Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze by Benjamin Roech


Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze by Benjamin Roech
Publisher: Deep Hearts YA
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Romance, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Fifteen-year-old Rainey Cobb never thought meeting someone could actually change her life. But, then again, she’s never met anyone like Juliet.

It’s 1995 and The Cobb Family Band, led by Rainey’s rock star parents, has arrived for a week-long gig at the Midwestern resort owned by Juliet’s family. Dazzled by Juliet’s carpe diem attitude, DIY tattoos, and passion for grunge, Rainey falls hard. And when Juliet gives Rainey a mixtape that unlocks her heart’s secret yearnings, Rainey starts seeing herself-and her vagabond, show-biz life-through new eyes.

If Rainey quits the band, her parents’ fading career might never recover. But if she doesn’t leap now, she might be stuck forever in a life she didn’t choose…and always wonder who she could have been.

One summer really can change everything.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that addressed Rainey’s summer romance. She and her love interest were both so young and still unsure of where they might land on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. It was interesting to see how they addressed their feelings as they both explored their identities and tried to figure out what they wanted out of life. I don’t want to give away any spoilers here, but this was nicely written and felt very realistic for their ages and for the era they lived in.

I also enjoyed the subplots about Rainey’s complex relationships with her parents. She was beginning to grow up, and her mother, Tracy, wasn’t always ready for all of the changes that was going to bring to their band and to their lives in general. While there were a few times when I shook my head at how much effort Tracy was putting into preserving traditions that were not necessarily working so well as her children asserted their independence, even these moments were genuine and necessary for what was to come. Adjusting to change isn’t easy, especially for parents who have given their children such unconventional upbringings so far.

The character development was handled beautifully. Every member of the Cobb family was three dimensional and well written, and this was especially true for Rainey. I found myself wishing that she were a real person so we could talk about poetry and make mixtapes for each other all summer long. It was delightful to see how she, her brother, and their parents all grew as individuals over the year that this novel covered. If the author ever decides to write a sequel, I’d love to find out what happened to these characters next!

Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze was utterly perfect.

Death is a Many-Splendored Thing by David Neilsen


Death is a Many-Splendored Thing by David Neilsen
Publisher: Neilsen Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The world would be a lot better off if all the dead people would stop pretending they weren’t dead.

My name is Zachariah Thornwood, but everyone, even my parents, calls me Zack. A few months ago I was a normal fourteen year old kid obsessed with movies and baseball and girls. Not necessarily in that order. And now?

Now I live life with the knowledge that there are a ton of dead people running around thumbing their noses at the whole idea of the Circle of Life. They could be anyone: the postman, the Mayor, the kid bagging your groceries, or the weather woman on TV. They seem perfectly normal, act perfectly normal, live perfectly normal lives, but are, in fact, perfectly dead…

Not everything in this world is what it immediately appears to be.

Zach was an interesting and memorable main character who genuinely felt like a moody teenage boy. I’m saying that affectionally as I liked him quite a bit even when he was a little grumpy with the adults in his life who dared to ask him questions or wished to know where he was going late at night. These moments are a normal part of growing up for many teens, though, and I’m glad they were included so naturally here. He was a brave kid who enjoyed taking risks. Both of these traits served him well during his adventure.

There were some pacing issues in the beginning and the middle of the storyline. I found myself wishing for more conflict or plot twists during them. As much fun as it was to see Zach try to navigate normal activities like going to school after he learned how many dead people there were out there who were pretending to still be alive, this didn’t quite give me enough substance to work with. I think there was room for more development here, and I would have gone with a higher rating if it had been included.

Mr. Neilsen did a good job with the world building. He explained exactly what he needed to about this world in order for it to make sense for me as a reader, and the framework he set up made me yearn for more. For example, I’d love to know how the dead handle things like doctor’s appointments or going through airport security due to the many physiological differences between them and the living that can quickly become apparent with a body scan, x-ray, blood draw, or any other close attention paid to the topic. As this appears to be the beginning of a new series, I was glad to see how much space he left himself for the future as well. It will be exciting to see where he goes next.

