YA Book Reviews

I am a fortunate member of Netgalley, a site that allows me, as a librarian and blogger, to review galleys of books before they come out.  Because my history is as a children’s librarian and I spent much of my time planning and executing projects for tweens and teens, I tend to read a lot of the Young Adult galleys.  This page will have my reviews on books I think young people will particularly enjoy.  Sometimes, when I really think a book is a waste of time (happens almost never), I’ll let you know that, too.


Product Details The Eye-Dancers by Michael S. Fedison

If you are looking for a great sci-fi adventure for your middle-grader, look no further than The Eye-Dancers.  This story about four friends who get sucked into an alternate universe in order to save a young girl is full of action, character development and science lessons sneaked in so cunningly your child won’t even realize he or she is learning.  I enjoyed the lazy, summer-time pace interspersed with real action that sped things up a bit.  It was reminiscent of stories written in earlier times, when the reader was given opportunity to actually know each character and the instant gratification of continual action wasn’t all that mattered.  It would make a great summer read.  Look for Michael’s blog at The Eye-Dancers.

The Unknown Assassin Book 3: I Am the Traidtor by Allen Zadoff

I Am the Traitor is a fulfilling completion to the Unknown Assassin trilogy.  As implied by the title, in this book Boy Nobody takes on The Program, searching for the truth about his father and finding answers he did not expect.  In doing so, he finds out a lot about the kind of person he really is and where he comes from.  Another excellent book by Zadoff in a trilogy that far exceeded my expectations.



The Unknown Assassin Book 1: I Am the Weapon by Allen Zadoff

This book and the series that follows is great for young boys looking for a bad guy turned good story.  Boy Nobody, a 16-year-old who follows the orders of The Program, goes from school to school, making friends with the children of key political traitors so he can assassinate the parents.  It sounds far-fetched, and in any other author’s hands it would be.  Zadoff has the skill, though.  He pulls you into Boy Nobody’s world and makes you Believe.  This kid is one tough cookie, and even his fights are described so well that you believe he knows what he’s doing.  But the great thing about Boy Nobody is that he also has a heart and in I Am the Weapon, he decides, for the first time in years, to listen to it.  I won’t give away more than that, except to say that following his heart leads our erstwhile assassin into a whole other world of trouble.  The language is middle-grade ready for the most part, but some rather grown-up scenes might make you want to read this before you hand it over to your own young adult.

The Unknown Assassin Book 2: I Am the Mission

Following his heart on his previous mission has gotten Boy Nobody into all kinds of trouble.  To prove his loyalty to The Program, he is forced into a new mission with a whole new set of rules.  He encounters even more problems, has even more doubts about his superiors, and still kicks butt and takes names throughout the story.  Again, parents may want to give it a read first due to older content, but I don’t think that’ll be a hardship on them.


  The Firebug of Balrog County by David Oppegard

The Firebug of Balrog County is a very real story about a very real boy dealing with grief in a very teenage boy way.  His mother’s death sparks a love of arson in Mack Druneswald’s heart, and starting fires is the only way he can make himself feel better.  Unfortunately, his grandfather is mayor of the county, and so what ensues is a battle of wits and will between a troubled young man and the grandfather who loves him very much.  Mack meets Katrina, a girl who is almost as tough as she appears, and with her encouragement his arson ideas grow even bigger.  When Mack sets the wrong fire at the wrong house, though, he sets himself up for a life lesson he’ll never forget.  The story is moving, the protagonist utterly likeable even while he’s burning things down, and the nemesis he creates of his grandfather an added punch to the tale.  The only thing I would caution against is that the language is strong (and therefore more real), so you may want to read it first and decide if your child is ready for it.


