No One Needs to Know

Like many fans of YA literature, I like a good love triangle. I’ve read books with bitter enemies, best friends, and even siblings fighting over the same person. It’s usually two guys competing for the love of a girl, but my latest read kind of turned that on its ear. In No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace, we do see two siblings with feelings for one girl, but this book features twins, one male and one female, vying for the attention of the same person. It’s an interesting dynamic, and one, to my knowledge, that hasn’t received a lot of attention in contemporary YA lit. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Olivia seems to have it all. She’s rich, she’s a gymnastics star, and she’s beautiful.  But Olivia is struggling. Her twin brother, Liam, is pulling away from her, her parents don’t seem to care about her unless it’s convenient for them, gymnastics doesn’t hold the appeal it once did, and anxiety is taking over her life. Even her best (and only) friend, Ava, can’t be counted on to be there when Olivia needs her. Olivia feels all alone in the world, but that’s about to change…

Zoey is the school pariah. A mistake during her freshman year made her a target of the school’s resident mean girl, Ava, and Zoey’s been public enemy number one ever since. Add in the fact that she’s one of the lone scholarship kids at a prestigious all-girls school, and it’s easy to see how Zoey would feel alone in a crowd. Not to mention that she has worries that her classmates just don’t. While keeping up her grades, Zoey must also take care of her little sister, keep things running at home while her mom works her fingers to the bone, and hold down a part-time job. These rich kids don’t know how good they’ve got it.

When Zoey and Olivia are paired up for a class project, both girls get the opportunity to really see “how the other half lives.” And when Zoey begins dating Olivia’s brother, Liam, she’ll realize that these rich kids don’t have it quite as easy as she once believed. Olivia will also see just how badly Zoey has been treated, and these two unlikely friends will grow closer than they ever thought possible…so close that the two eventually fall for each other.

Olivia knows that Liam is growing serious about Zoey, and she doesn’t know how to reconcile that with her growing, unexpected feelings. She knows that Zoey feels the same way about her, but neither of them wants to hurt Liam. How can these two girls hope to be together when it means hurting someone they both care about?

As Olivia and Zoey navigate the tough waters of this new relationship, they’ll have to decide what’s really important to them. Is being together more important than anything? More important than friendships or family? What will they have to give up to be together…and will it be worth it in the end?

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No One Needs to Know is a quick read, and I think it’s a good addition to LGBTQ young adult lit collections. Even though the characters could have been fleshed out a bit more, I did care about them, and I wanted Olivia and Zoey to find some way to be together.

*Spoilers* In the end, though, I thought it was a little too easy. I doubt I would have been quite as understanding as Liam was. I get that he wanted his sister to be happy, but I felt there should have been a bit more conflict when the big reveal occurred.

Given that I read an uncorrected galley of this book (courtesy of NetGalley), I’m confident that most of the grammar, punctuation, and formatting errors will be corrected before the book’s release on September 8th. I’m also hoping that a decision will be made on what Zoey’s little sister’s name is. In one sentence, she’s Charlotte. In the next, she’s Carolyn. Pick one!

I know many school libraries are wary of including a lot of LGBTQ literature in their collections, but this is one that shouldn’t cause any kind of ruckus. The relationship between Olivia and Zoey never gets graphic, and it is, at its heart, a very sweet love story. That’s more that can be said about many books featuring heterosexual couples!

If you’d like to learn more about No One Needs to Know and author Amanda Grace (also known as Mandy Hubbard), visit either of these websites: http://amandagracebooks.blogspot.com/ or http://mandyhubbard.blogspot.com/.

Published in: on April 20, 2014 at 10:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Buzz Kill

I first became a fan of Beth Fantaskey’s work a few years ago when I read Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. Since then, I’ve read a few other works by Fantaskey: Jessica Rules the Dark Side, Jekel Loves Hyde, and The Wedding of Antanasia Jessica Packwood and Lucius Valeriu Vladescu (a short story published on the author’s website). So, when Goodreads gave me the chance to read an ARC of this author’s latest novel, Buzz Kill, I was pretty stoked. I’m happy to say that the book lived up to my expectations.

Unlike Fantaskey’s other stories, this newest read has no supernatural elements, but it does introduce us to a strong, relatable, female protagonist. In Buzz Kill, readers meet Millie Ostermeyer, a seventeen-year-old who eats like a trucker, is the only member of her school’s Philosophy Club, wears ironic t-shirts that nobody gets, and has a somewhat loose relationship with rules and authority. She’s also an award-winning reporter for her school newspaper, and, while on what should be a routine assignment covering the new football stadium, Millie becomes embroiled in a story that will rock her entire world…

Nobody really liked the Stingers’ head football coach, Hollerin’ Hank Killdare, but who could have wanted him dead? That’s a question Millie wants answered after she discovers his body under the football stadium…especially when it’s made clear that her dad, the town’s mayor and the assistant football coach, tops the list of suspects.

