Welcome to my first reviews of 2022! We’ve got all kinds of books from early January happening, so check them out!
“Utterly swoony…an endearing reminder that true love can change the world”—J. Elle, New York Times bestselling author of Wings of Ebony
To save a galactic kingdom from revolution, Kindred mind-pairings were created to ensure each and every person would be seen and heard, no matter how rich or poor…
Joy Abara ;knows her place. A commoner from the lowly planet Hali, she lives a simple life—apart from the notoriety that being Kindred to the nobility’s most infamous playboy brings.
Duke Felix Hamdi has a plan. He will exasperate his noble family to the point that they agree to let him choose his own future and finally meet his Kindred face-to-face.
Then the royal family is assassinated, putting Felix next in line for the throne…and accused of the murders. Someone will stop at nothing until he’s dead, which means they’ll target Joy, too. Meeting in person for the first time as they steal a spacecraft and flee amid chaos might not be ideal…and neither is crash-landing on the strange backward planet called Earth. But hiding might just be the perfect way to discover the true strength of the Kindred bond and expose a scandal—and a love—that may decide the future of a galaxy.
This is such a fun twist on the whole “aliens” genre! For one, we’re reading from the POV of said aliens, and they are nothing short of totally and completely lovable. They land on Earth by sheer accident, while fleeing from some Very Bad Folks™, and shenanigans ensue, of course.
The concept of being “Kindred” is an interesting one! Being connected to someone, so connected that you basically live in each other’s heads is wild. And while it’s great to have such a close bond, it certainly hasn’t been easy for Joy and Felix. He’s nobility, and she’s considered quite expendable by most of their society. She’s focused and grounded, while he is always dreaming of something more. But when he realizes that Joy’s life is in grave danger, he stops at nothing to get her the heck out of harm’s way.
It’s pretty clear that they deeply love each other, even beyond their shared connection. But there is so much in their way! Quite literally, the powers that be will stop at nothing to keep them apart- and even preferably, dead. So the stakes are high as the duo heads to what they hope will be safety. Instead, they land on Earth. And Earth is… well look, we live here, we know how it can be. It’s certainly quaint compared to their spacefaring home planets. But luckily, they meet some cool humans who end up teaching them a lot about themselves.
The characters are truly the best part of this story. I loved Joy and Felix and all their complications. And I loved the people they meet on Earth, too! There are so many funny and sweet moments with this newfound group of friends. Obviously, the story itself is still quite high stakes- there are people out there actively hunting our duo down across galaxies, so- but the lighter and more emotional moments really make it extra special.
It’s also set in the same world as the author’s debut, The Sound of Stars. This is so fun, because while it’s great for readers to find Easter Eggs, but it’s also completely fine to read this one without reading the first (though I have a feeling you’ll want to after reading this one anyway!) There is also tons of diversity, and not just the representation, but so much great dialogue among the characters about their experiences.
Bottom Line: Another great sci-fi adventure with phenomenal characters and tons of heart from Alechia Dow!
With the mystery of Maureen Johnson and Brittany Cavallo and the historical intrigue of Romanov, this enthralling story follows a teenage girl’s quest to uncover the truth behind her secretive great aunt Anna, who just might be the long lost Russian princess Anastasia.
It’s not every day you discover you might be related to Anastasia…or that the tragic princess actually survived her assassination attempt and has been living as the woman you know as Aunt Anna.
For Jess Morgan, who is growing tired of living her life to please everyone else, discovering her late aunt’s diaries shows her she’s not the only one struggling to hide who she really is. But was her aunt truly a Romanov princess? Or is this some elaborate hoax?
With the help of a supremely dorky, but undeniably cute, local college student named Evan, Jess digs into the century-old mystery.
But soon Jess realizes there’s another, bigger truth waiting to be revealed: Jess Morgan. Because if she’s learned anything from Aunt Anna, it’s that only you can write your own story.
Part mystery, romance, and historical fiction, this genre-bending YA will pull readers into one girl’s journey of discovering the impossible tale of a long-lost aunt—and through her, the importance of being true to yourself.
