Book Reviews: #CYBILS2023 YA Speculative Fiction FInalists

What “binds” all of these books together? Besides being for young adults? and speculative fiction? with amazing cover art?

Well, we could tell you, but you are such a savvy, discerning reader, we know you’ll find the answer.  This much we’ll share: the word “original” was used by multiple judges across multiple books; and two titles made a fantasy lover out of a reader who doesn’t normally like SFF books.


Threads That Bind
Hatzopoulou, Kika
Nominated by: MelissaB

Gina @ Goodreads – The mystery was thrilling, like the stuff they do to try to investigate is so exciting and often dangerous. There’s also a trauma storyline. Loved the slow-burn romance, loved the serious side of the storyline, loved the action, fairly shocking plot twist, all in all I thought this was fantastic. I also loved the writing!

Lauren @ Goodreads – Utterly original. Stunning. I just finished the last sentence and could immediately flip to the first page and begin again. The wheels of the story are still churning in my mind, elements connecting dots and fleshing themselves out, but this book is a triumph.

TheNextGenLibrarian @ Goodreads – You all know fantasy is not my jam, but this 👏🏻 book 👏🏻 was 👏🏻 awesome! Kika Hatzopoulou weaved something special and unique with this fantasy book. I loved all the world building and found it easier to understand than other fantasy books I’ve been reading. Of course it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger and now I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel! CW: death of a parent, blood/gore, murder, knife violence, gang violence, animal death, gun violence, classism, racism


Divine Rivals: A Novel (Letters of Enchantment Book 1)
Ross, Rebecca
Wednesday Books
Nominated by: Tamara S

Alexis @ Goodreads – Oh man this book was all that I had hoped. A romance that was so heartfelt and had me white-knuckling my kindle in suspense. The fantasy elements were a lot of fun-especially the mythology. I can’t wait for more.

Gina @ Goodreads – For starters, a set of enchanted typewriters is the PERFECT way to put the Anonymous Pen Pal trope into a fantasy novel. Like for pretty obvious reasons this trope is rarely in fantasy but it was sooo juicy in this book!!!

Amy @ Goodreads – This book is hard to describe without making it sound a bit silly, but trust me that it works! I enjoyed this one! I couldn’t overlook some of the weak areas like YA instalove and lack of world building and explaining the alternate 1800s concept. Once I stopped nitpicking the plot holes, I really enjoyed the storytelling and emotion that were presented. My copy of Ruthless Vows is already in the mail so that I can start it immediately. I can see why this one has gotten a lot of attention, and I would highly recommend to any YA readers or those who like YA fantasy.

Brooke @ Goodreads – Just plain fun. These rivals live in a speculative fiction world where there are gods in power. The gods are disrupting the lives of the humans with their rivalry. Our two main characters have a rivalry of their own, in their journalism careers, where they are pitted against one another. Together, these elements make for a riveting storyline. The characters are so very, very likable, the story is interesting and a bit complex, and the pieces start to come together so well.

Fault Lines
Carpenter, Nora Shalaway
Running Press Kids
Nominated by: Anne-Marie Strohman

Alexis @ Goodreads – Highly recommend! This book will break your heart, but also has enough magic and heart to mend it back together. I loved the dial pov, the little traces of nature magic, as well as tough topics such as climate/ environment and poverty.

Gary @ What’s Not Wrong – Nora Shalaway Carpenter’s excellent new alternating perspective novel Fault Lines delivers two strong central characters from rural backgrounds who are unlike most of the stock leading figures in young adult literature. The beautiful cover design sits well with an autumn release. Cornelia Li’s cover art features an interplay of blue and brown dominated by burnt orange that matches the book’s cloth cover. Fans of realistic fiction like that of Jeff Zentner and Jennifer Niven are likely to also be drawn to Fault Lines and Noral Shalaway Carpenter’s other work, including The Edge of Anything, as well as Rural Voices and Ab(solutely) Normal: Short Stories that Smash Mental Health Stereotypes, two anthologies edited or co-edited by Carpenter.

