kids find themselves in. The music aspects are done well. Vintage music comes to life here, and the descriptions of musicianship are perfect.

For an entertaining YA story with some depth, why not give this one a try?

Obsidian by Rebecca Henry

Obsidian by Rebecca Henry
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sometimes the truth has to be revealed in order to recieve love.

Ninth grade is everything Zinnia didn’ t want it to be at St. Hopes. Her life back in the city feels empty and Liv’ s groupies of popular girls are suffocating Zinnia with their daily taunts. As Halloween approaches, Zinnia craves the comfort and security of Ambrosia Hill and desperately wishes to be back with her aunts but especially Billie, the girl with the green eyes, who Zinnia can’t get out of her mind. Right when Zinnia thinks she won’ t be able to wait until the summer to see Billie, her mom shocks her with a spontaneous announcement. They are leaving for Ambrosia Hill to visit the aunts. But can Zinnia surrender her truth to accept love?

Everyone needs a place that makes them feel like they belong there.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored the many different options that were available to a witch. Not only did young witches decide whether they wanted to be on the side of good or of evil, the powers they had could vary quite a bit from one individual to the next. This meant that it wasn’t easy to predict in advance what someone in this group was like even in small ways like whether it would be safe to walk through their garden. I was fascinated by the diversity here and gobbled up every last description. It made me think of all of the Halloween stories I’ve read and watched about witches and wonder what a film based on this world might be like!

My review of Amethyst mentioned wanting to see more character development for Zinnia and the people closest to her. While it still happened much more slowly than I would have preferred to see, I was pleased to take note of the subtle but important ways in which all of the main characters had evolved since I’d first met them. I hope that any possible sequels in the works will speed up this progress as this was the only thing holding me back from giving a full five-star rating.

Once again, I was thrilled with the world building in this series. The first instalment did an excellent job of showing how magic worked in this universe and what it meant to be a witch. It was wonderful to see all of that hard work not only acknowledged in the sequel but used as a foundation to explore these topics in even greater detail here. I highly recommend beginning with book one in order to fully appreciate just how much effort the author put into this. She couldn’t have done a better job at it.

Obsidian was a satisfying read.

On the Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God by Louise Rennison

On the Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God (Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson) by Louise Rennison
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: YA, 16+, Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Georgia Nicolson has started dating the Sex God (aka Robbie). So life should be perfect . . . except in Georgia’s life, nothing is ever perfect. Her cat, Angus (the size of a small Labrador), is terrorizing the neighborhood. Her sister, Libby (who is slightly mad), hides her pooey knickers at the bottom of Georgia’s bed.

Then the Sex God breaks it off because she’s too young. It’s time for a plan. It’s time for a Red Herring. It’s time for Georgia to become a “heartless boy magnet!”

Very much a YA novel, but it’s fun.

I picked this up because I was told it was banned. That’s a sure-fire way for me to want to read a book–if I’m not supposed to, I will. I’m glad I did. This story moves along at a good clip and got me engrossed right away.

I have to add a few caveats. Georgia is 14 and the sex god (ah, the conversation of teen girls) is 17. That age gap might bother some, but there wasn’t much to the relationship of any controversial nature other than that. They break up because he thinks she’s too young. See? It works out, sort of. Also, this book is told through the viewpoint of a 14 year old girl. She’s going to see the world in a much more myopic way than someone older. It’s the nature of the teen. But take into consideration Georgia is an overly dramatic teen, she’s a teen and she’s been through some drama that she can’t control. It’s okay that she’s…well..Georgia.

If you’re looking for something light and easy for a weekend read, then this might be the one for you. There’s slapstick humor, chuckles and it’s a cute teen read.

Squishy Crushy Something by Kieran Frank

Squishy Crushy Something by Kieran Frank
Publisher: Deep Hearts YA
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Jayden never expected he’d be the type to develop a squish on a boy, never mind a full-blown crush.

It started with Kail, a boy with looks and popularity and all-around awesomeness. Developing a squish on Kail might’ve been natural for Jayden, of course, as anyone could fall for that boy. But it’s now three years later, the summer before senior year, and Jayden’s squish on Kail has grown into a crush that he can no longer ignore. And this crush is leading Jayden to make decisions he knows he’ll regret later.

But Kail isn’t the only one Jayden is having squishy crushy troubles with.