Millie is sure that her dad didn’t do this (even if he has been acting kind of strange lately), so she goes on a quest to find the identity of the real killer. Plenty of people had reason to kill the coach, but who really did it? Was it Millie’s arch-nemesis, Vivienne Fitch, the cheerleader who was embarrased on YouTube, thanks largely to Coach Killdare? Was it Mike, Viv’s lackey, who lost his position as quarterback with the coach brought in a ringer? Could it even be the new quarterback himself, Chase Albright, a boy with a murky past who tends to keep to himself? Who could have committed this heinous crime, and can Millie figure things out before the murderer strikes again?

As Millie unleashes her inner Nancy Drew, she’ll find an unlikely ally in Chase. He’s still a total mystery, but it seems he knew Coach Killdare better than most, and he can give Millie access to the coach’s house, the school locker room, and other areas that would otherwise be off-limits (not that anything would have stopped Millie with or without Chase’s help). Chase may be the key in proving that her dad is not the killer everyone thinks he is.

But why does Chase want to help Millie? Why was the coach so important to him? Chase is most certainly hiding something, and, along with her quest to solve a murder mystery, Millie is determined to solve the mystery that is Chase Albright. She may not, however, be prepared for what she finds.

Millie and Chase are growing closer and closer to uncovering the truth…and they’re also growing closer to each other. Can either of them handle a relationship when everything around them is going crazy? Especially when things are about to get even more insane? There’s a killer on the loose, and, as Millie starts to put the pieces of this puzzle together, she may be this maniac’s next target. What would Nancy Drew do? Millie will have to answer this question and many more if she hopes to get out of this mess alive…

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I found Buzz Kill to be a thoroughly entertaining read. In addition to the murder mystery that kept me guessing for quite a while, I was also enthralled by the character of Millie. I think many readers will be able to see themselves in this character. She speaks before thinking sometimes, she dresses in what’s comfortable, she’s awkward around guys she likes, and she’s tortured by a mean girl. (Actually, “mean” doesn’t quite fit the evil Vivienne. The words I’d use to describe her would make a sailor blush. She’s vile, and a host of curse words went through my mind every time she made an appearance.) Millie questions rules that don’t make sense to her, she doesn’t understand why she should learn French, and she has a complicated relationship with her dad. Who can’t relate to at least some of that?

I also found Chase’s character to be intriguing. (See, I’m relating to Millie right now!) He was mysterious from the instant we saw him, and he remained something of an enigma for most of the book. Even when his secrets were revealed, there was still an aura of mystery about him. I think that’s part of what made him so attractive to Millie. Of course, his good looks and impressive vocabulary didn’t hurt either.

There were so many dynamic, well-developed characters in this book. I wanted to punch many of them in the face (even Millie on occasion). So many characters were butt-heads, in fact, that I didn’t know which one I wanted to be the killer. Like Millie, I waffled on who could have committed the crime, and, also like Millie, I didn’t figure things out until the very end. I’d say both of us were surprised by the way things turned out, and I think that’s the mark of a good mystery novel.

If you’re looking for a murder mystery with a liberal dose of humor, wit, and a touch of romance, I strongly urge you to give Buzz Kill a try.  It’s due to hit stores on May 6th, and I think it will be a big hit with middle grade, teen, and adult readers.

For more information on Buzz Kill and author Beth Fantaskey, visit the author’s website, Facebook page, Goodreads page, and Twitter feed.

We Are the Goldens

This morning, I finished a book that, honestly, made me kind of uncomfortable. The book is We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt. (I was lucky enough to read a digital ARC via NetGalley.) I say “uncomfortable” because this book takes a look at romantic relationships between teachers and students (EWWW!) and the toll a secret like that can take on someone.

As most of you know, I am an educator, so this topic is particularly unsettling. Personally, I find the very idea of romantic relationships between students and teachers to be nausea-inducing, but I have known others who felt differently. I’ve worked with some educators who were caught in compromising positions with students. (Most of them are no longer teaching. Sadly, a few escaped those circumstances relatively unscathed.) This is not a situation I’ve ever understood the appeal of, especially from a teacher’s standpoint. We Are the Goldens examines this odd relationship, but it shows readers how a family member of the student may react to what she discovers.

We Are the Goldens is written as a letter (of sorts) from a younger sister to the older sister she idolizes. The reader becomes, for all intents and purposes, the elder sister, and that allows a glimpse into the sibling dynamic that we often don’t see.

