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  • The Star of Atlantis

    by Tricia D. Wagner

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: An entertaining setup—a 13-year-old haunted by the near-death experience of his best friend who sets out to hunt down a legendary Welsh treasure—evolves into a harrowing seagoing adventure that will hook readers. Brimming with nautical lore and risky feats, the more predictable plot points blend easily into the background.

    Prose: Wagner writes crisply and effectively, with an eye for charged action scenes that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Metaphors are splashed freely throughout the text, giving the story a definitive seasoned feel.

    Originality: The Star of Atlantis checks all of the boxes for a seafaring crusade, but the insightful writing style and gripping moments allow it to shine.

    Character Development/Execution: Wagner fashions likable characters with just enough background to make them authentic and believable.  The exploration of treacherous relationships fits well for young adult audiences, as do the coming-of-age exploits for Wagner’s protagonist.


  • Dragonsown

    by Erika Leigh Agnew

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Agnew crafts a lively, dynamic tale of magical creatures intertwined with human hubris. The first of a series unfolding in a fantasy realm, the plot races from the first pages, picking up speed as it careens through stories of half-mythical humans fighting to protect their own in the face of potential destruction.

    Prose: The novel’s prose is suspenseful and efficient, reminiscent of classic fairy tales in many places. Agnew skillfully creates tension across the storyline with powerful descriptions and subtle set-ups that will firmly capture the attention of readers.

    Originality: Devising a plot that both unites humans and mythical beings and casts them against each other at the same time is creative. Agnew delivers believable worldbuilding that adds to the story’s effectiveness.

    Character Development/Execution: Kael’s transformation into an otherworldly being may be the initial fuel for the plot, but Agnew allows nuanced symbolism to filter in, delicately hinting at more substantial issues beneath the surface. Some characters arrive at their fate more predictably than others, but readers will appreciate the relatable development they undergo along the way.

  • Plot/Idea: Sridhar has created a compelling portrait of ancient civilizations here. Through comprehensive research, the author skillfully portrays the complex historical society of Egypt, with a focus on a war between the Egyptian Empire and the Hittite Kingdom.

    Prose: The opening is powerful and creates an immediate narrative hook. The narration style remains consistently alluring for the book's entirety.

    Originality: Sridhar's novel places a unique focus on a rich period in ancient history. Descriptions of the public and private places in this world come across as accurate and vivid, while the glossary of terms helps the reader in understanding the unfamiliar names and concepts.

    Character Development/Execution: The author offers an intriguing portrayal of Nefertari, wife of Pharaoh Ramses II. While Sridhar explores the character's humanitarian and feminist values, the source of Nefertari’s power ultimately feels unclear to the reader.


  • Danger Peak

    by Michael Thomas Perone

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: This coming-of-age journey moves forward with teenage characters, their adventures, struggles, and dreams, revealing their inner beauty as well as their heartbreaks.

    Prose: The writing style and voice reflect a small suburban town during this time period. Since the Wild Boars motorbike-racing club is at the heart of the story, the reader might expect to see a faster-paced narration. At times, the dialogue feels drawn out. The ending of the story is strong and memorable.

    Originality: The setting and place are integral to this narrative. The pace of the story reflects the time period of a small suburban town of the late 1980s, but does not quite match the fast pace of a racing club.

    Character Development/Execution: The story depicts a world in which motorbikes are highly significant; in other words, motorbikes are non-human characters. The human characters are well-developed, but the description/development of the motorbikes feels mundane and unexciting. Character Rinnie would benefit from greater development. 

  • 9781662920400

    by Anita Saxena

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Double Axel or Nothing is the straightforward story of a young ice skater desperate to measure up to her own standards and prove her value to others. Saxena sticks to the main theme, with very few plot points added in, producing a simple but engaging novel that reflects the power of believing in yourself.

    Prose: The prose is efficient and supportive to the story’s premise. Saxena makes good use of interior monologue to give readers an inside glimpse of Ruby Rani’s conflicts, and for a novel that stays in one central milieu, the writing manages to hold readers' attention well.

    Originality: Readers will likely guess at the plot twists and story’s conclusion, but they will still enjoy the process of getting there. The novel is brimming with self-perception conflicts that drive Ruby Rani’s actions and form the basis of her immersive, yet painful, family relationships.

    Character Development/Execution: Ruby Rani is a heartbreaking model of damaged self-worth, although her perseverance is admirable and carries some of the weight for her character. Her parents form the background of her relentless self-punishment, but readers will appreciate the introspection that takes place to tease out where Ruby Rani’s anxiety truly originates from.

