Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Groundhog Day meets the ’80s in Pretty in Punxsutawney

Pretty in Punxsutawney, by Laurie Boyle Crompton, (Jan. 2019, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 9780310762164

Ages 12+

This fun mash-up of ’80s teen classic movies (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club) and 1993’s Groundhog Day stars a high schooler who’s stuck in a time loop: her first day of school in a new town. Andie, daughter of a Gen X John Hughes fanatic, wakes up every morning with the Pretty in Pink DVD from the night before stuck in her DVD player. She goes through the first day of school again and again, trying to figure out how to break the loop; she tries everything from joining different cliques to trying on new personas, to no avail. But as she tries to get through each day and stave off the frustration and depression that tries to set in, she also sees past the social groups to the personalities of her classmates, and realizes that she can bring everyone together.

Pretty in Punxsutawney is a fun, light-hearted love letter to ’80s movies (the novel is loaded with great references), friendship, and finding your own space in your community. Andie gains depth as a character as the novel progresses; the other characters are there to support her, so we only get a taste of them. This one’s a fun beach read that Gen X parents can enjoy with their teens.

 

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA in dual narratives: Between Before and After

Between Before and After, by Maureen Doyle McQuerry, (Feb. 2019, Blink), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0310767381

Ages 12+

Told in two narratives across two timespans, Between Before & After is the story of Elaine, a girl raising her younger brother, Stephen, after losing her mother and baby sister to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and her grief-stricken father to a drunken brawl, and Elaine’s teenaged daughter, Molly, as she tries to unravel her mother’s secret past. The narratives shift between fourteen-year-old Elaine’s story from 1918-1920, and Molly’s in 1955. Molly sees her journalist mother as an enigma, going so far as to create a “biography box” to hold clues to her mother’s story. Elaine’s story is a heartbreaking one, beginning with her mother and baby sister dying, and her father’s spiral into alcoholism and neglect and ending with his death. When Elaine finds work reading to a blind man in a wealthy family, she is relieved at being able to support her and her brother, but a turn of events separates Elaine and Stephen. In 1955, past and present converge when Stephen finds himself at the center of a religious controversy that shines a spotlight on the family.

Between Before and After is a solid piece of historical fiction that examines social class and mental illness. The subplot involving Elaine’s brother Stephen was interesting, but only served a small plot forwarding device for Elaine’s – and, to a degree, Molly’s – story. The characters drew me right in, and anything about New York in the early 20th Century gets my attention. I enjoyed Maureen Doyle McQuerry’s storytelling, especially Elaine’s story; she was a fully realized character.

If you have historical fiction readers, this is a good pick for you. There’s much to discuss about social class, stigma, and childhood poverty here, making this a good extension/book discussion choice for social studies/history classes.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

A whodunit with a twist: The Color of Lies by CJ Lyons

The Color of Lies, by CJ Lyons, (Nov. 2018, Blink YA Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-310-765356

Ages 14+

This is one heck of a mystery. High school senior Ella lives with her grandmother and Uncle Joe after an accident orphaned her as a toddler. Her father’s best friend and business partner, Darrin, treats her like a favorite niece and has cultivated her father’s business into a solid foundation to keep Ella safe and comfortable. That all changes when Max shows up: Max, the journalism student consumed with Ella’s story, because what Ella’s been told isn’t how it happened. Max knows, because Max was there that night, too.

This is a wild ride. You think you know what’s going on, and CJ Lyons politely smirks and shakes a finger in your literary face, crafting a plot that left me dumbfounded. Adding a main character with synesthesia – a condition that wreaks havoc on the senses, and, in Ella’s case, allows her “read” people through their colorful auras – adds nice depth to the characters. There is a lot of storytelling here – at times, to the detriment of pacing – but overall, this is a good mystery, with a touch of romance, that teens will like.

CJ Lyons’s author webpage includes medical and forensic links and the opportunity to download some of her work for free.

Posted in Fantasy, mythology, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The story of Midas, continued: A Touch of Gold

A Touch of Gold, by Annie Sullivan, (Aug. 2018, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-310-76635-3

Recommended for readers 12+

I mentioned A Touch of Gold in my Argos review last week, as part of my Go Greek! summer reading post. I was still reading it at the time, but I’m all done and dying to talk this one up. Let’s dive in!

