Publisher: Harlequin Teen

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Review: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

January 30, 2017 Diversity 4, Reviews 0 ★★★★

Review: Our Own Private Universe by Robin TalleyOur Own Private Universe by Robin Talley
Published by Harlequin Teen on January 31, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: print ARC from the publisher
Goodreads
four-stars
Fifteen-year-old Aki Simon has a theory. And it's mostly about sex.

No, it isn't that kind of theory. Aki already knows she's bisexual—even if, until now, it's mostly been in the hypothetical sense. Aki has dated only guys so far, and her best friend, Lori, is the only person who knows she likes girls, too.

Actually, Aki's theory is that she's got only one shot at living an interesting life—and that means she's got to stop sitting around and thinking so much. It's time for her to actually do something. Or at least try.

So when Aki and Lori set off on a church youth-group trip to a small Mexican town for the summer and Aki meets Christa—slightly older, far more experienced—it seems her theory is prime for the testing.

But it's not going to be easy. For one thing, how exactly do two girls have sex, anyway? And more important, how can you tell if you're in love? It's going to be a summer of testing theories—and the result may just be love.

Diversity: 4 – This Is Our World

Racial-Ethnic: 3 (Aki and her brother are biracial, as is Aunt Miranda; lots of Mexican characters in the background)
QUILTBAG: 5 (three bisexual characters, an out-and-proud lesbian, use of the more inclusive LGBTQIA acronym, and the book is basically Forever… for queer girls)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 4 (really engages with the difficulties of being a queer girl and mentions racial attitudes toward queerness at one point)

At some point in your life, I hope you’ve gotten unexpected mail that was so wonderful it made you scream. I’ve had two such moments: when a letter arrived telling me I’d been offered a full-ride scholarship to a college I applied to (I recently graduated from the same college) and when Our Own Private Universe appeared on my doorstep. Talley’s previous novels with Harlequin Teen have seen a lot of criticism lately and they raise valid points. I loved Lies We Tell Ourselves and have no problem admitting that! With Our Own Private Universe, Talley is moving in the right direction and has written a book I expect parents will pass onto their children the way they do Forever… by Judy Blume. Read more »

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Review: Daughter Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

November 2, 2015 Diversity 0, Reviews 1 ★★★★

Review: Daughter Unto Devils by Amy LukavicsDaughter Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics
Published by Harlequin Teen on September 29, 2015
Genres: Historical, YA, YA Historical, YA Horror
Pages: 240
Format: eARC
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars
When sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner's family decides to move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, she hopes it is her chance for a fresh start. She can leave behind the memory of the past winter; of her sickly ma giving birth to a baby sister who cries endlessly; of the terrifying visions she saw as her sanity began to slip, the victim of cabin fever; and most of all, the memories of the boy she has been secretly meeting with as a distraction from her pain. The boy whose baby she now carries.

When the Verners arrive at their new home, a large cabin abandoned by its previous owners, they discover the inside covered in blood. And as the days pass, it is obvious to Amanda that something isn't right on the prairie. She's heard stories of lands being tainted by evil, of men losing their minds and killing their families, and there is something strange about the doctor and his son who live in the woods on the edge of the prairie. But with the guilt and shame of her sins weighing on her, Amanda can't be sure if the true evil lies in the land, or deep within her soul.

Diversity Rating: 0 – What Diversity?

Racial-Ethnic: 0
QUILTBAG: 0
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 0

YA is in need of some good horror novels and Daughter Unto Devils is ready to answer that call and scare your clothes off this fall in a very nonromantic way. Also good for Thanksgiving if you’re especially angry at crimes committed against Native Americans over the last six centuries or so. ANYWAY. This is far from what I expected from Harlequin Teen as someone familiar with the kind of work they publish, but Daughter Unto Devils is among their best novels by far.

From the very first page, Lukavics is hard at work creating the eerie, open-yet-claustrophobic atmosphere that really makes this novel. Whether the Verner family is trapped on their mountain and in their home by snow or in their new home in the middle of an open prairie, the devil Amanda is certain she saw the winter before always seems to be on her heels. Surprisingly few spooky things actually happen, but once the gore and action really kick in at the end of the novel, the sparseness of events before makes everything that much more frightening.

