YA Romance Reviews

EMERGE by Tobie Easton: YA Fantasy with Humor and Heart

emerge
Image from Amazon.com

Imagine being a teenager who has to deal with the challenges of not one but two societies: human and Mer.

EMERGE is a fun, unexpected read that adds some major twists to the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale: “The Little Mermaid.” For someone who grew up with Disney’s The Little Mermaid (and obsessed over the thing to the point that my entire bedroom was mermaid themed), this book has an added charm. I could tell Easton had a lot of fun defining her story against popular culture’s idea of mermaids and their history.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads.com:

Lia Nautilus may be a Mermaid but she’s never lived in the ocean. War has ravaged the seven seas ever since the infamous Little Mermaid unleashed a curse that stripped Mer of their immortality. Lia has grown up in a secret community of land-dwelling Mer hidden among Malibu’s seaside mansions. Her biggest problems are surviving P.E. and keeping her feelings for Clay Ericson in check. Sure, he’s gorgeous in that cocky, leather jacket sort of way and makes her feel like there’s a school of fish swimming in her stomach, but getting involved with a human could put Lia’s entire community at risk.

So it’s for the best that he’s dating that new girl, right? That is, until Lia finds out she isn’t the only one at school keeping a potentially deadly secret. And this new girl? Her eyes are dead set on Clay, who doesn’t realize the danger he’s in. If Lia hopes to save him, she’ll have to get closer to Clay. Lia’s parents would totally flip if they found out she was falling for a human boy, but the more time she spends with him, the harder it is for her to deny her feelings. After making a horrible mistake, Lia will risk everything to stop Clay from falling in love with the wrong girl.

Easton takes time to lovingly build a story world around Lia from Mer including history, language, clothing, housing, cultural traditions and so much more. While reading, I not only felt like a part of Mer society, but I enjoyed all the little details Easton wove into her vivid descriptions of setting.

Humor is a huge part of EMERGE. Easton’s Mermaid puns had me laughing out loud, and her voice kept me turning pages. It’s fun to imagine being Lia (girl gets to live in a Malibu mansion and she’s a mermaid??), and I couldn’t wait for her to kiss hottie, Clay. 🙂

I hope you enjoy this book and check out Tobie Easton’s website!

What’s your favorite mermaid tale?

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

THE SIREN by Kiera Cass: The Perfect Beach Read

siren
Image from Goodreads.com

A good beach read doesn’t have to have anything to do with the beach. It doesn’t need sea or sand or romance. But if it contains these qualities and compounds them with a spark–a voice. Magic. Well then, that’s my perfect beach read.

This book is so much more than its gorgeous cover (though that doesn’t hurt–jeez, look at that thing!).  Here’s the blurb from Amazon.com:

Kahlen is a Siren, bound to serve the Ocean by luring humans to watery graves with her voice, which is deadly to any human who hears it. Akinli is human—a kind, handsome boy who’s everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. Falling in love puts them both in danger . . . but Kahlen can’t bear to stay away. Will she risk everything to follow her heart?

My desire for complexity in a novel will ebb and flow depending on my mood. There are times when I’m just not in the mood for extreme world-building, complex societies, etc. Sometimes (beachtimes) I just want something simple. A world with one type of supernatural being to track. A universe that is closer to our own–where most people don’t access the supernatural. A closed world. A tight, little romance.

THE SIREN is just that. This is not to say that this book doesn’t have high stakes–that its characters don’t have the same depth as other novels. Kahlen has her past, her pain, and her hope for the future. But the one thing she might need to sacrifice for that future (because romance, duh) is love. To love is to die.

The concept is simple, the world–beautiful, and who wouldn’t want their own Siren dress??

Hope you enjoy this read and check out Keira Cass’s website!

Pick up any good beach reads lately?

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES By Sarah J. Maas — Gorgeous New Adult Fantasy

court of thorns and roses
Image from Goodreads.com

A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES is one of those books that I can’t help recommending to everyone. Maas not only has a phenomenal high concept (a loose Beauty and the Beast retelling with faeries) but Maas packs this book with a gripping plot, a multi-dimensional heroine, and gorgeous, lyrical prose.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon.com:

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin–one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin–and his world–forever.

This novel opens with Feyre out hunting in the middle of winter for her desperate family’s next meal–a family that doesn’t necessarily appreciate her. But this relationship is complex, and Feyre’s urge to protect her clan is something she will find in common with the incredibly powerful Tamlin.

