YA BOOK REVIEWS
^ Great for guys!
* Contains violence, strong language and/or sexual references.
A Flash of Romance by Sharon René
A Mixed Bag of God’s Grace by Sharon René
A Nancy Drew Christmas by Carolyn Keene
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas*^
Courier’s Daughter series by C.J. Redwine
Court of Swans by Melanie Dickerson
Elleson by Misha McCorkle^
Good Girls Stay Quiet by Jo Cassidy
Hesitant Heroes by Sharon René
Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Live Fearless by Sadie Robertson
Mele Kalikimaka by Taylor Bennett
Porch Swing Girl by Taylor Bennett
Quest for Celestia by Steven James
Remarkables by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Sandcastle Dreams by Taylor Bennett
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins*^
The Deception by Laura Gallier
The Delusion by Laura Gallier
The Door by Lorilyn Roberts
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas*^
The Kingdom Come series by Cecelia Earl
The Milk of Birds by Sylvia Whitman*
The Ripper of Monkshood Manor by Mary Gray
The Serafina series by Robert Beatty
Tinsel in a Tangle by Laurie Germaine
Trinity Row by Kelly Martin
A Flash of Romance
by: Sharon René
This talented author has made her mark on the young adult romance genre. Loved this collection, inspired by the classics. What imagination. I appreciate the clean romance and look forward to reading more of her work.
Reviewed January 11, 2018
A Mixed Bag of God’s Grace
by: Sharon René
This terrific book of middle-school devotions offers short stories featuring kids from Biblical times through current day. Each story is followed by a lesson, scripture and prayer. There’s also a section on life in the Middle Ages and during Biblical times. The book ends with background on each story. My favorite was “Sleeping in the Lion’s Den.” René did a fabulous job writing from the perspective of a lion in the den where Daniel had been thrown. An imaginative twist on that popular Bible story.
I heard through the grapevine that René is wrapping up a three-book young adult series named “Defying Destiny.” Stay tuned…
Reviewed June 22, 2018
A Nancy Drew Christmas (Nancy Drew Diaries #18)
by: Carolyn Keene
Who knew the much-beloved Nancy Drew stories had been continued? Certainly not me. Imagine my surprise this holiday season when I Googled “Christmas books” and up popped a promo for a new mystery starring the teen sleuth. My excitement mounted when I discovered A Nancy Drew Christmas was #18 in a fresh series published by Aladdin. I’ve never downloaded a book faster. It didn’t disappoint. Carolyn Keene’s current ghostwriter had put a modern twist on the classic mysteries. The tale included cell phones, modern language and near-death misses. Much edgier than the original series. Throw-back characters from the yellow books make guest appearances halfway through. Middle grade and young adult girls will love this twisting, turning there’s-no-way-you’ll-guess-the-culprit mystery.
Reviewed December 31, 2019
by: Angie Thomas
By the author of the best-selling The Hate You Give, Concrete Rose opens readers eyes to poverty, gangs, and guns. It’s set in the same neighborhood seventeen years before The Hate. If anything, it’s more hard-hitting than The Hate. Told from the point of view of an African American male teen, the story contains ripe language in realistic dialect. I believe this book is more important for teens to read than The Hate because it focuses on unwise decisions the main character, 17-year-old Maverick, makes and how he chooses to live with the consequences. In The Hate, Starr witnesses a shooting and must deal with her emotions. Only toward the end of the story does she have to make life-altering decisions. Maverick, on the other hand, keeps digging himself deeper and deeper into a mess of repercussions that he must overcome to have any kind of future. He grows up fast in this story, learning about babies, budgets, and blossoms. Honestly? I liked Concrete Rose better than The Hate and highly recommend it to adults and older teens.
The Courier’s Daughter series
by: C.J. Redwine
C.J. Redwine delivered the concluding keynote speech at the virtual Realm Makers Conference last month. She left me stunned. Never have I been so impacted by a speaker’s backstory and her drive to follow God’s calling. The obstacles she overcame would have flattened me.
