‘Without You’ by Yesenia Vargas Book Review

‘Without You’ by Yesenia Vargas had many sweet moments. It told of a relationship between Ariana and Lucas, as well as of the friendship between Ariana and her best friend, Mayra, as well as Ariana’s brother, Jimmy. These four main characters spent a lot of time together, and their parents also played a role in the story.

The relationships were told in a sweet way, even if the love between Ariana and Lucas felt a bit rushed. It was interesting to see how Lucas’ ex-girlfriend, Wendy, factored into Ariana’s new relationship with him, but the way she acted around her was quite different than how she was with everyone else. It tends to be true, though, that there are people who can bring out the best in you and those who can bring out the worst. Wendy seemed to be one who brought out the worst, but Ariana seemed smart enough to have been able to stand up to her in a stronger, more positive way.

The best and most strongly written relationship in the book was that between Ariana’s best friend, Mayra, and Ariana’s brother, Jimmy. It was nice to watch that grow, and to see how much Ariana supported it. It evolved slowly, between two people who were friends first. The truth behind this made it that much better of a plot point within the storyline.

The novel was interesting enough to keep reading, but there was quite a bit of telling and not showing within the story, which made it hard to continue at times. Many of the same words were used to explain ideas that were somewhat obvious to readers. This could have been enhanced through further description and more dialogue. As the story progressed, this began to happen more, but mostly within the last quarter of the novel. There was also the fact that Ariana’s relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Carlos, was hinted at many times in terms of how hard it was for her and how she was thankfully able to get out of it, mostly unscathed. Yet, readers were not let in on what exactly happened with him. There is a prequel to this novel that tells their story for those who want to learn more about it, but incorporating some of who he was and what happened between them into ‘Without You’ would have been helpful in making the novel seem able to be read as a standalone, rather than an accompaniment to the prequel.

In ‘Without You,’ Yesenia Vargas has shown that there are some friendships meant to stand the test of time, and those that may peter out, but people can always find strength, love, and truth in each other, if they know where to look for it.

You can find ‘Without You’ by Yesenia Vargas here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘Alicia and the Light Bulb People in Star Factory 13’ by Barbara Roman Book Review

‘Alicia and the Light Bulb People in Star Factory 13’ by Barbara Roman, illustrated by Vladimir Cebu, is a sweet and heartwarming story about the beauty of getting to know how ideas shape our lives. When Alicia is magically transported from a department store to Star Factory 13, she begins to learn about all of the different light bulbs and their purposes in the grand scheme of life, as well as the night sky. The fact that she nor the lightbulbs can leave until they are “ready” presents the power of certainty in one’s life and how moving on and having things work out just as expected is not always the norm.

Friendship, kindness, and empathy are but a few of the themes at work in Roman’s story. Each idea creates a different form of motivation within the characters, and allows Alicia to summon the courage to stand up for herself and others. A tale that brings with it a healthy dose of morals and symbolism, ‘Alicia and the Light Bulb People in Star Factory 13’ is not your average story, and the illustrations help bring it to life all the more.

You can find ‘Alicia and the Light Bulb People in Star Factory 13’ by Barbara Roman here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘The Boyfriend Agreement’ by Seven Steps Book Review

‘The Boyfriend Agreement’ by Seven Steps is definitely a hard one to put down! With a mix of romance, intrigue, and even some violent streaks mixed in, this novel is chock full of page-turning goodness. The author also uses plenty of Disney parallels that keep readers thinking and lends a light feeling to the book even when the themes seem darker than necessary.

Main character Bella French doesn’t know it, but she is in love. The problem is that she’s falling for the wrong brother. Jake Winsted seems like the ultimate guy. The hot and popular football player, being newly single, is all Bella thinks about, and she knows it’s only in her wildest dreams that she’ll ever land a chance with him. When that chance comes, though, it’s at a much higher cost than she ever thought possible, and she begins to realize that what one sees on the surface is definitely not all there is to someone. Despite all of Jake’s popularity and charm, she keeps finding herself drawn to his nuisance of a brother, Cole, who drives her crazy with his jokes about his slightly higher GPA.

Along with her two best friends, Bella tries to traverse what she finds out to be a pretty treacherous world of popularity, trying to maintain who she is while yearning to be someone she’s never been and doesn’t know that she truly wants to be. Mean girls aren’t her only worry, either, when she finds out about a drug scheme going on in her own school and discovers that Jake might be involved, bringing her deeper into the world to which she once desperately longed to belong. All the while, she is realizing what she truly cares about, and figuring out how to maintain it all while trying to balance her lies and deceit, mostly directed at the people she cares about for what she maintains is their sake.

