Tag Archives: Diverse YA

Review: This Golden Flame by Emily Victoria

This Golden Flame Blog Tour

This Golden Flame
Emily Victoria
Inkyard Press
Published February 2, 2021

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About This Golden Flame

Orphaned and forced to serve her country’s ruling group of scribes, Karis wants nothing more than to find her brother, long ago shipped away. But family bonds don’t matter to the Scriptorium, whose sole focus is unlocking the magic of an ancient automaton army.

In her search for her brother, Karis does the seemingly impossible—she awakens a hidden automaton. Intelligent, with a conscience of his own, Alix has no idea why he was made. Or why his father—their nation’s greatest traitor—once tried to destroy the automatons.

Suddenly, the Scriptorium isn’t just trying to control Karis; it’s hunting her. Together with Alix, Karis must find her brother…and the secret that’s held her country in its power for centuries.

My Review

I think this book was pretty good. I struggled with a few things, but it’s hard to tell if they’re personal issues or problems with the story. I’ll explain, but I want to talk about the good stuff first.

So first, I enjoyed the setting. Something about it felt vaguely Roman (oops– it’s based on Ancient Greece, so not Roman!) to me. I loved the pirate crew and especially Zara, with her no-nonsense, never-give-up sensibilities. I liked the friendship between Karis and Alix, and the way she identified with him and his past as well as her love for her brother.

All that said, I struggled a bit with Alix’s character. In the story, there are giant machines called automatons that have been lying dormant for a long time, and the people holding Karis captive have been studying them, trying to figure out how to get them working again. In general, it seems like they have kind of an interactive book that can be used to control them. Write a command, and the automaton will execute that command. So they’re kind of like robots operated with magic??

Except then, enter Alix, who is similar to an automaton, but not?? Because he has a personality and LOTS of emotions and the ability to think for himself and choose his own actions. He still has a book that can be used to control him, though.

I guess, I felt like I didn’t really get what he was supposed to be. I kept expecting him to be more like a high level android, with internal calculations and limits and maybe emotions layered on top of that? But it seemed like, no, he was really supposed to be exactly like a person, but also an automaton.

It felt confusing to me. I don’t know if my expectations got in the way of the story or if more explanation would have been helpful? I’m not really sure. But it definitely became an obstacle to me enjoying the story.

Other than that, I enjoyed the story, though, and I thought it was great to see a book focus on a friendship relationship rather than a romance and to center an aromantic asexual character. I thought that was very nicely done.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

The main character identifies as aromantic asexual. One minor character is nonbinary. Another is gay. Other minor characters represent different races and cultures.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
Brief kissing between boy and girl. One boy identifies another boy as his lover.

Spiritual Content
Some characters have the ability to read or write magic runes that have an effect on objects and automatons around them.

Violent Content
Some reference to human slavery. A couple brief battle scenes.

Drug Content
The captain purchases a round of drinks for the crew at a tavern. (What they drink isn’t specified.)

Note: I received a free copy of THIS GOLDEN FLAME in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support running this blog.

12 YA Books I Can’t Wait to Read Coming September 2020

September at Last!

All the changes this past spring with lock-downs and social distancing and online learning threw me for a loop. It also delayed a lot of the books I’d been looking forward to reading, which meant I spent the summer scrambling to catch up on the ARCs that publishers had sent me. I’m finally seeing a light at the end of the reading tunnel so to speak, and it’s just in time to jump into the amazing line-up of YA books coming out in September 2020.

Happy Book Birthday to September 1st Releases!

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

What you need to know: Written by award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five. Tells the story of a Black Muslim teen wrongfully convicted of a crime and his desperate fight for truth and freedom.

Available September 1, 2020 | My Review

Majesty (American Royals #2) by Katharine McGee

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What you need to know: Three descendants of America’s first king (George Washington) battle for love and power in the sequel to AMERICAN ROYALS.

Available September 1, 2020

Blood & Honey (Serpent & Dove #2) by Shelby Mahurin

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What you need to know: The stakes are higher, the magic more dangerous, and the players more desperate in this fiery sequel to SERPENT & DOVE.

Available September 1, 2020

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

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What you need to know: This Own Voices debut is set during Día de Muertos. Features Latinx magic, a trans main character, and ghost love interest.

Available September 1, 2020

Not Your #LoveStory by Sonia Hartl

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

What you need to know: #PlaneBae meets Gilmore Girls. A rising YouTube star who reviews VHS tapes, fake dating, and a shy boy next door.

