18718848by David Arnold
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – March 3, 2015

This is a road trip coming-of-age novel that reads like a sepia-toned film (if a modern-day film was intentionally shot like that). It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek in terms of the characters and the plot, but the writing is excellent. It’s similar to a John Green novel in that a bunch of quirky characters get together and make quirky references as they navigate the difficult challenges of adulthood-in-high-school. The thought-provoking conversations are mixed in with snapshots of baseball games and grungy roadside diners.

I liked watching Mim’s perspective on people or things change as she makes her way to Cleveland. She’s fiery and reflective–the best part is she’s not afraid to admit when she’s wrong.

A couple times I felt like the story meandered too much, but it’s hard to argue that when it’s based on an impulsive journey across the country. Those trips are never straightforward. This was a fun and touching book with just the right amount of resolution.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Mosquitoland is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – A shy teenage girl is devastated when her twin sister decides to become more independent in college, leaving her high and dry for a roommate. Cath has to learn to spend more time with actual humans instead of her (rather famous) fanfiction account. As with all Rowell’s work, she tugs your heart out for her misfit protagonists.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – Two teenagers with different types of cancer meet at a support group. Romance and tears ensue. See my review here.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – A shy high school freshman learns to open up and participate in life when he befriends seniors Patrick and Sam and all tropes break loose. First love, first stage show, first break-up, first supportive teacher…This is also a love letter to the 90s. It’s nostalgic, fun, and moving at times. See my review here.
  • Paper Towns by John Green – His formula of “manic pixie dream girl” loved by “somewhat nerdy boy” plays out over a road trip. Haven’t read this yet but I’ve heard good things; the jist is if you like John Green you’ll like this book too.
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord – Vivi and Jonah are both more than happy to use each other as a way to forget the tough struggles they face at home. But secrets never stay below the surface, and they’ll have to decide if they can stay together as their problems threaten to break into their rosy world of summer romance. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: The Raven Boys

17675462by Maggie Stiefvater
YA Paranormal Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

This was the first Stiefvater book I read, and since then I’ve come to adore her style and attention to detail. The mood of this series is dreamy, haunting, and also comical, and the balance is perfect. Blue Sargent lives in a small, sleepy Virginia town whose prep school mascot, a raven, has her referring to the four preppy boys she encounters as Raven Boys. They are a chaotic mess of ambition and angst, and Blue’s initial revulsion turns to intrigue as she discovers their leader of sorts, Gansey, is on a quest to find a dead Welsh king buried under a mountain, said to grant a wish to whoever discovers him. She’s skeptical by nature, but she also lives with her mother and aunts, all very accurate psychics, so she gets caught up in an ever-weirder chain of events.

It’s refreshing to me that Stiefvater specializes in this sort of strange, paranormal, magical-realism that doesn’t require pages of intense stares and romance. It’s eerie and gripping and hard to write about without including spoilers.

You never quite know what to expect in this series (the fourth and final book comes out in 2016) but the writing is top-notch and the characters are fantastic. I would follow them to the ends of the earth–which is a more realistic option in this case than it usually is.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Raven Boys is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – Possibly my favorite novel of hers, mostly because it’s a standalone so you don’t have to agonize over which part of the saga is the best. It feels like a lyrical film (it’s slated to become one soon-ish), and if you love her writing for The Raven Cycle there’s more of it here. See my review here.
  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – You probably noticed these covers all over bookstores a couple years back. This paranormal romance trilogy features a girl falling for a boy that might also be the wolf she sees every winter in her back yard. I haven’t read it myself yet but I’ve only heard good things.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – This has the same creepy feeling and characters that slowly reveal the darker sides of themselves. See my review here.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Another creepy read that adds gradual layers hinting that not everything is what it seems (and what you thought it was is already weird). See my review here.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – Three unreliable narrators tell you about creepy events in a small mountain town. Who is telling the truth? See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Cinder

11235712by Marissa Meyer
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – January 3, 2012

A sci-fi retelling of Cinderella in which Cinderella is a cyborg mechanic in China? YES. This quartet is one of the freshest series on the market at the moment and I’m excited to read the conclusion this fall. Concept, check. Beautiful cover art, check. And does the story hold up once it has drawn you in? Check.

