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.

Waterfall by Lisa T Bergen

Genre: YA historical
Secondary genre: romance/adventure
Format read: audiobook
Series: River of Time vol. 1
CW: violence
Rating: planchet-3

My mom and I do not have similar taste in books. Her favorite author is Nora Roberts. I would gleefully fire all of her books into space. I like reading creepy books with fierce women. My mom “doesn’t get it.” If it isn’t in the mass market romance section at Half Price books, she basically doesn’t read it.

So I was shocked when she recommended a book to me that was not only young adult, but not horrible.

I used to live in Italy (Florence) so I tend to be drawn toward books set in the country, especially in the 1500-1600s (Renaissance art was my area of study).

Gabie and her younger sister, Lia, get dragged after their mother, an archaeologist, to the hills outside of Sienna to study an Etruscan burial site. While hiding from Italian authorities bent on taking over the dig, Gabie is somehow sucked back in time to the 1300s, where she’s nearly murdered, then is rescued, kidnapped and mistaken for a spy all in one go. Meanwhile, she has no idea where Lia has disappeared to. Is she sill in present day? Has she also been pulled back in time and caught in the heat of battle? Or worse?

Determined to find her sister and get home, Gabie weaves lie after lie to avoid telling her captors-turned-hosts the truth, afraid of what the consequences might be, even if someone believes her. Though these lies, she becomes swept up in the messy politics of the time and era, disrupting treaties and arranged marriages in the process.

I thought this book was great fun from a history perspective, however I did find the romance predictable and I did not like Gabie’s love interest. In my notes, I nicknamed him “Gladiator Ken,” because through about half the book that’s how much personality he had. There were actually two other people I would have preferred to see her with that were not only more dimensional as characters but less…Controlling? Bossy? Misogynistic? Annoying? Take your pick.

I’m still on the fence on whether or not I want to read the next two books. I have them saved in my Overdrive wishlist, but haven’t checked them out yet. What do you think? Have you read them?

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.

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. 


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.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Genre: YA Contemporary (Well, historical, now. 1990s)
Format read: audiobook
Content Warnings: mental illness/depression, mentions of abuse, rape, suicide and drug use.
Rep: LGBT, mental health
Rating: planchet-3

When we talk about mental health rep in YA, up until just a few years ago The Perks of Being a Wallflower was held up–is still often held up–as the best or only example.

Thankfully, we have more options now.

Charlie is starting high school. And through a strange set of circumstances that are never really explained, he decides it’s a good idea to start writing letters to someone who doesn’t know him, telling them his deepest, darkest feelings. 🤨

A few days into the school year, this shy, quiet kid makes friends with a group of seniors, and is drawn into a much more mature world than he expected. This is perhaps best illustrated when he reads a poem to all of his friends. It’s very obviously a suicide note, but the subtext goes completely over Charlie’s head, leading to several moments of very awkward silence in the middle of a party.

It’s hard for me to describe a plot for this book, because it feels more like a series of smaller stories that are interlinked; a slice-of-life book about a 15 year old boy.

The thing about this book is that the one theme running through it all is that all of the kids are abused in some way–emotional, physical, psychological. Which is important to show, but I would have like to see one person with normal, healthy relationships.

Which is another thing–Charlie’s relationships with his friends struck me as very odd. He’s often a passenger, rather than an active participant, though he does mention in his letters he’s trying to fix that. But it still felt like the power balance between him and his two best friends and his eventual girlfriend is way off.

The book put me in mind of My So-Called Life, which makes sense as it deals with a lot of similar issues in the same time period. It also made me think of The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider.

I think, more than anything, this book highlighted how much things have changed in the last *mumble mumble* years. At the time this book came out, I wasn’t even in elementary school yet, but so many things that were normal and acceptable back then are no longer viewed that way, like the toxic masculinity surrounding Charlie at home, and the behaviors some of the characters exhibit.

I still have divided feelings about this book, so it’s hard to give it a proper rating, or even to decide if I should recommend it. I think there are a lot of important things in this book, but I also think that we can do better.

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Genre: YA Contemporary
Format read: audiobook
Content Warnings: mental illness/suicidal ideation (triggering)
Rep: POC (Turkish), mental illness
Rating: planchet-3

**This review contains spoilers**

Okay, I’m just going to lay it out this: In this book, 2 depressed teenagers make a suicide pact because they both want to die, but are scared to do it alone.