I’d recommend Death is a Many-Splendored Thing to anyone who is in the mood for adventurous young adult fiction.

Amethyst by Rebecca Henry


Amethyst by Rebecca Henry
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

She was sent away because of her feelings for another girl. But what she discovered at her aunts’ lake house was a birthright of magic.

Thirteen-year-old Zinnia is about to turn fourteen when her life is flipped upside down. With her parents on the brink of a divorce, Zinnia is sent to spend the summer with her eccentric great-aunts at their lake house away from her home in Manhattan. Zinnia arrives at her aunts’ massive Victorian house with a heavy heart after a recent falling out with her best friend Charlotte, who betrayed her trust by showing the meanest and most popular girl in school a letter Zinnia wrote confessing her feelings for Charlotte. The aunts rely on practical magic, acceptance and old family friends to help heal their great-niece in more ways than one.

What Zinnia discovers on Ambrosia Hill is more than just her birthright to magic—she meets Billie, a girl who conjures feelings inside Zinnia that she can no longer deny.

What’s better than a summer in the countryside?

It can be hard for kids to understand topics like divorce and marital conflict. Zinnia was a smart teenager, but even she struggled with the idea that her parents were fighting and might not stay together. Some of the most memorable scenes in this novella were the ones that explored her feelings on this topic and tried to explain her parents’ anger with each other in ways that were appropriate for a fourteen-year-old to hear. These aren’t easy things to discuss by any means, but they are quite important. The author did a great job of giving Zinnia a chance to understand her parents a little better than she had before and to learn about how adult relationships sometimes work.

I would have loved to see more character development in this piece. As intrigued as I was by the setting and plot, it was disappointing to meet characters whose personalities weren’t well defined and who didn’t seem to grow very much as a result of their experiences even when they were the main focus of the storyline. There seemed to be plenty of opportunities for them to do so. I simply needed more examples of them reacting to those moments, sharing their personalities in more complex ways, and showing the audience how they’d changed.

The world building was delightful. I loved the way magic was woven into every facet of the characters’ daily lives, from the messages that were left in the arrangements of soggy tea leaves in the bottom of a teacup to the spells the aunts cast to help their visitors reach any number of personal goals. It wasn’t always clear to me where the magic ended and ordinary explanations for certain events began. I reveled in how beautifully ordinary the author made certain scenes feel even if they included moments that can’t be explained with modern science or physics. There is something special about visiting a world that accepts these shades of grey and invites the reader to come up with their own explanations for them.

Amethyst was a playful read.

Dreaming of Flight by Catherine Ryan Hyde


Dreaming of Flight by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult (8 – older)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Never knowing his parents, eleven-year-old Stewie Little and his brother have been raised on a farm by their older sister. Stewie steadfastly tends the chickens left by his beloved late grandmother. And every day Stewie goes door to door selling fresh eggs from his wagon—a routine with a surprise just around the corner. It’s his new customer, Marilyn. She’s prickly and guarded, yet comfortably familiar—she reminds the grieving Stewie so much of the grandmother he misses more than he can express.

Marilyn has a reason for keeping her distance: a secret no one knows about. Her survival tactic is to draw a line between herself and other people—one that Stewie is determined to cross. As their visits become more frequent, a complicated but deeply rooted relationship grows. That’s when Stewie discovers how much more there is to Marilyn, to her past, and to challenges that become more pressing each day. But whatever difficult times lie ahead, Stewie learns that although he can’t fix everything for Marilyn or himself, at least he’s no longer alone.

I don’t know where to start on my review about this book. I enjoyed it tremendously! The writing style, the characters, the realness of the story and the teachable moments – all of it. I enjoyed it all.

This conversation between Stewie and Marilyn’s daughter, Betty will stay with me.: “You’re just upset because she doesn’t say the same things she would have said before. Instead of being so sure about exactly how you want her to be, why can’t you just be glad because she’s there?”

In a world where I’ve found myself drawn to watching more television shows and movies than I read, this book made me want to read. I enjoyed the time spent following the story of eleven-year-old Stewie Little. A young boy who has lost several loved ones at a very early age. He lives with his older sister, Stacey and brother Theo.

