I’ve got four reviews for you today: a YA fantasy, two YA contemporaries, and a MG contemporary. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
Finale by Stephanie Garber
Series: Caraval #3
Also in this series: Caraval
Published by Macmillan Audio on May 7, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Length: 12 hours and 6 minutes
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing; Some violence)
Welcome, welcome to Finale, the third and final book in the #1 New York Times bestselling Caraval series!
Welcome, welcome to Caraval...all games must come to an end.
It’s been two months since the last Caraval concluded, two months since the Fates have been freed from an enchanted deck of cards, two months since Tella has seen Legend, and two months since Legend claimed the empire’s throne as his own. Now, Legend is preparing for his official coronation and Tella is determined to stop it. She believes her own mother, who still remains in an enchanted sleep, is the rightful heir to the throne.
Meanwhile, Scarlett has started a game of her own. She’s challenged Julian and her former fiancé, Count Nicolas d’Arcy, to a competition where the winner will receive her hand in marriage. Finaly, Scarlett feels as if she is in complete control over her life and future. She is unaware that her mother’s past has put her in the greatest danger of all.
Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun―with lives, empires, and hearts all at stake. There are no spectators this time: only those who will win...and those who will lose everything.
I loved this series-ender! I’ll confess that I was nervous at first—I thought that we were going to end up with a long, drawn-out love triangle between Scarlett, Julian and Nicolas (and it was going to be played out in the form of a contest, no less), but things … didn’t go that way. Thank goodness!! I won’t say what did happen, but I’ll say that I was very pleased to see the end of that love triangle come early in the book. Now, technically there was also the love triangle with Tella, Legend and Jacks, but that one hardly felt like a true love triangle at all, and I was okay with it. Actually, in general, I liked Tella a whole lot more in this book than I did in either of the other books. She felt more well-rounded to me in this installment, and I was rooting as much for her happily ever after as I was for Scarlett’s. Even though there was no game in this book, there was still plenty of magic, and I thought that Garber wrapped the series up perfectly. She gave us the true Finale we were all looking for!
Oh, and I listened to this via audiobook, and Rebecca Soler is fantastic as always. (Definitely my favorite audiobook narrator.)
Autoboyography by Christina Lauren
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on September 12, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, LGBTQ+
Narrator: Deacon Lee, Kyle Mason
Length: 9 hours and 19 minutes
My content rating: YA (Characters have sex, but it's not shown; Some bullying)
Fangirl meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this funny and poignant coming-of-age novel from New York Times best-selling author Christina Lauren about two boys who fall in love in a writing class - one from a progressive family and the other from a conservative religious community.
Three years ago Tanner Scott's family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.
But when his best friend, Autumn, dares him to take Provo High's prestigious Seminar - where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester - Tanner can't resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.
It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.
Since it’s Pride Month, I wanted to be more intentional about getting in some more LGBTQ+ reads this June. Lots of people were putting out lists of favorite LGBTQ+ books, and Autoboyography stood out to me because I knew I’d seen it on several of my friends’ blogs (Tanya @ Girl Plus Books stood out to me because she raved about the book). Anyway, I decided to use an Audible credit and started listening right away!
This book is a beautiful, nuanced exploration of religion and sexuality. Though I’m not Mormon or gay I have a little bit of experience with the complexities involved in coming out in a religious environment—when my daughter came out as transgender, about 90% of our life revolved around our church and our Christian homeschool group. I’ll confess that we had some moments of fear about how those around us would handle the news, and it’s hard to completely ignore the voices around you that tell you you’re doing something that’s “against God’s plan.” Because of this, I could relate to Sebastian’s struggles to come to terms with his sexuality in light of his strong faith. I was thankful for a narrative that highlighted a character’s journey to understand his sexuality without having it obliterate his faith—and without making the religious characters all villains in the story.