This fantasy YA series is told in first person from the perspectives of two main characters, Rachel Adams and Logan McEntire. They live in postapocolyptic Baalboden, so far into the future that the characters have no memories of ferris wheels or cell phones. They get around on horses and wagons. When Baalboden falls to the horrifying creatures that live beneath it, Rachel and Logan must find a way to destroy them and save nearby cities from the same fate. In addition, they must rid the world of Baalboden’s vicious surviving commander, battle against a rival city, and locate Rachel’s father. Through non-stop action, the author excels at fight scenes, showing emotions such as grief and guilt, and slipping in lessons about loyalty, patience and love.
The initial trilogy includes Defiance, Deception, and Deliverance. The author added a prequel, Outcast, about a memorable “Tree Village” character, Quinn. Amazon is currently offering this 72-page novella for 99¢. I recommend this series for older teens for its violent scenes.
Reviewed August 18, 2020
Court of Swans
by: Melanie Dickerson
I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, but my Storyteller Squad peeps encouraged me to read this one. So glad I listened to them. Court of Swans turned out to be so entrancing that I couldn’t put it down. The novel has a definite fairy tale flavor with . . . spoiler alert . . . a happy ending. Great for female teens who need a break from real life.
Set in the harsh English society of 1381, this Christian story revolves around Delia, her seven stalwart brothers—three older and four younger—and a generous knight, Sir Geoffrey, who is forced to arrest the brothers for treason. When Sir Geoffrey realizes he’s made a mistake, he works to set them free. Delia, also determined to rescue her brothers, leaves her recently widowed stepmother in her palatial childhood home to secure a job as a seamstress for the queen. She hopes to find the perfect moment to present her brothers’ unfair situation to someone in power who can set them free. Poor Delia suffers one devastating setback after another until she crosses paths with Sir Geoffrey. Together, they hatch an escape plan for Delia’s brothers. From that point on, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I learned tons about fourteenth century life in England, the Tower of London, and the child-king Richard II. I can’t wait for its sequel, Castle of Refuge, due out in June.
by: Misha McCorkle
It’s such a thrill to see a manuscript I helped critique transform into a beautiful novel. I have to admit that its content and grammar didn’t need much polishing when I proofed it. Misha is a master with words and gifted with an incredible imagination for realm building.
Elleson follows the story of two teens, Daisy and Brogan, who build a unique friendship after they meet in a small Colorado town. Brogan, hailing from New York City, loved his life until his father transferred to Seoul and sent him to live with his grandparents. Even with his city slicker ways, Brogan adapts better to Layton High School than Daisy, who suffers from a painful hip injury and facial scarring caused by a car accident.
Daisy hates daytime and longs for the night when she can go to bed and dream. As long as she can remember, her dreams have taken her to another world—one in which she’s healthy and beautiful. In her dreams, she scales walls and recovers magical daggers. But each morning, the sun rises and she’s the same old Daisy who buries herself in books.
Shortly after Daisy and Brogan meet at church, strange occurrences unsettle them. Brogan observes Daisy almost merge into a museum painting. Later the same day, they fall into a dark room full of frightening whispers. The next morning, Daisy disappears. Brogan is certain that whatever tried to hold them captive in the dark room has taken Daisy, and he sets out to find her.
At this point, Misha’s imagination soars. Readers are taken into another world, Elleson, packed with amazing settings, ethereal characters, and wild plot twists. Throughout it all, she weaves in lessons from the Eternal One. I love how she offers a Christian message without being overt. I recommend this fantasy to males and females ages 13-17. It’s available in paperback and digitally on Amazon.
Good Girls Stay Quiet
by: Jo Cassidy
Like so many children around the world, Cora is stuck in an abusive parental relationship that she thinks is normal. I’ve never been exposed to anyone in that type of situation, but Jo Cassidy made Cora’s character so credible that I wanted to jump into the pages and scream, “Help yourself!” I highly recommend it to all young adults.
