The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer

Genre: YA Steampunk
Secondary genre: Alternate history, romance
Series: The Inventor’s Secret vol. 1

I was so excited when I picked this book up. A steampunk novel with a female main character, set in an alternate America in which we lost the Revolution. Alas, I can tell you now that it did not live up to my expectations.

I found Charlotte, the main character, to be spoiled and bland. She lives with a group of other youngsters in a series of caves; their parents sent them away to protect them from “The Empire,” which has forced the descendants of the Patriots into slavery. By sending their children away, they hope they can grow up free and fight for the rebellion.

Okay, I thought. It’s a flimsy excuse, but I won’t poke at it too hard. I kept reading.

The oldest members of their little enclave decide to leave when a strange boy, Grim shows up in their midst. They must get to the bottom of his mysterious appearance, and since he doesn’t remember anything, they have to do it for him.

My suspension of disbelief started to fray a bit here, since they were leaving an 11 or 12 year old in charge of an unknown number of children, but okay.

I finally lost my sense of disbelief wholly when they arrive at the floating city of New York…which is kept aloft by (presumably) steam power, and is made of…metal and stone? Um…

Charlotte is meant to be a “strong female character.” We know this because she is rude, carries a gun, and can’t keep her mouth shut. But there are at least three points in the book where she stands around, bored, waiting for someone to give her orders. She has no agency of her own and makes no decisions for herself, even at the end of the book when she is left in charge of the catacombs while the other teens go off on their first missions.

Adding to the let down, the author tried to shoehorn in diversity by mentioning in the last quarter of the book that a character (who has been there effectively since page one) is possibly black? It’s not stated in so many words, but is heavily implied.

By the end of the book I was so frustrated and just done that I have already decided not to continue with the series, despite a cliffhanger ending. The romance subplot is minor at best, and I really hated Charlotte’s love interest because of how hot and cold he ran; and when he was showing interest, he acted extremely entitled about it, as though Charlotte owed him her love. I spent the bulk of the book thinking about how I would re-write it to make it better.

If you’re looking for steampunk romance with diverse characters and floating cities, Gail Carriger does it better.

The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi

Genre: YA romance
Secondary genre: Islamic/Muslim
Format: audio
Rep: Muslim, Afghani
CW: child abuse, sexism, child death, murder, victim blaming, violence
Rating: planchet-5

This Muslim version of Romeo and Juliet is an intense read from start to finish. I think I listed to it over the course of two days, and while I tried to take a break, I just couldn’t–I had to know what happened next. It’s the definition of “Well, that escalated quickly.” It starts off so sweet, with Fatima reconnecting with her childhood friend, Samiullah. When they were kids, things were easy. But now that they’re in their teens, things are much more complex.

Set during the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the teens must not only determine what their feelings are for each other, but also how to handle them when they are from distinctly different classes and tribes, and the new regime won’t let them be together. Not only that, but their own families are determined to keep them apart. Fatima in particular, as the lower class and female in this equation, becomes the target of harassment and violence, even from her own mother.

It takes a lot of spoons to finish this book, no lie. But if you can manage it? It is so worth the read. If you need a spoiler, keep reading below the cut.




If “Afghani Romeo and Juliet” has you worried, it’s okay: No one commits suicide, and they get their HEA.

An English Boy in New York by T.S. Easton

Genre: YA contemporary
Secondary genre: knit lit
Format read: ebook
Series: Boys Don’t Knit (in Public) vol 2
Content Warnings: mentions of weight/diet, sexism
Rating: planchet-3

I read the first book in this series ages ago, but my library never purchased the 2nd book. Thankfully, now that I live in Seattle, I have access to a whole other library system!

I can’t tell you too much about the plot without giving away book one, but suffice to say that our main character, Ben, is a British-born teen knitter, who has won a trip to New York City. Traveling with his parents (who are hilarious, by the way), and a friend, Ben is in and out of trouble all week–and accidentally sets himself up for failure when he claims to knit faster than a machine…during a radio interview.

This whole series is funny and light, but my biggest pet peeve is that it is NOT well researched. You can’t knit a whole sweater in one piece on straight needles. You can’t buy yarn and needles at Bloomingdales (American department stores are very different from UK/European department stores), and you can’t knit a men’s sweater in 1 hour, even if you are using size 10 needles.

I do, however, like the way that Ben subverts tropes and expectations. He’s still a pretty typical teenage boy, he just happens to knit. He’s also super sweet (and he needs better friends).

Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd

Genre: YA historical
Secondary genre: scifi
Format read: audiobook
Series: The Madman’s Daughter vol 2
Rep: chronic illness, autism coding
CW: graphic violence,
Rating: planchet-4

The second book in the series, you can find my review of book one here.

