5 star, YA

Review: Influence by Sara Shepard and Lilia Buckingham

Get ready to delve into the world of teen influencers like you’ve never done before–from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS Sara Shepard and sixteen-year-old actress and social media personality Lilia Buckingham comes a twisty mystery that takes place in the fiercely competitive world of Internet stars.

After a video she makes goes viral, everyone knows Delilah Rollins. And now that she’s in LA, Delilah’s standing on the edge of something incredible. Everything is going to change. She has no idea how much.

Jasmine Walters-Diaz grew up in the spotlight. A child star turned media darling, the posts of her in her classic Lulu C. rainbow skirt practically break the Internet. But if the world knew who Jasmine really was, her perfect life? Canceled.

Fiona Jacobs is so funny–the kind of girl for whom a crowd parts–no wonder she’s always smiling! But on the inside? The girl’s a hot mess. And when someone comes out of the shadows with a secret from her past, it’s one that won’t just embarrass Fiona: it will ruin her.

Who wouldn’t want to be Scarlet Leigh? Just look at her Instagram. Scarlet isn’t just styled to perfection: she is perfection. Scarlet has a gorgeous, famous boyfriend named Jack and there’s a whole fanbase about their ship. To everyone watching online, their lives seem perfect . . . but are they really? The sun is hot in California . . . and someone’s going to get burned.



Feeling my inner part Gen-Z mentality coming out here, but this was the surprise of the year so far for me. Influence follows the life of three young girls either just starting out in a career on social media or growing up as a childhood star. While I particularly loved one girl over the others, I was delighted to learn so much about what being an influencer is like through their eyes. This was only possible due to the personal knowledge and experience by one of the authors, Lilia Buckingham, an actual influential teenager who stands for justice and pride.

The story flows amazingly, with short chapters alternating between our three girls. Delilah, otherwise known as Lila D, was new to the game, having a video of her rescuing an animal from a burning building shooting her to viral fandom. I loved her because I could understand her the most. The confusion in moving to L.A, and figuring out the kind of lifestyle and rhythm influencers partake to constantly create and stay relevant for their fans. I liked that she stayed true to herself throughout, not pandering a certain persona to people to gain fame.

Jasmine was also a delight to follow. Having been a popular child star in a program for children, she was forced to maintain that persona through a literal contract for her sponsors which included a clause for morals. As in she couldn’t do anything that was deemed inappropriate by parents. The question became, how do you find yourself if you could never actually be yourself and explore? Her whole character reminded me of Miley Cyrus, and now I have even more sympathy for her who had to really go through such an ordeal in real life. And perhaps even larger spectacle to shed such image.

Lastly, there was Fiona and I’m glad the authors included her. She suffers from OCD and carries a deep secret from the past that may have triggered more of symptoms. Trying to keep everything under control while remaining calm for her fans and upcoming acting jobs is hard. It doesn’t get any better when someone started blackmailing her about this secret!

We follow these three friends as they navigate the spotlight, influencer events and gigs. I love that the authors take the time to get us settled in with their lives, the secrets they harbour, and the internal storm they each face that never surfaces on the faces they share with their audiences.

Then, this becomes a true crime mystery! Someone dies.

If you know me, you know that I absolutely ADORE mysteries, particularly whodunnits. It was like the icing on the cake. From the whole slew of cast and characters we meet through each girl, there are so many potential suspects who may want this person gone. And because we understand the intricacies of relationships behind the scenes, it’s easier to put on our detective hats and guess along as we go.

There’s also some angsty romance like the cherry on top. Delilah finds herself in a snare when a guy she had a meet-cute moment with turns out to be some famous Youtuber who is in a relationship! Oh, what will happen from that? I’m just grinning at this whole setup because it’s cheesy but so perfectly executed amidst everything else in this book. It’s not the focus for sure, but it’s a big part of Delilah’s POV and totally adds to the story.

