An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir introduces Laia and her brother Darin, who both live with their grandparents. When the Empire raids their home, Darin runs and instructs Laia to hide his sketchbook. They’re both caught and taken back inside to watch their grandparents lose their lives. Elias is introduced next. He’s a soldier of the Empire, known as a Mask. Masks are skilled soldiers and trained killers. Elias watches with the rest of the Masks as a deserter is whipped to death by the Commandant. This sickens him because he’s planning on deserting also and he thinks that he will be the next to die at the hands of the Commandant. The Commandant is Elias’ mother and she holds nothing but hatred for her son. The story alternates between Laia and Elias and suspense flows throughout the entire book, each section ending on a cliffhanger. Laia enters the Empire as the Commandant’s slave and as a spy for the resistance, in exchange for helping Darin. A new era is upon the Empire and The Trials have been set and will challenge four Masks, only two will survive and one of them will be the new Emperor. Relationships grow more complicated for both Laia and Elias and the struggle for their lives becomes more desperate. This rollercoaster of a story keeps the suspense heightened to the very last page! 5 well-deserved stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️!

Suspect Red by L.M. Elliot

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Thanks to NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion for the opportunity to read and review Suspect Red by L.M. Elliott! Chapter One is entitled “June 1953”; the book opens as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed for giving the Soviet Union U. S. atomic bomb technology. More factual information is given: the reason for the Berlin Wall and censorship with books, before the story begins. Set in the Cold War era, Richard enjoys reading about spies and other topics that the government frowns upon at the time. His father works for the FBI and was active in the military during wartime. The story alternates between true historical moments and photographs to the fictional characters of Richard and his family and their lives. Eye-opening and relatable, the timeline of the fictional story flows with Cold War history as it is laid out. It’s crazy how much one person affected an entire nation in such a negative way. Suspect Red is an interesting, entertaining way to gain knowledge about the state of our nation during the Cold War, 5 stars!

Protected by Claire Zorn

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Hannah lives with her mother and father. The three of them are mourning Katie, Hannah’s sister. Katie, Hannah and their father were in a car accident and Katie did not survive. Hannah struggles with having friends and fitting in at school, just as she did before Katie’s fatal accident. Hannah and Katie have very different personalities and their lives unfold as the story is told. I like Josh and his sense of humor and adventurous spirit. He helps Hannah loosen up and she learns to enjoy life. The heartbreak of loss and the pain of overcoming that loss seem unbearable and Hannah and her family fight to move forward and beyond the pain. This book holds the messages of bullying, grieving and also the importance of relationships. 5 stars for this realistic fiction story!
Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the opportunity to read and review Protected by Claire Zorn.

The Heartbreak Cure by Amanda Ashby

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Thanks to NetGalley and Entangled Publishing for the opportunity to read and review The Heartbreak Cure by Amanda Ashby! Cat is trying to move on after being humiliated by Bennet, who dated Cat as a challenge and not because he liked her. Then he told everyone about it by putting it online in the form of a YouTube video, humiliating her even more. Alex is Cat’s friend and has been for years. He’s dealing with his family problems but wants to help Cat. The two of them make an agreement to pose as girlfriend/boyfriend to soften any blow that will surely happen when school starts up again. Alex feels as though he’s hiding his true self from everyone he cares about and he’s afraid to share a secret that’s been tearing him apart since the day his mom and siblings died in a car accident years ago. Cat and Alex are realistic and lovable characters that build this story into more than just a romantic tale. The two of them, along with the dynamic and interesting side characters, make this young adult realistic fiction fun! 5 stars for the complexity and realism of the characters!

Sea of Strangers by Erica Cameron

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Sea of Strangers, the sequel to Island of Exiles. I don’t understand the different use of pronouns and it’s distracting but the author’s descriptive details make a scenic world once again. On their journey, the travelers encounter magic, other cultures, dangerous terrain and poisonous birds. They become a strong team and learn to work together and Khya learns that she’s capable of so much more than she ever could have believed. The ending is interesting and intense and my favorite part! 4 stars for a sequel with as much spirit as the first book of the Ryogan Chronicles!

Where I Found You by Heidi R. Kling

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Thanks to NetGalley and Entangled Publishing for the opportunity to read and review Where I Found You by Heidi R. Kling. Sienna is still reeling from her mother’s disappearance that occurred five years ago. Her father is trying to move forward, but still honor his lost wife at the same time. It’s assumed that she went down in a plane crash over the Indian Ocean. Sienna reluctantly agrees to go with her father to a community across the world in Indonesia that has been struck by a Tsunami which caused disaster. While there, Sienna’s eyes are opened and her empathy for those who have suffered through the Tsunami and lost so much overcomes her own feelings of loss. She meets and helps several people and gains a close, wonderful relationship with a young man named Reni. She discovers that Reni is searching for his father and she does everything she can to help him. This touching, beautiful realistic fiction story opened my eyes to the horrible tragedy and suffering of the Tsunami victims, many things I had never thought about or heard of. I enjoyed learning about another culture also. I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel!!! 5 stars.

The Sweetheart Sham by Danielle Ellison

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The Sweetheart Sham by Danielle Ellison.  I’m immediately drawn into the story because of the lovable two main characters, best friends Will and Georgie. Georgie is protecting Will’s secret. She will do anything to help him and when an old beau returns to town, the secret and Georgie’s loyalty are challenged. I love how the author approaches Will’s secret and the different points of view in the small southern town. This realistic situation with all of the stresses and anxiety rings true. One of my favorite scenes of the book is the escape of Georgie from Beau when they run into each other in Charleston while she’s supposedly on a date with Will; classic fun! The author brings a poignant story into our hearts and gives readers food for thought with the friendship, loyalty and honesty of wonderful and complicated characters. Young adult romance worth 5 stars!

Strange Alchemy by Gwenda Bond

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Thanks to NetGalley and Capstone for the opportunity to read and review Strange Alchemy by Gwenda Bond. Miranda and Grant both have a special connection to Roanoke Island and when over one hundred citizens come up missing, Miranda and Grant feel like they are destined to help solve the mass disappearance. The two of them do not share a happy past and their resolve is tested over and over while trying to help each other. The further they dig into the mystery, the stranger things become. They discover supernatural forces controlling people and spirits from the past. Throughout their struggles, Grant and Miranda only have each other to count on. 4 stars for a historical fiction read with a paranormal twist!

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

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Thanks to NetGalley and Philomel Books for the opportunity to read and review Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao. Xifeng lives with and under the control of her Aunt Guma in a poverty-stricken kingdom where the king forces young women to be his concubines. Guma uses magic that makes others suspicious and cautious. She’s reading cards for Xifeng’s future and the cards state that Xifeng is going to be Empress someday. Xifeng and her boyfriend Wei leave the village for their freedom and their futures. They each discover something new about themselves and each other. This debut novel contains unique elements. The protagonist also seems to be the antagonist and as the story unfolds the theme seems to change. I’m fascinated with Xifeng and her reasoning with all of her actions as well as the beautiful relationship she has with Wei. An impressive, entertaining first novel by Julie C. Dao! 5 stars!
*I received a complimentary copy of this book for voluntary consideration.