Anyone looking to be fully submerged in a novel, and feel the rush of being involved with something exciting that eventually turns out to be nothing it was cracked up to be, and even scary, must check out ‘The Boyfriend Agreement’ by Seven Steps. It will shake readers to their core, yet bring the brightest spots of romance that will spread smiles across the faces of those who read it. This is only the first of this series by Seven Steps, so checking out the rest is also a must!

You can find ‘The Boyfriend Agreement’ by Seven Steps here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘Crunch Time Cam’ by Jordan Lyons Book Review

‘Crunch Time Cam’ by Jordan Lyons shares the story of Cameron, a young boy who wants to live up to the expectations he feels exist for him regarding his interest in playing basketball. He strives to go out of his way to fill the shoes that his brothers have worn before him in their basketball league.

Even though it was clear where Cam got his sense of determination and perseverance from as he aimed to be the best and win the season, his character, as well as others, could have been further fleshed out. The story seemed very much on the surface at times, and it would have been nice to delve more into the inner workings of some of the secondary characters, like Cam’s best friend Braxton, in order to more fully develop the relationships among the characters. One way to do this would be through more showing rather than telling. The story did a nice job explaining what was happening, but more action sequences coupled with added dialogue rather than quite as much description would help present readers with a more thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. It is nice to feel like you are in the book, and it seems that readers might often feel like they are on the outside of Cam’s life looking in rather than being right there with him.

All in all, Lyons showed through ‘Crunch Time Cam’ that valuable lessons can be learned, even when you least expect them. From learning how to be independent on the court to figuring out how to best work on a team, the importance of friendship, empathy, and maintaining focus are only three of the themes that this book captures in its short but sweet 111 pages.

You can find ‘Crunch Time Cam’ by Jordan Lyons here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘Peterrific’ by Victoria Kann Book Review

‘Peterrific’ by Victoria Kann is all about the joys of imagination and lessons learned as a result. When Peter starts building a tower out of his toy blocks, he realizes that he wants to make it bigger and better than ever before. So he takes it upon himself to draw the tower and set his sights on his tower-building aspirations. His sister, Pinkalicious, helps bring him more and more blocks as he begins work. They work together so Peter can make his dream into a reality. Soon enough, his tower has grown so tall that he can no longer hear his family or see his house so clearly. He has reached the highest of heights, and getting back down seems almost impossible. Despite the neatness of having met his goal, he comes to the realization that he is alone. Even though Pinkalicious helped him get to where he is, he no longer has her by his side.

Kann has done a very nice job showcasing the power of having a dream and seeing to it that it is achieved. She has instilled the power of friendship throughout the story, especially as Pinkalicious helps her brother and Peter tries to figure out what Pinkalicious would do if she were in his situation. She embeds the idea that kids want to be independent and free, but sometimes need their parents and siblings to help ground them. In addition to all of these lessons, she also ends the story with an even more positive note – that despite any past successes, there is still room for improvement, and Peter is destined to work toward yet another goal, with Pinkalicious at his side this time around.

Friendship, effort, and determination are but three of the traits that Peter shares with readers in ‘Peterrific’ – a fantastical tale that will allow readers, young and old alike, to ponder the meaning of working toward a set goal, with the beauty of possibility always in mind.

You can find ‘Peterrific’ by Victoria Kann here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘Switched at Birthday’ by Natalie Standiford Book Review

‘Switched at Birthday’ by Natalie Standiford is a cute fantasy story about the power of empathy. Main characters Lavender and Scarlet are polar opposites. While Lavender tries very hard to stay on the sidelines and live life according to no one’s rules but her own, Scarlet is Little Miss Popular, navigating the treacherous hallways of middle school with unabashed ease. The only thing the two girls have in common is the day they were born. Even though they are aware of each other’s existence, they both are more than content in their daily lives and don’t wish to see anything change. However, when they find themselves each thinking, even if just for a moment, what life would be like in someone else’s shoes, they find themselves transported, unwittingly and unwillingly, into each other’s bodies. Even though they look different, their minds are still their own, and their confusion upon learning of the unintentional switch sparks a host of dilemmas that the girls have to find ways to conquer together.