Beyond that, I was wrapped up in the romance between Tanner and Sebastian and completely rooting for them the whole time. Tanner was incredibly relatable, though I will say that he ends up making a very poor choice toward the end of the book that didn’t sit well with a lot of reviewers. However, I was already invested in his character enough that I was able to get past it (and I didn’t think the fault could be placed squarely on his shoulders, as many other people seemed to). It certainly didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book overall. Basically, I spent every moment I could listening to it, so I could find out if Tanner and Sebastian got their happy ending!
Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on June 4, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, New Adult, Contemporary
My content rating: YA (Characters have sex, but it's not shown)
Modern love plus online anonymity is a recipe for romantic disaster in this lighthearted new romance from the author of The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love.
How bad can one little virtual lie be?
NYU freshman Mariam Vakilian hasn’t dated anyone in five months, not since her high school sweetheart Caleb broke up with her. So, when she decides to take advantage of an expiring coupon and try out a new virtual reality dating service, it’s sort of a big deal.
It’s an even bigger deal when it chooses as one of her three matches none other than Caleb himself. That has to be a sign, right?
Except that her other match, Jeremy, just happens to be her new best friend IRL.
Mariam’s heart is telling her one thing, but the app is telling her another. So, which should she trust? Is all fair in modern love?
When I saw the concept for this book, I couldn’t decide if virtual reality dating was a completely crazy idea or a highly likely one. Or maybe both? Either way, it was definitely intriguing, and I knew I wanted to read this book.
I loved the focus that this book had on the adjustment from high school to college—a topic that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. This book is actually less about the romance and more about Mariam finding herself apart from her boyfriend (and her home and family). But, of course, I was invested in the romance as well. There is a definite love triangle here, so if you really can’t stand those, you might need to stay away, but honestly, I thought it was incredibly well-drawn, and I completely understood Mariam’s struggle to decide where her heart should lead her. I was also a fan of the friendship between Mariam and her roommate (and the roommate’s girlfriend). There were a few moments with the virtual reality itself that had me scratching my head (Why would they have a VR environment when you sit in a chair and move around by “walking” with your fingers?? And would kissing via VR be at all pleasant??), and Mariam makes some bad choices when it comes to Caleb. Still, overall, I found myself really enjoying this sweet story of self-discovery. (And I was happy that Tash gave me the ending I was hoping for!!)
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Secrets of a Fangirl by Erin Dionne
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books on May 28, 2019
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary
My content rating: MG (No romance to speak of; No violence)
Sarah Anne loves lacrosse, and the MK Nightshade series that everyone was obsessed over in grade school. The problem is that she's still obsessed, which is way too nerdy for a popular kid like her. So she hides her geekiness with a set of rules meant to keep her geek and jock selves separate.
Except when she's offered a spot in a Nightshade fandom contest, where the winner gets to see the new movie premiere in LA. No one seems to think Sarah Anne can win, since she's up against a pair of guys in high school--but the more she's called a fake fan, the more determined she is to wipe the floor with her competition. As long as none of her friends or anyone at school knows what she's doing.
Can she keep her geek identity a secret, win the contest, and manage to keep her friends even though she's been living a lie? Sarah Anne is going to have to make some choices about what's truly important to her and which rules she's going to break to stay true to herself.
This book puts a spotlight on the struggle between fitting in and holding onto the things that make you unique. Sarah Anne’ best friends all think that MK Nightshade is for babies, but she’s still the ultimate (secret) fan. When she gets the chance to compete for a huge fan prize, she decides to go for it—as long as she can do it without anyone knowing. Of course, that proves easier said than done, and Sarah Anne spends a lot of the book trying desperately to hold onto friendships that are more controlling than they are healthy. I think a lot of kids will relate to Sarah Anne’s struggles to live up to her friends’ expectations for how she’s supposed to act and dress. Keeping her fandom a secret from them is tough. She also struggles with the question of whether or not to go to the dance with a popular boy who isn’t so nice. Add in boys who seem to think that a girl couldn’t be a “real fan” of Nightshade (or be good at science) and you have a recipe for MG disaster!
Overall, a fun read that many MG readers will relate to.
***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.***