We follow Cinder initially, but as the books go on we also meet Scarlet (Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel) and this fall, Winter (Snow White). Each character gets her own arc, motivations, and personality, free of the fairy tale restraints, but we also get the fun of a few re-imagined nods to their origins as the adventures unfold.

Cinder is resourceful, snarky, and pragmatic, which probably isn’t the way you remember her thanks to Disney. There’s a prince, a ball, and nasty stepsisters. There’s also starships, cyborgs, and the evil Queen Levana causing political mayhem from the moon.

I highly recommend this series and there’s still time to read them all before November. There is no fairy godmother to help these women, and they don’t need one!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Cinder is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Ash by Malinda Lo – A retelling of Cinderella with a fairy prince and a friendship that may be something more with the King’s Huntress, Kaisa. It’s beautifully written and if I fault it for anything it might be that it’s too subtle, but it’s definitely fresh and worth checking out.
  • Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas – Loosely inspired by Cinderella, Celaena Sardothien is pulled from her life sentence in the Salt Mines of Endovier by Prince Dorian to compete for the job of King’s Assassin. Ball gowns, magic spells, espionage, the works. See my review here.
  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – When I was reading it reminded me of Cinderella a couple times, in a weird way, and since it’s another modern setting with magic, intrigue, and a prince, I’d say it’s worth an inclusion. See my review here.

The Girl at Midnight

20345202by Melissa Grey
YA Fantasy
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel – April 28, 2015

This is a strong first book in a trilogy – I actually have a list of the things I loved! To start with, modern-day magic and the legend of the firebird. Lately YA novels have been branching out a bit more with their myths of choice and I like it. Creatures like the firebird have more fluid identities and it’s much harder to guess which one any particular author is going to choose.

Echo might not be the sharpest protagonist all the time (part of the curse of being the main character is that you don’t realize when you are in a story like the ones you’ve read), but she was so much fun I didn’t mind. Actually, the whole cast was strong. Grey spent the time to give each character an arc, and that was the best thing about this novel. Typically there’s a side character that you love but has no real backstory or character change–they are there as the best friend, or the slightly cool enemy, or some other two-dimensional reason. They do one thing that carries the plot for a moment. But here we have Echo, Caius, Dorian, Ivy, Jasper, all with their own motivations and struggles, and the dynamic between them all was fantastic. Nobody was left being a cardboard side prop. The other bonus to me was the relationship between Tanith and Caius-siblings with opposing visions for the best way to lead their people; the Avatar: The Last Airbender vibe was well-done.

However, I did have a minor bone to pick that resulted in a lower rating. Double negatives. Consistently characters “couldn’t not do” something, and it drove me crazy. Couldn’t not = did. If you couldn’t not smile, you did smile, or you smiled knowing you shouldn’t, but it happened. This isn’t a matter of “voice.”

I enjoyed the story, the world, the characters most of all, and I will be checking out the next book as soon as it comes out!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Girl at Midnight is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – This is an excellent option if you just can’t wait for the sequel to The Girl at Midnight next year. See my review here.
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – In actuality, The Raven Cycle quartet is what I’m recommending. Paranormal events in a small, sleepy Virginia town centered around the non-clairvoyant daughter in a family of psychic women, and the prep school boys on a quest for the legendary wish-granting Welsh king buried under a mountain. See my review here.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer – A quartet of fairy tale retellings with a sci-fi twist. See my review here.
  • Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes – An older series featuring a hawk princess and a serpent prince trying to end the war between their people. Short but excellent.