  The Missing Pieces of Me by Jane Van Leeuwen

Grace Louise Dawson believes she is a bad girl.  She must be, because no matter what she does, her mama tells her she’s bad.  In this heartbreaking yet life-affirming novel, Grace Louise (called Weezie) becomes obsessed with finding her father.  He’s not like her little sister Ruth Ann’s daddy, who died in the army.  He’s not like baby brother Jackson’s daddy, who comes by every once in a while to try to spend time with Jackson even though their mama always runs him off.  Weezie doesn’t know a thing about her own daddy, not even his name.  But she finds a picture, and that picture prompts her to do some investigating with her only friend, Calvin.  Meanwhile, Weezie slowly makes friends with Louella, a girl at school who lives in the ‘nice’ part of town.  She also receives beautiful encouragement from her art teacher, and befriends a stray cat who eventually comes to trust her.  She notices that the other adults in her life–including her next-door neighbor, Louella’s parents, her teacher, and Jackson’s daddy–don’t believe she’s a bad girl at all.  This is a book about redemption.  About not believing everything we’re told; standing up for ourselves and those we care about; believing in ourselves even when we think no one else does.  The language is raw and real, and Weezie is a character I will hold in my heart forever.  This book is perfect for tweens struggling to find their place in the world.

   Dear Hank Williams by Kimberly Willis Holt

This book touched me more than any book has in a long, long time.  Told entirely in letters from Tate P. Ellerbe to her ‘pen pal’ Hank Williams, Sr., the story is a brilliant look at life in 1948 Louisiana. Tate P. has suffered more tragedy than she should even know about at her age, but her capacity for hope is nearly as big as her vibrant personality.  She never gives up–believing in her family, in herself, and in the fairness of the world.  The peeks into her real life–as opposed to the tales she tells not only to Hank Williams but to herself–are so gut-wrenching that you end up wanting to just go find this amazing little girl and hug her until the pain goes away.  But Tate P. is way too strong to want you to do that.  She’d probably push you away or ask you to play spy instead.  Tweens who are dealing with tragedies of their own or who have friends who need their support will love the insight and optimism explicit in Tate’s story. Comes out April 14, 2015


  Inked by Eric Smith

It took me a couple of pages to get into Inked.  That may have been my state of mind, because once the action started, it turned out to be a pretty incredible adventure. Caenum lives on a farm in Frosthaven, next door to his best friend (and the love of his life), Dreya.  His 18th birthday, and the Inking that will forecast his future, is days away.  When the Scribes from the city show up for the ceremony, Caenum finds himself involved in a scuffle with one of them.  That scuffle changes the lives of everyone in his hometown.  Soon, the Citadel, a government in control of its people through the ink on their skins, is hunting for him.  Along with Dreya and his new friend, Kenzi, he runs for Sanctuary, a legendary town where people live without ink and out of the Citadel’s grasp.   The idea behind the ink, a sort of living, breathing stamp of one’s purpose in the world, is fascinating in itself, but the reasons for it and different people’s reactions to it provide a fulfilling fantasy.  With plenty of plot twists and lots of action, this novel is perfect escapism.

Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen

Loved, loved, loved this book.  I would recommend it for older readers as some of the content is a little much for anyone under 16, but this is one I still can’t get out of my head.  Clara is on the run, on the road, wandering away from a distant tragedy, blaming herself for a past she can neither forget or repent.  On a plane in the United States, she sits next to a boy named Elias who seems to know more about her than she would like.  When Elias accidentally takes her bag and leaves his with her, she is pulled into a brand-new world, where there are two Eliases–one autistic, paranoid Elias, and one sweet, seeking, endearing Elias.  Somehow Clara finds herself on the road with this boy, one of whom she is attracted to and one of whom she is desperate to understand.  This novel explores multiple personality disorder and the tragedies that can lead to it and questions everything we know about interacting with another person.  I won’t give anything away, but the reveal blew my mind.  The touch of magical realism involved in entering Elias’s world gave the novel a dream-like quality.  And I don’t know the neuroscience, but the idea of a person having only one personality that is autistic was fascinating.  A good read, especially for kids needing to relate to accidents they wish they could take back.


  Ticker by Lisa Mantchev

Ticker is a fun jaunt through a wild ride through a mystery with what seems like a thousand twists.  Some of them I predicted, but not until late in the game.  Penny Farthing, a spunky heroine with a clockwork heart of gold, is thrust into action from the first page and she doesn’t let up even when her ticker tries to stop her.  The surgeon who implanted Penny’s amazing heart is on trial for murder but before the verdict can be read explosions, kidnappings, and burglaries take precedence in Penny’s life.  With the help of her best friend, the very punky Violet, her twin brother, Nic, and dapper gentleman, Sebastian, Penny soon finds herself racing against time to save her parents and possibly the whole world.  Enter the enigmatic Marcus, the mysterious and rather sexy leader of the soldier police, who has his own plans and agenda… Penny’s heart may be constructed of nuts and cogs, but she finds herself offering it to Marcus despite her own wishes and hesitations.  The steampunk Victorian setting is a perfect backdrop to Penny’s audacity, and provides a reality in which we can believe in clockwork hearts and mind-controlling metallic spiders.  Perfect for adolescent girls who like a little romance thrown in with their adventure.