Nell Golden is a freshman at City Day School in San Francisco, and she has this fairy tale image of what high school will be like. She’ll follow in her perfect sister’s footsteps, and everything will be awesome. Her sister, Layla, however, seems to be pulling away from what was once a really close relationship with Nell. At first, Nell isn’t sure what’s going on with Layla, but rumors are swirling about her older sister, and eventually, those rumors make their way to Nell’s disbelieving ears.

There have always been stories about Mr. Barr, the popular, young, good-looking art teacher. Every year, it seems that he’s supposedly hooking up with one of his students, but nothing has ever come of the rumors. This year, though, the stories focus on Mr. Barr and Layla. One person sees them at an art gallery. Another sees them exiting a hotel together. When Nell’s best friend, Felix, tells her what’s being said about Layla, Nell is at once furious and defensive. Her sister’s smarter than that, right? There must be some reasonable explanation.

When Nell confronts Layla with the gossip, Layla does have a plausible reason for being seen with Mr. Barr…but Nell remains suspicious, especially considering that her sister is withdrawing from her friends, her family, and is becoming more evasive by the day. One night, Nell walks in on her sister video-chatting with Mr. Barr, and she realizes that the rumors about her beloved sister are all too true. What is Nell supposed to do now?

Layla swears Nell to secrecy and confesses that she’s in love with Mr. Barr. She knows no one will understand their relationship, so Nell can’t tell anyone, especially not their parents. Nell struggles with this. She knows Layla’s relationship with Mr. Barr is wrong, but how can she turn on the one person she loves most in the world? Nell agrees to keep Layla’s secret, but it’s growing increasingly difficult to maintain her cool over this situation.

Nell has her own life to worry about as well. Being on the soccer team and in the school play. A crush on a popular guy who her sister warned her away from. Worries with becoming a target of the rumor mill herself. Nell’s best friend is also going through some tough stuff, and she wants to be there for him. Keeping Layla’s secret on top of everything else is wearing on Nell, and she’s about to break.

Read We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt to learn how one girl struggles with being loyal to the person she loves most while doing what she knows is right.

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While part of this book focuses on the relationship between a teacher and a student, a larger part centers on the relationship between sisters. Sisters keep secrets–from their parents, from friends, from other family members or authority figures. At what point, though, should secrets be revealed? In We Are the Goldens, Nell wrestles with that. Where should loyalty end? Nell wants to keep her sister–and everyone else around her–happy, but what is the cost? Eventually, Nell comes to terms with what she must do, no matter how it might damage her relationship with her sister.

Now, I am an older sister, and I know that my little sister would tell in a skinny minute if I were doing something wrong or potentially harmful. I would do the same for her. This book, then, made me examine would I would have done if I’d been put in a similar position. (If you’re curious, I would have told someone immediately. Of course, I’m a tattle-tale from way back.) I think any reader who has siblings will be able to relate, at least a little bit, to the characters in We Are the Goldens. Maybe it’s a younger sibling worried about the choices an older brother or sister is making. Maybe it’s an older sibling looking out for little brothers or sisters. Either way, I think this book will resonate with anyone who has ever kept a secret for a sibling.

We Are the Goldens is a quick, intriguing book that definitely has a place in most YA collections. Even though I found some of the plot-line kind of icky, I was curious to see how things would play out for Nell and Layla. And even though the end of the book didn’t provide a ton of closure, I was totally satisfied with it. The author left things for the readers to imagine for themselves.

If you’d like to add We Are the Goldens to your personal, school, or public library collections, it will be released to the masses on May 27th. For more information on this book and others by Dana Reinhardt, check out her website and Twitter page.

Published in: on April 13, 2014 at 12:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sever

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read the first two books in Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy (Wither and Fever), do so now! This post will focus on Sever, the third and final book in the series.

Nearly two years ago, I began reading Wither, the first book in The Chemical Garden series, a dystopian trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. From the start, I was mesmerized–and often horrified–by the world presented in this series. Fever, book two, only increased my horror at the world that Rhine, our protagonist, is forced to navigate. And now, I’ve finally made my way to book three, Sever. In this book, Rhine continues on her quest to save herself and those around her, but, as they so often do, circumstances seem to conspire against her.

As Sever begins, Rhine continues to struggle with the experiments Vaughn, her vile father-in-law, has done on her. She is trying to cope with the knowledge that he has killed others before her, and she knows that he’s not done with her.  Rhine is also eager to find her twin brother, Rowan, and get back to Gabriel, the boy she left behind in Manhattan.

With the help of Linden, her former husband, Cecily, her sister wife, and Reed, Vaughn’s estranged brother, Rhine is, at the very least, able to avoid Vaughn’s clutches for a while. Rhine also learns a bit more about her brother’s activities. He believes her to be dead, and he has become the leader of what can only be called a terrorist group. He is blowing up scientific research facilities. He appears to believe that they are wasting their time experimenting on young people and looking for a cure that just doesn’t exist.