The overall message of Influence is that it’s hard to show our real selves online, even more so when you have crafted a persona for yourself that has exploded among your fan base to the point that its taken a life of its own. While most of us may never experience such fame and the intricate balance of staying true to ourselves online, the lesson is still real and relevant regardless of how many eyes are on us. Vulnerability is hard, whether thousands of people are watching or even just one, but it’s a choice we ultimately need to make if we want to figure out who we are. What is seen on the outside may not always represent who are are inside but that doesn’t have to remain the case forever.

It is always a choice we can make for ourselves. And I love that behind the fun premise of the life of influencers, Influence is ultimately about this. Find your voice and be true to yourself.

Overall Recommendation:

Influence gives interesting insight into the lives of social media influencers, and a whopping story of the facades we show the world. I loved the realness of the three protagonists and their individual struggles as they seek out recognition, fame and ultimately, themselves. The overall pacing was great, flipping between the different POVs, with the suspense ramping up when a mystery presented itself halfway. While it may seem like strictly a teen book, I feel this story has complex layers to it that will appeal to a wider audience. Ultimately, Influence makes us question what our true selves are and how willing we are to reach for it.

3.5 star, YA

Review: Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson

Series: Dance of Thieves #1

Dance of Thieves_FINAL 9.18A new novel in the New York Times–bestselling Remnant Chronicles universe, in which a reformed thief and the young leader of an outlaw dynasty lock wits in a battle that may cost them their lives—and their hearts.

When the patriarch of the Ballenger empire dies, his son, Jase, becomes its new leader. Even nearby kingdoms bow to the strength of this outlaw family, who have always governed by their own rules. But a new era looms on the horizon, set in motion by a young queen, which makes her the target of the dynasty’s resentment and anger.

At the same time, Kazi, a legendary former street thief, is sent by the queen to investigate transgressions against the new settlements. When Kazi arrives in the forbidding land of the Ballengers, she learns that there is more to Jase than she thought. As unexpected events spiral out of their control, bringing them intimately together, they continue to play a cat and mouse game of false moves and motives in order to fulfill their own secret missions.


3.5 Drink Me Potions


Smart and filled with an interesting cast of characters, entering back into the world of The Remnant Chronicles was like slipping on a cozy shawl in the winter and sitting by the fireplace in Dance of Thieves.

Although my memory isn’t what it’s used to – so you can guess just how many details I recall from the other series – little tidbits dropped here and there made me smile, though you definitely don’t have to have read any of Mary Pearson’s other books to jump right into this one.

I liked that I never quite knew what was exactly gonna happen next. One moment, our heroine Kazi has everything in control, and the next? She can find herself tied up with a guy like Jase Ballenger. And from there, things do get interesting.

The pacing is fast enough, settling into the story right away. And it doesn’t stay in one place for too long so I never felt like it dragged its heels in for scenes/moments that should’ve been done with a long while ago.

Yet. There’s something in me that feels like the story took its time in laying out the foundations too much. You don’t get many details into Kazi’s mission to the Ballengers in the beginning, only vague notes about having to come under the guise of something else. And you don’t get why the Ballengers may be doing something wrong.

Where it’s not as high action as I had hoped from this author, the romance was sufficient. I know. Not a very heartwarming comment but at the moment, not many romantic relationships in books have really tugged at me. Frankly, I feel almost bored with them so this is a compliment at this moment.

Yes, it was a bit rushed at times. But the reality of how their feelings built through the moments they shared and the trust they slowly gave to each other was real.

And though these elements are normally essential to me as a reader, nothing warmed my heart as much as the focus on family ties and fierce girls who can kick butt. The Ballengers were large in number but they had each other’s’ backs over anything else. Likewise, Kazi’s group, the Rahtan, that served the queen was like a found family from different backgrounds now all serving one purpose together.

In reality, without some of these extra things, Dance of Thieves may have been harder to swallow.

And of course, wonderful appearances of our main cast in the Remnant Chronicles are featured here so that was the icing on top.

