Tag Archives: friendship

Review: A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar

A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar

A Million to One
Adiba Jaigirdar
HarperCollins
Published December 13, 2022

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About A Million to One

Adiba Jaigirdar, author of one of Time‘s Best YA books of all time, gives Titanic an Ocean’s 8 makeover in a heist for a treasure aboard the infamous ship that sank in the Atlantic many years ago.

A thief. An artist. A acrobat. An actress. While Josefa, Emilie, Hinnah, and Violet seemingly don’t have anything in common, they’re united in one goal: stealing the Rubaiyat, a jewel-encrusted book aboard the RMS Titanic that just might be the golden ticket to solving their problems.

But careless mistakes, old grudges, and new romance threaten to jeopardize everything they’ve worked for and put them in incredible danger when tragedy strikes. While the odds of pulling off the heist are slim, the odds of survival are even slimmer . . .

Perfect for fans of Stalking Jack the Ripper and Girl in the Blue Coat, this high-seas heist from the author of The Henna Wars is an immersive story that makes readers forget one important detail— the ship sinks.

My Review

I think my two favorite things about this book are that it’s an all-female heist and that it’s a diverse cast. The heist is carried out by four women, each with a special talent. Emilie, the forger, is Haitian and French and has romantic feelings for another woman. Hinnah is Indian and an immigrant to Ireland. She’s also an acrobat. Violet has an uncanny ability to charm her way into anything she wants. Josefa, the strategist, is hoping to help her younger brother escape an orphanage in Croatia through this job’s success.

Though at times I felt like the historical details were slim, I often lost myself in the descriptions of the Titanic. I loved the way the author described the opulence of the vessel juxtaposed against the unfolding disaster as the ship began to sink.

I also really enjoyed each of the main characters’ points of view. Each one felt specific and unique. It seemed like the chapters just flew past as I was reading, too. I read almost this whole book in a single day, which isn’t usual for me these days.

On the whole, I super enjoyed the intersection of all the elements in A MILLION TO ONE. I would love to see more historical stories like this.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Representation
Josefa is Croatian and likes women romantically. Hinnah is Indian and estranged from her family. Emilie is Haitian and French and interested in women romantically.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used very infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between two women.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. A man pulls a knife on the girls. He holds one at knifepoint. A man with a knife pursues Josefa and the others. The ship sinks. Vague references to people drowning or having drowned.

Drug Content
Passengers drink alcohol with dinner. One character gets a bit tipsy.

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

Review: Amari and the Great Game by B. B. Alston

Amari and the Great Game (Supernatural Investigations #2)
B. B. Alston
Balzer + Bray
Published August 30, 2022

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About Amari and the Great Game

Artemis Fowl meets Men in Black in this magical second book in the New York Times and Indie bestselling Supernatural Investigations trilogy—perfect for fans of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, the Percy Jackson series, and Nevermoor.

After finding her brother and saving the entire supernatural world, Amari Peters is convinced her first full summer as a Junior Agent will be a breeze.

But between the fearsome new Head Minister’s strict anti-magician agenda, fierce Junior Agent rivalries, and her brother Quinton’s curse steadily worsening, Amari’s plate is full. So when the secretive League of Magicians offers her a chance to stand up for magiciankind as its new leader, she declines. She’s got enough to worry about!

But her refusal allows someone else to step forward, a magician with dangerous plans for the League. This challenge sparks the start of the Great Game, a competition to decide who will become the Night Brothers’ successor and determine the future of magiciankind.

The Great Game is both mysterious and deadly, but among the winner’s magical rewards is Quinton’s last hope—so how can Amari refuse?

My Review

I loved the first book in this series, so I knew I would continue reading with AMARI AND THE GREAT GAME. Amari and Elsie are my favorite characters. I love their friendship and the way they challenge each other and back each other up.

Amari feels both very believably thirteen and mature for her age. Her reactions to things make a lot of sense, and honestly, her response to some of the adults in her life has made me think back on some things from my own childhood and my reactions to things even now.