Red Queen

17878931by Victoria Aveyard
YA Fantasy
2 of 5 stars
Debut novel – February 10, 2015

I finally picked up this book based on all the good reviews, but unfortunately I can’t add my own. Points for good cover art and a couple of good buzz lines…and that’s about it. It’s marketed as a YA fantasy novel but it felt more dystopian in actuality. The “fantasy” aspect was more political than anything.

Mare Barrow is a dumb protagonist. I hate saying that, but what is it with all these characters growing up on the streets and yet knowing nothing about how to survive? How does she have no people skills whatsoever? She can’t charm anyone or read anyone either? Despite repeating the mantra “Anyone can betray anyone” a million times, she’s still shocked that the Silver royalty has its own agenda. Worse, she’s the kind of dumb that hurts her allies–anyone who tries to help her ends up dead.

The world-building is the typical shallow realm of the rich vs. the working-class poor that supports them, and that isn’t the worst cliche. We also have the best friend with slight romantic leanings who joins the rebel cause that becomes too extreme. We have the rebel HQ in a land “destroyed” by radiation. We have the perfect younger sister whom everyone loves (no doubt slated to die near the end of the trilogy, possibly leaving the best friend at fault). And finally we have the “sentinels,” a police security force that highlights how unjust the justice system is. Additional lost points for having no-name maids that Mare doesn’t bother speaking to.

The story was slow to start, hard to get through, and the ending failed to engage me despite its chaotic attempts at drama. I was just relieved it was over. It’s clear that the author grabbed some key bits from The Hunger Games, Divergent, and the X-Men but this felt like a bad, boring mashup instead of a blockbuster.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Red Queen is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – The narration and political intrigue are highly similar here. Katniss is an unwilling pawn in the game of government and it’s her internal struggle to do what she feels is right not just for herself but for the world that resonates. This is a bleak book, and while I didn’t necessarily enjoy its length, seeing how the machine of war, politics, and media works is invaluable for broadening your perspective. See my review here.
  • The Named by Marianne Curley – Time-travelers trying to subvert the Order of Chaos’ attempts to change time meet up and struggle to outwit the evil alliance. Again, the similar narration and the characters coming to terms with their various powers are in the same vein as Red Queen.
  • Dragonfly by Julia Goulding – A somewhat typical character pairing of opposing monarchs are brought together to fight a common enemy. I remember enjoying the world-building and the character development of Tashi and Ram as they learn to understand one another and what they can do to save their kingdoms.
  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Another teenage girl discovering her powers and identity against the backdrop of war must fight to free her kingdom, even if it means giving up her own dreams. See my review here.
  • Allegiant by Veronica Roth – Another teenage girl at the center of a revolution must decide what to do with the information that explains divergence. Equally full of political intrigue and power struggles.
  • The Selection by Kiera Cass – This features a girl chosen for a competition to win the prince’s hand (Queenstrial anyone?). It has a similar premise and narration, though I personally haven’t read it yet.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

16096824by Sarah J. Maas
5 of 5 stars

This is a book I’ve been dying to read since it was announced at least six months ago (possibly longer, and I just blocked out the terribly long wait). It’s been described as Beauty and the Beast/East of the Sun, West of the Moon/Tam Lin – and I love all of those stories! Now it features a badass Maas heroine with all the dark magic and swoon-worthy scenes I can imagine? I’m not sure what she could do to make me dislike this story – not sure if that’s even possible!

Naturally, I went to my bookstore a day early to see if they had put it out already, and they did, so I devoured it immediately. The characters – the plot – the world – the magic – I loved it all! And as usual, some of my favorite moments were the ones I couldn’t have predicted. The scenes with Feyre and Nesta – without spoilers all I can say is this was my absolute favorite relationship in the story.

For anyone who has read some of her work, Heir of Fire really let Maas start exploring intense emotional depth with her characters, and this book jumps straight into those painful moments of reforging that strike right to the heart. Feyre’s journey feels faster and smoother than Celaena’s, and I was captivated throughout.