After fleeing her fathers secret island laboratory as it burned, Juliet is back in London. She has, surprisingly, found a new family for herself, and is beginning to build a life, though the struggle of keeping her mysterious illness and her “oddities” to herself is beginning to wear.

But when murders begin happening in London, Juliet begins to see a pattern the police have missed: all the victims are people who have wronged her in one way or another. Chilled to the bone, she begins to suspect she’s not the only one who escaped the island.

But when Montgomery turns up in London, too, things begin to look up. Surely the two of them can solve the murders and save her life if they work together, can’t they?

Drawn from Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this book continues Shepherd’s retelling of dark, classic literature with a scifi twist.

I really enjoyed this book, though I did have a few things about it that bothered me, as with the first volume. It is definitely problematic in more ways than one, but I still find myself looking forward to the third book, which I believe is the conclusion of the series.

Have you read this series yet? What are your thoughts?

The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Genre: YA historical
Secondary genre: scifi
Format read: audiobook
Series: The Madman’s Daughter vol 1
Rep: chronic illness, autism coding
CW: graphic violence, violence against animals, attempted sexual assault
Rating: planchet-4

Inspired by The Island of Doctor MoreauI was drawn to this book from the title alone. I’m always down for a book about mental illness, and this one seemed to have a good chunk of mystery and intrigue to boot.

If you are looking for something light and fun, then please turn around now because that is not what you’re going to find. This book is dark, it’s gritty, and it questions what it means to be human and how bad a person has to be before they aren’t worth saving anymore.

Juliet has been ill her entire life. For the most part, it doesn’t affect her–provided she takes her daily injections. But life is hard in the slums of London, and even harder with no family or friends to lean on.

Left destitute after her father’s exile and her mother’s desk, once genteel Juliette finds herself scrubbing the floors of the lectures halls where her father once taught. But why he fled England is still something of a mystery. While rumors abound, which ones are true?

Then, just as her life in London becomes unsustainable, Juliet runs into a familiar face: Montgomery, her family’s old servant, who vanish at the same time as her father.

Call it flirtation, call it blackmail, call it sheer force of will, Juliet convinces Montgomery to take her with him, back to the remote island where her father now lives.

This heart wrenching novel of family, friendship, betrayal, and redemption is highly problematic to say the least, but largely in a way that questions morality and humanity; it usually calls itself on the questionable content, but be ready to be horrified.

Good for fans of Frankenstein, Mindy McGinnis, and Penny Dreadful. 


Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Genre: YA dystopian
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: violence, death
Rep: disability
Series: Not a Drop to Drink vol 1
Rating: planchet-3

In a world where water is a limited and valuable commodity, Lynn has had to do hard things since she could walk. Hunt. Steal. And defend the pond that keeps her and her mother alive.

But when her mother dies suddenly, Lynn has to do all this on her own. That’s fine–she’s always been on her own to some extent.

But hard than all her chores–harder than hauling and purifying water, harder that shooting at trespassers and killing coyotes, might be learning to lean on others.

When a group of violent newcomers threatens not just Lynn but the entire area, she’ll have to make alliances if she wants to live.

Can she risk those alliances turning into actual friendships?

This was Mindy’s first book, and one of the few she’s written I hadn’t read yet. Dystopian isn’t really my bag, but it was still quite good. I haven’t decided if I want to read the second book in this duology, In a Handful of Dust. Have you read it? Should I give it a go?

Spirit Keeper by K. B. Laugheed

Genre: YA historical
Format read: ebook
Series: The Spirit Keeper book 1
Positive rep: Native American (multiple, unspecified), trans/2 spirit (minor character)
CW: racist slurs, character death, miscarriage, violence, rape, abuse
Rating: planchet-4

Not gonna lie: As much as I enjoyed this book, it was pretty problematic from page one.

The main problem I had with it was the slurs and the way the main character (a 17 year old white girl) looked down on anyone who was different from her. She did grown out of this as her worldview expanded, but there were a lot of questionable decisions made by all the characters.

Katie’s family is abusive. There’s no lost love between her and her mother, and her alcoholic father is hard on all of them. What’s more, her older siblings agree with her mother, that she’s a curse on the family who brings them bad luck.

Her plans to run away, however, are thwarted when a group of Natives attack their Pennsylvania farm, killing most of her family. Katie, her mother, and one of her sisters and one brother are taken captive and sent on a grueling hike, the destination of which is a mystery.

But Katie has attracted the attention of two of their captors, who appear to be from a different tribe. With no idea what they want from her, she struggles to learn their language and in the process a tiny spark of friendship grows between her and one of the men, whom she calls Syawa. When offered the chance to leave her family behind for good and follow Syawa and his companion “Hector” west to their home, Katie finds the decision isn’t all that hard, and she steps into the unknown with only two men–whose true names she can’t even pronounce–to protect her.

