I’ve got five reviews for you today: two YA contemporaries, a MG fantasy and a MG contemporary duology. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
Lucky Caller by Emma Mills
Published by Henry Holt & Company on January 14, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: 8 hours and 29 minutes
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing)
When Nina decides to take a radio broadcasting class her senior year, she expects it to be a walk in the park. Instead, it’s a complete disaster.
The members of Nina's haphazardly formed radio team have approximately nothing in common. And to maximize the awkwardness her group includes Jamie, a childhood friend she'd hoped to basically avoid for the rest of her life.
The show is a mess, internet rumors threaten to bring the wrath of two fandoms down on their heads, and to top it all off Nina's family is on the brink of some major upheaval.
Everything feels like it's spiraling out of control―but maybe control is overrated?
With the warmth, wit, intimate friendships, and heart-melting romance she brings to all her books, Emma Mills crafts a story about believing in yourself, owning your mistakes, and trusting in human connection in Lucky Caller.
Everyone raves about Emma Mills, and I just needed to see what all the fuss is about. She seems to be the new big name in contemporary YA. So when I saw that Hoopla had a few of her audiobooks available, I decided to give one a listen!
This book is a wonderful representation of the many facets of family. I loved that it showed a complicated family relationship without getting overly dramatic or angsty. Nina’s mom’s remarriage is mostly okay with Nina and her sisters—but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have any reservations. Their relationship with their dad is even more confusing: they don’t see him much since he moved away, and they don’t seem to be a real priority in his life. I really felt like all of these issues were explored in a realistic way, showing how upsetting these family dynamics can be but still making them feel somewhat commonplace—lots of kids have complex family relationships that can have negative repercussions without being full of overblown drama. And I thought that Mills did a wonderful job of showing how feelings can grow and change over time.
I also loved the romance element of the book—seeing the story unfold of what went wrong between Jamie and Nina definitely made me want to keep listening, and I was rooting for them all the way! And the radio show element was great fun—the banter between Nina and her cohorts was absolutely hilarious—one of the best elements of the book. I guess I know now why everyone loves Mills. This book was engaging and dug into some issues while still being relatively light overall. I will definitely be reading more!
NARRATION: LOVE Jesse Vilinsky’s narration for this. She brought every single character to life for me!
Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions by Henry Lien
Series: Peasprout Chen #2
Also in this series: , Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword
Published by Henry Holt & Company on January 22, 2019
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: Afu Chan
My content rating: MG (Some MG-level violence, Hints of romance)
Now in her Second Year at Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, Peasprout Chen strives to reclaim her place as a champion of wu liu, the sport of martial arts figure skating. But, with the new year comes new competition, and Peasprout's dreams are thwarted by an impressive transfer student.
Yinmei is the heir to the Shinian throne and has fled her country for Pearl. When she excels both academically and socially, Peasprout begins to suspect that Yinmei is not a refugee at all but a spy. When the Empress of Shin threatens to invade the city of Pearl, Peasprout makes a bold decision. To keep her enemy close, Peasprout joins Yinmei's "battleband," a team that executes elaborate skating configurations that are part musical spectacle, part defensive attack.
In Henry Lien's Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions, Peasprout guides her battleband on a mission to save Pearl, and learns what it truly means to be a leader.
In this book, Peasprout suddenly finds herself training for battle when the heir to the Shinian throne appears at her school and an invasion of Pearl seems imminent. Peasprout has to figure out whether or not to trust this new student while also sorting through her feelings for Hisashi—which is … complicated. Just like in the first book, Peasprout has a hard time trusting other people and tends to lean on her own abilities and judgment, but she does learn to put a bit more faith in Cricket when he proves invaluable. This book leans a bit more heavily on battle strategy than my personal tastes, but the creativity of the worldbuilding (wu liu is so incredibly unique!) makes it all a whole lot more interesting. And the ending of the book adds a twist that is absolutely compelling—I can’t wait to see where it all leads!
