Inspired Reading: Sekret

Sekret (Sekret, #1)Sekret by Lindsay Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sekret, by Lindsay Smith, is a terrifying and thrilling mind trip. Smith brings the Soviet Union in the early 1960s to chilling life with KGB thugs, ration rats and black market bartering. Amidst the Cold War and space race between the U.S. and Russia, our protagonist Yulia becomes a pawn in a deadly intelligence game between the CIA and KGB. Against her will, she participates in covert missions with other young psychics, like herself. Yulia’s struggle for freedom and to discover the truth about her own powers will seize your imagination, keep you enthralled to the last page and have you yearning for more. There is romance, non-stop action and startling revelations at every turn. And as with any great spy novel, no one can be trusted! I hope to see this book adapted into a movie, not only for the vivid plot and characters, but for the amazing soundtrack it would feature. Smith must be a musician or music aficionado, as she immerses the characters in everything from Tchaikovsky to the Beatles and the Animals. This book will assault all of your senses and have you believing that an empty mind truly is the only safe mind. Thank you, Roaring Brook Press and NetGalley, for this egalley!

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Inspired Reading: The Fire Horse Girl

The Fire Horse GirlThe Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like her willful title character, Kay Honeyman demands your attention. From page one of The Fire Horse Girl, you are hopelessly hooked and Jade Moon’s story refuses to release you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Jade Moon is not an entirely likable character. She is impulsive and outright hostile. And while her concerns are well-founded, I often wanted to shut her up for her own good. But it is her tenacious commitment to justice and reckless determination that won me over and allowed Jade Moon to forge her own path despite the strict confines of two societies’ rules for her. The young man she falls in love with, Sterling Promise, is equally full of contradictions. Like everything else in her life, this romance is fraught with tension. Sterling Promise elicits intense feelings of both tenderness and distrust in Jade Moon. In 1920s America, Jade Moon risks everything to find her freedom. She makes impossible sacrifices and bulldozes through barriers; but is it enough? Pick up this book and find out!

In The Fire Horse Girl, Honeyman skillfully captures the subtle nuances of Chinese (and Chinese-American) culture in the early twentieth century during an important era in American immigration history. Although Jade Moon was born generations past, her struggle for personal freedom is one that will resonate with many young women and men. Finding your own voice and destiny while bound by what others expect you to be is an eternal quest for most of us.

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Inspired Reading: The Sweetest Dark

The Sweetest DarkThe Sweetest Dark by Shana Abé

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an avid reader of young adult fiction, I have grown weary of vampires, witches, and werewolves. So when I came across this title on NetGalley, I was intrigued. Dragons and ancient magic set in war torn post-Victorian England sounded like just the dark romance I was looking for. And I was not disappointed!

Although Lora is unsure of her place in the world and in denial about her secret powers, she has a strong and compelling voice. I found myself thoroughly enjoying her wry observations about her spoiled, upper crust boarding schoolmates. The love triangle between Lora, Jesse (the literal golden boy), and Armand (the dark, disillusioned aristocrat) may appear to be an overused trope. However, the connection between the three was quite complex. You’ll yearn for Lora and Jesse to be alone together while simultaneously anticipating her next verbal sparring match with Armand.

As Lora discovers her true identity, the story races to an action-packed climax. I was sorry to finish the book and leave these vivid and irresistibly vulnerable characters. I look forward to reading Shana Abe’s Drakon series next. Thank you, NetGalley and Random House, for another excellent read!

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Inspired Reading: The Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of TranquilityThe Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Sea of Tranquility is an unexpected gem of a young adult novel that does not rely on the fantastical realm of monsters and magic. Instead, it explores the monsters that reside our own hearts and the magic of human connection. It is the story of Nastya, the mysterious new girl who has reinvented herself to hide her past. Her only purpose is to exact revenge upon the boy who destroyed her life. Despite the unassailable barriers she has built between herself and the rest of the world, Nastya finds herself drawn to a boy named Josh Bennett who loves to build furniture and somehow exists in a world apart from their high school classmates.