TheNextGenLibrarian @ Goodreads – An environmental YA book that will fill your heart. This novel by Nora Carpenter is almost all realistic fiction except for the energy that Viv possesses, which made me love it so much. I really enjoyed the two points of view on the topic of the environment, the military and fracking. It’s a topic more young people need to know about. I also enjoyed Dex and Viv as individuals, but also together. CW: PTSD, depression, alcoholism, poverty, classism, death of a parent (off page), death, grief, misogyny, coming out (theme), environmental issues, environmental racism (discussed), climate change

Smith, Lyssa Mia
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: ChristaS

TheNextGenLibrarian @ Goodreads – For fans of Caraval and Nightbirds, this YA fantasy will stun and delight you. You all know I’m not a big fantasy books fan but this was sensational! I was hooked from the beginning and the romance took center stage in the story without a lot of fantastical elements that I had to keep track of. The fact that it took place in the 1920s and I could rely on history for the story pulled me in even more. This was a 5 ⭐️ read for me!CW: do mestic violence, manipulation, drowning, death, alcohol, abuse

Stacey @ Goodreads – The characters are by far the most compelling thing about Revelle. I loved getting to know each one and seeing their relationships with each other. The dialog was quippy and heartfelt, which was a lot of fun. The idea of family and “found family” is strong here. Ultimately, though, Revelle is filled with magic, mystery, and romance, and manages to infuse tender messages about families – the ones we have, and the ones we make – into the cinematic world of the book. It’s written as a stand-alone, but there is certainly room for this story to grow if the author gets the chance for a sequel. If there is a second book, I’d gladly jump back into the lives of these characters and see how they continue to conquer the world together.

Alexis @ Goodreads – Definitely picked this up for the Moulin Rouge vibes and I was not let down. I loved the setting, the twists and turns, the focus on family and love.

The Half-Life of Love
Bourne, Brianna
Scholastic Press
Nominated by: Isla K.

Stacey @ Goodreads – As far as the “teens facing mortality and falling in love” books go (think The Fault in Our Stars, Five Feet Apart, etc), this one is pretty good. The author tweaks the genre by adding a speculative element about why & how people die and then peppers the story with complex scientific conversation. This sets it apart from other books in this genre, but it’s also where the story bloats a little. There is also just a touch too much melodrama for me to give this a 5-star rating. But the writing is excellent and the characters are charming and the love story is bittersweet. Definitely worth a read.

Deborah @ Goodreads – Time…you don’t know how valuable it is until it’s almost gone. This book just destroyed me. Following the MC’s journeys through grief, acceptance, etc. A completely different type of YA novel. The romance was bitter sweet. There’s so much I could write about it but I’d end up spoiling the whole story. I’m very surprised that this book isn’t showcased more. Brianna Bourne wrote an amazingly heart-breaking but lovely story about death, grief and moving forward. Cannot wait to read more by this author.

Alexis @ Goodreads – I knew this book would break me! The countdown to Flint’s death had me turning pages so quickly. I really enjoyed his and September’s character growth in this book and definitely want to read more from this author. For fans of They Both Die at the End. This book does have some closed door sexual content so I would say higher YA.

The Isles of the Gods
Kaufman, Amie
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publisher/ Author Submission

TheNextGen Librarian @ Goodreads – There were way too many points of view in this novel and they were all in first person so it was difficult to follow who was talking throughout. I would also like to point out something that gave me the ick: the villain is Black and this title was written by a white woman. Of the five points of view, two of the villains happen to be POC who used to be impoverished but now aren’t and want to keep their power. This made me feel uncomfortable and wanted to mention it to future readers. CW: execution, death, gun violence, violence

Christa @ Goodreads – I love a high seas adventure and this really delivered!

The Q
Tintera, Amy
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Deborah Zeman

Carolina @ Kiss the Book – We can sympathize with the hardships of quarantine and vaccines, which makes this more drastic situation that the characters are in more real for readers. I love Tintera’s humor and her relatable characters – especially her strong and confident female characters. Though the book wraps up without a cliffhanger, I am not ready to let this world go and am hoping for a sequel.

TheNextGen Librarian @ Goodreads – ** spoiler alert ** A fast-paced YA dystopian thriller that I couldn’t get enough of! This was a mile a minute ride! I love a good scifi dystopian novel and this one checked all the boxes. Amy Tintera did a fantastic job with this book and I can’t wait to read more by her. CW: pandemic, medical issues caused by pandemic, violence, blood, guns, bombing, war, murder, kidnapping