To Best the Boys by Mary Weber #bookreview #YA #fantasy

Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.

Why has it taken me this long to read a book by Mary Weber?  I’m now a confirmed fan, and To Best the Boys was an absolute delight to read.

You can’t help falling in love with Rhen.  She’s exceptionally intelligent, compassionate, driven, and is more comfortable in the presence of dead bodies than at an opulent party.  She’s also dyslexic, and has found ways to succeed in spite of it.  Although society expects her to be content with ‘wifely duties’, she sees a different future for herself, and takes risky steps to make it happen.  It’s important to mention that when Rhen’s cousin, Seleni, says being a wife and mother is what she wants, her choice isn’t disparaged – it’s the path that’s right for her.  And that’s what this book is about – knowing what’s right for you, and not compromising your dreams to fit someone else’s expectations.

It’s also about outsmarting the labyrinth.  Riddles, creatures, death, dangerous feats – all lie within, and you’ll be holding your breath through some tension-filled moments.  Besides all of that, ghosts and sirens are also dangerous elements in this world, inhabiting the streets and sea at night.

I have to mention Rhen’s relationships with her parents, Seleni, and her other friends – all are honest, loving, and done so well.  Everyone needs their support people.

To Best the Boys is an exciting adventure with a splash of a mystery, and I’d highly recommend it to young women interested in STEM.  And as a bonus, there’s a mouth-watering recipe for Labyrinth Cookies!  A joy to read from beginning to end.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the digital ARC.

 

Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky #bookreview #YA #contemporary #TuesdayBookBlog

The summer before her junior year, paleontology geek Natalie Page lands a coveted internship at an Ice Age dig site near Austin. Natalie, who’s also a plus-size fashion blogger, depends on the retro style she developed to shield herself from her former bullies, but vintage dresses and perfect lipstick aren’t compatible with prospecting for fossils in the Texas heat. But nothing is going to dampen Natalie’s spirit — she’s exactly where she wants to be, and she gets to work with her hero, a rock-star paleontologist who hosts the most popular paleo podcast in the world. And then there’s Chase the intern, who’s seriously cute, and Cody, a local boy who’d be even cuter if he were less of a grouch.

It’s a summer that promises to be about more than just mammoths.

Until it isn’t.

When Natalie’s hero turns out to be anything but, and steals the credit for one of her accomplishments, Nat has to unearth the confidence she needs to stand out in a field dominated by dudes. To do this, she’ll have to let her true self shine, even if that means defying all the rules for the sake of a major discovery.

Although I’m not usually a big reader of YA contemporary, after reading the blurb for Mammoth, there’s no way I could pass it up.  I’m kind of a dino nerd – given, there aren’t dinosaurs in this book, but it was close enough for me.

Let me say up front – if you have daughters or know girls who are interested in STEM, steer them toward this book.  It strongly encourages girls to display their intelligence front and center, pursue their goals, and be themselves.  After they read it, encourage them to make better choices than Natalie.  She makes one bad decision after another and frustrated me – but she’s such a relatable, personable protagonist that I forgave her.  In her defense, she has good intentions, and also owns up to everything.  Nat’s character arc is incredible, and she’ll charm you from the first page.

Mammoth also contains some standard tropes that are difficult to get away from in YA – a love triangle, a rich, mean girl, and an awesome guy who maybe really isn’t, but all the supporting characters are well-written.

If you’re looking for a fresh, highly enjoyable read that also tackles some very relevant issues, Mammoth easily fills those requirements.

Thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for the ARC.