Katja Millay uses the first-person narrative in a brilliant dance between Nastya and Josh’s perspectives. The story unfolds in two very distinct voices. Nastya is all too aware of her own and others’ shortcomings. But it is difficult not to enjoy her sarcasm and vulnerability. As Nastya and Josh’s relationship develops, the reader gathers clues to the tragedy that ripped Nastya’s world apart. You’ll also discover why students and teachers alike avoid Josh. It is a visceral journey into the hearts and minds of Nastya, Josh, and Drew, Josh’s best friend. You’ll find yourself rooting for these utterly dysfunctional characters and hoping that they will overcome their respective inner demons, heal, and allow themselves to love and be loved. The Sea of Tranquility is an intricate tapestry of humor, human suffering, and above all, heart. A must read!

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Inspired Reading: Beautiful Disaster

Beautiful Disaster (Beautiful, #1)Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first glance, Beautiful Disaster appears to be your typical good girl/bad boy romance. However, Abby Abernathy and Travis Maddox are deliciously complex characters. At times, Abby’s willful denial of reality is extremely frustrating. I had the same urge to hit her upside the head that I did when Bella strung Jacob along in the Twilight series, insisting they were “just friends.” Things only become more complicated as Abby and Travis’ relationship progress. But I found myself involuntarily sucked into their story. It brought back all the intensity, vulnerability, magic, and desperate longing of first love. Abby and Travis’ passion for one another is beautiful and leads to a string of disastrous consequences. Jamie McGuire crafts a tale full of hope, redemption, and self-acceptance. In my experience, it’s nearly impossible for young love to last, but like me, readers will root for Abby and Travis, and believe that maybe these two can work it out–dysfunctional as they each may be.

Thank you NetGalley for this e-read!

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Inspired Reading: Lies Beneath

Lies Beneath (Lies Beneath #1)Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

YA literature seems to be rife with sexy, reluctant monsters that tempt and test our teen heroines. Vampires and werewolves abound. And now, there are mermen. Lies Beneath is told from the perspective of Calder White, a gorgeous merman, whose survival requires murder and manipulation. But Calder longs to be human, and even falls in love with one.

Calder has three stunning siren sisters, and together they plan to exact vengeance on Jason Hancock, whom they blame for their mother’s death. Calder ingratiates himself with the Hancock family by getting close to Jason’s daughters. But he isn’t prepared when Lily, the older Hancock sister, seems immune to his seduction and subtle powers of mind control.

In Calder and Lily, Anne Greenwood Brown builds two complex and strong-willed characters. Although humans adore him, Calder is acutely aware of the fact that he’s a monster. He envies humans their joy and vibrant emotions, and resists his instinct to kill. But he can’t resist Lily, a girl who baffles him with her quirky clothes, penchant for Victorian poetry, and tolerance for cold—especially when he, a merman, can’t stand the cold. And despite her suspicions that Calder is more than he seems, Lily is drawn to him. She helps Calder believe that he can aspire towards something beyond his bleak, predatory existence. As Calder struggles with his growing feelings for Lily, he must decide where his loyalties lie, before his sisters take matters into their own hands.

Lies Beneath is a compelling read. Audiences of all ages can relate to Calder’s constant feeling of otherness, of not belonging, even amidst his own family. They will root for him as he learns the truth about himself and his family, discovers love, and shapes his own nature and destiny.

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Inspired Reading: Vietnamerica

Vietnamerica: A Family's Leavetakings and HomecomingsVietnamerica: A Family’s Leavetakings and Homecomings by GB Tran

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am almost too emotional right now to write this review. This is because I am also a second-generation Vietnamese American who has been largely indifferent to my parents’ history until recently. GB’s family saga holds personal significance to me, because it brings into stark relief the generational and cultural divide that separates my own family. However, I believe that other readers without a similar background to the author will also be drawn to this visceral graphic memoir.

Tran’s family journey jumps back and forth in time and place, spanning decades and continents. But the order in which he lays out the events feels familiar rather than confusing, as if you are there with him gathering the pieces to his family’s story. You are swept back to his grandparents’ and parents’ daily lives, and begin to understand the causes and events leading up to the Vietnam War. Tran is a genius at capturing emotions and facial expressions in his illustrations. Every color, line, and layout brings the desperation and destruction of war, as well as the complexity of human connections (and disconnections) to life. This isn’t just his family’s story, but the story of every family around the world touched by war and political corruption.

I cried reading the final pages of this book, knowing that creating this book was a process of healing for GB Tran, and reading it has helped me on my own way to healing. Vietnamerica will give you a new perspective on the Vietnam War, being American, and what family really means. I borrowed this book from the library, but intend to purchase a copy. It is a story I must share with my family and our next generation.

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