(You may recall that young people are doomed to die early in this world. Young men don’t live past age twenty-five, and women die at age twenty. Vaughn, Rhine’s father-in-law and Linden’s father, has become something of a mad scientist in his quest for a cure.)

Everything, though, is not as it seems. Vaughn has far-reaching power that follows Rhine wherever she goes. But Vaughn’s many deceptions will soon be uncovered in a very unlikely place. In Rhine’s quest to find her brother, she returns to the hellacious carnival that was once her prison. Secrets are revealed here that will not only lead Rhine to her brother but may also lead to Vaughn’s undoing.

As Rhine learns more and more about Vaughn’s research, her parents’ work, her brother’s supposed rebellion, and her own place in the world, she realizes that everything is much more complicated than she ever believed. And when she factors in her tumultuous relationships with Linden, Cecily, Rowan, and others around her, Rhine is more befuddled than ever.

How can Rhine hope to make sense of what’s going on around her when she can’t seem to come to terms with what’s happened to her and those she cares about? Lives have been lost and promises broken in this mysterious quest for a cure, but is it worth it? Why is Rhine so important to this search, and, if a cure is found, what then? Is Rhine doomed to be a prisoner forever? Or is there a way out? A way that not even Rhine would dare to dream of?

Questions will be answered and secrets revealed soon, but is anyone prepared for what will be uncovered? Unravel the mystery when you read Sever, the gripping conclusion to The Chemical Garden trilogy.

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Now that I’ve read the entirety of this series, I must confess something. I’m still not quite sure what a chemical garden is. It was sort of explained in Sever but not to my satisfaction. I know it had something to do with the genetic experimentation done by Rhine’s parents, but why were their experiments referred to as a chemical garden? I may have to do my own brand of research to figure this out. (Not a problem, really. I’m a librarian. Research is kind of my thing.)

I do think that the action in Sever was a bit slow at times, but I still found myself enthralled by the story. I do wish, however, that we had seen more of Gabriel and Rhine’s relationship with him. Even with the way the book ended, that story feels kind of unfinished.

When I first started this series, I couldn’t stand the character of Cecily. In Sever, however, she definitely showed an inner strength that most women–never mind fourteen-year-old girls–don’t possess. She survived so much and grew into a young woman with a core of steel. Even Rhine was surprised by how much her sister wife had matured in such a short time. Cecily grew from an annoying little girl into a young woman capable of enduring unimaginable grief and tribulations. Out of all the characters in this series, I think she changed the most. She went from an easily manipulated pawn into a queen taking charge of her own destiny.

If you want a rather disturbing view of what the future could hold, I suggest you give Wither, Fever, and Sever a try. You may like this trilogy; you may not. Every reader has his/her own taste, and that’s okay. (I say this because another blogger called me out for daring to give Fever a positive review. She’s entitled to her opinion, but I stand by my view that this is definitely a series worth reading.) This series does deal with some mature themes, so I would caution you before recommending it to middle grade readers.

If you enjoyed series like Delirium, Matched, or The Selection, then The Chemical Garden may be right up your alley.

For more information on this series or other books by Lauren DeStefano, check out the author’s website, FacebookTumblr, and Twitter. You may also want to take a quick look at the Sever book trailer below. Enjoy!

Published in: on April 11, 2014 at 2:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Break-Up Artist

Last night, I finished yet another uncorrected proof from NetGalley. This time, the book is The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel.  It is published by Harlequin Teen and is scheduled to be released on April 29th.

The Break-Up Artist features a girl, sixteen-year-old Becca Williamson, who’s over the whole love thing. In fact, after dealing with the fallout of her sister being left at the altar and seeing how single girls are treated at her school, Becca opens up her own business. She becomes the Break-Up Artist. For $100, she’ll use whatever means necessary to break up couples. Business is good for Becca, but things are about to get a lot more interesting…

Steve and Huxley are the school’s power couple, and nearly everyone is in awe of their relationship. Everyone except Becca–who has her own history with Huxley–and a mysterious “family friend” who wants to break up the twosome. This “friend” offers Becca $300 to break up Steve and Huxley, and, being the good businesswoman she is, Becca agrees. Not only can she make school bearable again for her fellow singletons, but she can make some serious cash and get a little revenge on her former best friend.