Reviewed April 5, 2019
by: Sharon René
This Christian-based young adult novel is aptly named. Its well-rounded characters tried hard to achieve normalcy in their unusual new school, but didn’t hesitate to step up to fight for their friends’ lives when faced with the choice of following or leading. They learned to lean on God, sacrifice themselves for the greater good, and overcome their weaknesses. If they’d stepped from the pages, I would have high-fived them. A brilliant story, great for both male and female older teens.
Reviewed September 15, 2021
Keturah and Lord Death
by: Martine Leavitt
Kudos to the National Book Award judges. This gothic tale of romance, generosity and friendship certainly deserved to be a finalist. Set in Medieval England, the book contained both the language pertinent to the time period and the poor village setting.
After losing her way in the forest, the beautiful Keturah, famous for her storytelling ability, must weave an entrancing tale to keep Lord Death at bay. We discover Lord Death is real, not a metaphor for the afterlife. Lord Death challenges her to find love. If she does, he’ll save her. Keturah’s mission is two-fold: she must find love and she must intensify her tale forcing him to extend her deadline.
The author did an excellent job developing the characters. Keturah’s relationship with her friends reminded me of several buddies who’ve stuck with me through gossip and challenging times. I loved how the author used job descriptions as names—Cook, Choirmaster and Tailor—to keep the readers from forgetting them. I easily envisioned the icy Lord Death, the frightening Soor Lily, and the amiable John Temsland. I did not predict the ending, so was pleasantly surprised. The author and Keturah both wove delightful tales.
Reviewed Feb. 16, 2017
Klara and the Sun
by: Kazuo Ishiguro
I love crossover books, and this is one of the best. Both adults and teens will enjoy the unique story of a friendship between a human and a humanoid. I’ve never read anything like this. The author has a mind-blowing imagination. In a futuristic world, humans can buy humanoids to keep them company. After Klara (the humanoid and narrator) moves into Josie’s house, she discovers that her new teen friend is sick. Klara makes it her mission to make her well again. Her sometimes-strange campaign teaches them both about peer pressure, deceit, parental love, sacrifice, and goals. Yes, I cried.
Reviewed August 31, 2021
by: Sadie Robertson
This YA topic is timely during this freaky shelter-in-place coronavirus pandemic. For one so young, this Christian author is wise. She admits how much fear she’s bottled up over the years, from appearances on Duck Dynasty to the grand finale of Dancing with the Stars. Each chapter features a fear-filled experience she’s overcome. Then, she lists questions for readers to ask themselves, challenges for them to take, and short prayers to memorize.
I loved Chapter 4. She starts out, “At least you’re not a plankton.” Say what? She elaborates on how plankton are the lowest of the low food source. When ridiculed by her brother, she Googled plankton and discovered their importance. She learned that they rise to the ocean’s surface each day to receive the sun’s energy that, in turn, fuels the fish that eat them.
Then, she compares plankton to believers, urging them to rise to the light each day to absorb God’s energy and spread it to others. I like this philosophy, especially during this scary time of self-isolation. Instead of losing ourselves in endless Netflix series, we could be doing small acts of kindness to help others. We could sew face masks, create encouraging sidewalk chalk art, and help with online tutoring.
If you have an extra six minutes, I recommend you check out Sadie’s Crazy Train video on YouTube. She and a friend discuss how miscommunication can put you on a crazy train full of cars that build fear and anxiety. It’s pretty cute . . . and true.
Throughout the book, Sadie talks about “working the word.” This means that we should memorize scripture so that it’s already in our minds when we need it. She even provides pages of scripture addressing fear at the end of the book.
Reviewed April 8, 2020
Mele Kalikimaka (Tradewinds #2.5)
by: Taylor Bennett
Olive and her best friend, Jazz, are faced with navigating their first Christmas without their mothers. Then, their other buddy, Brander, is called away on a Christian music tour. This beautiful story, set in Hawaii, weaves their bitter emotions into a heart-warming novella of acceptance and hope. There’s even a sweet recipe at the end.