We all know the story of King Midas, right? Has the ability to turn anything he touched to gold, which sounds pretty great at first, but try to eat a candy bar, or have a swig of water: see where I’m going? Literally everything he touched turned to gold, which was stressful enough, but when his daughter went to him and transformed into a golden statue, that was it. He begged the god Dionysus to take away the Golden Touch, but gods have a sense of humor – which is where A Touch of Gold begins.

You see, Midas needed to bathe everything he turned to gold in a nearby river. Being a loving dad, he grabbed Kora, his daughter, first. Once he saw she was okay, nothing else mattered. Except to Dionysus, who tends to be a stickler for playing by his rules. Midas didn’t bathe the other objects in the river, so Kora’s skin became gold. Not a statue again; more of a gold sheen, and Midas was condemned to keep the other gold objects nearby, or he’d be weakened to the point of death. Kora, now a teen, has been sheltered within the palace walls for most of her life; her father’s brother, Phaeus, taking on most of the day-to-day crown duties, while Midas grows weaker, needing more time close to his gold, to retain any energy. When someone sneaks in, kills a guard, and steals the gold, Kora must undertake the quest of a lifetime: find the gold and restore her father’s health. Along with her would-be suitor, Aris, and her cousin, Hettie, Kora sets out aboard a ship captained by Aris’ sometime friend, Royce. Kora quickly finds herself up against a superstitious and fearful crew, a bloodthirsty pirate who collects skulls, and someone working from within to bring harm to Kora and her family.

A Touch of Gold moves along at a good pace, building on an established story and adding new adventure, romance, and intrigue. Narrated by Kora, readers meet a heroine who is strong but vulnerable, smart but unsure, who undertakes her own heroine’s quest to grow into herself. She feels like an outcast; she’s treated like an outcast, until she believes in herself: a relatable character with a nice growth path. Readers may or may not see the villains coming, but A Touch of Gold is a good summer read that your Percy Jackson fans who are ready to take on something more will enjoy.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, mythology, Teen, Tween Reads

Go Greek this Summer!

Ready to move on from Percy Jackson? (Just kidding, you’re never ready to move on from Percy Jackson.) I’ve got a new book for you:

Argos, by Ralph Hardy, (March 2018, Harper) $6.99, ISBN: 9780062396792
Recommended for readers 9-12

Set in the world of the Greek classic, The Odyssey, by Homer, Argos tells the story of Odysseus’s 20-year trip home after the Trojan War, through the eyes of his beloved dog, who waited for him. Argos is a strong, loyal dog who protects his master’s home and family and tells readers all about his beloved Odysseus, the awful suitors who pursue Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, night after night, and Telemachos, Odysseus’ young son, who grows to manhood throughout the story.

Narrated from Argos’ point of view, we get the full story of The Odyssey through reports Argos gleans from animals – primarily birds – who have encountered the hero and his crew on their ill-fated journey home. We also walk with Argos as he hunts those who would do his family ill – wolves and men alike. He has his own fame on the island Ithaka, too: he’s known as the Boar Slayer after being found as the sole surviving pup in his litter, gnawing on the body of a dead boar who slaughtered his family. We read along as he falls in love and experiences heartbreak, and we read his frustration and sadness as he ages and fears dying, leaving no one to protect his human family, and never laying eyes on his master again. If you’ve read The Odyssey, you know what’s coming; if you haven’t, this is an excellent entry point to the Greek classics. Argos is a noble and wonderfully fleshed-out character, given a history of his own that Homer would likely be proud of. Perfect for animal fiction fans and fans of Greek mythology and adventure books. I’m going to booktalk this one to my many, many Percy fans this week!

 

Next up will be a YA novel I’m currently reading, also set in Ancient Greece, so I’ll just give a quick summation here: Annie Sullivan’s A Touch of Gold tells the story of King Midas’ daughter, Kora. Turned into gold by her father, she remembers dying and coming back to life when the curse was broken, but the gods have an interesting sense of humor. Her skin is gold, and she has secret powers whenever she’s near gold. She lives, sheltered from society, to escape the looks and whispers of curses, and to avoid coming into contact with gold, until her father falls ill and she’s the only one who can save him. So far, I’m enjoying this novel, but I’ll report back when I’m finished with it, soon enough. It’s not due out until August, so you have time: go read Argos! It’s great for tweens and teens alike. Display and booktalk with The Illiad and The Odyssey: there are versions available for young readers. Ask kids if they think the gods are any different between these books and the Riordan universe. See what you learn!