Almost immediately, things get complicated. It seems that this couple isn’t as easy to break up as Becca thought. Becca will have to infiltrate the enemy camp (the popular crowd) to really get things going. And Becca eventually makes progress, but is it really worth it anymore? When Becca witnesses some of the fallout of her machinations, she begins to question her role as the Break-Up Artist. Could there really be such a thing as true love, and do Steve and Huxley have that special something? Nothing is clear for Becca, and her own life isn’t making things any easier…

Becca’s best friend, Val, has recently started dating Ezra. Val went from being by Becca’s side almost constantly to being half of a couple who has zero problems with PDA. Becca feels cast aside, and that’s bringing up some bad memories and connections with her sister’s life. What’s going to happen, though, when Val’s boyfriend sets his sites on Becca? Becca knows Val and Ezra aren’t right for each other, but could Ezra be right for her? Is she willing to jeopardize a friendship for a guy?

Becca is about to learn that love is a complicated business, especially when her role as the Break-Up Artist is becoming harder and harder to handle. Will she be able to break up Steve and Huxley? What will she do about Val and Ezra? And how will she possibly be able to cope when everything starts to unravel? Find out when you read The Break-Up Artist by Philip Siegel.

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Before I get into the issues I had with The Break-Up Artist, let me say that I did find it to be a relatable, entertaining read.  I sympathized a lot with Becca.  I’ve always been the single girl in a crowd full of couples. As a matter of fact, I’m one of only four single people at work. I’ve even been the girl who was pushed to the side so my best friend could spend all her time with the new boyfriend. I was also the woman who lost her best friend (a guy) because his new girlfriend couldn’t deal with her man having a female best friend.  All of it sucks…but I still prefer being single to being part of a couple. I just wish I had more single friends, so I can totally relate to the character of Becca.

Even though I did like this book, I did have a couple of problems with it that have hopefully been sorted out in editing.

  • The formatting was inconsistent. Why are we indenting some paragraphs and not others? Why are quotes not indented at all, and why do we change speakers in the middle of a paragraph?  It was difficult to follow sometimes, and I found myself rereading several passages to figure out just what was going on. Maybe this happened only in the digital galley, but it still made for a very frustrating read.
  • Let’s have some noticeable breaks in between scenes, please! It’s jarring to move from a school scene to Becca plotting in her bedroom with no indication that our location has changed. Just a space between paragraphs would be nice.  (This was done sometimes, but, again, consistency would have helped.)

If you decide to purchase this book for your personal, school, or public library, please let me know if the final product was more readable than the galley I read. Just a few changes would have made my reading of The Break-Up Artist a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I’m hoping it will be for you!

The Break-Up Artist is the debut novel for author Philip Siegel. To learn more about this author, visit his website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Published in: on April 9, 2014 at 12:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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Don’t Turn Around

My latest read, Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon, is one of the 14-15 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award nominees. Even though I’m an elementary school librarian now, I still try to read as many of these nominees as possible. With Don’t Turn Around, I’ve now read three of the SCYABA nominees–with I Hunt Killers and The Opposite of Hallelujah being the other two. (Only seventeen more to go!)

Anyway, I finished Don’t Turn Around last night, and let me just say that this book was a thrill ride from start to finish! Combine runaway teens, computer hackers, government/corporate espionage, a mysterious disease, experimenting on humans, and spies, and you’ve got this book covered. It was a pretty intense read and totally believable…especially if you’re kind of paranoid to begin with. (Some may classify this book as science fiction–and it is–but I’d also call it realistic fiction. Some of the stuff in this book is entirely plausible and, loathe as I am to even think of it, could be happening right now.)

When sixteen-year-old Noa wakes up on an operating table, she’s not exactly sure where she is or why she’s there. All she knows is that she has to get away…but that’s not exactly easy when all she’s wearing is a hospital gown, armed thugs are chasing her, she doesn’t know where she’s been held, and she’s in pain from whatever procedure has been done to her. Eventually, though, Noa makes her escape…but what now? She’s an orphan on the run, and it’s becoming crystal clear that she’s being hunted by some bad guys. Just who can she trust?

Enter Peter. Peter, a teen hacktivist, has also found himself on the receiving end of some odd threats. After digging into some of his father’s business dealings with something called AMRF, armed men break into his house, steal his computer, and threaten his life. Peter, who’s scared but determined to find out what’s going on, calls on a fellow hacker to discover just what his family is mixed up in.  That hacker goes by the name of Rain…but we know her as Noa.

Soon, Noa and Peter learn that they are entangled in something much bigger than either of them realized. They have become targets in a conspiracy so huge that it seems insurmountable. With some help from their hacker alliance, however, Noa and Peter may have found a way to uncover the truth and take their enemies by surprise. But will it be enough to expose all the lies? Just what is AMRF, and why is Noa so important to them? What will these two resourceful teens uncover, and what will their opposition do to silence them? Watch your back as you dive into the conspiracy in Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon!

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I couldn’t possibly highlight all of the twists and turns in this book without giving too much away. Read it for yourself, and I’m sure you’ll be taken on the same ride that I was. Don’t Turn Around featured almost nonstop action and intrigue, and I was riveted the entire way through.