Reviewed December 9, 2019
Porch Swing Girl (Tradewinds #1)
by: Taylor Bennett
I, like the main character, Olive, was jerked out of my comfort zone and moved to another city halfway through my teens. Olive not only is forced to relocate, but she also has to deal with the grief of losing her mother. She’s much braver than I was at that age. She sets out on a mission to earn money to fly home, then turns her fundraising campaign into an endeavor to help a new friend. I highly recommend this Christ-centered book about loss, friendship and the importance of family.
Reviewed June 28, 2018
Quest For Celestia
by: Steven James
This is the best book I’ve read in awhile, and that’s saying something because I read a ton. Great for teens and adults, this stand-alone fantasy novel is a reimagining of The Pilgrim’s Progress. When 16-year-old Kadin’s health deteriorates after an encounter with a strange man, he embarks on an epic journey to determine the cause of his frightening condition. The dangerous quest opens his eyes to the truth that could heal both his body and his mind. Kadin’s best friend agrees to accompany him, but turns around at the first threat. Later, Kadin makes another friend, Leira. Together, they follow their hearts through a fantastical world of witches, dragons, and giants. They’re tracked by an evil lord who has made it his mission to do anything to keep them from reaching Celestia. This is an amazing read with mind-blowing twists and turns. Steven James is a master storyteller.
by: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Margaret Peterson Haddix has done it again. I don’t know how she manages to combine mystery, adventure, and science fiction into one middle grade novel that even parents like to read (check out my blog on crossover fiction), but she does it with hard-hitting sub-plots. The Remarkables addresses bullying, guilt, and depression without any in-your-face lectures or scenes that make readers want to close the book because it makes them sad.
Eleven-year-old Marin (love the name) is forced to move from Illinois the summer before her first year in middle school because her mom snagged an awesome job in Pennsylvania. Soon after arrival, Marin climbs a backyard tree and spies a group of teens on the patio of the house behind hers. The teens are having a great time until . . . they disappear. Marin almost falls out of the tree.
She later meets her next-door neighbor, Charley, who has witnessed the same disappearing act over the past two years. With this in common, she thinks it’ll be easy to befriend him. But it’s not. He’s harboring lots of secrets that she needs to unravel to gain his trust. The only problem is that he doesn’t want to be around her, or anyone for that matter.
The reader soon learns that Marin has secrets of her own—ones that revolve around her best friends from her old school. And while her parents are putting on a brave front, the fact remains that her father still hasn’t found a job. Add a new baby brother to the mix, and poor Marin is beyond discombobulated.
Nevertheless, she’s determined to figure out the mystery of the vanishing teens. When Marin discovers that one girl is a dead ringer for a sixteen year old who didn’t survive a fire in the house behind hers, she’s able to enlist Charley’s help. They launch a full-scale investigation into the teen friends, whom they’ve dubbed the “Remarkables.”
The plot twist at the end blew my mind. And, I have to admit, I may or may not have cried a little. MPH is brilliant. I’ve devoured her books for years. If you’re looking for more mysteries to keep you up past your bedtime, check out MPH’s Greystone Secrets series.
Reviewed September 17, 2020
Sandcastle Dreams (Tradewinds #2)
by: Taylor Bennett
Life sure is complicated if you’re a teen. Layer on a deceased mom, self home-schooling and a rambunctious puppy, and you have one overwhelmed girl. Olive does her best to stay strong for her little sister and for her new bestie, Jazz, but is frustrated at every turn, especially when she learns her friend is hiding a secret. When her other friend, Brander, is offered an opportunity on the other side of the country, she’s left with yet another loss. I can’t wait for the next book!
Reviewed May 31, 2019
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
by: Suzanne Collins
As a huge fan of the Hunger Games trilogy, I didn’t open this prequel with high expectations. How does one top those riveting books that were made into movies? Well, Collins did.
Told in third person, unlike The Games first person point of view, The Ballad provides the backstory of Coriolanus Snow, The Games antagonist and this dystopian novel’s main character. I could not put it down. This hefty (528 pages) story traces the beginning of the Games and Snow’s live-or-die role in it. He’s pushed into an impossible task of mentoring a strange female tribute in one of the early games established after the colonies’ rebellion and subsequent ruin. He must overcome his own poverty and push aside his selfish ambitions to help her.