Stewie continues to take care of his deceased grandmother’s chicken. One day on his egg delivery route he meets a new customer, Marilyn. Marilyn seems to be a tough character to deal with, but Stewie took a liking to her, as her spry ways and mannerism reminds him of his grandmother.

This starts the beginning of a relationship that Marilyn didn’t want to happen. Neither did Stacey, Stewie’s older sister. Stacey’s concern for Stewie is touching to read. She recognized the many losses that Stewie has faced but she didn’t know what to do. Though their family was small I felt the closeness that the three must have needed to cope. At times it seemed they walked on eggshells for Stewie, but I like that Stewie is a strong and courageous young boy. I liked that if he didn’t understand something he spoke up. This was humorous in how he stated he didn’t know what words or phrases meant. Marilyn always took the time to explain it to him. Marilyn came into Stewie’s life at a time when Stewie really needed her. And Stewie in turn was there for Marilyn. I enjoyed and took to heart the words of wisdom from Marilyn to Stewie, in fact I’ve highlighted them on my Kindle; they are just that impacting. Towards the end of the book Stewie starts to give Marilyn and others, words of wisdom. (Hence the quote at the start of this review)

The relationship between the two is beautiful and heartwarming. I found joy that Stewie had someone he could be close to, that didn’t take advantage of him and also able to sense what he needed. Marilyn uplifted him up, educated him and filled a void that Stewie had. Stewie didn’t have biological parents or grandparents, but he had a village. Dr. Briggs helped Stewie through his complicated emotions by giving him thought provoking questions. It was a little concerning that Stewie didn’t have friends his age, but I could see that Stewie was mature for his age and didn’t seem to fit in with others of his age.

The ending felt true to life, but also hurt. The author touched on a lot in this book. Loss, and grief, from both Stewie’s view and also Marilyn’s view. Overcoming what life throws at you and having someone or people to help you along the way. That family or people that love you aren’t always blood related. That we should pay attention to those we love in case they do need help. Getting help is okay. Doing something good for someone else also helps you in return. It also gives some insight of those that are of age who feel like they have lost their freedom, their choice, and maybe even their personal rights once they’ve been moved into an assisted living facility.

I can go on and on about how much I enjoyed this book. So instead of reading my review I suggest you go ahead and get a copy of the book and enjoy it for yourself.

The Rogue and the Peasant by Amberley Martin


The Rogue and the Peasant by Amberley Martin
Publisher: Caveline Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

Everyone knows a girl locked in a tower is supposed to wait for a prince—but that isn’t the destiny this girl has in mind.

Esme’s life has been filled with secrets. Her mother says she’s destined to be a queen, but she won’t say when. Or how. Or who Esme’s father is.

When Esme’s imprisoned by the evil fairy godmother, she only has more questions. Who is the young man guarding her? Why is he so interested in her father’s identity? And can she convince him to help her escape before she’s forced to marry whichever self-absorbed prince with a hero complex turns up to rescue her?

Since his father’s murder, Rory’s life has depended on keeping his identity secret. Working for the fairy godmother seems like a fair trade for his safety, until he’s sent to kidnap a girl who wears his family ring, a girl his father’s ghost is suspiciously quiet about.

Unraveling their connection might do more than save them both from the fairy godmother. It might save the fate of an entire queendom.

But can Esme achieve her destiny when Rory’s trying to avoid his own?

The Rogue and the Peasant is a fun, fairytale adventure that blends Hamlet with Rapunzel to make something completely new.

A fantastic debut from Amberley Martin, The Rogue and the Peasant is a wonderful story of hope, redemption, and growing up!

Neither Rory nor Esme have been dealt the life they would have liked, but despite that, both are determined to make something of it! I loved the positive messages and themes in this one! It’s a wonderful story and blends the beloved Hamlet and Rapunzel stories into something both familiar and completely new in a way I absolutely adored!