I knew this book dealt with mental health, but that’s basically all I knew about it going in.

Aysel’s father ruined her life when he got arrested for murder two years ago. Now her entire Kentucky town hates her for what he did.

Even more, Aysel hates herself. Her father suffered from mental illness (it’s implied to possibly be bipolar disorder, but ever specified; he was undiagnosed until his arrest), and Aysel feels herself capable of the same erratic and violent behavior. With no future ahead of her she determines to end her life before anyone can get hurt. Ignored by her mother and her step family, friendless, she feels the world is better off without her.

Online, she meets Roman, a boy her age from the next town. The two of them set a date for the act. Roman holds his cards close to his chest, unwilling to divulge much of his life or why he wants to die so badly. But in order for their plan to work, the two of them need to convince his mother that he’s “better,” reaching out and making friends so he’ll be able to get out of the house when the time comes.

And that’s all I’m willing to write about the plot. As someone who has struggled with depression for most of her life, and long periods of suicidal thoughts and self harm, this book was triggering to read. At times, I thought the rep was really good–depression has manifested differently for each of them; sometimes as sadness, lethargy, numbness, or anger. No one ever judged their sadness or deemed it unworthy.

BUT. My problem comes about 3/4 of the way through the book. And this is where the spoilers start.

As their partnership turns into friendship, Aysel starts to fall for Roman. When she finally realizes this, suddenly she wants to live again. All of a sudden she realizes her family has been reaching out to her the whole time. She signs up for a science program at the encouragement of her teacher.

She doesn’t reach out and meet new friends, or form tighter bonds with her family. Her annoying sister is still super annoying and rude. She has one heart-to-heart with her mother that somehow fixes all the tension and distance that has been between them since Aysel was a year old and her mom walked out and remarried. Aysel becomes convinced she can use her love to save Roman’s life.

This is a prime example of a character being “saved” by “twue rrove.”


I hate it when this happens in fiction. This is not how depression works. It’s not how love works, either. Yes, it’s important to feel loved. To have connections. But it doesn’t suddenly fix everything or make depression go away overnight. While I did like Aysel and Roman as a couple, the whole situation just pissed me off.

Up to that point, I would say the book had good rep for mental health, but the ending means I can’t rate this book higher or recommend it for those suffering from depression.

As for the Turkish rep…Aysel is 1st generation Turkish-American. Her father was a murderer, and her mom walked out and has done everything she can to distance herself from her roots. The only thing recognizeably Turkish about Aysel and her upbringing is her name.

Realistic? Yeah. I know there are a lot of people who have come to the US with the intention of shedding their past wholesale. But is this good rep? As a white woman born to a family that has largely been in the US since the 1600s, I’m not the one to make that call. If you’ve read this book, let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Genre: YA fantasy
Format read: audiobook and ebook
Rating: DNF

This book has been on my Overdrive wishlist…pretty much since I first signed up for Overdrive, so I was really disappointed once I actually got around to reading it.

This series follows the citizens of 3 countries as they prepare to go to war. The characters range from a princess to a peasant.

Other than that, I can’t tell you much about Falling Kingdoms. I made it to about the 10% mark before I gave up. Listening on audio, it was hard to follow due to constant head hopping. The prologue is from one character’s perspective–who then dies–and then the subsequent four chapters are all from a different POV, occasionally re-hashing events that happened in the previous chapter.

In addition, the narrator for the audiobook did a really obnoxious voice for most of the characters, a sort of pseudo-British accent that sounded extremely fake and didn’t mesh at all with the setting, which seemed to be more closely related to a fantastical version of Italy than England.

I was having such a hard time following the story that I checked out the ebook and tried reading it concurrently with the audiobook. While that did help clear up some things (for example, there were bits where it was hard to tell what was dialogue and what was the internal thoughts of the characters), but there were too many other problems with the book for me to want to continue. There was a huge amount of info-dumping in the first few chapters, including some that was redundant, and one of the POV characters had a chapter that did absolutely nothing to further the story–it was a combination of backstory on the world and rehashing what had happened in the previous chapter.

So, if you’re looking for a good fantasy novel full of political intrigue, skip this one. Instead I’d like to point you toward The Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lacky, The Lunar Chronicles by Marrissa Meyer (okay, that one’s technically scifi. So sue me), The Daughter of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, or The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner. Or you could just pick up Game of Thrones.