Feyre isn’t perfect nor is she apologetic. She’s been hardened by her circumstances but still yearns for color in her life–her desire to make art driving her through the worst of times. Her character is tested–her values pushed to their limits, especially in the later half of the novel. Navigating through the world and trying to make the best choices is hard enough. Navigating through the faerie realm where your senses may deceive you, well…

I fell in love with this character but also with Maas’s voice. I’m more likely to sample a series than read it completely through, but in this case, I’m definitely picking up the next book!

Check out Maas’s site for more on her books!

Have you read any incredible NA fantasies or paranormals?

Michelle Joyce Bond

 

YA Romance Reviews

TORN by Erica O’Rourke–Evocative YA Paranormal Romance

torn
Image from Goodreads.com

TORN is lesson in how to write immersive, visceral fiction. I’m blow so far away, I’m drifting in the stratosphere.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon.com:

Everyone has secrets.
Even best friends.

Swirling black descends like ravens, large enough to block the glow of the streetlights. A dull roar starts like a train on the ‘L’, a far-away rumbling that grows louder as it pulls closer, until it’s directly overhead and you feel it in your chest, except this doesn’t pass you by. Verity, white-faced and eyes blazing, shouts through the din, “Run, Mo!”

Mo Fitzgerald knows about secrets. But when she witnesses her best friend’s murder, she discovers Verity was hiding things she never could have guessed. To find the answers she needs and the vengeance she craves, Mo–quiet, ordinary, unmagical Mo–will have to enter a world of raw magic and shifting alliances. And she’ll have to choose between two very different, equally dangerous guys–protective, duty-bound Colin and brash, mysterious Luc.
One wants to save her, one wants to claim her. Which would you choose?

I am huge, huge, HUGE on setting description, and this is where O’Rourke shines. Mo’s reality–all the details of her life–are rendered sharp and clear. These intense descriptions bleed into the paranormal world, making magic that much more believable.

Mo is an incredible character–a good girl driven out of her corner by incredible circumstances. This book is a tale of friendship lost as much as it is a romance. Flashes of Verity make the pain of her death fresh and real. Mo is bent on revenge, and we’re right there with her.

I’m not huge on books with love triangles, but this element works very well in TORN because Mo isn’t just torn between two guys. She’s torn between two worlds: family mob-ties in her everyday life and a world of magic introduced by hot-as-hell Luc. If I were to choose a “team,” I’d be Team Colin (sorry Luc!). Colin–construction worker by day and muscle by night–is hired by Mo’s uncle to protect her after Verity’s murder. Colin is the strong, blunt alpha-type I just can’t resist.

O’Rourke has an incredible, authentic voice, and a dark, unapologetic story-telling style that draws the reader in. She is true to her characters and is unafraid to take risks. I hope you check out this incredible title!

Read more about Erica O’Rourke and her books here!

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER by Melida Salisbury –Dark YA Fantasy

sin eater
Image from Amazon.com

This YA debut left me spellbound. The cover of THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER encapsulates both character and concept. Twylla is trapped–bound by duty and myth to her country’s castle. Destined to be queen, Twylla is also poison–her skin enough to kill anyone unfortunate enough to touch her. That is, except for the prince.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads.com:

I am the perfect weapon.
I kill with a single touch.

Twylla is blessed. The Gods have chosen her to marry a prince, and rule the kingdom. But the favour of the Gods has it’s price. A deadly poison infuses her skin. Those who anger the queen must die under Twylla’s fatal touch.

Only Lief, an outspoken new guard, can see past Twylla’s chilling role to the girls she truly is.

Yet in a court as dangerous and the queen’s, some truths should not be told…

This novel’s high concept hooked me immediately, but it was Twylla herself that reeled me in. Conflicted by a duty assigned to her by fate and what she feels is right, Twylla is an incredibly complex character. And she isn’t the only one. The prince, the queen, and Twylla’s guard, Lief are each revealed to have incredible depth.

The play of imagery in this book and feast of the senses draws the reader deep into Twylla’s opulent and twisted world. Salisbury’s world-building reaches wide in terms of geography and deep in terms of history. She’s thought the fabric of this society through, its enemy kingdom upholding a different mythology, history, and set of values.

Twylla’s guard, Leif, is from that kingdom–a place that questions the traditions Twylla and her people have stubbornly held up for centuries. Through the course of the book, Twylla opens up to seeing both the world and herself from a completely different perspective. Salisbury achieves this transition in her character masterfully.

Check out Melinda Salisbury’s website for more on this author and her books!

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles — Best Opposites Attract Novel EVER

pc
Image from Amazon.com

Oh my god–read this book now!  Last week, I attended the Romance Writer’s of America Conference in NYC where I was surrounded by wonderful books and authors who wrote them (will blog soon!), but I couldn’t touch a single book until finished PERFECT CHEMISTRY.  This super hot opposites attract novel actually made NJ Transit fun.

