For a book that is 40 years old (I can’t believe I just typed 40 YEARS OLD!), Friends for Life by Ellen Emerson White holds up fairly well. Friends for Life was Ellen Emerson White’s debut in 1983. I don’t think I read the book the year it was released, but likely a year or so later, probably picking my copy up from our local Waldenbooks.
This YA mystery focuses on Susan who has moved back to her old Boston neighborhood for her senior year of high school after having been gone since the eighth grade. Her old boyfriend is still there as is Colleen, her best friend since childhood. The day after she moves back, her best friend turns up dead by an overdose. Susan is devastated but doesn’t believe it was an overdose or suicide. Because of something Colleen had said, Susan is convinced it’s murder and sets about trying to find the killer.
Friends for Life is a fast read, shorter than a lot of YA books of today, but it’s got a decent mystery that will keep a reader turning pages. I can’t remember when I last read it, but it was one that I had reread multiple times as a teen and it was fun to come back to it. I still like it. For an 80s mystery, it’s a good one and I’d recommend it.
Phyre Brown is just an ordinary teenager searching for love and adventure. But when a tragic accident reveals her true identity as an alien with extraordinary healing powers, Phyre’s life takes a dramatic turn. Forced to leave home and live with her estranged grandparents, Phyre finds herself bound to an alien boy named Kreaxlae, a member of the rival colony.
But when she meets his charming and mysterious brother, Phyre begins to question everything she knows about her past and her future. With the fate of two alien colonies and their safety at stake, Phyre must make a choice that will change her life forever.
Will she choose love or duty, passion or power? Find out in this thrilling sci-fi romance about the bonds that unite us, the powers that define us, and the choices that shape our destiny.
So what did I think?
I enjoy Dawn Husted’s books and I was excited to hear she had a new one. RADIANT ORIGIN is a YA sci-fi romance, actual star-crossed lovers. The book opens with tragedy but author Dawn Husted continues to give the reader hope throughout, even when things are at their darkest.
We find out quickly that Phyre Brown isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a member of an alien colony that has settled on Earth after war destroyed their home planet. Phyre didn’t grow up knowing about her extraterrestrial heritage and it’s a shock when she learns of it immediately following the death of her beloved older sister.
Phyre is whisked away from the home she knows and is sent to live with her grandparents until she can be “bound” to another of her kind, although the boy is from a rival colony. I immediately felt empathy for Phyre—how could her parents send her away like that? It feels cruel even if necessary and I wanted her to have time to process not only her past and horrific present, but this unbelievable future her family has dumped on her less than 24 hours after a terrible life-changing event. Apparently, Phyre’s people have strict rules, customs, and division amongst themselves.
RADIANT ORIGIN has complicated family dynamics, a tumultuous love story, the classic “mean girl” balanced by the truly loyal friend, and the right amount of twists at just the right time.
Dawn Husted does an excellent job with intertwining the various subplots without bogging the reader down a lot of backstory. That said, I became very interested in the complexities of the alien people and I’d love to learn more about them. A prequel story about how they were before their war and their settlement on Earth would be a lot of fun to read.
Grab a copy of RADIANT ORIGIN today for an exciting YA with aliens, teen angst, and choices that will make or break an entire species. Definitely hop over to author Dawn Husted’s website and check out RADIAT ORIGIN and her other books.
Monsterious Book 1: Escape from Grimstone Manor had been on my radar since it was first announced and I was super excited when I won a copy from the amazing Writers With Wrinkles Podcast giveaway! I highly recommend their podcast to anyone who writes or reads books!
But back to the book! I love a fast-paced, scary middle grade story with awesome friends and a fun, yet creepy setting. Escape from Grimstone Manor, the first book in Matt McMann’s Monsterious series, gave me all that and more. This is a book 10-year-old Barb would have loved to read under the covers at night by flashlight and then again the next day, sneaking reading time during math class. (Yes, I used to do all that.)
A cool setting: amusement park + Gothic haunted mansion ride.
Super creepy backstory: necromancer who lived in the spooky mansion where the ride now sits and who may or may not still be around.
Awesome monsters: werewolf, lizard person, mummies, and skeletons!
Three fantastic friends: Zari, Mateo, and Taylor.
When the three friends get trapped overnight in the haunted mansion ride, they have to find their way out. During their search, they stumble on a hidden staircase that leads them into a crypt that shouldn’t be there. A crypt! Yikes! And then there’s the monsters. The kids not only have to fight real monsters, but they need to find the courage to face their own inner fears and even each other, because even for the best of friends, some things are just too much.
Beyond the great action scenes and spooky moments, what I loved most was the friendship between Zari, Mateo, and Taylor. They’re three very distinct characters, but right from the start you could feel their connection with each other and I knew they were going to need to lean on each other to make it through the night.