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review purposes. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston
Series: Once Upon a Con #2
Also in this series: , Geekerella
on April 2, 2019
Narrator: Eileen Stevens, Emily Lawrence, Caitlin Davies
Length: 9 hours and 3 minutes
Cover Artist: Amy DeVoogd
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing)
The Prince and the Pauper gets a modern makeover in this adorable, witty, and heartwarming young adult novel set in the Geekerella universe by national bestselling author Ashley Poston.
Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off from her favorite franchise, Starfield. The problem is, Jessica Stone—the actress who plays Princess Amara—wants nothing more than to leave the intense scrutiny of the fandom behind. If this year's ExcelsiCon isn't her last, she'll consider her career derailed.
When a case of mistaken identity throws look-a-likes Imogen and Jess together, they quickly become enemies. But when the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, and all signs point to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. That's easier said than done when the girls step into each other's shoes and discover new romantic possibilities, as well as the other side of intense fandom. As these "princesses" race to find the script-leaker, they must rescue themselves from their own expectations, and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.
I loved the first book in this standalone series, so I was excited to see what new story Poston had in store for us. This story was super cute—doppelgangers Imogen and Jess switch places so that Jess can figure out who’s leaking the script for her series. Imogen is a super fan of the show and wants to help save Jess’s character—only problem is, Jess doesn’t really want to be saved. While the two are switched, they both find themselves dealing with unwanted crushes. I especially loved Jess’s part of the story and her conflicted feelings about the fandom. She struggles between wanting to be taken seriously as an actress and pleasing a fandom that seems neverendingly unhappy with her. I thought Poston did a fantastic job making Jess and Imogen’s voices very distinct as well. Overall, this was an enjoyable listen!
NARRATION: Emily Lawrence and Caitlin Davies do a fantastic job with each of their characters. We also get some little cameos from Eileen Stevens as Elle from Geekerella.
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Series: Aven Green #1
on September 5, 2017
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Narrator: Karissa Vacker
Length: 5 hours and 27 minutes
My content rating: MG
Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.
Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.
Starting at a new school can be daunting for anyone, but it’s especially tough for Aven Green—a girl with no arms is sure to draw attention. Aven has always felt comfortable with herself, but that was easier when just about everyone around her has known her for her whole life. When she moves to a new state and a new school, she has to confront the reality that she’s not completely comfortable being a novelty, but she makes some great friends along the way, which makes things a whole lot easier. There’s also a mystery element to the story, but I accidentally listened to half of the second book before I realized I was listening out of order, so I sort of spoiled the mystery for myself. Oops! Still, it was an interesting side to the story that I’m guessing will keep kids hooked and gives the plot structure for an otherwise introspective story.Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Series: Aven Green #2
Published by Tantor Audio on September 17, 2019
Genres: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Contemporary
Narrator: Karissa Vacker
Length: 6 hours and 36 minutes
My content rating: MG/YA (Some bullying, Nothing more than kissing)
“High School. Two words that struck fear into the heart of every armless middle schooler I knew. Which was me. And like two people online.”
The sequel to the critically acclaimed
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
follows Aven Green as she confronts yet another challenge: high school. Just as Aven starts to feel comfortable in Stagecoach Pass, with her friends and schoolmates accustomed to her lack of “armage,” everything changes once again. She’s about to begin high school . . . with 2,300 new kids to stare at her. And no matter how much Aven tries to play it cool, nothing prepares her for the reality. In a year filled with confusion, humiliation, fears, loss, and just maybe love, can Aven manage to stay true to herself?
I actually liked this second installment in the series even more than the first! This second book has Aven headed off to high school and facing even more changes (and some bullying). This book fills a void in that it bridges MG and YA quite nicely. Throughout the book, Aven struggles with confidence and has to find her way in a new school and in the new world of crushes and floundering friendships. Still, Aven’s voice is full of humor and heart so the book never feels too heavy. The story is sweet and inspiring and sure to help kids realize that our differences don’t define us.
NARRATION: Another fabulous job at narration, this time by Karissa Vacker. I thought she captured Aven’s young voice incredibly well.