The characters aren’t great, especially Amanda’s cardboard-like younger siblings Joanna and Charles, but pregnancy’s effect on Amanda and her relationship with her next-closest sister Emily are effective and well-written. Horror fans used to seeing characterization replaced by scares won’t be too surprised by the lacking characterization. Almost the entirety of the novel is about the Verner family leaving the mountain and settling in their new, mysteriously-blood-drenched new home, not the spooky things happening to them. This is a novel about atmosphere, not happenings, so if Amanda’s voice doesn’t immediately grab you or sell you on the spooky, you’re probably gonna have a bad time.

As satisfying as Daughter Unto Devils is, it leaves you wanting too. How much of the evil followed the Verners from the mountain and how much was waiting for them on the prairie? What brought the evil to the prairie in the first place if the massacre previously committed in the new home was a result of the evil, not the cause? Did someone–like Native Americans who aren’t in the novel at all but are the go-to cause of curses and the paranormal in horror–do something to make the white people kicking them off their own land suffer or did evil always live there? So many questions are left unanswered and the trademark final punch might leave you angry this is such a short little standalone.

Someone give Lukavics more book deals because she’s a one-of-a-kind voice in horror and I love what she does. Subtle horror beats out-and-out gore for me every time. In case your Halloween season consists of munching on candy and reading spooky books, Daughter Unto Devils is a necessary addition to the tower of terrifying lit.

BINGO 9 Daughter Unto Devils

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Review: Storm by Amanda Sun

July 31, 2015 Diversity 3, Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: Storm by Amanda SunStorm by Amanda Sun
Series: The Paper Gods #3
Published by Harlequin Teen on June 30, 2015
Genres: YA, YA Paranormal
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: finished copy from Amazon Vine
Goodreads
three-stars
After almost a year in Japan, Katie Greene has finally unearthed the terrible secret behind her boyfriend Tomohiro's deadly ability to bring drawings to life—not only is he descended from Kami, the ancient Japanese gods, but he is the heir to a tragedy that occurred long ago, a tragedy that is about to repeat.

Even as the blood of a vengeful god rages inside Tomo, Katie is determined to put his dark powers to sleep. In order to do so, she and Tomo must journey to find the three Imperial Treasures of Japan. Gifts from the goddess Amaterasu herself, these treasures could unlock all of the secrets about Tomo's volatile ancestry and quell the ink's lust for destruction. But in order to complete their quest, Tomo and Katie must confront out-of-control Kami and former friend Jun, who has begun his own quest of revenge against those he believes have wronged him. To save the world, and themselves, Katie and Tomo will be up against one of the darkest Kami creations they've ever encountered—and they may not make it out alive.

Diversity Rating: 3 – Closer to Reality

Racial-Ethnic: 5 (most characters are Japanese)
QUILTBAG: 2 (Ishikawa is gay, but his role troubles me)
Disability: 0
Intersectionality: 2 (Gay Japanese boy, Tomo from one-parent family, and others)

Though my ratings for this series have been a bit middling in the past (3.5 for the first book, 2 for the second), my feelings for this series are a lot more enthusiastic. How on earth were Katie and Tomohiro supposed to make it together when them being around one another actually causes him harm? Would the triad Jun proposed actually happen? (Probably not, BUT I HAD A DREAM AND I HAD HOPE.) Sometimes, there are things you care a great deal about even if you don’t care much for them. That make sense? Whatever. Storm makes for a solid finale, but it wraps itself up perhaps too neatly in the end. Read more »

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Review: Rain by Amanda Sun

December 30, 2014 Reviews 1 ★★½

Review: Rain by Amanda SunRain by Amanda Sun
Series: The Paper Gods #2
Published by Harlequin Teen on June 24, 2014
Genres: YA, YA Paranormal
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
two-half-stars
American Katie Green has decided to stay in Japan. She's started to build a life in the city of Shizuoka, and she can't imagine leaving behind her friends, her aunt and especially Tomohiro, the guy she's fallen in love with. But her return is not as simple as she thought. She's flunking out of Japanese school and committing cultural faux pas wherever she goes. Tomohiro is also struggling—as a Kami, his connection to the ancient gods of Japan and his power to bring drawings to life have begun to spiral out of control.

When Tomo decides to stop drawing, the ink finds other ways to seep into his life—blackouts, threatening messages and the appearance of unexplained sketches. Unsure how to help Tomo, Katie turns to an unexpected source for help—Jun, her former friend and a Kami with an agenda of his own. But is Jun really the ally he claims to be? In order to save themselves, Katie and Tomohiro must unravel the truth about Tomo's dark ancestry, as well as Katie's, and confront one of the darkest gods in Japanese legend.