I now understand what drove his actions in his later years as president of Panem. I recommend this novel for ages twelve and older. Please be aware of the violence and haunting sadness that weaves throughout this tale.
Reviewed August 5, 2020
The Deception (The Delusion #2)
by: Laura Gallier
Owen’s quest for answers continues. Masonville High still isn’t safe. Abductions and disappearances are keeping the high school’s student body on edge. He realizes the forces upsetting his town are demonic, but is at loss on how to fight them. When a long-lost figurehead enters his life and offers guidance, he jumps at the chance for direction. He even snaps at his best friend, Ray Anne, when she suggests deceit. What a hard lesson Owen must learn about spiritual warfare. Darker than the first book, The Deception is a must read for older teens.
Reviewed October 11, 2019
by: Laura Gallier
This amazing work of Christian fiction—on par with Frank Peretti’s YA nail biters—stretches the imagination while painting a visual of burdened people. Owen Edmonds, a high school senior, receives a supernatural dose of reality after drinking a cup of well water. He now can see the emotional weight people carry and feels compelled to help them. After all, eleven students have already committed suicide. The story moves into an epic battle between angels and demons, leaving the reader with biblical lessons on trusting God, loving others and withholding judgement.
Reviewed July 20, 2019
by: Lorilyn Roberts
Seeking a Christian novel for young teens? Check out The Door. Not only is it a clean read, but its main character witnesses Jesus’ ministry.
Lorilyn Roberts independently published The Door, the first book of six in her Seventh Dimension fantasy series, using Vellum and Amazon. Kudos to Ms. Roberts for taking the courageous step of indie publishing. I imagine the main reason she chose that route is because most traditional publishers steer away from overtly Christian books. And this book is overtly Christian.
Ironically, the publishing industry has recognized The Doorwith the following awards:
- 2013 International Book Awards Finalist
- 2013 Grace Awards Finalist
- 2013 Selah Awards Finalist
- 2013 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
- 2014 Book Goodies Best Cover Contest Winner, YA Category
A cross between C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, this novel drops the main character, Shale Snyder, into the King’s garden after she passes through a strange door. Shale soon learns that she has the ability to speak with animals and befriends a donkey (Baruch), a bunny (Cherios), and a dog (Much-Afraid). When evil beings invade the garden and chase the friends into the past—to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry—Shale must choose to help those around her or return to her time period, 2012.
She stays . . . and meets Daniel, a Jew from 2015. Together, they witness Jesus’ miracles and teachings. Both learn valuable lessons of forgiveness, judgement, and using gifts wisely. It’s interesting to read familiar stories from the Bible through the eyes of teenagers.
Shale records her journey on a scroll that serves as her diary. To confuse her stepmother, she writes to “Dog,” which is “God” spelled backward. There are some funny parts to the story that only adults might appreciate, like what happened in politics between 2012 and 2015.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the author’s writing style. The first half of the book is a little disjointed and there are some typos, so don’t give up. Trust me, she finds her rhythm, and the ending has a nice twist. I look forward to reading other books in the series. The books are earmarked for young adults, but I recommend them more for middle graders.
Reviewed November 13, 2020
The Hate U Give
by: Angie Thomas
Tough book to read. Not because of the extreme profanity, but because of the slap in the face it gives us privileged white readers. My eyes are now wide open. During this time of racial unrest, I recommend this book to those who don’t understand the distrust the African American community has of law enforcement. This story can answer a lot of questions.
Thomas’ main character, 16-year-old Starr, describes in very plain language of how she witnessed a police officer shoot her unarmed childhood friend, Khalil. When his death makes national headlines, the protests launch. The local police and a drug lord soon begin to intimidate Starr, the only eyewitness to his murder, and her family. How she responds is what makes this book so powerful.
Reviewed June 3, 2020
The Kingdom Come series
by: Cecelia Earl
Free books, y’all. Right now. Move fast because that’s in the budget. All three of Cecelia Earl’s Kingdom Come novels are listed for $0 through Amazon Kindle. Just because they’re free doesn’t mean they’re not high quality.
