I’ve got four reviews for you today: a YA contemporary, a YA fantasy, a graphic novel (adult, I suppose, though it’s appropriate for YA), and a MG fantasy. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
Don't Read the Comments by Eric Smith
Published by Inkyard Press on January 28, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Cover Artist: Mary Luna
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing; Themes of bullying, sexism, racism and past sexual assault)
Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.
Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.
At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…
And she isn’t going down without a fight.
I was incredibly excited to read Eric Smith’s newest, just because he is such an amazing presence on Twitter. I figured if half of his Twitter wit and intelligence showed up in his book, I’d be happy.
Don’t Read the Comments is an astute commentary on the joys and very real dangers that come with being a major online presence. It also tackles topics like sexism and racism (in the online gaming world, but also in the “real world”) in a very realistic way. I think that teenagers today will easily be able to see their favorite You-Tube stars in Divya. She is charismatic in her gaming videos, but she also has to deal with the insecurities that come from putting your name and face out into the world on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the reality is that many people who have an online presence face harassment on a regular basis, and often the typical response is that they somehow “deserve it” because they’ve chosen to put themselves out there. This book shows just how far these trolls will sometimes go and how insecurities can turn into actual fear (and rightfully so). This is especially true for women and girls, and the book shows how Divya and her friend Rebekah have to be so much more vigilant about keeping themselves safe than their male counterparts (and also highlights violence against women in a past tragic attack against Rebekah).
But the story isn’t all doom and gloom. It also features a sweet online romance between Divya and Aaron, who is dealing with parental issues and career issues of his own. And the ultimate message is one of triumph and hope and of finding where your dreams truly lie. This book will be incredibly appealing to teens today, and their parents just might learn a thing or two by reading it as well! 🙂
***Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Find Me Their Bones by Sara Wolf
Series: Bring Me Their Hearts #2
Also in this series: Bring Me Their Hearts
Published by Entangled Teen on November 5, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Narrator: Em Eldridge
Length: 14 hours 3 minutes
Source: The Publisher, Library
Cover Artist: Yin Yuming
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing, Some violence)
No one can save her.
In order to protect Prince Lucien d’Malvane’s heart, Zera had to betray him. Now, he hates the sight of her. Trapped in Cavanos as a prisoner of the king, she awaits the inevitable moment her witch severs their magical connection and finally ends her life.
But fate isn't ready to give her up just yet.
With freedom coming from the most unlikely of sources, Zera is given a second chance at life as a Heartless. But it comes with a terrible price. As the king mobilizes his army to march against the witches, Zera must tame an elusive and deadly valkerax trapped in the tunnels underneath the city if she wants to regain her humanity.
Winning over a bloodthirsty valkerax? Hard. Winning back her friends before war breaks out? A little harder.
But a Heartless winning back Prince Lucien’s heart?
The hardest thing she’s ever done.
I absolutely adored Bring Me Their Hearts, so I was excited to read this sequel, especially after everything ended with more than a little craziness in the first book. We pick up right where we left off, with Zera facing the consequences of revealing to everyone that she’s Heartless (and that she’d been on a mission to take Lucien’s heart). Of course, because of that little revelation, all of the people she’d come to consider friends are more than a little wary of her. She’s lost not only Lucien, who she’d come to care about enough to sacrifice her own goals and wishes for, but also her only real friendships. So, this book is much more focused on Zera’s internal journey and acceptance of herself than on the romance (which was featured more prominently in the first book). Zera is constantly conflicted because she wants to hold onto the bonds she’s forged with these people, but she also believes that she can’t get them back and that she probably doesn’t deserve them. So, she spends a lot of time both pulling them back into relationship and pushing them away. Plus, she once again has to decide what lengths she’ll go to in order to get her heart back. It’s always a little hard to tell who’s actually on Zera’s side, which I love, and Varia’s characters is a distinctly gray villain, another plus in my book. While I mostly hated her, Zera herself can often see where Varia is coming from, and she also thinks about how Lucien will be affected by everything his sister is doing—both of those things make Varia’s character seem a lot more complicated. While this did feel a bit like a middle book at times, it definitely kept me interested and made me want to pick up the final book in the trilogy!
NARRATION: I ended up switching back and forth between the audiobook and the physical book for this one, and I thought that Em Eldridge did an excellent job with the narration!
***Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher for review purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Snug: A Collection of Comics about Dating Your Best Friend by Catana Chetwynd
Illustrator: Catana Chetwynd
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing on February 4, 2020
Genres: Adult, Graphic Novel
My content rating: Geared toward adults, but suitable for YA (beyond the fact that the characters are shown sharing a bed, the romance is all sweet and simple)
Why bother getting out of bed when you could stay bundled up with that special someone and a book of cozy, cute comics.
From the author of the bestselling Little Moments of Love comes Snug, a collection of comics that perfectly captures the honest, playful, and relatable snapshots of romantic life.
Chetwynd’s second book has the same charming and inviting style as her first and includes 50 percent new, never-before-shared comics. Snug is a celebration of the quirks and peculiarities of every one of us—and the magic that happens when we find our matching puzzle piece.
This little collection of comics is utterly sweet and adorable. It’s filled with the everyday moments of a relationship—the little things that make you smile. The comics feature the myriad of simple ways the author and her boyfriend are similar and different and the ways that they encourage and complement each other. They highlight the author’s quirks in amusing ways and just remind us how the mundane moments in life can be made better with someone by your side. I found myself smiling a whole lot while reading this collection, so it did its job!
While I suppose this comic is geared toward an adult audience there’s no “adult” content, and I could see YA readers enjoying it as well—people of all ages like the idea of everyday romance and the fun and quirky moments that come with young love.
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
Illustrator: Erin Mcguire
Published by Walden Pond Press on September 24, 2013
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Narrator: Chris Sorenson
Length: 8 hours 40 minutes
My content rating: MG (No romance, Some minor violence and bullying, death of a character)
On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city saved by the magic woven into its walls when a devastating plague swept through the world years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow, who spends his days in the dark cellar of his master's shop grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island. Oscar's world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.
But it's been a long time since anyone who could call himself a wizard walked the world, and now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill; something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the trees will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it.
Anne Ursu has written an unforgettable story of transformation and belonging—a spellbinding tale of the way in which the power we all wield, great and small, lies in the choices we make.
This unique middle grade fantasy is about a boy on the spectrum who’s plunged into a role he’s not quite sure he wants to take on when his mentor disappears and leaves him in charge of his magic shop. I loved Oscar as a character. I believe that Ursu did a wonderful job capturing the way that he thinks—how he doesn’t quite understand the world the way everyone else does and has to spend extra time parsing out basic things like facial expressions and conversational skills. I felt that she portrayed his frustrations and doubts in a believable way. And, as always, I adored Ursu’s wonderful prose.
I’ll confess that at one point in the book, I got very nervous about a message related to Oscar’s autism (View Spoiler »For a short time Oscar believes that he’s different because he’s actually not human—but he’s proven wrong later in the book, thank goodness! « Hide Spoiler). But in the end, the message was just what I was hoping it would be—one of acceptance and self-worth. I enjoyed the magical elements and the twists and turns in the story! Overall, this book was a win for me!
NARRATION: Chris Sorenson did a lovely job bringing Oscar’s unique childlike voice to life!