He used to be friends with Ollie, but when Ollie got too deep into religion, it drove Jayden away. Now, Ollie is back and he seems much more open-minded—not to mention much more attractive—and Jayden can’t help but develop a squish. But could it turn into a crush?

Jayden is caught between two squishy crushes—the crush on the boy that he knows is toxic, and the potential crush that could make or break a friendship—and he doesn’t know what to do. The right choice could bring him happiness, but if he makes the wrong choice he could lose everything.

This was the first asexual and gay romance novel I’ve read, and it won’t be the last!

Small towns can be lonely and sometimes even dangerous places to grow up for kids who are LGBTQ, non-Caucasian, or a member of other minority groups. I enjoyed seeing how Jayden figured out who was safe to talk to and who would accept him unconditionally as not everyone who lives in a small town will be prejudiced against folks who are different from them by any means. There are wonderful people to be found in every corner of the globe, and I smiled with joy as the main character discovered who could be counted on in his community.

The ending suited the characters nicely, especially Jayden. People change quite a bit when they’re in high school, so it made a lot of sense to leave everything as open to interpretation as the author did. He left plenty of room for his characters to learn and grow as they finished high school and went off to college. That was exactly what this storyline needed, and it made me excited to read the sequel that was hinted to be in the works.

Some of the most memorable scenes were ones that showed members of the LGBTQ community loving and supporting each other. Some shared the same label while others did not, but what really mattered were their friendships and the common ground they found as members of various romantic and sexual minority groups. I never had stories like this when I was in high school, so it was heartwarming to see such a thing written for today’s teens. Solidarity makes for great storytelling and sends a powerful message of hope to readers who are still looking for a place to belong.

Squishy Crushy Something made me sigh with happiness.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQ, YA, 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Armed with a one-way ticket to New York City, small-town theater geek Nate is off to start rehearsals for E.T.: The Broadway Musical. It’s everything he ever practiced his autograph for! But as thrilling as Broadway is, rehearsals are nothing like Nate expects: full of intimidating child stars, cut-throat understudies, and a director who can’t even remember Nate’s name.

Now, as the countdown to opening night is starting to feel more like a time bomb, Nate is going to need more than his lucky rabbit’s foot if he ever wants to see his name in lights. He may even need a showbiz miracle.

Cute, sweet and a little unbelievable but fun!

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! follows the book Better Nate Than Ever is a cute, sweet read about a young man, Nate, who wants to become a star on the stage. He’s got big dreams and even bigger pressure to produce.

I liked this book because it showed a young man, Nate, who is trying to come to terms with what he wants–fame–and who he is. He’s coming out and finding he rather likes being true to himself. It’s a sweet thing to read about.

There are also a lot of nearly impossible things happening in this book. He’s a small town kid about to make it big, he’s already on the stage, he’s in an improbable situation…but it’s fun. It’s cute and quirky.

If you’re looking for a story that’s a little about coming out, a lot about the stage and a lot about life, then give it a try. It’s funny and worth the read.

Smuggled by Angela Karanja

Smuggled by Angela Karanja
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

How a Talent Trip turned into a Trafficking Trip – Whoosh! – just like that she was gone!

Tuliana was 14 and had lived in her home country of Kenya with different people, in different places, at different times, for as long as she could remember. Then, out of the blue, she was ushered onto a plane with a group of teenagers and flown out of Kenya.

At a London airport she was separated from the group and whisked off in a car. Her experiences after this were creepy: she didn’t know where she was, or why.

Firstly, she was delivered to a home where she was grossly mistreated. Then to another where she wasn’t treated badly but she definitely didn’t belong. Finally, to another where she was treated really well – yet enslaved. In all those homes she was a slave – a modern day child slave.

Tuliana’s teen friend, Jonathan, whom she met on the plane during this Talent Trip was painfully worried. On returning to Kenya, Jonathan went to extremes to try find her – literally sacrificed his privileged life as a son of a British diplomat. He was thrown out of his family and the country and shipped back to live with his paternal grandparents in England.

Being kicked out only increased his motivation and efforts to find Tuliana. Jonathan mobilised teenagers from all over the world to join his “Operation Find Tuliana” campaign. The campaign picked momentum fast and began unsettling government systems. Teenagers were asking deep penetrating questions, demonstrating and disrupting status quo and stirred world leaders to STOP and LISTEN as teenagers demanded for ACTION not just TALK.