I was really fortunate in that I had a lot of trustworthy adults around me as a child. So often, even if an adult did or said something I didn’t like, I trusted that they had a good reason because my experience taught me that was probably true. But Amari doesn’t really have that experience. She does have some trustworthy adults in her mom, her mentor Magnus, and instructor Fiona. But she also has a lot of awful experiences in which her needs or her experience are denied or silenced. I guess reading the book made me stop and think about how that experience would change your reaction to adults. Anyway, just food for thought, I guess.

There were a couple of moments where I thought others’ reactions to Amari didn’t make a lot of sense and were stretched to support a plot point. For example, Amari physically can’t talk about an event because she’s taken a vow of secrecy on it. When Elsie asks her about it, Amari clams up and can’t speak. Elsie assumes that Amari is willfully keeping secrets or playing some kind of joke on her. Elsie can see auras, so I kept wondering why she couldn’t see Amari’s distress from keeping a secret from her.

There were only a few moments like that, though, and often I was able to skip past them pretty easily to focus on the next step in the plan to save her world.

Conclusion

All in all, I think fans of the first book will love getting more of the story and the relationships we loved in the first book. The story ends in an intense place, so I’m already eager for book three.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Amari and her family are Black.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
Some characters have the ability to perform magic. Some characters have been created by magicians.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Magic battles.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog.

Review: The Magic Fish by Trung le Nguyen

The Magic Fish
Trung le Nguyen
Random House Graphic
Published October 13, 2020

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About The Magic Fish

Tiến loves his family and his friends…but Tiến has a secret he’s been keeping from them, and it might change everything. An amazing YA graphic novel that deals with the complexity of family and how stories can bring us together.

Real life isn’t a fairytale.

But Tiến still enjoys reading his favorite stories with his parents from the books he borrows from the local library. It’s hard enough trying to communicate with your parents as a kid, but for Tiến, he doesn’t even have the right words because his parents are struggling with their English. Is there a Vietnamese word for what he’s going through?

Is there a way to tell them he’s gay?

A beautifully illustrated story by Trung Le Nguyen that follows a young boy as he tries to navigate life through fairytales, an instant classic that shows us how we are all connected. The Magic Fish tackles tough subjects in a way that accessible with readers of all ages, and teaches us that no matter what—we can all have our own happy endings.

My Review

One of the things this book does so cleverly is clue the reader into the different threads of the story with the color of its panels. There are different timelines and stories all being told at the same time. In the present, Tiến is figuring out his feelings for a fellow classmate and how to tell his parents he’s gay.

His mom shares memories of her own life, and later, her journey back to Vietnam to visit her family. In the midst of these stories, in Tiến’s family, they share a lot of stories with one another. For example, in some scenes, he reads fairytales to his mom. In others, his mother listens while her aunt tells her a fairytale. Each of those threads– Tiến’s perspective, his mom’s perspective, and the fairytales are color-coded so that the background of the panels is one color.

That way when the story switches to a different thread, the panels change color. It’s pretty genius. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that, and I have to say it made the story really easy to follow.

Another thing that I really liked is the fairytales themselves. I loved the choices the author made in terms of what the settings looked like for those stories– that’s something we kind of take for granted in reading fairytales in text, I think. But it’s really clear that the author made very purposeful, carefully considered choices about the clothes and backgrounds of each of the tales. I loved that.

The author’s note points up the fact that cultures all over the world have their own versions of tales like Cinderella. For some of those stories, like Cinderella, the western version wasn’t even the first version of the story. I loved that the author points this out in the note at the end of the book.

Conclusion

So I feel like I talked a lot about the setup and background of the story, but let me say that I also really enjoyed reading THE MAGIC FISH. They way Tiến wrestles with what to say to his family felt very real. I love the way his family used stories to bond with and communicate with each other.

There’s something really special about a story that can transcend genre and tell a transcendent story as well. I think THE MAGIC FISH does that beautifully.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Representation
Tiến is gay and Vietnamese American. His best friend Claire is Black.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
Tiến has a crush on a boy.

Spiritual Content
A priest speaks to Tiến about his feelings. We only see the beginning of the conversation, but it’s clear he says some deeply homophobic things.

Fairytales contain magic and spirits. One is about the grandfather of the sea, a man who rides on the back of a skeleton and tries to claim a girl for his bride. Others contain mermaids. In one animals speak to humans.