Close to four years have passed since the Great Computer Crashes stopped me from reading manga online, but my desire for the feel of it has never gone away. Ink, with its setting and art and its love of shoujo manga tropes, was exactly what I wanted and needed when I read it in early 2013. So was Rain anticipated? OH YEAH. Too bad the appeal wasn’t as strong this time around thanks to poor female representation and enough angst to kill several fictional characters.

Read more »

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Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

September 15, 2014 Reviews 1 ★★★★★

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin TalleyLies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Published by Harlequin Teen on September 30, 2014
Genres: YA Historical
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: BEA 2014
five-stars
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

The way I’ve pitched this novel to people ever since I saw the deal for it is “interracial lesbian couple in the midst of desegregation in 1959 Virginia.” Most have been convinced by that because I have pretty awesome friends and I’ve gone green with envy upon seeing other reviewers get copies or talk about how good it was. So highly anticipated was it that I made it my number-one priority at BEA 2014! All that excitement? Worth it. Lies We Tell Ourselves is a painful novel to read, but its importance is impossible to explain. Read more »

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Review: Ghost House by Alexandra Adornetto

August 11, 2014 Reviews 3

Review: Ghost House by Alexandra AdornettoGhost House by Alexandra Adornetto
Series: The Ghost House Saga #1
Published by Harlequin Teen on August 26, 2014
Genres: Gothic, YA, YA Paranormal
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: BEA 2014
zero-stars
From the New York Times bestselling author of Halo comes the start of a beautiful and powerful new series.

After the loss of her mother, Chloe Kennedy starts seeing the ghosts that haunted her as a young girl again. Spending time at her grandmother's country estate in the south of England is her chance to get away from her grief and the spirits that haunt her. Until she meets a mysterious stranger…

Alexander Reade is 157 years dead, with secrets darker than the lake surrounding Grange Hall and a lifelike presence that draws Chloe more strongly than any ghost before. But the bond between them awakens the vengeful spirit of Alexander's past love, Isobel. And she will stop at nothing to destroy anyone who threatens to take him from her.

To stop Isobel, Chloe must push her developing abilities to their most dangerous limits, even if it means losing Alex forever… and giving the hungry dead a chance to claim her for their own.

I am no stranger to Alexandra Adornetto’s work; against my better judgment, I read her entire Halo trilogy and hated almost every page of it for its anti-feminist themes, internalized misogyny, poor plotting/pacing/writing, and general poor quality. Ghost House was never something on my radar, but it ended up in my possession at BEA and I didn’t want to just abandon it. According to some behind-the-scenes gossip I heard, she’s supposed to be a much better writer now than she once was. Would it kill me to give her another shot and see if her craft has improved? It definitely didn’t kill me, but it hurt a good bit. Anyone who has read Halo or either of its sequels should expect the same level of quality here. Read more »

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Review: The Dark World by Cara Lynn Shultz

June 13, 2014 Reviews 0 ★★★

Review: The Dark World by Cara Lynn ShultzThe Dark World by Cara Lynn Shultz
Series: Dark World #1
Published by Harlequin Teen on May 27, 2014
Genres: YA Paranormal
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: finished copy from Amazon Vine
three-stars
Paige Kelly is used to weird--in fact, she probably corners the market on weird, considering that her best friend, Dottie, has been dead since the 1950s. But when a fire demon attacks Paige in detention, she has to admit that things have gotten out of her league. Luckily, the cute new boy in school, Logan Bradley, is a practiced demon slayer-and he isn't fazed by Paige's propensity to chat with the dead. Suddenly, Paige is smack in the middle of a centuries-old battle between warlocks and demons, learning to fight with a magic sword so that she can defend herself. And if she makes one wrong move, she'll be pulled into the Dark World, an alternate version of our world that's overrun by demons-and she might never make it home.

Well, this turned out a little better than expected. Shultz’s other novels have not been very well-regarded among most of my trusted friends (I say most because one friend was really into them), but the plot of The Dark World promised me demons and that is exactly what I’m in the mood for right now. While the romance is sweet and the worldbuilding is good other than some confusion I had, The Dark World is ultimately a mixed bag of a novel due mostly in part to Paige herself. Read more »

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