  • Perfectly Accidental

    by Elizabeth Stevens

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: The major appeal of this book is the dialogue between Roman and Piper. This love story is not new, but it has much value since it authentically and vibrantly explores these characters’ fears, hopes, and doubts.

    Prose: The story starts slow and initially drags somewhat, but readers will be rewarded with a more established narration as the book finds its footing.

    Originality: Though Stevens doesn't bring a great deal of novelty to this romance, the charismatic characters uplift the narrative.

    Character Development/Execution: Roman, Piper, and Mason are believable, well-established characters whose psychological struggles will prove relatable to YA readers. 

  • The Caroler

    by Liza Martini

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: Martini's book about toys with human likeness coming to life and having complex backstories is strange, interesting, and written in a playful and engaging manner. Her characters have complex personalities; the story is magical and surreal, yet believable. 

    Prose: Martini has pleasant prose, especially when describing the setting of the book. She has a talent for putting the reader directly into the scene, no matter how unusual it may be. The characters also have authentic interactions, and their emotions are tangible.

    Originality: The storyline of toys coming to life and needing to hide from the humans of the house that they inhabit is a familiar concept. However, Martini has intertwined it with a tale about a man turned into a nutcracker, as well as a new type of magic. The result is a fresh and fun story.

    Character/Execution: Martini's characters are all very much their own separate, flawed individuals. This is something that makes the tale especially relatable - the reader will find their problems squabbles, and growth pleasing and intriguing.

  • The Adventurers and the Sea of Discovery

    by Jemma Hatt

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Hatt’s novel is cleverly paced and chock-full of action, a perfect blend for her intended audience. The ending comes with a gratifying twist that adds depth to the storyline and will keep readers invested in future installments.

    Prose: Suspense-building prose is liberally scattered throughout the story and moves the plot along, particularly during the more adrenaline-fueled scenes. There are isolated moments of awkward dialogue, but these do not distract from the otherwise crisp writing.

    Originality: The plot twist in Hatt’s finale elevates this story’s originality and gives the novel a climactic edge, but most of the storyline will ring familiar for fans of the genre.

    Character Development/Execution: Hatt’s characters are entertaining, and will amuse readers with humorous antics and courageous doings, but they tend to meld into a charming group without distinct standouts. The dynamics between the kids and adults in this story feel authentic, and will be a hit with middle grade audiences.

  • Love and Other Sins

    by Emilia Ares

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Love and Other Sins is an engrossing, emotional read that portrays the angst of lost innocence. Both protagonists will stir coming-of-age memories as they struggle together to overcome their pasts and protect themselves from the future. Ares skillfully shifts perspectives while ensnaring readers in each narrative, and the ambiguous ending will prompt outrage as well as expectancy.

    Prose: Ares’s prose is both crisp and casual, and although the story spans two alternating perspectives, it moves effortlessly through each character’s complications. The writing style unites protagonists and readers, intimately melding them together – fans will feel invested in Mina and Oliver’s outcomes. 

    Originality: This story’s subject matter is not original, but Ares has a firm grasp on storytelling that will sway readers and leave them with a nagging desire to know more.

    Character Development/Execution: Mina and Oliver will entrance readers from the beginning, and Ares allows these characters to develop in a natural, unhurried way. Each is irrevocably tied to the other while still navigating their own space, and their mutual bond feels unquestionable.

    Blurb: A somewhat brooding, star-crossed story that will draw readers in and leave them satisfyingly unfulfilled in the end.

  • Plot/Idea: Vicious dragons, good-natured wolves, and epic battle scenes make Moonlight Walkers, a suspenseful young adult fantasy, a worthwhile read. Moore leaves much to the imagination, including the reason for enmity between the dragons and wolves, that adds to the thrill. 

    Prose: Moore's style is expressive and elegant, boasting a satisfying balance of dialogue as well as description.

    Originality: Steering away from the conventional, Moonlight Walkers features dragons with a decidedly human feel to them, though their inner dragon nature evolves more as the story progresses. The worldbuilding, prolific yet straightforward, may seem familiar at times to genre fans. 

    Character Development/Execution: Sakura is young, ambitious, and inexperienced—an easily relatable character for younger readers. Moore's theme of a female heroine trying to save her family is refreshing, and secondary characters are equally likable and believable. 

  • It's About time

    by Mickey Bridges

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Bridges’s memoir evokes the backstreet grit of a life of drugs, addiction, and crime. His writing will transport readers to the streets with him, giving them a front seat to his pain—and eventual triumph.