This campaign ignited bravery and vigilance among regular citizens who raised concerns and reported suspicious cases which led to the discovery of numerous children who were being exploited and abused up and down the country. Some children were living as full-fledged slaves, others as part times slaves – all, modern-day child slaves.

Tuliana was also unearthed having been illegally adopted in a supposedly “good family” but nevertheless a slave- the Cash cow for this family’s business.

Everyone should be aware of the warning signs of human trafficking, including teenagers.

The pacing was strong, exciting, and easy to follow. It had a conversational writing style that could appeal to teens and adults alike. There was never a good place to stop reading which is always something I like to see in what I read. It was fun to anticipate what might happen next to the characters when I needed to step away and take care of other business.

I would have liked to see more character development both in the sense of describing people’s personalities and habits as well as in the sense of showing how they grew and changed as a result of their experiences. Ms. Karanja did a good job of creating backstories, especially when it came to Tuliana, but there wasn’t as much time spent on what Tuliana and the other characters who interacted with her were like as individuals. This makes it hard for me to describe their personalities with specific terms like shy, friendly, silly, intellectual, or any of the many other words that can give a reader a sense of what it would be like to meet that particular character in real life.

Some of my favorite passages were the ones that explored the many ways vulnerable people can be convinced to trust a stranger and travel to unknown places with them. While kids and teenagers are generally more susceptible to this than adults are, the techniques that were used could easily lure older folks into dangerous circumstances, too. I appreciated the way the author presented these scenarios to the audience without interrupting the flow of the plot. She trusted us to pick up on why they could be early signs that something was going terribly wrong without further commentary, and that made her story stronger.

Smuggled discussed an important issue in an accessible and interesting way.

Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann & Lily Williams

Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann & Lily Williams
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Middle Grade, YA, Contemporary, Graphic Novel
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Good friends help you go with the flow.
Best friends help you start a revolution.

Sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are fed up. Hazelton High never has enough tampons. Or pads. Or adults who will listen.

Sick of an administration that puts football before female health, the girls confront a world that shrugs―or worse, squirms―at the thought of a menstruation revolution. They band together to make a change. It’s no easy task, especially while grappling with everything from crushes to trig to JV track but they have each other’s backs. That is, until one of the girls goes rogue, testing the limits of their friendship and pushing the friends to question the power of their own voices.

Now they must learn to work together to raise each other up. But how to you stand your ground while raising bloody hell?

A guide to periods, but with friends and not a manual? I’m in.

I wish I’d have had this book when I was the age that I got my period. While I got the cursory explanation at school, this would’ve been a lot more helpful. Periods are normal. They’re something menstruating people deal with. It’s scary when periods show up the first time, but it shouldn’t be. This book helps get rid of the stigma.

Sasha is a younger student at the high school and one day she gets her period. Some make fun of her, but a few girls take her in, help her out and help her feel normal. It’s a common thing that happens at schools all over the place. Abby, one of the friends, realizes there are issues with getting period products at school. There is a bit of a political bend to this story, but it’s not so much to take away from the story. It showcases that there are issues some deal with and others won’t ever understand.

I liked this story of friendship, finding a place to belong, finding a cause and standing up for one’s self. It’s a cute tale and does take the stigma out of getting your period. If you’re looking for another way to talk about this topic, then this might be the right book for you.

The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman

The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
Publisher: Pantheon
Genre: YA, Graphic Novel, Historical, Ages 16+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats.

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father into an astonishing retelling of one of history’s most unspeakable tragedies. It is an unforgettable story of survival and a disarming look at the legacy of trauma.

Haunting, sad, but also educational.

I picked up this book because I was told it was a fantastic read. It was. The art is great and depicts the characters as mice, cats, dogs and some pigs. The characters might be animals, but the meaning shines through. The Holocaust was a terrible time in human history and should be dealt with. We should all learn about it so we’re not destined to repeat it.

I cried during this book. I didn’t think a graphic novel would make me so emotional, but I got invested in the characters. I wanted to see them survive. Art Spiegelman’s father is the main character in this book. The story is told through his stories to his son about his time in the war and concentration camps. The emotional fragility, the strength, and the colossal devastation are evident in this character, his situation and his future. It was painfully obvious this man saw stuff and it messed with him.

I wouldn’t recommend this to a younger read, but this is powerful stuff and would be better for an older YA reader. It’s hard to read, emotionally, in spots, but worth the read.