Escape from Grimstone Manor was a fast read for me and I totally enjoyed each page. If you or the kids are into books like Goosebumps, then McMann’s book is a must-read for sure. Grab your copy and keep an eye out for the other books in this series. Book 2, The Snatcher of RavenHollow is already out, book 3, Terror in Shadow Canyon releases in August, and book 4, The Beast of Skull Rock, is set to release January 2024.
I was excited to receive HUMANBORN by Joanna Maciejewska as an ARC and the book totally lived up to my expectations—I enjoyed it so much I immediately ordered the paperback copy to add to my bookshelves and I’m now eagerly awaiting book two.
Magic has retired to Ireland, but it came with a price. Kaja Modrzewska is a cursed humanborn living in Dublin after the Magiclysm and war that took the lives of both the humanborn and mythborn. A former wartime scout, Kaja now makes her way as an information broker while trying to keep the chaotic magic that surges through her body at bay. Some day her body will give way, and the magic will take over, making her an Afflicted. When that happens, it’s game over.
Working with the mythborn Court brings its own set of challenges, especially when paired with an elite group of warriors to help solve a rash of bombings targeting both humanborn and mythborn. Kaja must navigate through deceptions, choose allegiances, and face her own mortality while trying to figure out who is behind the bombings.
I loved Kaja from the opening pages to the very end. She’s smart, a bit sarcastic, resourceful, and she’s not afraid to look at the big picture and do what’s right. The evolution of her relationship with mythborn Riagan was fun to read and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops in the next book. The main story lines were successfully tied, and I loved how author Joanna Maciejewska leaves just enough “wanting” to make us ready to get our hands on book two.
If a fantasy book with minimal romance, engaging political/court intrigue, an immersive magic system, and a smart, strong female protagonist is what you like to read—go grab a copy of HUMANBORN right now. For more information about HUMANBORN or other books by Joanna Maciejewska, including her “By the Pact” series, please head over to her website: authorjm.com
I wish I could remember who recommended I pick up TWELFTH by Janet Key because I’d really like to thank them. Mysteries are my favorite and expanding my middle grade mystery shelf is one of my favorite things to do.
A 60-year missing diamond ring, a Shakespearian play, and a series of riddle-like clues help set the stage for a mystery-adventure that quickly ensnares Maren, a first-time camper at the Charlotte Goodman Theater Camp. While TWELFTH delivers a solid and satisfying mystery, it also gives the reader complex, realistic, and diverse characters that we need not only in middle grade fiction, but in all stories.
Set in a theater arts camp, the story is told in dual timelines with the “present day” set in 2015 — and there is a reason for this particular year as it ties into the stories. As a former theater kid and as a kid who went to summer camp, I found this book incredibly immersive with fabulous details and insights into what it’s like to rehearse a play and prepare for a performance.
For readers of all ages, TWELFTH will resonate. It deals with the complexities of mental health, bullying, and gender diversity. I highly recommend reading all of the Bonus Material at the end of the book as the interview with Dr. Jennifer Feldmann on gender diversity is wonderful.
Visit author Janet Key at her website for more information about where you can get a copy of TWELFTH and to find out about her other upcoming projects.
CHAOS RISING is everything I wanted from a Thrawn book. Timothy Zahn weaves a believable backstory for one of the iconic characters of the Star Wars universe. I absolutely enjoyed the “memories” chapters with a young Thrawn and his early student/cadet days plus the insight into his original family and connections with the Mitth family.
I loved every scene with his analysis of artwork as insight to battle tactics, something that we expect to see from Thrawn and Zahn didn’t disappoint. The character development of young Thrawn to Captain Thrawn also worked for. I particularly liked his interaction with Thalias and the young sky walker Che’ri.
“There were dangers out there in the darkness, hidden worlds and tyrants who sought conquest and destruction.” (chapter one, page 17)
“Art mirrors the soul, from which tactics arise. One can see in artwork the strengths and weaknesses of those who created it.” (Thrawn)
“. . . negative information was still information.” (Thalias musing about Thrawn)
“All beings possess imagination to varying degrees. It can be encouraged and nurtured, or can sometimes shine out in moments of stress. But curiosity is a choice. Some wish to have it. Others don’t.” (Thrawn)
“The cautious path merely guarantees a slow slide to irrelevance.” (Mitth Patriarch)
GREATER GOOD dives deeper into Thrawn’s days as a Senior Captain in the Expansionary Defense Fleet. Book two of the trilogy continues the search for the mysterious enemy that has set out to destroy the Chiss. The enemy deftly begins to sow discord among the Chiss Nine Ruling Families and the Forty Great Houses, forcing Defense Fleet warriors to choose: Family or Military.