Anastasia-inspired stories have always appealed to me, so I was quite excited to see what this one had to offer! And it was enjoyable, even though I had some mixed feelings. Let’s break it down!
What I Liked:
- Without saying too much, I liked the direction the story ended up taking. Sometimes, stories that are inspired by the Romanov family can come off as… insensitive, considering they’re a real family, gone for barely a century. And I’ll say that I worried a bit when this one started. But if you are worried about that, I think that it ended up going in a direction that worked.
- It was cool that the author included a lot of authentic historical components. I really enjoyed the historical aspects. While I’d heard the story of Anna Anderson, there were a lot of other new-to-me tidbits from the time around and after the murders that were quite interesting.
- There was a lot of character growth. While Jess was kind of infuriating to me in the beginning (see below), she really did grow a lot during the course of the story. Finding out who her aunt was helped Jess find her own authentic self, which is great.
What I Didn’t:
- Honestly, Jess just felt quite blah to me most of the time. I mean, when I started, I straight up couldn’t stand her, honestly. She just… became whatever she thought people wanted her to be, and that was frustrating. I admit to not fully understanding this sort of thinking, but because she spent so much time not being her authentic self, I guess I never got a real sense of who she was as a person? She just felt a little generic to me. I think had I connected to her more, perhaps I would have been more engaged in the story as a whole.
Bottom Line: Unique twist on the Anastasia lore, with some great messages about being your true, authentic self.
Magic, a prized resource, is the only thing between peace and war. When magic runs out, four estranged royal siblings must find a new source before their country is swallowed by invading forces. The first in an Indian-inspired duology.
Vira is desperate to get out of her mother’s shadow and establish her legacy as a revered queen of Ashoka. But with the country’s only quarry running out of magic–a precious resource that has kept Ashoka safe from conflict–she can barely protect her citizens from the looming threat of war. And if her enemies discover this, they’ll stop at nothing to seize the last of the magic.
Vira’s only hope is to find a mysterious object of legend: the Ivory Key, rumored to unlock a new source of magic. But in order to infiltrate enemy territory and retrieve it, she must reunite with her siblings, torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken. Each of them has something to gain from finding the Ivory Key–and even more to lose if they fail. Ronak plans to sell it to the highest bidder in exchange for escape from his impending political marriage. Kaleb, falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani needs it to clear his name. And Riya, a runaway who cut all family ties, wants the Key to prove her loyalty to the rebels who want to strip the nobility of its power.
They must work together to survive the treacherous journey. But with each sibling harboring secrets and their own agendas, the very thing that brought them together could tear apart their family–and their world–for good.
A sibling reconnection and journey sounds like an amazing premise, and I was so excited for this one! I will say, that in some ways, it fell a bit flat for me? But it also had some definite good parts, so that’s a plus!
Basically, the story just started out slowly for me. We’re reading from the viewpoints of four siblings, which can make it tricky to get to know each character individually. Add to it, not a ton happened in the first half of the book. And while it did pick up and become more exciting, I still wasn’t super connected to it. I couldn’t help but wonder why everyone was so separated and angry to begin with, which probably made it even harder to feel for their plight.
After the first half, things really did get more exciting. And I started to at least be able to decipher the siblings a bit better. And while some of the events felt a little easy, it did become much more readable and entertaining after the midway point. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about all that without spoiling stuff, but the action definitely picks up. And the ending really delivered- to the point where my jaw was on the floor. So, it definitely does get better, but the first half was rough for me.
Bottom Line: A very strong backhalf makes this one worth it despite its slow start.
After angering a local gangster, seventeen-year-old Sena Korhosen must flee with her prize fighting wolf, Iska, in tow. A team of scientists offer to pay her way off her frozen planet on one condition: she gets them to the finish line of the planet’s infamous sled race. Though Sena always swore she’d never race after it claimed both her mothers’ lives, it’s now her only option.
But the tundra is a treacherous place, and as the race unfolds and their lives are threatened at every turn, Sena starts to question her own abilities. She must discover whether she's strong enough to survive the wild – whether she and Iska together are strong enough to get them all out alive.
A captivating debut about survival, found family, and the bond between a girl and a wolf that delivers a fresh twist on classic survival stories and frontier myths.