I am so excited, that you have now read an Emma Mills book.She created some of the best characters, and always features great families too. I love all of them! I might have liked the 2nd Aven Green book a bit more, but both those books filled me with so much job. I was happy after I read them.
It’s all because of you! LOL!! And I think I would have loved the first Aven Green book even more if I wouldn’t have messed up the order. Um, oops!
Ohh, I was already wanting to read Lucky Caller & The princess and the Fangirl but omg !! your bite sized reviews just solidified that!!
Glad I could help give you a little extra nudge!
Ah these are lovely reviews, Nicole and I’m so glad you could finally read an Emma Mills book. I have read two of them so far, Foolish Hearts and Famous in a Small Town and I adored them both very much. I’m excited for you to read more of her work! 🙂
I own Foolish Hearts and planned to read that one, but I actually can’t find it—I’m sure it’s on my shelves somewhere, but I apparently moved it without marking it moved on Goodreads and now I can’t seem to track it down!!
I think the hype on Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus got the better of me, and I had the bar set too high going in. I just didn’t love it like everyone else (but I definitely liked it). I’m glad to hear you liked the second one better, and I plan on picking it up at some point!
Yeah, that might have been the case for me too. I think I also really messed myself up by listening to half of the second book first. Then I was already invested in that storyline, and I found the first book a little more focused on both Aven and Connor’s disabilities than I expected (and on Zion’s weight). I definitely liked it, but I enjoyed the second book more.
Thanks for the bite sized reviews. I haven’t read any of these.
Thanks for stopping by!
Lovely reviews, Nicole! I’ve only read The Princess and the Fangirl and enjoyed it as well! Not as much as Geekerella, though, but it definitely stands well alone. Nice to hear the narrator for Elle in the audiobook makes a cameo in the second book! Hopefully if the characters appear in the third, there will be a cameo from previous narrators too.
Yeah, I agree that I liked Geekerella a little more than Princess, but they were both great reads!
I’m happy to see you enjoyed Lucky Caller! It’s on my tbr. Hopefully I can pick it up soon. Happy Reading!
It was a great introduction to Emma Mills for me!
Looks like some good reads! I haven’t read any of these, but Battle of Champions sounds intriguing – I hadn’t heard of that one. LOVE the cover.
The Peasprout Chen books are super unique. I can’t wait for the next one!
I really enjoyed Lucky Caller! It was my first Emma Mills book as well. 🙂 I purchased The Princess and the Fangirl when it was released, because of how much I adored the first book. Hopefully I made the right decision, haha. Normally, I like to read something before I buy it, unless it’s an author I L-O-V-E. Lovely reviews!
Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? ?
I don’t think you’ll be sorry about your decision. 🙂
I LOVE the audiobook covers for the Cactus books! I also liked the second one even more than the first, though I loved them both. Funny enough, Emma Mills is the only audiobook I have ever finished! It was First and Then, as I was driving to Chicago. I guess I should read this one as well. Great reviews!
I need to read First and Then too—I avoided it because of the football element, but now I see what everyone’s been saying about Emma Mills.
Lucky Caller sounds fun! Glad you enjoyed these. 🙂
It was great!
Princess and the Fangirl was cute. I have Lucky Caller but for some reason every time I go to start it and get distracted lol
Karen @ For What It’s Worth
That happens to me with some books. And lately I’ve been such a mood reader!
The Princess and the Fangirl was so cute! I love how Ashley Poston is continuing with different fairytale retelling stories in the same universe as Geekerella! Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus looks really cute! I’m happy to see that you enjoyed it, I’ll have to check it out.
I love when YA romance authors do series like that where the books are connected but not directly sequels.
Ahh I have felt the same way about everyone loving Emma Mills books and knowing I need to try one for myself. I am glad you loved the first one so much and that deep dive into the complexity that is family sounds exactly like the kind of thing I will love. I have Geekerella and just need to make time to read it. But The Princess and the Fangirl also sounds like good fun too! Ooh, and for the last two books I love it when the sequel is even better than book one.
Emma Mills seems to be EVERYWHERE and I felt like I was definitely missing out!