A Touch of Gold, by Annie Sullivan, (Aug. 2018, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-310-76635-3

 

Posted in Adventure, Fantasy, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Secret Societies, Angels, and Demons: Toward a Secret Sky

Toward a Secret Sky, by Heather Maclean, (Apr. 2017, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-310-75474-9

Recommended for readers 12+

Seventeen year-old Maren Hamilton is an orphan; her father dead for years, her mother, the recent victim of a freak accident. Sent to Scotland to live with grandparents she’s never met, she discovers much more about her parents than she could ever have realized. They weren’t systems analysts, as she’d always thought; they were members of a secret organization that fought demons. Real demons. Now that she’s discovered her mother’s secret journal, she’s a target for the demons – and so is everyone around her. Luckily, she’s got Gavin, her literal guardian angel, to help her, but against all the rules, she finds herself falling in love with him and is pretty sure the feeling is mutual. When Maren’s friends and grandparents find their lives in danger, it’s up to Maren and Gavin to save them all.

I thoroughly enjoyed Toward a Secret Sky. There’s some DaVinci Code-level action, with secret societies, code-breaking, and angels fighting demons over the United Kingdom skies. It’s also got a solid set of characters and good world-building, and an ending that left me excited for another installment. YA romance fans will love the burgeoning forbidden love between Maren and her angel, the gorgeous, Scottish, Gavin (and I don’t even have to feel like a cougar because he’s over 200 years old). The book teases us, giving little hints about not only The Abbey; the secret organization Maren’s connected to, but about Maren’s own heightened abilities. It’s the perfect amount of information to keep us guessing and reading. It’s a fast-paced, wild ride that YA fans will love, and it’s a solid book to put in your more conservative readers’ hands, too.

Definitely add this to your Summer Reading TBR, and match it with proper romances like Duels & Deception and Jacob Gowans’ A Tale of Light and Shadow duology. There’s also a good 2016 article from Bustle with YA DaVinci Code readalikes that fit nicely with this one.

 

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

A modern twist on Cinderella: It Started With Goodbye

started-with-goodbyeIt Started With Goodbye, by Christina June, (May 2017, Blink Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780310758662

Recommended for ages 12+

Tatum Elsea’s not having a great summer. Accused of a crime she didn’t commit – she was trying to get her best friend away from her sleazy boyfriend, to add insult to injury! – she’s under her step-monster’s house arrest for the entire summer, AND her best friend won’t speak to her. She’s working on pulling invasive plants as a community service during the day, and at night, quietly launching a design business to keep from going crazy. Things start looking up when she gets a few nibbles for her design business, including a flirty exchange with a musician who needs a portfolio made to submit to colleges. Her stepmother’s mother is also staying with them for the summer while Tatum’s dad is away on business, and she brings got just a little bit of fairy abuela magic with her, whether it’s a little extra money from her bunco winnings to help Tatum out, or warming up the relationships in the house. Maybe Tatum’s summer will end on a high note, after all.

This is a very sweet, very fun, modern take on Cinderella. Tatum’s stepmother isn’t really evil, she’s just really, really strict; her stepsister is a ballet dancer that’s not as uppity as Tatum thinks she is; her fairy godmother plays bunco and watches Golden Girls while dispensing real talk. There’s a music fest instead of a masked ball, and a cute take on the glass slipper. I had a great time reading this; you’ll just feel better when you’re done. It’s very clean – my conservative readers and my tweens will absolutely embrace this – and the characters are all very likable, even if they are in need of some serious loosening up in the beginning.

A fun, light romance to add to your collections or pass along to teen romance readers. There’s some fun content coming down the pike from author Christina June, including a graphic design contest, playlists, and launch party in the DC area. Keep an eye on Christina’s author page and Blink’s webpage for updates.