I did have a bit of trouble with how to place this one, as some places seem to mark it ‘Adult’ but with its slightly more simplistic style it’s more of a YA/NA crossover, which I loved but feel it’s hard to judge what to expect with a story when it’s listed in both groups. That said, after reading it I’d likely place it more YA-Upper YA and can see readers of both enjoying this one!

I loved meeting Esme and Rory and seeing the fun tributes to the original stories while also remaining original in its own right in this one, and felt the story was well written!

A Mad Awakening by Sasha Hibbs


A Mad Awakening by Sasha Hibbs
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The dead are meant to stay dead. Eighteen-year-old Albert Frank Young knows because he’s one of them. He had his life planned out with intentions of attending college in the fall with his brilliant girlfriend, Mary Shelley. What he didn’t plan for? Dying before his dreams were realized.

Over the course of one night, his life, and Mary’s, change forever. Mary’s brilliance quickly turns into a maddening obsession fueled by the death of Albert. Death took her mother away. She’ll be damned if death takes her boyfriend away too. In crossing the line between life and death, Mary damns them both before she realizes the realm of the living and land of the dead is an arena she has no right to meddle in.

A story of young love, the depths grieving drives the heart to, and the consequences that follow. This gothic tale proves love lives beyond the grave.

Love never dies.

The author did a good job of mixing the science fiction and romance genres, and I’m saying this as a reader who generally prefers to read books that focus on one or the other. I appreciated the hard work Ms. Hibbs put into ensuring that they were both given plenty of time to shine. Some scenes nudged a little further into one direction due to what the plot needed in that moment, but overall everything balanced out nicely.

It was confusing for me to hop between the perspectives of multiple narrators. As much as I enjoyed getting to know them, there simply wasn’t enough time to dig deeply into anyone’s personality or character growth due to how often readers needed to shift from one narrator to a different one. This technique would have worked better for a full-length novel, but eighty-nine pages simply weren’t enough for it to be effective here in my opinion.

I liked the way this novella jumped around in the timeline. There were some incredibly exciting scenes shared in the beginning that made me yearn to find out how they were connected to the quiet life Mary had when the audience first met her. Having that information so early on also made the foreshadowing pop out to me when it showed up. While I didn’t have the full story by any means, I knew enough to start putting the pieces together as soon as they arrived. That was a fantastic choice.

A Mad Awakening was a fun homage to Frankenstein.

Queen of Shadows by Britt Cooper & Erin Dulin


Queen of Shadows by Britt Cooper & Erin Dulin
The Chronicles of Faybl, #1
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Chamomile

Why be a princess when you can rule the shadows?

Rejecting the senseless demands of her wicked stepmother, Ella of Locksley shares her family’s abundance with the people of her land. Yet, the desperation of her community has only begun.

When the nation of Llundyn is brutally attacked, Princes Ric and Johan begin to fight for their right to rule, leaving the kingdom’s very heart to hang in the balance as subversive forces emerge. Taxation drives the citizenry toward hopelessness, with the absence of leadership taking its toll.

Striking out on her own, Ella takes up the nation’s cause, making a name for herself as the infamous Hood, and leads her cunning crew, stealing from the rich to provide for the poor. But the return of the rightful heir, along with a forbidden romance, changes everything—with artifice and betrayal leading to an unlikely alliance that unites prince and thieves.

The passion and true love of a king leave Ella torn between duty and loyalty when, at the stroke of midnight, her identity is exposed. She’ll face the ultimate choice—enduring as the Hood or sacrificing it all for the ones she loves.

This epic debut by co-authors Britt Cooper & Erin Dulin will leave readers wanting more!

Queen of Shadows is a steamy Fantasy Romance story that pairs Robin Hood with Cinderella in an unforgettable whirlwind of excitement! The chemistry between these two was immediate and I loved finding the fun easter eggs along the way paying homage to their original tales while enjoying this amazing retelling!

This one definitely sets a dark tone from the start, and I loved it! Ella is the Queen of Shadows, and it shows in this brilliant blending of everything I love about this genre! Strong character types, sizzling chemistry, a reluctant hero, a good balance of action and romance, and a tantalizing slow-burn!