Here is the summary from Amazon.com:

A fresh, urban twist on the classic tale of star-crossed lovers.

When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she’s worked so hard for–her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect. Alex is a bad boy and he knows it. So when he makes a bet with his friends to lure Brittany into his life, he thinks nothing of it. But soon Alex realizes Brittany is a real person with real problems, and suddenly the bet he made in arrogance turns into something much more.

In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep Brittany and Alex apart.

I’m going to start where I finished with this book, and that’s by reading the Acknowledgements section in the back.  There, Elkeles thanks several people who helped her research so that she might add believable Spanish and Mexican culture to her book.  This makes this story especially believable and lends incredible authority to her hero, Alex a.k.a. Alejandro Fuentes, a boy from the other side of the tracks with a good heart who joined a gang to protect his family.  He is intelligent and has college potential but has given up his long-ago hope for a better life, feeling he is already in too deep to ever break free.

Brittany Ellis comes from an incredibly wealthy but broken family.  Her father is a workaholic, her mother has anxiety and obsesses over perfection, and Brittany struggles to protect a sister who has cerebral palsy.  On the outside, Brittany has the best clothes, the best car, and the perfect life, but inside, she’s falling apart.  Pressure from her mother to obtain impossible standards and pressure she puts on herself to care for her sister in order to avoid her being sent away is just too much.  Soon, something will have to give.

When Alex and Brittany are paired as lab partners, each judges the other based on surface appearances.  Each seems disgusted with the other, but there is a spark of attraction obvious to the students around them.  The secondary characters in this book constantly warn Alex and Brittany against a doomed relationship, even when Alex and Brittany themselves are not yet ready to accept their own attraction.  I found this rather interesting–that their friends could see how much they wanted each other even when they were in strict denial.

As Alex and Brittany grow closer, they see past the armor and find they have a lot more in common than they originally imagined.  They are both fundamentally good people, trapped within their roles.  As things heat up between them, the plot thickens.  Of course, both Alex and Brittany care deeply for one or more members of their family.  This makes it impossible to extract themselves from their world of cemented roles and expectations.  As they try to break out, things only get worse.  Elkeles did a beautiful job of painting her characters into a corner.  Without giving away the ending, I’ll say I was very satisfied with it.  Elkeles really made her protagonists work for their happily ever after.

Check out Simone Elkeles’ webpage to find out more about PERFECT CHEMISTRY and the other books in her Perfect Chemistry Series!

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

WONDROUS STRANGE By Lesley Livingston — Dramatic YA Paranormal Romance

wondrous strange
Image from goodreads.com

I recently finished WONDROUS STRANGE by Lesley Livingston, and though fairy-focused books aren’t usually my favorite in paranormal fiction, I was won over by this Shakespearean-inspired tale.  WONDROUS STRANGE is exactly that.

Here is the summary from Amazon.com:

Since the dawn of time, the Faerie have taken. . . .

Seventeen-year-old actress Kelley Winslow always thought faeries were just something from childhood stories. Then she meets Sonny Flannery. He’s a changeling—a mortal taken as an infant and raised among Faerie—and within short order he’s turned Kelley’s heart inside out and her life upside down.

For Kelley’s beloved Central Park isn’t just a park—it’s a gateway between her ordinary city and the Faerie’s dangerous, bewitching Otherworld. Now Kelley’s eyes are opening not just to the Faerie that surround her, but to the heritage that awaits her . . . a destiny both wondrous and strange.

The first thing I love about this book is Kelly herself.  She’s determined to make it as an actress in New York, but the director and Kelly’s own nerves play against her.  Then, of course, her fey blood and fairy mischief make it waaaay worse.  She’s the underdog deluxe.

The play her company is producing just so happens to be A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the lines and themes of which are artfully woven throughout the book.  The book begins with “Up and down, up and down / I will lead them up and down..” — a set of lines given new life with Livingston’s own imagery of a carousel and the drama of the final battle.  There are also dedications of love from the play of which Livingston takes full advantage.

Which brings me to the love story itself.  Sonny is a sweet, hot guy who kicks fairy butt and is completely dedicated to Kelly.  They come from different worlds, but find common ground in Central Park.  The question as to whether they will be able to remain that way.  Their story is linked to that of Pyramus and Thisbe, and we must read to the end to find if their love will end in tragedy or triumph.

Livingston’s description of magic is detailed and distinct.  Her references to fairy lore are fun and illuminated by passages from Midsummer’s.  Overall, it was a fabulous read which I hope you’ll check out if you’re in the mood for a little fairy magic.