Despite all the problematic elements in this book, I did enjoy reading it. There were places, especially near the beginning, where the story lagged and I wasn’t sure I would finish it. However, things did pick up around the 30% mark and I enjoyed the rest of the book, even if I didn’t like everything that happened.

There is, apparently, a second book. I haven’t decided yet if I want to read it as it’s set many years in the future, and there were places where I didn’t care for the writing style, which was in journal entries and summarized or skipped over quite a lot.

It is something you should pick up, however, if you are interested in stories of people adopted into native tribes in the 1700s, or frontier life.


American Panda by Gloria Chao

Genre: YA contemporary
Secondary genre: romance
Representation: OCD coding, East Asian (multiple, mostly Taiwanese)
Content warning: “tricky families”
Format read: ebook
Rating: planchet-5

Mei’s parents have a PLAN. After graduating early and attending MIT, she’s going to become a doctor, marry a nice Taiwanese boy, and have a bunch of kids.

At seventeen, Mei has played along for her entire life. It seemed like a good plan. Especially after her older brother was disowned. The last thing she wanted to do was let down her parents.

But as her first semester of pre-med drags on, it becomes clearer and clearer that she is not cut out for med school. She can’t even go into a public bathroom without the urge to spray everything in Lysol, or shake hands with someone without whipping out the hand sanitizer immediately afterward.

The fact that her crush is definitely not Taiwanese is just the cherry on top of a Mei-shaped sundae.

Torn between her loyalty to her family and her own desires, Mei must come to terms with not only her own feelings, but a pile of secrets, misinformation, and tradition her family has been sitting on for years.

For those of you not familiar, “tricky families” is a label used by psychologists to label families that work well on paper and look great from the outside, but cover loads of emotional and psychological abuse and neglect. Having been raised in a “tricky family,” I know the feeling all to well, though my situation was quite different. I highly recommend this book for anyone who comes from a similar background, or anyone who is looking for an emotional Asian-American led story, or a book focusing on the transition to college life.

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Genre: YA historical
Secondary genre: romance
Format read: audiobook
Series: Bright Young Things vol. 1
Rating: planchet-4

Cordelia’s small Ohio town chaffs her. Raised by her abusive aunt after her mother’s death, she’s been planning her escape almost since she could walk. So when her opportunity comes–on her wedding night, no less–she takes her best friend, Lettie, and makes a run for the train.

The two arrive in New York City the following day, but within short order find themselves out of money, kicked out of their boarding house, and with nothing but a shattered, life-long friendship between them. The girls go their separate ways, each determined to survive independently for the first time in their lives.

But Cordelia has an ace up her sleeve–her father is still alive, and he’s somewhere in New York. It doesn’t take long to find him, as he’s a notorious bootlegger frequently in the papers. Cordelia crashes a party, introduces herself, and holds her breath to see if her father will welcome her or reject her.

While I wasn’t fond of many aspects of this book, I did overall enjoy it a  lot. I have a soft spot for books about the 1920s, especially if they don’t focus on the vice of the era (let’s just say I’m not a fan of Jay Gatsby).

The book follows both Cordelia and Lettie on their journeys, as well as a third young woman, Astrid. While I didn’t care for Astrid at all, she had enough redeeming qualities for me to keep reading, and I will be picking up the next book in the series sometime soon.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Genre: YA contemporary
Format: hard copy
Content warnings: sexism, mentions of sexual assault and rape
Rep: WOC (multiple)
Rating: planchet-5

Viv has always been a “good girl.” She’s never late for class, does all her homework, supports the high school football team on Friday nights, and never gets into trouble. Her family is relieved, since her mom was a bit of a hell raiser in high school, even sporting blue hair to protest the dress code at one point. 

But Viv is starting to get fed up with being “good,” especially when the boys at school are always getting away with “bad:” From making sexist comments in class, to wearing disgusting shirts that sexualize women, to just generally behaving like assholes with no repercussions. 

Taking inspiration from her mother’s Riot Girrrl days in the late 90s, Viv starts a zine, strategically leaving it around school. Her little two page “newsletter” helps stir up the ire of the other girls, who are also sick of being singled out for inconsistent dress code violations and putting up with disgusting comments and being groped in the hallways. Soon Moxie has spawned a movement: from tiny acts of resistance like drawing stars and hearts on their hands to show solidarity, to wearing bathrobes to school in protest of the dress code, to fund raisers. But as the movement grows beyond Viv’s control, there could be some serious repercussions for both her future, and that of her friends and cohorts. 

I loved everything about this book, and I wish I’d had it when I was in high school because it would have been a life changer for me. It’s absolute perfection from start to finish. I might go reread it, even though I just finished it.