Readers who enjoy suspense will definitely find a winner with this book…especially if they like their suspense with a heavy dose of computer hacking, spies, and bio-medical ethics (or lack thereof). Don’t Turn Around could also lead to some interesting discussions. *Mild spoiler* When it comes to experimenting on humans, how far is too far when the results could potentially save lives? (This could even lead to discussions about the experiments done by Nazi scientists and how that relates to medical ethics today. Intense stuff.)

Be on the lookout for the second book in this exciting new series, Don’t Look Now, which is in stores now! There’s also a prequel novella, No Escape, which you might want to check out. (I’m planning to as soon as I finish this post.) Book three, Don’t Let Go, should be released in late summer.

If you want to learn more about Don’t Turn Around, the first YA novel by Michelle Gagnon, check out her website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. You may also like the book trailer below. (I know I did!)

Published in: on April 7, 2014 at 10:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Kiss of Deception

I love books with strong women at the forefront. I adore fantasy. I’ve also been known to enjoy a good love triangle. Well, I got all that and more in The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, but…let’s just say it took me a while to get into this book.

My copy of The Kiss of Deception is an uncorrected galley (thanks to NetGalley), so I’m hoping that some of the things I had issues with will be worked out in editing. The book is scheduled to be released on July 15th, so I may have to pick up another copy to see if anything changed. Now, I’m not saying it was a bad book. Trust me, I’ve read LOADS of bad books, and this one definitely has the potential to be a truly outstanding book in a promising new series.

Our story begins with Lia, the Princess of Morrighan, preparing for her wedding to the prince of a neighboring kingdom. She’s never met the prince, but Lia wants no part of a marriage where love is never considered and she’s viewed as little more than a broodmare. So, on the eve of her wedding, Lia and her maid Pauline make a run for it.

Lia and Pauline evade everyone looking for them–soldiers, barbarians, bounty hunters–and arrive in Pauline’s hometown of Terravin. Here, the two are no longer princess and maid. They are now girls who work in an inn for their wages…and Lia has never been happier. She’s finally escaped a destiny that was mapped out for her, and she’s the one in charge of her life.

What Lia barely considers, however, is that there are people out there looking for her…and two have found her.  The prince she left at the altar and an assassin sent to end her life.  They have tracked young Lia to the inn where she now lives and works, and each of them is determined to see his own agenda through…but they don’t count on their own feelings for this girl. Lia has captivated both young men, Kaden and Rafe, and it seems they will do nearly anything to earn her favor. But what will Lia do when she discovers who these young men truly are? Will she be able to trust either of them when so many lies stand between them?

Soon Lia is faced with an untenable choice. Should she stay in her somewhat comfortable life in Terravin, or should she come out of hiding and face her past and her future? Lia does what she must in the hopes of preventing war, but that choice will lead her into troubles that she could scarcely have foreseen, troubles that could endanger her very life.

Will she be able to get out of alive? Who can she trust to help her? And what will Lia do when she realizes that she’s more important than anyone ever thought? Is she strong enough to fight–and win–the battles in front of her?

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So, in the little recap above, I think I’ve made The Kiss of Deception sound pretty good, and I’ve captured the highlights without giving too much away.  It is a good book, but here are a few things that bugged me a little:

  • I didn’t figure out what a Remnant was or what was so special about it until about halfway through the book. Since this is book one in The Remnant Chronicles, I thought a little more explanation at the beginning of the book would have been nice.
  • Sometimes, the story seemed to drag on. There was a lot of time spent on donkey- or horse-back, and I felt like I experienced every single one of those miles. I could have done without some of that.
  • A pronunciation or translation guide would have been helpful for all of the foreign words and phrases in the book. Sometimes, they just weren’t explained adequately by using context clues.
  • It wasn’t exactly clear where or when this book was set. Is it post-apocalyptic Earth? Is it an alternate history? I just wasn’t sure, and that was a little aggravating.

All that being said, I do think the main character, Lia, is one to be admired. That girl has a backbone of steel, and I’ll probably read the rest of this series just to see her make mincemeat of the Neanderthals around her. (The next book, by the way, is The Heart of Betrayal and will be out sometime in 2015.)

I also liked reading the chapters from the prince’s and assassin’s points of view. Eventually, we learned their names, but it was still unclear which one was the royal and which was the killer. Personally, I had the two mixed up, so the big reveal was a bit of a shock for me. I’m sure other readers will feel the same way.

I hope you’ll give The Kiss of Deception a try.  I’ve been impressed with a couple of Mary E. Pearson’s other books (The Adoration of Jenna Fox, The Fox Inheritance), so I knew this would be a good book. With a little polishing, I think it could be a great one.

