I’ve got four reviews for you today, a YA mystery, a YA contemporary, a YA historical fiction and a MG fantasy. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
The Lying Woods by Ashley Elston
Published by Disney-Hyperion on November 13, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Mysteries
Source: The Publisher
My content rating: YA (Characters have sex, but it's not shown; Some bullying and fighting)
Owen Foster has never wanted for anything. Then his mother shows up at his elite New Orleans boarding school cradling a bombshell: his privileged life has been funded by stolen money. After using the family business, the single largest employer in his small Louisiana town, to embezzle millions and drain the employees' retirement accounts, Owen's father vanished without a trace, leaving Owen and his mother to deal with the fallout.
Owen returns to Lake Cane to finish his senior year, where people he can barely remember despise him for his father's crimes. It's bad enough dealing with muttered insults and glares, but when Owen and his mother receive increasingly frightening threats from someone out for revenge, he knows he must get to the bottom of what really happened at Louisiana Frac--and the cryptic note his father sent him at his boarding school days before disappearing.
Owen's only refuge is the sprawling, isolated pecan orchard he works at after school, owned by a man named Gus who has his own secrets--and in some ways seems to know Owen better than he knows himself. As Owen uncovers a terrible injustice that looms over the same Preacher Woods he's claimed as his own, he must face a shocking truth about his own past--and write a better future.
I always think I don’t really like mysteries, but then I read a book like this and it blows me away and I just want MORE! I have no idea how to review this book without giving things away, so I’m actually not going to say much at all except that I read this in one day (practically in one sitting), and I LOVED every minute of the reading experience. Okay, at the very beginning, I wasn’t so sure I was going to like Owen (the MC) and his friends, and there were a few moments when I thought certain characters were being ridiculously judgy toward the Owen (and his responses weren’t always great). But the story was engrossing, and I was completely invested in these characters. The mysteries of the past are expertly intertwined with the very real present-day mystery in Owen’s life and the result is … sort of genius. I might just have to become a mystery reader after all…
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera
Published by HarperTeen on October 9, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ+
My content rating: YA (Characters have sex)
Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.
Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.
But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?
Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.
Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.
But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?
What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?
What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?
But what if it is?
This book shows the messy beginnings of a relationship, which I really kind of liked. In a lot of these types of romances, we get all the perfect moments and the sweet exchanges and the wonderfulness … and then things fall apart and get put back together in the end. This book isn’t like that. We see all the awkwardness of Ben and Arthur learning about each other and figuring out neither of them are perfect. It shows the unmet expectations and the insecurities and the misunderstandings and the times when they let each other down. In a lot of ways, it’s a whole lot more realistic depiction of a teen romance than we usually get. Sometimes you want to cringe a little, but that’s okay. While the focus is on the romance, I especially love the spotlight on friendships (and the messiness that can happen with those as well). All in all, this is the type of book that has you rooting for the characters, even with all their imperfections.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Speak on April 3, 2012
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
My content rating: YA (Themes of violence, death, and a forced sexual relationship; Nothing more than kissing shown)
It's 1941 and fifteen-year-old artist Lina Vilkas is on Stalin's extermination list. Deported to a prison camp in Siberia, Lina fights for her life, fearless, risking everything to save her family. It's a long and harrowing journey and it is only their incredible strength, love, and hope that pull Lina and her family through each day. But will love be enough to keep them alive?
I love that this gives a perspective we don’t usually see. I have to confess that I had no idea about this aspect of WWII—we think of the Germans and their allies as the “bad guys,” but in war there are many people affected, many of whom never got to choose a side. In this book we learn of the Russian occupation of Lithuania and the many citizens who the Russians sent to prison camps during WWII. Lina and her family are on a list of undesirables, and the price for that is a difficult trek to Siberia in horrible conditions. Sepetys makes it easy to picture the squalor that these people lived in and the violence that they lived through (those who lived). There’s a little romance thrown into the story, but it doesn’t overtake the plot and doesn’t take away from the pain of the conditions that they lived in. Toward the middle of the book, the plot slows down a bit, but I never wanted to stop reading. And even though the story tells of pain and violence, its overall message is one of hope and perseverance. I think this book is a worthy read for anyone who wants a new perspective on history.
The Hotel Between by Sean Easley
Published by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers on September 4, 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
My content rating: MG (Some minor violence)
A magical hotel, a mysterious tree, and a cryptic story about their missing father leads twins Cam and Cass on a worldly adventure in this enchanting debut novel that's perfect for fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library and Wildwood.
Twins Cam and Cass have never known their parents. They've been told their mother died, and Cass is certain their father abandoned them. Cam isn't so sure. He wants to prove her wrong; he must.
Cam's wish is soon granted in the form of a glistening, golden sign with elaborate flourishes that reads: The Hotel Between. With doors that open to countries all over the world, magical trollies, charmed corridors that can be altered on a whim, stone elephants that turn to life, sweets made from rocks; everything is possible in The Hotel. Cam has a hunch his father is somehow connected to this magical place, and may even be lost within its hidden halls.
Every journey has its risks, and The Hotel Between is full of dangerous secrets. If Cam's not careful, his stay may be over before his vacation has even started.
An adventurous romp through an enchanted hotel that leads around the world! This book is just plain fun. It’s full of danger, shifting alliances and dastardly villains (though you don’t always know who they are). My heart went out to Cam as he searched for the truth about his father and struggled to deal with the realities of his family’s situation, including his sister’s failing health. The Hotel is incredibly imaginative, and it becomes a character itself in many ways. I’ll admit that I did sometimes get lost in the details of how the Hotel “worked” (there were special doors and hinge pins and something called binding that I never fully understood), but maybe middle grade readers will let those details go? Or maybe they’ll be able to picture it all better than I could, who knows? Overall, a fun and engaging read with some nice messages as well.