The author weaves a tale about how Julia, a hard-working teenage girl who’s lost her father, ends up fighting against the evil in her community. She battles for the lives of her friends and family, all while trying to earn money to help her mom pay the bills. She’s also on a mission to find her father. The novels cast new light on heaven and hell, angels and demons. Be prepared for some serious spiritual warfare. I recommend the series for ages 14 and older. Titles include (1) When Ash Rains Down, (2) When Smoke Rains Down, and (3) When Fire Rains Down.
Reviewed June 17, 2020
The Milk of Birds
by: Sylvia Whitman
Never have I read a book that has taken me on such of roller coaster of emotions. In one chapter, I’m giggling over K.C.’s crazy schemes, and in the next chapter, I’m holding my hand over my mouth, gasping in disbelief at Nawra’s everyday life. Some scenes are so horrific that I had to Google certain phrases to double check the author’s credibility. I found her not only credible, but that she’d likely downplayed some of the atrocities. This work of historical fiction follows the lives of two 14-year-old girls: K.C. in Richmond, Va., and Nawra in Darfur, Sudan, through their Save The Girls pen pal letters to each other. Though they live on different continents, they discover similar longings and heartaches. As they write, they become more honest and open with each other. They share advice and sayings. Some of Nawra’s sayings are so profound, I jotted them down. My favorite is “When a tree leans, it will rest on its sister.” I recommend this book for older teens and their parents.
The Ripper of Monkshood Manor
by: Mary Gray
Cate Hellstrom is clumsy, naive and somewhat stubborn. When she follows the hot guy of her dreams into his dilapidated old mansion, she has no idea that she’ll soon be running for her life. With each twist and turn of the plot, she learns whom she can trust and who is out to steal her soul. She encounters exploding aquariums, mysterious stains, and a bipolar dog. Terrific book for older teens with a quirky sense of humor.
Reviewed October 4, 2019
The Serafina Series
by: Robert Beatty
Check out Robert Beatty’s four-book Serafina series, set at the turn of the 20th century at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. I bought the first book, Serafina and the Black Cloak, in Asheville’s trendy bookstore, Malaprop’s, in 2015. I’ve grabbed each subsequent book shortly after publication. They’re that good. The story follows Serafina, daughter of the estate’s mechanic, as she discovers and develops her special powers (and they’re freaky amazing). Biltmore’s owner, George Vanderbilt, names Serafina guardian of the estate after she saves his family from certain death. Beatty weaves a tale about her friendship with Mr. Vanderbilt’s nephew, their mission to keep evil spirits at bay, and Serafina’s unusual bond with forest creatures. The fourth series installment, Serafina and the Seven Stars, is a true nail biter. I highly recommend it for young teens with a thirst for adventure. I also recommend a visit to the grand Biltmore Estate. A candlelight tour during the Christmas season will put you in a perfect spine-tingling mood to read this series.
Reviewed September 9, 2020
Tinsel in a Tangle
by: Laurie Germaine
Roasted chestnuts! Germaine has lit up the Christmas season with this darling young adult book—an uplifting story about Tinsel, a clumsy elf in search of her talent and, ultimately, acceptance by her peers. Poor Tinsel, tallest of them all, must right her wrong to save Christmas and win the eye of Santa’s handsome grandson. I read this straight through, then passed it to my 14-year-old niece, who did the same. Such a fun read! Hold onto your stockings! Germaine’s writing a sequel to this hilarious festive page-turner. Can’t wait!
Reviewed October 10, 2017
by: Kelly Martin
The artist who designed the creepy cover did a magnificent job capturing the eeriness inside. Ivy Black initially embraces the whole renovate-the-haunted-house challenge, but the more she spends time within Trinity Row, the more she questions her sanity. Who’s alive? Who isn’t? Who wants to kill her? Who doesn’t? I recommend this book to older teens who can handle the adroit plot twists and violence—who like to read with their hearts in their throats.
Reviewed June 5, 2019