Aside from the back and forth conversations between the girls that were sometimes hard to follow in terms of who was talking, since their voices tended to mesh together at times, the lessons learned as a result of the body switch are quite telling. There is certainly the most common idea of learning to literally walk in someone else’s shoes and empathize with her on a level that one would never even think possible. Yet, there is also the concept of finding out that what you thought you knew about someone is really quite different, like how the way someone projects their life at school can be very different than the life she actually has at home.

The story is somewhat cliche, but sweet, and it provides a nice look into how it is worth getting to know someone at more than face value to determine how one really might feel about him or her. Friends aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be, enemies might not be quite so bad, and acquaintances might turn out to be your strongest allies. ‘Switched at Birthday’ does a fine job in capturing how terrifying and exciting middle school can be, no matter what end of the popularity spectrum one falls on, and prepares readers for the muddied waters that go along with pretending to be someone you’re not, even if you don’t have any control over what’s happening in your life at any given moment.

You can find ‘Switched at Birthday’ by Natalie Standiford here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘The Importance of Getting Revenge’ by Amanda Abram Book Review

‘The Importance of Getting Revenge’ by Amanda Abram was a delightful read, chock full of some of the best themes that YA writing has to offer – a lovestruck girl, a deliriously hot guy (of which there were plenty, at least according to main character Lexi), a tried and true best friend, and conflicts galore. Everything from the characterizations to the dialogue was well-written, and does a fine job of keeping readers glued to the story.

After having been dumped by her also very good-looking boyfriend on the day she was planning to take the next step in their relationship with him, she finds herself thrown into a plan that her best friend helps her cook up, but which she goes full force into as the story proceeds. Lexi and best friend Trish figure that she needs to get revenge on her ex, Jeffrey, by making him jealous and upset at the fact that he ever let her get away. Lexi’s thought on how to do this is to make Jase, Trish’s older and very good-looking – not to mention very popular and extremely wanted by all of the girls – brother, her fake boyfriend for the sake of making Jeffrey jealous. It stands to reason that all of the guys in the book are likely more good-looking due to the fact that they all hang out together, are all jocks, etc., but Lexi is always so down about her own looks as well as incapable of seeing how interested anyone of the opposite sex could possibly be in her. However, she hangs out with Trish, who is very good-looking, even if she doesn’t know it or flaunt it, and her whole circle of friends, or at least anyone she hangs around with, is also described as very easy on the eyes. Self-esteem can certainly be an issue for anyone, no matter how popular, but it seems that she would have some more confidence due to her circle of friends.

As the plan springs into action, Lexi sometimes find it hard to discern if Jase is just acting or if he is really trying to be the perfect boyfriend for her. She always attributes it to the former, because, at least in her mind, there is not the slightest possibility that he can have the hots for her, even though she is falling for him, despite all of her inner and outer protests to the contrary.

The story is populated with a variety of characters. Lexi’s parents are pretty well captured, from her mom who desperately wants her with Jase and doesn’t hide it, to her dad, who is around, but remains pretty oblivious to his daughter’s life in general – especially her love life. Jase’s guy friends – mainly Eric and Zach – help the plot move along nicely, and even Jeffrey, Lexi’s ex, becomes more well-formed throughout the novel.

‘The Importance of Getting Revenge’ has a great vibe and will have girls drooling over Jase, while simultaneously empathizing with Lexi’s plight, even though they know she doesn’t really have a foot to stand on much of the time. The story is sweet and sentimental, combining memories of friendships past with the hope of future romance. A captivating read that will resonate with readers well past the last page.

You can find ‘The Importance of Getting Revenge’ by Amanda Abram here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow’ by Michelle Cuevas Book Review

‘Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow’ by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Sydney Smith is a story about how sometimes it is worthwhile to stray outside of what you ordinarily know and take for granted and see what life is like “outside the lines” instead of staying perfectly inside them in every aspect of life.

Smoot the Shadow feels stuck. The boy to whom he is attached never does anything out of the ordinary – or at least nothing that Smoot feels excited for as days continually go by. When he finds himself free of his boy, his life becomes filled with color, both of the literal and metaphorical variety. He goes off into the world seeking everything he feels he has been missing, encountering colors, people, animals, and a whole new life he is eager to keep. That is, until he realizes that shadows can hardly overtake everything, and if they do, the consequences could be truly unwieldy. So he sets out to help everyone live out their own dreams, and while doing so, he finds he is living his own, helping others to realize their own truth through the beauty of freedom and being able to do as one wishes, within reason.