This is a fairy tale retelling but the nods throughout aren’t heavy enough that you know exactly what’s going to happen. So much of this world and its magic is new that there’s still the feeling of following Feyre on her own unique quest, with familiar moments here and there. Pacing is a huge thing for me, and this story lets you spend just the right amount of time in each scene.

Although this is definitely in the same vein as the Throne of Glass series, it has mature content that isn’t present there. Personally, I think fans of that series are sure to love this one too!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, A Court of Thorns and Roses is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley – A fairy tale retelling that is simply beautiful, and a must-read if you enjoy Beauty and the Beast.
  • East by Edith Pattou – I read this a long time ago but it was interesting and a good intro to the story East of the Sun, West of the Moon. The world-building enthralled me even if some of the character viewpoints did not, and the legend itself is one of my favorites.
  • Beast by Donna Jo Napoli – A rare version of Beauty and the Beast from the beast’s perspective. Napoli specializes in myth/fairy tale retellings and they tend to be a bit strange. Her take is always unique, and if you like one of her books you will probably like the rest.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Normally I would recommend Tithe as a similar read, since it’s a Tam Lin retelling, but this book is similar as well and more polished than Tithe. See my review here.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – I know I recommend this all the time, but it’s a girl saving a kingdom from the Dead with sorcery and a lost prince. It’s wonderful, and from a time when female heroines were hard to come by. See my review here.
  • Tithe by Holly Black – Kai finds herself involved with the Queen of the Unseelie Court after she accidentally claims the name (and life-debt) of her favorite knight. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Sabriel

518848by Garth Nix
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel – May 11, 1995

This book was published twenty years ago today, and for Sabriel Day I thought I would finally post a review here. This is one of my favorite books (as in I’ve read it at least twenty times and the pages are curled and turning yellow). I say this to indicate that I’m not sure it’s possible for me to leave an unbiased review, but I can recount why I want everyone to read it.

There are more teenage girls kicking ass and taking names these days, but they don’t typically have magical powers, a strained alliance with a shape-shifting spirit, or the ability to come and go between Life and Death. Most importantly, they don’t have confidence in these abilities. I love Sabriel because she stays cool under pressure–even when things get completely out of control, she doesn’t freeze up or panic or expect someone to save her–she tries something, anything in her arsenal to save herself. So much of YA is following a character as they grow into their destiny or their powers, but Sabriel has these, and instead we have to watch her grow into being independent and using those gifts as the Abhorsen.

Sabriel’s father is the Abhorsen, the only person in the kingdom who protects everyone from the Dead spirits that try to return to Life and destroy everything in their path. Sabriel’s struggle is taking up this mantle as the next Abhorsen. Her story is the experience every 18-year-old has when they leave high school and realize the world expects them to be an adult now, and no papers or tests prepared them for this responsibility.

There’s excellent world-building, humor, and beautiful lines as we follow Sabriel’s transformation from a schoolgirl to the protector of her kingdom. She learns to trust herself as she discovers her destiny. It has every element I love in a good fantasy novel and there’s a reason it’s in print twenty years later!

Similar reads:

  • Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas – This series is about an assassin trying to subvert the tyrannical king while hiding her true nature. High fantasy with a female protagonist who is tough as nails with a sharp wit. See my
    Throne of Glass review here and my Crown of Midnight review here.
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – Another tale from a time when girls weren’t allowed to be the center of a story that involves dark magic, slaying dragons, and choosing her own fate. Still fantastic almost thirty years later. See my review here.
  • Alanna, The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce – From the era of girls passing as boys and becoming knights comes this quartet following Alanna, the first female knight in the kingdom, destined for many more adventures once she gets her shield. See my review here.
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – Another trilogy filled with dark magic and destiny. Lyra gets drawn into the political and religious fronts about to start a war for the freedom of human souls. It’s action-packed but thoughtful as Lyra grows up and faces her role in a prophecy that could change her world forever.

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