Published in: on April 4, 2014 at 4:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Body in the Woods

I love a good crime drama. It’s not uncommon for me to spend hours watching Criminal Minds, Law & Order (any of them), or my personal favorite, Sherlock. The same can be said for reading crime dramas, particularly those involving teenagers. Crime dramas–whether in print or visual media–have a way of sucking me in and not letting go until the mystery is solved.

When I got the opportunity to read a galley (courtesy of NetGalley) of the first book in a new YA crime drama series, I jumped at the chance…especially when I realized it was written by April Henry. (I’ve previously read and reviewed a couple of her books: Torched and The Night She Disappeared.)

The Body in the Woods, book one in Henry’s Point Last Seen series, will be released to the masses on June 17th, and readers who enjoy a good mystery will eat this book up.

Told from three different perspectives, The Body in the Woods begins with a Search and Rescue mission in a Portland park. Alexis, Ruby, and Nick are SAR volunteers, and they’re in the woods looking for a missing autistic man. They end up finding so much more. Not long into their search, they stumble upon something their training didn’t really prepare them for…a dead body. It’s not the body of the man they were looking for. No, this is the body of a teen girl, and, based on Ruby’s cursory examination of the scene, this girl was strangled.

The police have a lot of questions for Alexis, Nick, and Ruby, and the authorities urge the trio to leave the murder investigation to the professionals, but that’s not something these kids can really do. For different reasons, each of them is determined to discover who killed this girl.

Nick wants to be a hero. His dad was killed in action in Iraq, and Nick wants to live up to the heroic example set by his father. He imagines himself saving the day and being revered by those around him. Reality, though, doesn’t quite match up with Nick’s imagination. Tracking down a killer forces Nick deal with fear, bone-deep fear that makes him wonder if he’s really hero material.

Alexis needs to escape her life at home. Joining the SAR team seems to be a way to do that, get a good mark on her college applications, and help people at the same time. Even when Alexis is forced to deal with her mentally ill mother, she continues her work with SAR, hoping that she can help to solve this mystery which is growing closer and closer to her own life.

Ruby is a crime buff with no friends, and when she latches onto something, she can’t let it go. She knows she can figure out who committed this crime…and possibly others in the area. When Ruby discovers that another girl was murdered in a nearby park, she takes her suspicions to the police, but they brush her off. Alexis and Nick, however, listen to her and agree to keep digging.

Even when the three are warned off this case–and Ruby’s parents force her to abandon her work with the SAR team–they keep trying to figure out who could be killing homeless girls in Portland. But what will happen when the killer targets one of them? Are three teenagers any match for a sociopath with a taste for murder? Can they stop a killer before one of them becomes yet another body in the woods? Time will tell…

_______________

As with most galleys, there were a couple of grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors that jumped off the page, but I’m sure those will be corrected in editing.  Those few errors aside, this was a riveting book. While I did enjoy reading each of the teens’ perspectives, I was even more intrigued when given a glimpse into the mind of the killer. (Not sure what that says about me.) Even with those glimpses, though, I didn’t figure out who the killer was until fairly late in the book, and that definitely served to keep the suspense going.

My favorite character in The Body in the Woods would have to be Ruby. When I was reading her point of view, it was all too easy to imagine her as a young, female version of Sherlock Holmes. She just didn’t think the way those around her did. (I swear, if she had told the others to shut up because she needed to go to her Mind Palace, I wouldn’t have been surprised.) Some may argue that Ruby, like Sherlock Holmes, is a high-functioning sociopath, and I think that is true to a certain degree. Like Sherlock, though, Ruby wants to be close to people. She’s just not always sure how to make that happen.

The Body in the Woods, in my opinion, is a great read for anyone (middle grades and up) who likes a good mystery. It is a quick, captivating read, and anyone interested in crime scenes and forensics will be taken in by this story. Definitely give this book to fans of Alane Ferguson’s forensic mysteries (The Christopher Killer, The Angel of Death, The Circle of Blood, and The Dying Breath).

As mentioned previously, this book will be available on June 17th. No word yet on when we can expect the other books in this exciting new series.

 

Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Better Off Friends

It’s becoming pretty clear that I’m going to like any book that Elizabeth Eulberg writes.  I’ve now read four of her books–Prom & Prejudice, Take a Bow, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, and Better Off Friends–and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every single one. Last night, I finished reading Eulberg’s latest, Better Off Friends. This book takes aim at that age-old question: Can a guy and a girl really just be friends?

The two main characters in Better Off Friends, Macallan and Levi, have been friends since they first met in the seventh grade. In fact, they’re best friends. They have a special bond that seems to be unbreakable…even when Levi starts dating one of Macallan’s other friends. (As you can probably imagine, this doesn’t really end well, and Macallan is forced to choose between friends. Quite the pickle.)