Available September 1, 2020 | My Review

More Great YA Books Coming September 2020

The Other Side of the Sky by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

What you need to know: High stakes, forbidden love, and an incredible story by the team who gave us the Starbound Trilogy.

Available September 8, 2020

These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

What you need to know: A secret society that can deal out favors or social ruin and one girl determined to take them down. Looks deliciously suspenseful.

Available September 8, 2020 | My Review

Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

What you need to know: Own Voices retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice. Magical realism, music, trauma recovery, and first love.

Available September 15, 2020 | My Review

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

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What you need to know:

Available September 15, 2020

Smash It! by Francina Simone

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

What you need to know: A hot mess heroine who’s ready to stand up instead of back. I’ve heard some conflicting response to this book and mentions of problematic content.

Available September 22, 2020 | My Review

Dear Hero by Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

What you need to know: A matching site pairs a hero and villain… who start to fall in love? Sounds really fun and cute.

Available September 28, 2020

Fence: Striking Distance by Sarah Rees Brennan

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

What you need to know: Inspired by the award-nominated comic series by C.S. Pacat and Johanna The Mad. Drama, fencing, bad dates, and adventure. I’m a huge fan of Sarah Rees Brennan, so I’m really excited about this one.

Available September 29, 2020

What are you reading this September?

Have you read any of the books on this list? What new releases are you most excited to check out?

Review: Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes
Thomas Nelson
Publishes on July 10th, 2018

Amazon | Barnes & Noble Goodreads

About Fawkes

Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did it. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

My Review

Nadine Brandes’ latest YA book was an incredible allegorical take on the conflict during the Protestant Reformation. It zeroes on just one of the many conflicts that went on at that time, and presents it in a new way with a fantasy slant.

What I loved:

  • Color magic
  • Emma. She is such a brilliant, fierce character.
  • The romance. This is exactly how YA romances should be—a balance between two characters, where they support each other and help each other grow.
  • That ending (!)
  • All the heart in this book.

So many YA books these days lack warmth and heart, so it was refreshing to get to read a book where characters cared deeply, loved fearlessly, and were genuine.

What I didn’t love:

  • It took a long time to get started. I wasn’t properly “hooked” till about 2/3 through.
  • All the indecision. Thomas would voice a belief in one thing, and then flip-flop about it in the next scene. It was very frustrating that it took him so long to find conviction!
  • Some of the sentences used very modern vernacular, and it threw me off. It didn’t happen too often, but when it did, it was jarring.

While I can’t say I loved this book as much as some of Brandes’ other work, it was still a great novel that is well worth the read. (That ending, people! It slayed me–in the best way. 😉 )

Recommended for Ages 14 and up

Cultural Elements
Infrequent use of the word “negro” in keeping with the time period. Characters also described as African. Mention of slavery, and mistreatment of Africans. Thomas sees an African for the first time, and is startled. MAJOR SPOILER: one main character is revealed to be of African and English descent. END SPOILER.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Some name-calling, and mention of “wh—houses” as a reference to prostitution. 

Romance/Sexual Content
Mention of prostitution. One non-detailed kiss. Mention of mistresses.

Spiritual Content
Faith isn’t explicitly mentioned, but the battle between Keepers and Igniters is implied to be allegorical take on the Protestant Reformation (including a brief mention of Luther). Spoiler: White Light could be interpreted to be a reference to the Holy Spirit. End Spoiler.

Violent Content
Semi-graphic descriptions of stone plague, injuries, executions. Some are fairly disturbing.

Drug Content
Characters consume wine and ale. Some minor characters are drunk. 

Note: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

The Belles
Dhonielle Clayton
Published on February 6th, 2018

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About The Belles

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Gabrielle’s Review

I had heard so much hype about this book, that I decided I had to read it and see for myself. I would describe this book as a cupcake. Fairly bland fluff, with too-sweet, artificial-tasting frosting. I wanted this book to be as amazing as I’d heard, but unfortunately, it just didn’t live up to its hype.

The characters felt like puppets, and there was many interactions that felt forced. A lot of the conversations went like this:
“Hello, how are you?”
“I’m doing great. Just got some beauty work done.”
“Oh. Looks nice.”
“Why don’t you love it?!?”
“Because I don’t!!”
“I hate you!!”
“Me too!!”

And I’d be left wondering what in the world just happened. (Yes, this is highly exaggerated, but a lot of the dialogue felt just like this.) I really didn’t understand or connect to any of the characters because of the odd dialogue and how quickly things escalated. It just felt fake.

