A round-up of a new March middle grade release, and 3 of the new YA titles out on May 2nd………
As always, no affiliate links and I disclose the source of each book at the end of each review.
The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi
(Salaam Reads – March 28, 2017)
A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.
When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.
Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, the Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine?
Perfect for middle grade adventure and fantasy fans, especially for readers who love The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer, and for board game fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. I greatly appreciated Farah’s strong female lead and the Bangladeshi cultural influences/references that make this a refreshing addition to the middle grade fantasy world. The only cons are that there were times when the dialogue felt a bit flat, and Farah’s friends Alex and Essie could have possibly had deeper characters and more involvement in the story. These are minor, however, and I look forward to reading more from Riazi – perhaps in future installments of Farah’s story?
I purchased this book from Amazon.
How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake
(HMH Books for Young Readers – May 2, 2017)
All seventeen year-old Grace Glasser wants is her own life. A normal life in which she sleeps in the same bed for longer than three months and doesn’t have to scrounge for spare change to make sure the electric bill is paid. Emotionally trapped by her unreliable mother, Maggie, and the tiny cape on which she lives, she focuses on her best friend, her upcoming audition for a top music school in New York, and surviving Maggie’s latest boyfriend—who happens to be Grace’s own ex-boyfriend’s father.
Her attempts to lay low until she graduates are disrupted when she meets Eva, a girl with her own share of ghosts she’s trying to outrun. Grief-stricken and lonely, Eva pulls Grace into midnight adventures and feelings Grace never planned on. When Eva tells Grace she likes girls, both of their worlds open up. But, united by loss, Eva also shares a connection with Maggie. As Grace’s mother spirals downward, both girls must figure out how to love and how to move on.
In How to Make a Wish, what appears to be a simple teenage romance story is actually a very real and raw story about grief, alcoholism, family, friendship and the complexities of sexuality. I was thinking that it was an okay and pretty typical teen love story until about halfway through the book when I was unable to stop reading. Blake manages to include bisexuality and an interracial romance without making those the actual point of story – instead, they are background to Grace’s relationship with her extremely dysfunctional mother and her quest to escape her hometown to pursue a future as a pianist. There is no major coming out event or struggle for Grace to accept her bisexuality. Her friends aren’t shocked and there is no backlash – I really appreciate this in a book written for a YA audience. I will be purchasing this for my high school library.
I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.
Always and Forever, Lara Jean (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #3) by Jenny Han
(Simon & Schuster – May 2, 2017)
Lara Jean’s letter-writing days aren’t over in this surprise follow-up to the New York Times bestselling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You.
Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.
But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.
When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?
Oh, how I love Lara Jean! This trilogy is one of my all-time favorite YA series…..it’s sweet and just one of those “cozy sweatshirt and a hot cup of tea” series, you know? One that makes you sigh with happiness and wish that you could be Lara Jean’s best friend or sister. I’m so sad that this is the final book – Jenny Han REALLY promises it will be this time, too. If you haven’t read books 1 and 2, you really need to go read those first – this isn’t good as a standalone, and you would deprive yourself of loving the entire collection. I will be handing these books to high schoolers for years and years to come. They appeal to younger YA readers because of the fairly innocent nature, and to older readers because of Lara Jean’s age. The entire collection is a required one for high school libraries.
I purchased this book at a local grocery store.
Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith
(Delacorte – May 2, 2017)
Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday—just when it seems they might be on the brink of something—she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes.
At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall.
As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined . . . and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect.
“Windfall” is the perfect feel-good, happy-but-nuanced YA story. It’s about money and actual wealth, but it’s also about emotional and relationship wealth. It’s about finding yourself and coming to terms with grief, losses and disappointments. I loved the lottery win storyline as well as Alice’s struggle to find her own happiness unconnected to the memories of her parents.
In this story, Smith gives us all a chance to daydream about what we would do with unthinkable amounts of money, but provides the reality check to make us realize that winning isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. On a personal level, I could connect deeply to Teddy’s pain of not being able to help an addict because, sometimes before hitting rock bottom, helping is enabling.
There is character diversity in this story, included so naturally that it’s hardly worth a mention in a review because the characters were just themselves, regardless of sexuality or race. This sets a perfect example for other YA writers – write the characters, not the diversity. I loved this title from Smith just as much as I enjoyed her other novels.
I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.