Violent Content
Brief references to prison camps in Vietnam. Some of the fairytales have some dark themes or scenes. In one, a woman stabs another through her heart. A woman unknowingly consumes a meal made from her daughter. A tipped over container of the soup shows it contained human bones.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog.

Review: Wish of the Wicked by Danielle Paige

Wish of the Wicked
Danielle Paige
Bloomsbury
November 14, 2023

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About Wish of the Wicked

Bestselling author Danielle Paige puts a dark spin on fairy godmothers in a new YA series for fans of Brigid Kemmerer and Maleficent.

For centuries, the enchanted members of the Entente have worked in tandem with the Three Fates—the Present, the Past, and the Future—to maintain destiny across the Thirteen Queendoms. But when Queen Magrit learns of her untimely demise from Hecate, Fate of the Future, Magrit burns Hecate at the stake and decrees death to all Entente in order to live forever.

But some survive, including sixteen-year-old Farrow, who hatches a dangerous plan to seek revenge. Along the way, she finds herself falling for the one person who could ruin everything. With life and love hanging in the balance, she must decide who to trust and what’s most important: living in the past or forging a new future.

Bestselling author Danielle Paige launches a brand-new fairy godmother origin story full of intrigue, magic, and romance.

My Review

I found the pacing of this one a little different than I expected. Sometimes an origin story takes us right up to the beginning of a familiar tale, or right up to a character’s involvement in a familiar tale. I expected something like that here. To follow Farrow’s story until she meets a crying girl in a wrecked dress who just wants to go to the ball.

Instead, about half of the book tells Farrow’s history, relating how she has magic, what happened to drive her to the palace, and why she’s interested in helping Cinderella in the first place. The second half basically tells the story of Cinderella, but from the fairy godmother’s point-of-view.

My favorite parts of the book were how the setup changed or reflected the story of Cinderella. I really liked the setup involving Cinderella’s step-family. That reflected the original story and turned it around completely differently. It created connections between the fairy godmother and the family that added a lot of interest and stakes.

I also expected a lot more romance in the book. There are a couple of kissing scenes, but they’re mostly performative, and Farrow spends so much time focused on revenge and survival that she barely spares a thought to her feelings about a certain boy. It’s possible that the romance develops more in a subsequent book in the series, though.

All in all, I thought this was an imaginative origin story/retelling with some clever changes to the original tale. Fairy tale readers will like getting the often-overlooked perspective of the fairy godmother in a female-dominated cast.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Farrow is described as having light brown skin.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. At one point, a boy’s friends tease him and ask him to have Farrow disrobe in front of them as part of the aftermath of a ceremony where she’s presented to him. She obliges, down to her undergarments.

Spiritual Content
Some characters have magic. Three of the Entente have the ability to see events: past, present, or future. Some characters refer to Fate as a source of power or guidance.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Some brief descriptions of women being burned alive or drowned. A few scenes contain some body horror, in which a person’s body transforms into beetles, bees, or scorpions. Soldiers attack using magic-suppressing weapons.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything but help support this blog. I received a free copy of WISH OF THE WICKED in exchange for my honest review.

Review: No One Left But You by Tash McAdam

No One Left But You
Tash McAdam
Soho Teen
November 7, 2023

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About No One Left But You

A trans teen is swept up in a whirlwind friendship with lethal consequences in this taut YA thriller, for fans of Sadie, K. Ancrum and HBO’s Euphoria.

BEFORE

Newly out trans guy Max is having a hard time in school. Things have been tough since his summer romance, Danny, turned into his bully. This year, his plan is to keep his head down and graduate. All that changes when new It-girl Gloss moves to town. No one understands why perfect, polished Gloss is so interested in an introverted skater kid, but Max blooms in the hothouse of her attention. Caught between romance and obsession, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her on his side.

AFTER

Haircuts, makeovers, drugs, parties. It’s all fun and games until someone gets killed at a rager gone terribly wrong. Max refuses to believe that Gloss did it. But if not Gloss, who? Desperate to figure out truth in the wake of tragedy, Max veers dangerously close to being implicated—and his own memories of that awful night are fuzzy.

Both sharp-edged thriller and moving coming-of-age, this gorgeously wrought novel is perfect for readers who want stories with trans characters front-and-center.