       The Delphi Trilogy by Chris Everheart

The League of Delphi

The Delphi Deception

The Delphi Revelation

Chris Everheart has written a smashing adventure/mystery/thriller that I had to read it in one sitting–all three books. As such, I couldn’t possibly review them individually.  Each book was full of adventure, forwarded the storyline masterfully, and didn’t miss a beat of Everheart’s wicked music.  The story follows Zach White, a mysterious teenager who leaves France after graduating prep school to return to his even more mysterious hometown. His mother had left  hints over the years that home was not a place to which he should ever return, but her seeming descent into paranoid madness before her death prompts him to seek the reasons for her odd behavior. He returns to the town looking for answers about his mother, about his father’s death ten years before, and perhaps to discover why he can’t use his real name anymore. He finds a mystery girl who knows more than she can say, a mystery friend who may not really be a friend, a mystery enemy who may be a friend, and a town shoulder-deep in the biggest conspiracy of the planet. Finding his answers and putting a stop to the League of Delphi are at the top of Zach’s list, but he can’t help a little romance hitting him between the eyes in this excellent trilogy.  These books are well-written and easy to read, perfect for reluctant readers but just as brilliant for those of us who love the pastime.

  Broken Skies by Theresa Kay

I normally don’t like books that involve aliens.  I like a good fantasy adventure, but I’m not so big on true Sci-fi.  Broken Skies is a mixture of both.  Sort of a Hunger Games-dystopia feel meets Defiance (the SyFy channel series).  The story takes place 30 years after the Collapse, a vague apocalypse that wiped out 90% of the human race.  What makes a good post-apocalyptic story is when the apocalypse is so real it is taken for granted by the characters.  It doesn’t have to be spelled out for the reader because its believability comes from the way the characters think about it.  Theresa Kay accomplishes this beautifully, letting us see the world through the eyes of Jax, a damaged human trying to make her way in a new world.  The addition of aliens suddenly coming to Earth within decades of the collapse, taking over a city, and shutting all the humans out might seem jarring and out of place in a less well-written work.  Not so in Broken Skies.  When an alien ship lands near the town Jax is trying to survive, they leave behind one of their own and take her twin brother.  Jax will do anything to get to the city and get her brother back, so she teams up with the lost alien in order to get them both to the city.  What follows is a beautiful romance and rousing adventure that kept me riveted and dreading the final page.  I so did not want this book to end.  Hopefully I’ll get my hands on the second book in the series soon.  If so, I’ll let you know if it measures up.


The Thirteenth Tower by Sara C. Snider

Abandoned as a baby, young Emelyn’s life as a housemaid in the quiet village of Fallow is unremarkable—and empty. That is, until a host of magical creatures arrives and inflicts terrible misdeeds on the townsfolk. Inexplicably immune to their enchantments, Emelyn joins a pair of Magi intent on stopping the cause of the trouble—and who claim to know of her parents, promising Emelyn answers to a lifetime of questions.

That is the beginning of the synopsis on the back of The Thirteenth Tower.  It doesn’t do the story justice.  This book will enchant readers from the ages of 9-99.   It’s a brilliant fantasy adventure that doesn’t muck itself up with a huge love story.  Rather, it based its entire existence on one couple’s true love and the results of their relationship.  Interestingly, that love is the background story, peeping out behind the journey of Emelyn, who finds friends in strange places and enemies where there should be none.  Even the Magi with whom she is traveling have their own agenda. There are so many twists and turns and events, and Emelyn is such a believable, LIKEABLE character, it is hard to walk away from it for more than 30 seconds without suddenly feeling like you’re missing something. I can’t praise Ms. Snider enough for such a rousing good time!  If you have a child who likes fantasy stories, this book is one he or she will truly enjoy.


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