Things are rough and icy on Sena’s home planet of Nakara. Just kidding, I have no idea what its name is, but I called it Nakara in my head. It’s fine. It has about the same number of dead people, at least one less sentient cavern, and exactly one more deadly wolfsled race.
Sena is itching to get the heck out of Nakara and
back to Sanctum to some planet that is less icy and awful. Her moms died a few years back in the aforementioned deadly race, and there is just nothing left for her, she feels. So she makes some terrible life choices, gets herself on a “To Be Killed” list, and finds herself right the heck in the middle of that damn race.
Here’s the thing: the lead-up to the actual race was a little underwhelming/long. Like, it wasn’t bad, but we all knew she’s going to end up in the race, despite her (near constant) protestations. The synopsis tells us, after all. So it was kind of a lot of lead up, during which I was a bit bored. I liked the world-building though, and Sena was decent enough (even if she was making all the terrible choices) that I kept on reading. When she finds her team and they start the treacherous journey, things really pick up!
Of course, I can’t really tell you about any of that, now can I? Just know that it does, in fact, pick up. The folks Sena meets along the way are pretty great, too, and I was really glad I stuck with the story to meet them. Obviously the stakes are very high during the race, with the corporate goons threatening Sena, as well as just the dangerous conditions of the planet itself. I was definitely invested by the end, and found it to be a good conclusion!
Bottom Line: A brutal world with a brutal race, with a main character who is determined to not be taken down by either make for an exciting story once it gets going.
From lauded writer David Valdes, a sharp and funny YA novel that's Back to the Future with a twist, as a gay teen travels back to his parents' era to save a closeted classmate's life.
All Luis Gonzalez wants is to go to prom with his boyfriend, something his “progressive” school still doesn't allow. Not after what happened with Chaz Wilson. But that was ages ago, when Luis's parents were in high school; it would never happen today, right? He's determined to find a way to give his LGBTQ friends the respect they deserve (while also not risking his chance to be prom king, just saying…).
When a hit on the head knocks him back in time to 1985 and he meets the doomed young Chaz himself, Luis concocts a new plan-he's going to give this guy his first real kiss. Though it turns out a conservative school in the '80s isn't the safest place to be a gay kid. Especially with homophobes running the campus, including Gordo (aka Luis's estranged father). Luis is in over his head, trying not to make things worse-and hoping he makes it back to present day at all.
In a story that's fresh, intersectional, and wickedly funny, David Valdes introduces a big-mouthed, big-hearted queer character that readers won't soon forget.
This book was so sweet, so full of heart, I fell completely in love. And so I am just going to go ahead and explain why.
- Luis. Is. Everything. I love him so very much! He’s funny, he’s witty, he’s charming, and he’s just a good guy with a ton of personality. I loved him from the very start. He also grows a ton during the course of the story, because even though he is awesome, he’s for sure flawed, just as we all are.
- The other characters are amazing, too! Every single side character was so well developed, I ended up loving them all just as much.
- Time travel is always fun, and this iteration is no different! I mean, it’s obviously amusing that Luis went back into the time period of his parents, but there is even more meaning behind it than that. He ends up face to face with the young man who died, becoming his mother’s “cautionary tale” when Luis wants to fight for LGBTQ rights at his school. It’s certainly not easy for Luis (or the reader) to see how the LGBTQ community was treated during the 80s.
- As Luis’s modern day problems show, the world hasn’t made as much progress as we absolutely should have. While we do see how extra awful it was in the 80s (especially for gay men in the dawn of the AIDS era, no doubt), the problems Luis is facing with his school’s prom illustrate how not a whole lot has really changed, and how messed up that really is. I liked that this book authentically portrayed the situation- that sure there’s been progress, but we have a long way to go.
- It’s just so emotive and heartfelt. I laughed, I cried, I just flat out enjoyed it. I was so completely invested in the outcome of all the characters, that I couldn’t put it down. And yeah, I was sad when it ended. But I was also completely and wholly satisfied, and that is a win.
Bottom Line: Full of likable yet flawed characters, tons of growth, and a lot of heart, Spin Me Right Round is a can’t-miss.