Again, the “memories” chapters were artfully constructed and some of my favorite pages as they allowed intriguing insight into the moves and countermoves of the enemy. As always, Thrawn doesn’t disappoint. His tactics intrigue me and I enjoy the reactions of the enemies as well as his peers as they try to figure out what he’s doing and if it will actually work. If you enjoy reading space battles, GREATER GOOD has plenty and the action keeps the pace moving.
One of my favorite aspects of this book, and of the trilogy as a whole, is the detailed immersion into the Chiss family structures and how it’s intertwined with the politics and military. GREATER GOOD is a solid book two in the trilogy, ending on a “what?!” moment that I loved.
“We don’t do things just because they’re easier. We do things because they work.” (Mid Captain Samakro)
“It can be tactically advantageous for an enemy to believe in limits that don’t actually exist.” (Thrawn)
“The odds are never impossible, merely unfavorable.” (Thrawn)
From the inside book cover: “But the truth of a family’s legacy is only as strong as the legend that supports it. Even if that legend turns out to be a lie.”
LESSER EVIL concludes the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy. It is moves and countermoves, family versus family, and a series of what seem like inconsequential events that ultimately lead to the potential fall of a civilization. However, Thrawn will look into the deep past of the Chiss to save its future.
The “memories” chapters in LESSER EVIL are my favorite from all three books. I loved the story they told and it provides essential insight into who Thrawn is at the core and that makes it easier to understand the Thrawn we know from his Empire era. Author Timothy Zahn paints a clear picture of Thrawn and his relationship with Thrass, the one Chiss who truly becomes his friend, his brother.
The longest book of the trilogy, LESSER EVIL packs a punch with intense battles, twisty political ploys, back-stabbing family games, and still manages to weave in lighter moments at just the right time with banter on the starship bridge and insightful moments from our main character. Book three expertly wraps up the multitude of storylines, big and small. The final 100 pages were some of my favorites as Zahn gives the reader closure where it’s needed.
I knew going into the trilogy that somehow it would set things up for the next stage of Thrawn’s career, namely his exile and immersion into the Star Wars world as we know it. As a reader and long-time fan, I like the way the book concludes and how it leads us into what we know is coming next, especially if you’ve read THRAWN by Timothy Zahn (published in 2017).
“In my experience, superior wisdom can stand on its own merits. It does not require a warship to force acceptance.” (Thrawn)
“Never throw away a possible weapon when it’s unnecessary to do so.” (Thrawn)
“And if there was one thing Ar’alani had learned about power, it was that for far too many people a small and fleeting taste wasn’t nearly enough.” (Admiral Ar’alani)
“Allies of convenience are still allies.” (Thrawn)
Author Ben Gartner has packed a galaxy of heart-pounding, sci-fi action into an unputdownable middle grade book that will capture the hearts and imagination of all ages. One Giant Leap is a book that 11-year-old me would have devoured in one sitting. I immediately connected with Fin Scott, loved the idea of the StellarKid Project, and was enthralled with every detail Gartner exquisitely incorporated into this thrilling story.
“I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.“
One Giant Leap by Ben Gartner
Fin Scott has won a place in the StellarKid Project and it’s an out-of-this-world opportunity! He’s blasting off to the International Space Station en route to the Gateway outpost that orbits the moon, but issues begin even before lift-off. When the team finally is in space, the unthinkable happens—a collision with space junk that immediately turns their epic journey into a race for survival.
While my readers and social media followers may associate me more with mysteries and thrillers, I am also a science fiction fan and I especially love realistically space stories. One Giant Leap is exactly that, a space adventure story that feels completely real on every page. The research conducted for this book amazes me, I highly recommend reading the author’s notes at the end.
I am grateful to Ben Gartner for offering me an ARC of One Giant Leap and I can’t wait to get my hands on a print copy when the book releases on February 21, 2023. Definitely add this middle grade book to your reading lists!
Pop over to https://bengartner.com/ to read more about One Giant Leap and how to pre-order your copy today. Be sure to take a look at Ben Gartner’s The Eye of Ra series too, it’s a historical adventure through time that you don’t want to miss.
Second, but equally important: this is how you complete a trilogy!
FRACTURED & RENEWED was everything I wanted as the third book of Natalie Cammaratta’s Falling & Uprising series: fast-paced, action-packed, and a total roller coaster ride of emotions.
As a personal rule, I don’t give out spoilers in any of my reviews, so I’m going to hold back on a critical event in this book, BUT, I have to say that there is a very specific relationship that made my heart happy — lots of swooning on my end as Natalie wrote each moment beautifully!