    Prose: Bridges is unflinching when it comes to portraying the ups and downs of his life, particularly the brutal circumstances of his childhood and the agonizing consequences of his choices. His prose takes on a lighter feel when describing the profound impact of his spirituality.

    Originality: It’s About Time offers an insider’s perspective, from a tragically young age, of a life filled with bad breaks, poor choices, and crime. The author’s voice is powerfully candid in its descriptions and reflections.

    Character/Execution: Bridges pens a haunting narrative that will jar readers with its very realness. The transformation that takes place offers hope for even the darkest moments.

  • A Marble Story

    by Liz Batton

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot/Idea: Events in this text are spare, yet carry significant symbolic weight: an old man carves a bowl and picks up colored marbles along his solitary walks. Pictures hint at greater narrative threads, like one of a girl in a hospital room, but ultimately these are not concretely drawn together.

    Prose: The prose is clean, tight, and economical, with very few words wasted.

    Originality: The descriptions of the marbles are eloquent and vivid. There's a parable-like quality to this work that will resonate with readers who value more philosophical works. 

    Character Development/Execution: The old man's character dominates the story in the story. Readers may wish for a greater layer of complexity, though the simplicity of storytelling is often moving and profound. 

  • Rough Magic

    by jeffrey gorsky

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Gorsky creates an often vivid and vibrant YA sequel to Shakespeare's The Tempest. Despite its many fine qualities (the Mermaid Tavern is particularly refreshing), the worldbuilding and structure of the story can be somewhat chaotic and uneven in its execution.

    Prose:  Gorksy has a lovely prose style that is abundantly fitting for the magical source material. 

    Originality: The Tempest is an infrequent contender for modern restagings. Gorsky has a clear grasp on what makes the play unique and delightful and echoes these qualities throughout Rough Magic

    Character/Execution: The author puts a fresh twist on the original characters from The Tempest, making them somewhat more transparent in their actions and behaviors, without reducing their mystique. 


  • Black Forest Bound (Book One)

    by Lorelei Gray

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot/Idea: The concept of switching between two protagonists who are at odds with one another is a sound one. Initially, though, the plot introduces multiple characters from differing perspectives in such rapid succession that it can leave the reader feeling disoriented.

    Prose: The prose does well evoking the fairy tale setting, especially when describing creepy imagery; the dialogue is solid, but doesn't quite captivate.

    Originality: The Grimm's Fairy Tales basis for this story will be a familiar one for many fantasy fans. The author's restaging of the rustic German tales is intriguing and well-executed.

    Character Development/Execution: Protagonist Sadie and supporting character Charlotte are stand-out characters that have clearly defined virtues, flaws, and quirks that will make readers fall in love with them. The women are strongly characterized across the board. The male chaaracters are less so, sometimes feeling a tad one-dimensional.

  • Charity Begins at Home

    by Cassie Yates-Russell

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot/Idea: Yates-Russell presents an ideological belief using allegory written through the voice of an eight-year-old narrator.

    Prose:The prose is consistent throughout the story in tone and detail, but the author's transition into flashback stories needs to be ironed out so the story doesn't sound as if it's jumping all over the place.

    Originality: It is certainly not new for authors to use children as the voice of the narrator, telling the story from their viewpoint, yet Yates-Russell manages to craft a story wholly unique by using an object as a supporting character and as the second protagonist.

    Character Development/Execution: There isn't much effort placed in developing the details of the characters through words, although accompanying illustrations provided more visual details. There aren't any major transformations or personal growth in the narrator as a protagonist, which may come off a bit flat to the reader.

  • Pushing Pawns

    by Dima Novak

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot/Idea: Although Novak’s premise initially appears casual, the story’s events nicely illustrate the characters’ moral transformations. Substantial plot twists are lacking, but the storyline’s steady flow culminates in a tidy ending ideal for its intended audience.

    Prose: Novak nails the story’s prose with a coherent first-person perspective and relevant phrasing. There are a few awkward moments, but the majority of the writing is fitting for the text.

    Originality: Pushing Pawns tells a classic coming-of-age tale, but the author stays mainly in a superficial realm as opposed to creating gritty and resonating circumstances – the result is more of a watered-down version than an unparalleled story.

    Character Development/Execution: Novak’s characters start out strong, and readers will expect them to prove tenacious and compelling. Although some of the main players take a surface dive into distressing events, they are never quite fleshed out, leaving an incomplete impression overall.