From the start, I was hooked! I loved getting to know this remarkable cast, and absolutely cannot wait to read more! I couldn’t put this one down and eagerly await the next installment of this extraordinary series!

Melissa by Alex Gino


Melissa by Alex Gino
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: YA, Middle Grade, Contemporary, LGBTQ
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at Melissa, they think they see a boy named George. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

Melissa thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. Melissa really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part… because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, Melissa comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

You have to be who you are, no matter what.

I loved this story. I did. I loved reading about Melissa coming into her own and finding who she was always meant to be. The writing was authentic and empathetic, too. I read this in one day and recommend it strongly.

Melissa was born George but she’s never felt like a boy. She feels like a girl. This is her story of coming into her own and being the girl she was always meant to be. This book won’t be for everyone, but it would definitely help a young person understand that the feelings they have—wanting to wear a dress or be a tomboy—isn’t bad. This is a young person’s story. It’s told like a young person would tell it. There are moments where things are awkward, where there’s acceptance and where Melissa shines. I loved the portrayal of Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web. That was the best.

If you’re looking for a book that explains how a young person sees themselves and how one young person born one way can feel another, then this is the book for you. I recommend it highly.

Stormcaller by Christine King


Stormcaller by Christine King
The Murmuration #1
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

Raised in fear of her elemental power, Seren has spent her life protecting her exiled people and trying to live up to their legends. When that responsibility is brutally taken from her, she and her shapeshifting friend Atomi must enter a divided world where their very existence is treason. Axys is a land of peace and prosperity for those in the Eternal Lady’s favour, but her benevolence comes at a cost that Seren and Atomi are unwilling to bear.

A storm wind stirs the long dormant ashes of rebellion.

Their legend is only just beginning.

It is an intriguing story of shapeshifters and elemental magic weirders. Stormcaller is somewhat more geared toward YA readers, but in an interesting take on magic and how the elements and nature around us affects us.

In the start we meet a pair of best friends, one a magic wielder, the other a shapeshifter, both types of magic commonly found among the Daggi people. It’s set in a unique tribal setting, and I loved the world building and setting in this one!

I do wish the story had been just a little more polished, as the POVs sometimes changed mid-chapter and some of the scenes were a little rushed, it made reading a tad choppier than I’d prefer, but overall wasn’t hard to follow and kept my attention. I’d also have liked it better if the character relationships had been a little deeper and more developed, but Stormcaller makes for an interesting debut, and I’d love to see more of this series and more from this author in the future!

Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen


Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen
Publisher: Yearling
Genre: Contemporary, YA, Childrens (Grades 3-7)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

One day I was 12 years old and broke. Then Grandma gave me Grandpa’s old riding lawnmower. I set out to mow some lawns. More people wanted me to mow their lawns. And more and more. . . . One client was Arnold the stockbroker, who offered to teach me about “the beauty of capitalism. Supply and Demand. Diversify labor. Distribute the wealth.” “Wealth?” I said. “It’s groovy, man,” said Arnold.

If I’d known what was coming, I might have climbed on my mower and putted all the way home to hide in my room. But the lawn business grew and grew. So did my profits, which Arnold invested in many things. And one of them was Joey Pow the prizefighter. That’s when my 12th summer got really interesting.

A lawnmower leading to a fantastical situation? No way!

This is a fun little read. I dearly loved Hatchet by Paulsen, so when I saw this one, I had to pick it up. I’m glad I did. It was cute, funny and relatable.

The young man doesn’t think he’s all that special and he’s surrounded by characters, but when he’s given a lawnmower, he thinks he has no idea what do to with it. Then he decides to use it. His world opens up.

I liked that the young man realizes his power – he can help people and make a little money to get a new inner tube for his bike tire – with the help of the lawnmower. I liked that he came into his own and all because he found something that made him special. Kids do have super powers – they’re ingenious and caring.

The cast of characters around him and the situations he ends up in are fantastical, but sure to appeal to younger readers. How could one kid manage all this? That’s what makes it great.

If you’re looking for a book that features a kid, a lawnmower and even a prize fighter (don’t believe me? You’ll have to read it for yourself!), then this might be the book for you.