There is a LOT going on this book, but the intrigue, action, and relationship dynamics effortlessly blend for a thrill ride that doesn’t stop until the last page. On that note, I also have to say that the epilogue was perfect as well — I wanted to be there with everyone enjoying the special event and the lives that they’ve been able to build for themselves after such a tumultuous time.
If you love dystopian YA filled with espionage, action, romance, and fierce relationships, then you should definitely read all three books in the FALLING & UPRISING series.
THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS took me by surprise. To be honest, YA contemporary isn’t usually my thing and I can’t remember who recommend this book to me — but if it was you, THANK YOU! It’s been on my TBR shelf for a while and I picked it up this week because I needed a diversion from the chaos of life. It more than worked. It sucked me in and wrapped me up like a warm, cozy blanket as I became more and more attached to Darcy, Marisol, and Asher.
There’s so much I loved about this book:
–chapter titles and cool quotations –Peter Pan –tons of literary references –amazing best friendship (teen me would totally want to be their friend) –MC works in a book store –slow burn –layers of emotion and just the right amount of highs and lows for me –the uncertainty of the future at 18, but with the promise of adventure, love, and hope
Do I recommend THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS? Absolutely! And it’s definitely going into my reread rotation because I know I want to revisit Darcy, Marisol, and Asher. Go now and check out this book and the others by Laura Taylor Namey.
“. . . I feel myself exhale. For the next few hours, I will be Maven. Just Maven. I will not have to hide what I know or think. I will have the opportunity to speak when I want to and listen when I don’t.”
(The Wolf’s Howl by A. L. Tait)
Lady’s maid Maven and squire Reeve forged an unlikely friendship when they had to find a stolen jewel and discover who murdered an innocent man. Having solved those intertwined mysteries, they are together again, on the road with the newly married Lady Cassandra and Sir Garrick, Knight Protector of Rennart Castle. This time they’re searching for a missing cook while unraveling secret codes, political alliances, and loyalties. With help from the mysterious Beech Circle, the duo may be able to save the cook and themselves.
I loved The Wolf’s Howl as much as I did The Fire Star(book one). I enjoy a good duology because it gives me more time to spend with characters I like and it offers a chance to see the characters continue to grow. Add in a mystery, a secret society, political intrigue, kidnappings, and you have a book that kept me turning pages.
As a YA mystery from one of my favorite authors, The Wolf’s Howl goes on my shelf as one of my favorite reads of the summer.
Here’s a quick break-down:
Book two in the Maven and Reeve Mysteries
YA with two main characters, ages 15 and 16
Told in dual POV (which I loved!)
Medieval fantasy world setting
Mystery that includes a missing cook, treason, a mysterious society, and kidnappings
Intricate plot with political intrigue and mortal danger
Themes relevant to today including the status of women
I will always recommend reading a duology (or series) in order. It makes it easier to see (and enjoy) the characters’ development. I felt like I connected with Maven and Reeve in book one and that connection grew stronger in The Wolf’s Howl. Author A. L. Tait has a talent for creating complex, yet likable characters who are smart, brave, and loyal. However, they’re never perfect and that’s what I like best.
In The Wolf’s Howl, Maven and Reeve have traveled with Lady Cassandra and Sir Garrick to the isolated Glawn Castle. The castle sits in a region where an ever-present howling, gusting wind sweeps through the landscape that’s dotted with windmills. When they arrive at Glawn Castle, they’re immediately thrown into a mystery. The cook has gone missing and a search party must be dispatched to find her.
“There is more to Glawn that meets the eye.” (The Wolf’s Howl, page 81)
There also is more to Maven than meets the eye as well. She’s clever, capable, and a member of the Beech Circle. Being a young woman of intellect and drive, she’s in constant danger. Women like her are not acceptable. Reeve is an ambitious young squire with his own set of special skills. He respects Maven and is indebted to the Beech Circle. He’d never give away their secrets. Together, they are a formidable pair and have forged a deep bond of friendship. As I mentioned in my review for book one, I love that Maven and Reeve are friends instead of love interests.
A quick recap of the Beech Circle because they play a prominent role in this story:
A group of girls and women who are connected. They help each other and those who need help. They are educated, self-reliant, and they’d be eliminated if their existence was discovered by the men who desire to keep all women complacent and silent. (from my review of book one)
If you love books with strong female characters, friendships built on trust and respect, and political intrigue amid a medieval setting, then grab a copy of The Wolf’s Howl by A.L. Tait.
Allison Tait (A.L. Tait) drew me in more than a decade ago when I found her website. I connected with her writing style, humor, and kindness and have been a fan of her books ever since. She is an internationally-published, bestselling author of two middle-grade adventure series and the YA Maven & Reeve mysteries. She’s a writer, teacher, speaker, and co-host of the Your Kid’s Next Read podcast. Allison lives in Australia and can be found on social media via links from her site.