The plot wasn’t much better—things happened because they were supposed to, not because it was inevitable. I think part of what caused this was that the book seemed so agenda-driven. The story should come first, not the theme. It was very heavy-handed.

The one redeeming quality about this book was the world-building. It was gorgeous, and lush, and everything a magical setting should be. I loved learning about how it worked, and the society as a whole. The teacup animals were definitely my favorite part. I’m really hoping that the sequel(s) will give us a bigger picture of the what’s going on in their world.

Overall, I’m just relieved to be done with this one so I can move on to something more interesting. 2 stars out of 5.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 and up

Cultural Elements
Wide variety of skin tones and body shapes in this book, and nearly all are portrayed as being beautiful (overweight villain characters the main exception). The main character is described as having brown skin. Includes the normalization of homosexual and transgender characters as follows: a handful of mentions of homosexual relationships, a headline mentioning a transgender character, one courtier is in love with her lady’s maid, the queen has a mistress, and another character is hinted at being transgender. 

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None that I can recall.

Romance/Sexual Content
One attempted rape. Characters kiss (with and without tongue), semi-described, including homosexual characters. Characters are unclothed for beauty work. Breast sizes and shapes are discussed.

Spiritual Content
The goddess of beauty is frequently mentioned and referred to. The Belles’ power is attributed to her. There is also a god of the sky mentioned.

Violent Content
Characters are poisoned, and symptoms are described in detail. One graphic death. Disturbing descriptions of cruelty. Injuries and attacks. The Belles use leeches to reset their talents.

Drug Content
Graphic poisonings. Bei powder is sprinkled on characters undergoing beauty work. They also drink a Belle-rose tea, an anesthetic.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Part-Time Diary of an Indian
Sherman Alexie
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

After a school incident provokes a teacher to challenge fifteen year-old Junior, he leaves the school on the Spokane Indian Reservation for an all-white school in a nearby town with better resources. At first, Junior’s new schoolmates shun him for being different, and at home, his friends shun him for being a traitor and leaving the reservation. Through cartoon drawings and frank narrative, Junior wrestles with his own sense of value and the value of his people.

My Review

Part of what makes this story so powerful is the fact that we see not only Junior’s internal struggles as he wrestles with his identity and value, but that we see the culture and people of the reservation through his eyes as well. We clearly feel his warring love and frustration. We cringe at the gaffs of (sometimes) well-meaning white people who come to the reservation or who interact with Junior at school.

I feel like it shouldn’t take a novel so poignantly written to take me outside my own point-of-view and really make me think about how things sound or come across, well-meaning or not. Sometimes it does take being forced to imagine life from a completely perspective in order to succeed in doing so.

The poverty in which so many of the families lived is portrayed so vividly. Sadly, stupidly, I had never even thought about this, and I’m ashamed to admit that. We talk about ending world hunger and people talk about children in the US being hungry, too. I just really hadn’t thought to look further for names and faces, if that makes sense?

I loved that though Junior’s diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, his story isn’t defined by this condition. He’s a talented artist and basketball player as well as a loving son, brother and friend. (This sounds like a eulogy…. He doesn’t die in the story, I promise.)

Another thing that was really well-described was the difference in the sense of community in the town of Reardon vs the sense of community at the reservation. Junior points things out directly a few times, but the story itself shows the ways in which the culture of each is different and how Junior responds differently in each place.

Banned Book

I’d been meaning to read this story for a while because several times I’ve heard of different school districts banning the book for the sexual content. I can understand how, as a conservative parent trying to teach your child that masturbation is morally wrong, handing your child a book which bluntly states that it’s something everyone does and everyone enjoys would be problematic.

On the one hand, I’m not a huge fan of book banning. On the other hand, I’m a fan of having freedom to raise children according to moral and spiritual doctrines of my choosing, even if they’re contrary to popular belief or opinion. So… I’d say it’s a tough call.

I also believe that issues like this within literature can make for a great opportunity to discuss beliefs and why our family believes certain things or does things a certain way that other people might not follow. But it’s certainly not the only opportunity for discussion.

I found this book to be a valuable voice in children’s literature. I understand why some parents might choose not to read this book or allow their kids to read it. Despite the brief content, though, I feel like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian gives an important perspective. For me, it was definitely worth reading.