As Macallan and Levi exit middle school and enter the exciting world of high school–dances, team sports, serious relationships–their strong friendship is tested. No one really gets the closeness between Macallan and Levi, and that leads to problems with boyfriends and girlfriends.

As this dynamic duo examines just why their other relationships fail, they’ll be forced to face how they really feel about each other. This is not exactly a comfortable process. In fact, at one point, Macallan escapes to Ireland for the summer just to avoid facing her feelings for Levi! Levi, meanwhile, is trying to balance being a guy’s guy with having a girl for a best friend…a girl who he may love as more than a friend.

Life is quickly becoming an emotional whirlwind for both Macallan and Levi. When mushy feelings are thrown into the mix, their friendship undergoes some changes. Sometimes, the two can’t even speak to each other without arguing. At other times, the two are inseparable.  Their newly-discovered feelings for each other–feelings that each one denies at one point or another–are quickly making a mess of everyday life, and something’s got to give soon.

Would becoming a couple change everything that is special about their friendship, or would it make them stronger than ever? Should Macallan and Levi explore their feelings, or are they better off friends? There’s only one way to find out…

_______________

Part of me wanted this story to steer clear of anything romantic. I think guys and girls can be just friends, and I think it would have been refreshing to see that play out. However…

SPOILERS!

That’s not what happened here. Love–and not the platonic kind–got thrown into the mix, and I’ll admit it made for a great read. I imagine every reader will wonder when Macallan and Levi are going to wake up and see that “The One” is right there in front of them. This struggle made for some tense moments, but I held out hope that these two would find some way to eventually be together.

I did have reason to believe things would turn out okay for Macallan and Levi. In between chapters, readers see conversations between these two–mostly reactions to what happened in the previous chapter or hints about what’s about to happen–so we know that, at the very least, they remain friends. That was definitely a comfort when their friendship hit a few low points.

If you’re looking for a fun, often hilarious, romantic, light read, I urge you to give Better Off Friends (and other books by Elizabeth Eulberg) a try. Even though the book doesn’t really answer the question of whether guys and girls can be just friends, it does show that sometimes the best relationships start with amazing friendships.

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Crash

I’ve been a fan of Lisa McMann‘s work since I read the first book in her Wake trilogy way back in 2008. I’ve since read that entire trilogy (Wake, Fade, and Gone), Cryer’s Cross, and Dead to You, all fabulous books by an equally fabulous author. (She’s also written a middle-grade fantasy series, The Unwanteds, that’s on my to-read list.)

Yesterday, I finished the first book in McMann’s Visions series. The book is Crash, and it was just as strange, compelling, and captivating as the other books I’ve read by this author.  It’s a very quick read that will definitely appeal to boys, girls, reluctant readers, and those who will devour any book in sight.

Jules Demarco tries to keep her head down. Any girl who usually smells like pizza, drives around in a truck sporting two huge meatballs on top, and has a father who is a hoarder would probably do her best to go unnoticed…but that’s growing more difficult by the day.

Jules recently started having visions of a horrible, fiery crash, and she sees this vision everywhere. On billboards, TV and computer screens, windows, books…everywhere. In the not-too-distant future, an out-of-control truck is going to run into a building and explode, killing as many as nine people. But when? And where?

Jules tries to look for clues as to when and where this crash will eventually happen, and she’s shocked by what she discovers. Someone she truly cares for–a guy from a family that hates her own–will die if she doesn’t find a way to halt this tragedy.

But what can Jules possibly do without people thinking she’s crazy? How can Jules convince anyone to take her seriously when even she doesn’t really understand what’s going on? Especially someone whose family flips out if he so much as glances at Jules?

One thing is certain. Time is running out, and Jules will have to do everything in her power–including putting her own life at risk–to stop the worst from happening. Will she succeed, or will her vision of this crash ultimately take everything from her?

_______________

This book reminded me a little of the Num8bers series by Rachel Ward. (This British YA series revolves around a few people cursed with seeing everyone’s date of death hovering over their heads. Creepy but cool.) Like Num8ers, Crash–and the rest of the Visions series, I guess–deals with catastrophic future events that a young person is trying desperately to change. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that a power like that could come in handy…but I’m not sure I’d want the responsibility.

Crash is a YA novel with some bad language and adult (though not necessarily sexual) situations that may make this better for high school students, but mature middle school students may be able to handle it. I don’t know. You know the tweens and teens in your life better than I do. Use your best judgment.

Crash is the first book in the Visions trilogy. The second book, Bang, is already out, and the third book, Gasp, has a June 3rd publication date.

 

Published in: on March 26, 2014 at 11:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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