Be sure to check out Lesley Livingston’s webpage.

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia — Insanely Good YA Romance

made you up
Image from goodreads.com

I ❤ reality-benders.  As soon as I heard about MADE YOU UP, I couldn’t wait to read it!  As far as offbeat and bittersweet go–check and check.  If you’re stuck in the overflowing washing machine of YA tropes and are looking for something a little (or in this case, a lotta) different, pick this baby up.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s begin with the Amazon.com summary:

Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. For fans of Silver Linings Playbook and Liar, this thought-provoking debut tells the story of Alex, a high school senior—and the ultimate unreliable narrator—unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out what is real and what is not. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8 Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal. Can she trust herself? Can we trust her?

The first thing I want to talk about is something that I can’t discuss since it would mean spoilers, and IT’S KILLING ME!  I’d love to enter a goodreads discussion with other readers of this book just to talk about what is real and what is not.  Zappia does a beautiful job painting the world as Alex sees it, blending reality and delusion until it’s impossible to tell the difference.  As a reader, I felt I knew better than Alex as she takes pictures to try and straighten out what is real and what’s made up, but that false sense of security in judgement is turned on its head at the end of the second act.  Ultimately, the reader is left in an existential fix as Alex questions her entire reality…but that’s where the love story comes in.

Miles is the valedictorian terror of the school.  He’s just about the worst person Alex, or anyone else for that matter, could get mixed up with.  He’s a paid prank artist and does horrible things to the possessions of people who’ve done nothing more than make his acquaintance (including Alex).  Miles describes himself as being emotionally stunted and seems the last person to anchor Alex in reality.  That is until he discovers (rather dramatically) that Alex is schizophrenic.  This draws him to her, his complicated history unraveling as Alex digs deeper into what makes Miles…Miles.  His home life so dark, his intellect so impossibly high, and his pranks so unthinkable, that it is both easier and harder to see him as a made up character.  Of course, Miles is a made up character–Zappia’s character.  The English major inside me at this up!

But even if you aren’t compelled to gleefully over-analyze every piece of media you encounter that contains a narrative, plumbing its depths for hidden meanings, you will find reasons to enjoy this book.  The characters act, talk, and think like authentic high schoolers.  Zappia has a humorous, quirky writing style that zips along, and you can tell she had a lot of fun writing it.

Be sure to check out Francesca Zappia’s webpage and her DeviantArt page where she posts artwork that goes with her stories.  Happy reading!

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

SECOND VERSE by Jennifer Walkup — YA Jersey Author

second
Image from amazon.com

Next in my series of New Jersey author’s, I’m pleased to present Jennifer Walkup whose romantic YA thriller SECOND VERSE will draw you into the shadows.

When Lange moves with her mom to a 200-year-old farmhouse, she has no clue what chilling history awaits her.  A séance puts Lange in touch with Ginny, a girl who was murdered.  Vaughn, a cute musician from her high school, was holding her hand during the séance.  He, too heard the whispered warning of the ghost, words that will haunt Lange through the rest of the book.

As Lange and Vaughn work to solve the mystery behind who killed Ginny, they draw closer and closer together.  But someone is watching them, a killer bent on using their love against them.  Is possible that the same person who murdered Ginny all those years ago is now after Lange?  Will she be able to outsmart him…or will history repeat itself?

I absolutely loved Walkup’s authentic teen voice which is clear from the banter between Lange and her friends in the very first scene and holds until the end of the book.  Walkup creates a fine web of tension as Lange discovers clue after grizzly clue.  One of the most intriguing things about the book was the title which I believe is a reference to the saying: “Second verse, same as the first.”  This theme ties in not only with the spiritual connection between Lange and Ginny’s characters but also blends in with the presence of music in the book as Vaughn is a talented songwriter.  Don’t miss this eerie YA romance!

Visit Jennifer Walkup’s site for more about SECOND VERSE and news on her new, upcoming title, THIS ORDINARY LIFE!

http://www.jenniferwalkup.com/#!

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

Read Like a Writer: FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlStrong, flawed, excessively introverted female protagonist + adorable, affectionate, extroverted male = I love this book! 

Top Five Things I Loved About This Book (in no particular order):

1. snappy, fun dialogue
2. self-aware narration including humorous jabs and writers and readers
3. cool parallels between the embedded fan fiction and the actual narrative
4. realistic problems that are pushed over the top to the point that the characters become parodies of themselves…extremes that they are aware of and even COMMENT about
5. Levi 🙂

Michelle Joyce Bond

Photo credit: goodreads.com