Content Notes

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Some crude language and mild profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Junior briefly discusses his feelings about masturbation – mainly, that everyone does it and everyone enjoys it. Later, one of his friends drags him to the library and describes being there as an experience which should give one a metaphorical “boner.”

Junior gives a gift to his best friend Rowdy. Rowdy’s dad makes fun of the gesture, calling Junior derogatory names.

Junior has a girlfriend at school. They exchange brief kisses. Her father makes a somewhat crude comment warning Junior to keep his hands and other areas of interest to himself.

Spiritual Content
Brief references to cultural ceremonies.

After the loss of a family members and a dear friend, Junior grieves. He describes the process, saying at one point that he “mocked God.” A cartoon shows a crowd of people making fun of Jesus.

Junior gets beat up a lot on the reservation. His best friend’s father beats him up, and his friend in turn beats other kids up. Junior describes the social climate on the reservation as having strict rules which require you to fight anyone who insults you or your family. Later, off the reservation, a boy at school insults him, and Junior punches him. He is puzzled when the boy doesn’t fight back.

Drug Content
References to drug abuse and alcoholism happening at the reservation. Junior’s dad is an alcoholic. Several deaths in the story have a direct relationship to alcohol abuse.


Review: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This Is Where It Ends
Marieke Nijkamp

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

It begins with the closing of the principal’s speech at Opportunity High. Confusion rustles through the auditorium as students discover the locked doors. Then one door opens, and a boy enters. A boy with a gun.

Four alternating viewpoints, each a student with a connection to the shooter, relate this tense, heartbreaking tale about a community ripped apart by violence. The story spans fifty-four minutes.

This Is Where It Ends includes a diverse body of characters across lines of race, religion, and sexual preference. As a YA reader and reviewer, I’ve commented before that I wish there were more stories featuring Muslim characters in which they or their family members aren’t portrayed as terrorists. I think especially right now, we need those voices. We need those stories. Fareed was probably my favorite character. He was kind, smart, patient, and loyal, but he got things done, too. I loved that he wasn’t defeated by other people’s prejudices.

I really liked that each chapter began with a timestamp. The story unfolds so rapidly, and there’s a lot of chaos and panic, and that minute-by-minute unraveling of the timeline kept things feeling critical. I feel like that high-tension plot is the real strength of the story.

In reading the different points-of-view, I often felt like I wasn’t getting as deep as I wanted to, especially early on in the story. It’s a really tough balance to strike to give enough slow insight into the characters versus keeping the narrative moving to avoid letting the tension slack off, so I think it could just be that I’m used to those slower-paced, more cerebral narratives, or prefer them.

There’s a heroic moment in which one character basically gives their life for another character. I love that gesture and how brave it was, but I felt like because of how it unfolded in the plot, it didn’t have to happen and was kind of just this little pause for, “okay, then this person we like dies, and moving on again.” I wanted it to mean more. However, the truth is, that in situations like this, there often isn’t a big moment that means something for each casualty, you know? I think because of who this character is, I expected it to mean more.

There’s never a good time to read a tragic story, but it is always the right time to be reminded of courage.

It is early December as I write this review. It’s always difficult to review a story about a situation like this in the wake of a real life event like what happened in San Bernandino. I was reading Black Helicopters, a story about a terrorist bombing, when the bombing happened in Boston in 2013. I’ve had This Is Where It Ends in my review queue for some time, but there hasn’t seemed a good time to read it.

I can only say that we need to be reminded that people of good heart, of moral courage come from every background, despite what other voices and what our own fears would have us believe. We need to hold on to the truth that we are all created equal, all worthy of love, all valuable. And Marieke Nijkamp’s brave story, though cloaked in the senseless tragedy of a school shooting, reminds us of these critically important beliefs.

Language Content
Extreme profanity used with moderate frequency.

Sexual Content
We learn that a girl was raped, but no details about the incident. Two girls have a romantic relationship. They hold hands and kiss.

Spiritual Content
Sylvia prays occasionally through the story, and remembers sharing in spiritual traditions of her Mexican family. Fareed whispers prayers as well (he is a Muslim.) At the end of the story, survivors gather at a candlelight vigil and pray according to their faiths.

A teenage boy shoots students, teachers and staff at his high school. One person is killed by asphyxiation. An abusive man beats his children, leaving them bruised. Some of these scenes are extremely violent and some of the descriptions quite graphic. I’d say this one isn’t for the faint of heart or the very sensitive.

Drug Content
Autumn and Tyler’s dad is an abusive alcoholic.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.