A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney – A Black Retelling of Alice in Wonderland and the Struggles of Being a Teen

Text: A Blade So Black, L.L. McKinney. Image: A Black teen with natural hair, holding a dagger in both hands, wearing a red jacket.
Blurb:

The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she’s trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.

Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.

CW’s review:

I was pleasantly surprised by A Blade So Black, and I had so much fun reading this book! A Blade So Black is a brilliant retelling of Alice in Wonderland led by a Black-American teen, and is about the struggles of straddling the responsibilities of two worlds, protecting and doing your best for the people that you love, and the pressure of being a heroine with immense responsibility.

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Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds – A Movie-Ready John Green-esque Novel

Text: Opposite of Always, Justin A Reynolds. Image: A black male teen (left), sits across the stairs from a black female teen with natural hair. Above the stairs are the same teens, their legs pressed against each other, the image cut off above their knees.

Blurb:

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.

Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

Joce’s Review:

OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS presents the burning questions of many time travel loop novels: If you had the power to change the past, would you, and how? Jack King took me along his journey through time, revisiting the same incidents again and again, beginning at a party where he meets Kate on the stairs and they share a bowl of cereal. From there, he wrestles with friendships, family relationships, and self-care, and the time loop ends and rewinds upon Kate’s death, totaling a six month span each round.

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Ruse by Cindy Pon – The Gang Returns For One More Heist; A Solid Sequel About The Prices We Pay and Resistance

Text: Ruse by Cindy Pon. Background image: Lingyi, an Asian girl with purple hair and glasses, under purple coloured light.
Blurb:

Jason Zhou, his friends, and Daiyu are still recovering from the aftermath of bombing Jin Corp headquarters. But Jin, the ruthless billionaire and Daiyu’s father, is out for blood. When Lingyi goes to Shanghai to help Jany Tsai, a childhood acquaintance in trouble, she doesn’t expect Jin to be involved. And when Jin has Jany murdered and steals the tech she had refused to sell him, Lingyi is the only one who has access to the encrypted info, putting her own life in jeopardy.

Zhou doesn’t hesitate to fly to China to help Iris find Lingyi, even though he’s been estranged from his friends for months. But when Iris tells him he can’t tell Daiyu or trust her, he balks. The reunited group play a treacherous cat and mouse game in the labyrinthine streets of Shanghai, determined on taking back what Jin had stolen.

When Daiyu appears in Shanghai, Zhou is uncertain if it’s to confront him or in support of her father. Jin has proudly announced Daiyu will be by his side for the opening ceremony of Jin Tower, his first “vertical city.” And as hard as Zhou and his friends fight, Jin always gains the upper hand. Is this a game they can survive, much less win?

CW’s review:

Note: The following review contains minor spoilers to the first book of the duology, Want.

I can’t believe it’s been two years since Want, one of my favourite books of 2017, and it was absolutely worth the wait. Ruse by Cindy Pon is the sequel to Want, a YA science-fiction set in futuristic Taipei about taking down corruption corporations and tackling environmental issues before they are too late. Now in Shanghai, China, Ruse follows Jason Zhou and the gang as they work together once more to pull off another heist. 

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A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua – On Reading the Right Book at the Right Time

Text: A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua.
Blurb:

Holed up with other mothers-to-be in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles, Scarlett Chen is far from her native China, where she worked in a factory and fell in love with the married owner, Boss Yeung. Now she’s carrying his baby. To ensure that his child—his first son—has every advantage, Boss Yeung has shipped Scarlett off to give birth on American soil. As Scarlett awaits the baby’s arrival, she spars with her imperious housemates. The only one who fits in even less is Daisy, a spirited, pregnant teenager who is being kept apart from her American boyfriend.

Then a new sonogram of Scarlett’s baby reveals the unexpected. Panicked, she goes on the run by hijacking a van—only to discover that she has a stowaway: Daisy, who intends to track down the father of her child. The two flee to San Francisco’s bustling Chinatown, where Scarlett will join countless immigrants desperately trying to seize their piece of the American dream. What Scarlett doesn’t know is that her baby’s father is not far behind her.

Joce’s review:

As a new mother and a first-generation Chinese immigrant living in the United States, I knew A River of Stars would strike a chord, but I could not have prepared myself for how deeply. I met Scarlett and Daisy, our two main characters, when they were pregnant. They suddenly go on the lam, desperately trying to piece together a full life for themselves and their babies. As they both have very little to no family in the USA, they create a found family, and I am honored to have witnessed it as a reader.

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Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan – An Excellent YA Sci-Fi with Social Discourse, Helmed by Three Brilliant & Realised Characters

Text in the center:

Summary:

Everyone in the universe knows his name. Everyone in the universe fears him. But no one realizes that notorious outlaw Ia Cocha is a seventeen-year-old girl.

A criminal mastermind and unrivaled pilot, Ia has spent her life terrorizing the Olympus Commonwealth, the imperialist nation that destroyed her home. When the Commonwealth captures her and her true identity is exposed, they see Ia’s age and talent as an opportunity: by forcing her to serve them, they will prove that no one is beyond their control.

Soon, Ia is trapped at the Commonwealth’s military academy, desperately plotting her escape. But new acquaintances—including Brinn, a seemingly average student with a closely-held secret, and their charming Flight Master, Knives—cause Ia to question her own alliances. Can she find a way to escape the Commonwealth’s clutches before these bonds deepen?

My review:

I’m still in awe. Going into Ignite the Stars, I had a feeling that I would like it, but I had no idea that I would love it. It follows Ia Cocha, a teenage criminal mastermind and genius pilot who is captured by her enemy and is forced to work for their military academy. While she plots her escape, she meets two others at the academy that will change her life and its trajectory forever. It has so much to offer and boasts some incredible elements that readers will love: discourse on social and political issues relevant to today, found family, female friendships, and a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance.

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