My Review

I’m going to go ahead and admit that I laughed at some things in this book that I don’t think were meant to be funny. For example, at one point, the main character is making a point that he’s noticing some recovery from previous depression. He says something like, “I’m finally asking myself normal questions, like ‘do I want to do mushrooms in the woods with a girl I might like.” And I don’t want to minimize the shift in his mental state or the joy of noticing a new distance from depressed thoughts.

But also, I couldn’t help laughing at how differently I defined “normal questions” in my own high school experience. It struck me funny.

Interesting comparisons aside, though, Max’s emotional journey through the book really packs a punch. The story travels from him peeling apart his feelings about an ex he’s not over to exploring new feelings for a girl who might be too cool for him to reeling from grief over a sudden loss. Every emotion felt real and raw, drawing me deep into Max’s story.

The cover copy hints that Max grapples with hazy memories of the time of the murder, but the story doesn’t really focus on that much. It’s much more about Max trying desperately to understand why this person died and what the relationship meant to him. Those threads are so well-spun that I rocketed through the book from start to finish.

I think readers who enjoy Caleb Roehrig’s mystery books will love this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Representation
Max is a transgender boy. A minor character is Black. Another character is gay but closeted.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between two boys. In one scene, two boys go into a tent to have sex. We know they undress and that one asks the other permission to have sex, and the scene fades to black. In another scene, a group of teens decides to skinny dip at the beach. Some people choose to keep their shirts on.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Kids at school (often boys) bully Max after he comes out as transgender. They misgender him on purpose and shoulder-check him as he walks by. A boy shoves Max against a wall and kisses him hard enough to bruise and split his lip.

References to Max’s mom using his deadname. She misgenders him repeatedly in the couple of scenes where she appears.

Someone dies of a cut throat. One scene shows them dying.

Drug Content
Max smokes pot and drinks alcohol with his friends in multiple scenes. In one scene, he and a girl drink mushroom tea. In another, a girl pushes a pill from her mouth into his.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything but help support this blog. I received a free copy of NO ONE LEFT BUT YOU in exchange for my honest review.

Review: With or Without You by Eric Smith

With or Without You
Eric Smith
Inkyard Press
Published November 7, 2023

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About With or Without You

New from Eric Smith comes a delightful YA rom-com about two teens caught in the middle of their families’ orchestrated rivalry between their Philly cheesesteak food trucks.

All’s fair in love and (food truck) war.

Everyone knows Jordan Plazas and Cindy Ortiz hate each other.

According to many viral videos of their public shouting matches, the Plazas and Ortiz families have a well-known food truck rivalry. Jordan and Cindy have spent all of high school making cheesesteaks and slinging insults at each other across their shared Philadelphia street.

But the truth? They’re in love, and it’s all just an act for the tourists.

When the fake feud lands them a reality TV show pilot, Jordan and Cindy find themselves having to lie on a much bigger scale. Trapped between pursuing their dreams or their love, can they find a way to have their cheesesteak and eat it too?

My Review

I think my favorite thing about this book is that it gives you a standalone romance storyline, but the kind of plot you don’t usually get unless you read a series. Jordan and Cindy are together at the start of the story, so there’s none of the figuring out if the other person has feelings. It’s all about the tension between the public rivalry between Cindy and Jordan and their families and their private lives, which include a romantic relationship.

There’s a lot of cool stuff happening in this book, too. From loads of musical references to very different approaches to food truck fare and ingredients, I felt like I got the characters and could easily picture their reactions to things that happened.

I also think the story has a great balance in focus on its characters. Both Jordan’s and Cindy’s parents have unique personalities, but none of them dominate the story. Understanding their characters helps us better understand Cindy and Jordan, but they also feel like fully developed characters on their own.

One of my favorite things about the book (besides the excellent breakdown of a perfect breakfast sandwich) is the banter between the characters. I loved the snarky comments and goofy exchanges with friends. Those scenes felt natural and made me laugh out loud more than once.

I think readers who enjoy books about food and friendships or reality TV and sweet romance will find so much to love in this fun tribute to Philadelphia and food truck life.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Both Cindy and Jordan are Latine and American.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used very infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
A boy calls a girl some unkind names. Banter escalates into a bit of a scuffle, but it’s quickly defused.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of WITH OR WITHOUT YOU in exchange for my honest review.