While I may have been expecting too much from this story (what with everything that I remember from Mary’s writings), this novel still weaves together an imaginative new story in a familiar world that has intrigue, fun personalities and the different families we have. A definite story to check out for fans of Mary and her previous series, but also for anyone looking for a fantasy read in a well crafted world.

Overall Recommendation:

Dance of Thieves features a mostly new cast in the wonderful world of the Remnant Chronicles. With enough romance, a decent plot pace and an intriguing mission hanging over our heads, diving back into this land is like slipping on a shoe. Two different families, the Rahtan and the Ballengers, come head to head as missions collide and tenuous trust is built. Beautiful world building and surprising appearances of former characters, this novel is a perfect companion to the previous series and something fun to read if you’re into all-things fantasy.

3.5 star, YA

Review: Seafire by Natalie C. Parker

Series: Seafire #1

seafire -natalie c parker After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, who have lost their families and homes because of Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric’s armed and armored fleet.

But when Caledonia’s best friend and second-in-command barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all . . . or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?


3.5 Drink Me Potions


“Remember, when they call you girl, they’re trying to tell you something. They’re trying to tell you that they’re more than you, that the body you’re in makes you less. But you know, and I know, that you’re exactly what you need to be.”

Seafire is the feminist pirate story type story that I feel is on the rise in YA. With elements reminiscent of Daughter of a Pirate King, this story was more than the trope it may be immediately associated with.

This is also a story about FAMILY. A family that goes beyond blood. A family that lasts.

After a devastating loss of her family from a cruel man who rules the seas in these lands, Caledonia Styx is a captain of her own ship with a crew of 53 girls under her. While we unfortunately don’t get to really know most of the girls in the crew, we do get the chance to love a few of them: Caledonia’s command crew and closest friends/sisters.

The names of people and settings were a bit hard at first. There’s no map (at least, not in the ebook version of it) to preview or a character guide at the beginning of the book, so it took a bit of time to familiarize myself with this world. And with a bit of information dump, it becomes a bit hard to really feel for all the individuals who lived or died. I mean, I barely got to spend time with them, so their loss could hardly be felt, right?

While the worldbuilding is a bit simple compared to some fantasy stories (port cities, open seas, ruling maniac on a boat), the pacing was excellent. With revenge on her heart warring with the safety of her crew, Caledonia made for an entertaining protagonist. On one hand, I absolutely hated how she always doubted herself and in turn, her decisions that affected her crew. But she also made the smartest decisions out of the not-so-good options that she had, led by her heart and her seafaring mind.

The romance wasn’t present much. After all, this isn’t the point of the book. When there’s only 1 male character who is actually present for most of the plot, it’s not hard to guess he’s the potential love interest, if that were to happen. I wouldn’t say it was an unnecessary add-on as I thought it was the perfect little bit, though the romance building was a bit paper-thin. Hopefully it’ll be properly crafted as the series goes on.

But back to the main point as to why I enjoyed Seafire.

In a modern world where females sometimes are still seen as less and the opportunities given are unfairly skewed, it was nice to see strong females who could fight for themselves, heck even save themselves. The crew of women who were like family to Caledonia, who would do anything for each other including hurtle into a battle that may mean their deaths, was an astonishingly warm environment that I didn’t want to leave so quickly from.

“On the back of the sea, who do we trust? Our sisters. When our ship falters, who do we trust? Our sisters. In a storm of Bullets, who do we trust? Our sisters! We fight together! Or not at all!”

I look forward to seeing what develops with this crew led by Caledonia in a world of action, justice and family.

Overall Recommendation:
Seafire brings together fun battles on the sea, brave young women and the heart to do whatever it takes for those we consider family. While this book could’ve easily been just another carbon copy of other YA feminist pirate stories that are already out there, I was captivated by the crew of girls who worked as one unit but also loved one another deeply. Captained by our unique protagonist, Caledonia Styx, a flawed girl who struggled with her own doubts and guilt, this story took it beyond the seas and into the areas of the human heart. Equal parts action and character building, Seafire is a lesser known book that deserves a bit more attention.