All the while, Smoot’s boy has been following his shadow, watching the magic happen, and he himself decides that being more like Smoot is the best course of action. Smoot adds color to not only his life, but the lives of others – most especially his boy, which reflects back on him since he gets to live the rest of his days attached to the boy. The story teaches that rebellion is not always a bad idea, so long as it is done in a way that teaches a lesson and becomes part of the rules by which one lives.

You can find ‘Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow’ by Michelle Cuevas here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘Amy the Red Panda is Writing the Best Story in the World’ by Colleen AF Venable Book Review

‘Amy the Red Panda is Writing the Best Story in the World’ by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Ruth Chan, revolves around Amy and her best friend Mervin, a sloth, and the story they are starting to write together. However, when Amy begins telling the story, she finds unwanted opinions coming from every other nearby animal. All of the ideas leave Amy uncertain of how to move forward with her story, and unsure whether she really wants to, since the illustrations show her to look terribly confused and upset about all of the unsolicited advice she is getting.

The story shows how sometimes people throw their opinions into the mix without being asked, and dealing with this is never easy. Sometimes people have a vision, as Amy does in this book, and losing that as a result of so many people coming out of the woodwork with their own thoughts on the matter can certainly be aggravating. Instead of finding the path she wants to take with her writing, she finds herself giving up. Then her best friend Mervin chucks one of the letters on the page at Amy, and she finds herself smack in the middle of a letter fight. She comes to realize that her friendship with Mervin beats anything that had already happened that day, which proves the fact that sometimes people just have to sit back and let life happen to them rather than trying to make stories up on their own.

Some of the best decisions in life come out of seeing where life takes you and not overthinking things. Even when others are doing the overthinking, it is still difficult. Figuring out one’s own story and path in life and shaping it the way one wants it rather than how others are saying to do so is some of the best advice this story offers.

You can find ‘Amy the Red Panda is Writing the Best Story in the World’ by Colleen AF Venable here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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‘Here, There, Everywhere’ by Julia Durango and Tyler Terrones Book Review

‘Here, There, Everywhere’ by Julia Durango and Tyler Terrones is a creative and enjoyable read about a spectrum of ideas, from friendship to family dynamics, finding inspiration in unlikely places to first loves. Main character Zeus finds himself stuck in small town Buffalo Falls after having lived in Chicago for most of his life. His mom has opened a hippie type of cafe and he deals with being her delivery boy for the first bit of summer. Nothing seems to be looking up for him as he misses his hometown until he meets Rose, a musical and pretty girl that he meets when delivering a meal to a senior home where Rose plays piano.

Zeus’ relationship with Rose grows in a somewhat quick way, but it is done just as believably. They find themselves spending more and more time together, both at Hilltop Nursing Home and on outside dates. He soon finds out that she intends to move away at the end of the summer to spend her senior year at a music conservatory in New York. Having just met her, but at the same time having become completely enamored of her, he cannot imagine her not being around. As their relationship blossoms, conflicts occur that make them unsure how to move forward. These include issues related to Rose’s school pursuits, Zeus’ uneasiness about making friends, despite not really having trouble doing so, his little brother Grub’s fascination with and admiration of an Alzheimer’s patient at the nursing home, and the tables somewhat turning on what might happen next for all involved.

The story moves along very smoothly and with just enough going on in each chapter and scene that it doesn’t feel over- or under-loaded. Zeus is basically the epitome of what a teenage boy should be – unsure of himself but trying to project confidence, at least when in front of a girl, as well as kind and good to his brother, yet with an underlying air of self-involvement that any normal teenager feels from time to time. His little brother Grub along with their mom, while secondary characters, shine through as important forces in Zeus’ life, especially noted when Zeus realizes how disconnected he has been from them after trying to find himself as the summer progresses. The residents of Hilltop Nursing Home are well-drawn as well, and readers will feel for these older folks whom Zeus and Rose find solace with during their time spent there. And Rose is a friendly and talented girl who desperately wants to find herself, but gets caught up in her relationship with Zeus, causing friction that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred. However, without friction and conflict, the end result does not seem quite as earned and deserved, and this is something Durango and Terrones did very well throughout the story.

The ending of ‘Here, There, Everywhere’ will bring smiles and tears, truly showing how the story reveled in beauty, not just of the physical variety, but even more so of the emotional type. Definitely recommended for lovers of contemporary young adult romances with a flavor of family dynamics and even more extended relationships.

You can find ‘Here, There, Everywhere’ by Julia Durango and Tyler Terrones here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

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