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.

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.

Snow Like Ashes

17399160by Sara Raasch
YA Fantasy
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel – October 14, 2014

I admit I was hesitant to check out this series at first because it has been hyped so much to me, but I finally got on board. A first person present tense narrative is unusual for fantasy, and I like seeing new techniques in popular genres. And the cover art is gorgeous and there’s a pretty map inside, and I can’t say no to that!

The first 150 pages felt very slow, mostly because I was conflicted about the orphan soldier, Meira. She has a passionate devotion to her fallen kingdom, Winter, but as someone who spent over a decade training for battles, she felt inept and overwhelmed any time she encountered conflict.

The middle of the book smoothed out the pacing, but I followed Meira’s thoughts and reactions like a seesaw. One minute she feels confident and decisive, she has a plan, she knows her feelings, she pulls you in. The next, she’s distracted by something and is telling me what she wants (always italicized) while at the same time acknowledging she shouldn’t want whatever it is (a relationship with Mather, approval from Sir, choosing her own fate) and then she decides to go along with the opposite of her dreams. Meira tells you a lot, but I had a hard time connecting to her. There are definitely moments of intense sympathy for Meira’s situation (and some truly beautiful lines!), but just when I started to feel like a part of her story and the world, I would get jolted out of it by something immature Meira says or does. I admit I’m a picky person with narration, but I found Meira’s voice distracting, especially since she is also slow to realize obvious plot developments.

The sequel Ice Like Fire comes out this fall, and I like Meira’s world and potential character arc enough to check it out. This is a debut novel, and I think the author has a lot of potential.

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

Similar reads: 

  • Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M Lee – An orphaned teenage girl surviving in a magical, post-apocalyptic city discovers why she can see and manipulate the threads of time, and what it means for her destiny. See my review here, as well as the sequel’s review here.
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley – An orphaned teenage girl living in the desert gets taken in by a nomadic, magical Hillfolk tribe and learns her destiny is to become a legendary warrior that could save her kingdom. This is part of a duology about the magical country Damar. See my review here.
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine – An orphaned girl cursed with the fairy “blessing” of obedience tries to obtain her freedom before the curse puts her in her evil stepmother’s power forever. This is a cute, middle-grade retelling of Cinderella with a lot of original material.

Backlist Bonus: Gates of Thread and Stone

17904985by Lori M. Lee
YA Fantasy
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel – August 5, 2014

I really wanted to love this, but the skeletal character development and confusing cast of immortal characters was a little disappointing.

However, I do love the concept of the Infinite, the world, and Kai’s powers in particular. This story also blends the tropes of fantasy with dystopian elements, something else I haven’t encountered often. Unfortunately, the Infinite were confusing, and I’m not sure I believe they are all fleshed out in the author’s notes either. I wanted to see more of their powers and more of a character arc for Kai, but I think the trilogy will eventually do that. 

Some other positive things were Kai’s devotion to her brother (her only family) and her refusal to get caught up in politics or power struggles at the cost of what she cares about. She knows herself and what she wants and she doesn’t waver, although she did feel childish to me at times for a supposedly street-savvy 17-year-old.

For a debut novel, it’s pretty solid! This is a unique book that is definitely fast-paced, and I enjoyed it enough to get the next one in the trilogy, The Infinite.

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

Similar reads:

  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Meira has spent her whole life as the least-talented refugee among a band of Winterians trying to free their people and restore their kingdom. As she tries to prove herself to her leader and the future king, Mather, she starts to suspect she’s not meant for the sidelines after all. See my review here.
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – When the Darkling (the true power in Ravka) discovers Alina and tells her she extraordinary abilities, she doesn’t know what to believe, but she has to figure it out before her country is taken over by dark magic. See my review here.
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – A girl who wants to know who she is and why she has certain gifts (similar to Kai) starts getting some very unexpected answers when a handsome guy with wings starts following her. See my review here.
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore – The tone and writing of this are very different from Gates of Thread and Stone, but both stories feature girls who think they know and understand their magic, but don’t actually grasp its significance both for them and the world around them. See my review here.
  • Passenger by Alexandra Bracken – Etta just wants to make her violin debut, but she finds herself on the ocean in 1776 with a strange girl and a lot of family history to catch up on. See my review here.

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