Nightfall – Jake Halpernhe & Peter Kujawinski

Action, Award Nominee, Fantasy, Series

A crazy science-fiction where on an island, the sun doesn’t rise and fall each day, but the sun is present for 14 years, then disappears for 14 years.  As the sun will soon leave the island our teenage twins, Marin and Kana, help the family clean the house and prepare it “as it was” when they arrived.  The teens are confused why the town has bizarre traditions of removing locks from doors and rearranging furniture before they leave the island for the long night.  They don’t receive any answers from parents or the town’s leaders, but are told to pack and prepare for the voyage.

On the day the tide rolls out (think the beginning of a tsunami, but it never returns), everyone gathers what luggage or food they can carry and head to the boats which have arrived to take the villager’s to the dessert.  [This whole plot is weird at first.]  Marin and Kana realize their friend Line is missing and knowing where he probably is, they set out to find him….. of course missing the loading of boats and being forgotten and left on the island, as the sun sets for the last time.

As the friends cope with their new abandonment, something they never imagined begins to happen.  They find a note that reads, “HIDE” and the first night alone on the island brings a terror they never imagined.  With nightfall becoming 24/7 they face far worst dangers than finding food.  What are the creatures that roam the island during this long darkness and without the water and tide, will the friends even be able to get off the island or survive the creatures of the island?  And how will they get off the island to the feet of boats without a boat or the tide?  I’m still trying to wrap my head around some of the details of the creatures and the land dwellers having this arrangement to share an island, but alternating each decade.  And where are the desert lands that the villagers go to?

This is an older plot for our YA readers


A sequel is in the works…..

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Inherit Midnight -Kate Kae Myers

Award Nominee, families, Female Leads, Young Readers

Depending on your take – Avery VanDemere either has a privileged life or an unfortunate one.  Being raised by her incredibly wealthy grandmother in her mansion sounds great, but her alcoholic father has been gone for years, her mother is dead, and her extended family resents her presence.  Seeking a little freedom from the confines of mansion walls, Avery begins sneaking out and is soon shipped off to a boarding school, which is more of a prison.

Avery is picked up by the son of her Grandmother’s lawyer with no explanation as to why and taken back to the law firm where all of her extended family awaits.  Avery is not eager to see them and they make no attempt to hide their disdain for her.  After all, they view Avery as the illegitimate daughter of the drunken brother and nanny.  What they all soon learn is that they will begin an adventure of traveling focused on inheritance and legacy.  Their matriarch is not pleased with the selfishness, laziness, unruly behavior of her descendants and now they must compete against one another in order to receive their inheritance.  Among the players are two power hungry uncles, a bully of a cousin, a half brother who she has never had a relationship with, and two self-important female cousins – and Avery.  Her only ally is Riley, the son of the lawyer who picked her up.

As the competitors travel the world, they must remember family stories and histories Grandmother VanDemere has shared over Christmas dinners and brunches.  This is both a test of family heritage and wit, but also a test of strength and resourcefulness.  Besides this new challenge which can keep Avery from returning to a violet boarding school, Avery has also learned that her mother did not die – but was bought off and sent back to Croatia.  With each new challenge she successfully completes, she is rewarded with letters her mother has sent each year on her birthday.  Finding  more about her mother is more important to Avery than and amount of inheritance.  Determined to win the challenge only to escape this  hateful, selfish family and find her mother, Avery plays the game.

Add to the plot – a romance, violence, a secret message, and world travel and it’s worth sharing.  The challenges take the family through such important events in their family’s history as the Civil War, mining for diamonds, and the American Revolution.  The mix of a current, adventurous challenge and a mysterious, personal past is a plot so detailed with secrets and depth, it makes for an entertaining and surprising plot.

The War That Saved My Life -Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Award Nominee, families, period pieces, Safe Bets, Young Readers

This is a great historical fiction about the beginning of World War II when Ada and her brother are sent from London to the countryside of Kent with other evacuee children.  The story begins with Ada’s difficult life in London and her transition not only to country life, but also to a life of kindness, education, and love.

Ada is a ten year old, well maybe ten – the truth is her life in London is difficult and her mother not only is cruel to Ada, but does not even tell the poor girl know her birthday.  Ada was born with a twisted foot and her mother has kept her held up in their one room flat due to shame and ignorance.  When Ada learns from her little brother Jamie that children are being sent to the countryside she is determined to learn how to walk so that she can travel with her brother.  Once they arrive at Kent, they are the last children left to be chosen.  When they are placed with Susan, an education, but single woman in the village, they all must learn what it means to live as a temporary family.

Ada and Jamie rely on each other and through new experiences of country life, community, and love of two new pets, and curious ambition, they adapt to a new life.  As Hitler invades Europe, their oasis in Kent begins to suffer wartime hardships.  Susan helps Ada become a typical child and once they are told that Ada’s foot could be surgically fixed, Susan is sure that Ada’s mother will consent.  War looms, bombs become a daily occurrence, still it is the looming presence of a cruel birth mother that haunts Ada.  How long will she and Jamie get to stay in their new home?  Will Hitler’s armies reach Kent?  And will Ada finally get the medical treatment she deserves or will the cruel nature of her mom return to claim her children and lock Ada up in the one room flat?  Now that Ada has experienced friendship and love and the prospect of a future, does she even want her mom to come for her?

This is a story of how strangers come together and form a family, all saving the other’s and lead to living a better, more fulfilled life of love and joy.


Newbery Honor (2016),  Schneider Family Book Award for Middle School (2016), Odyssey Award (2016), Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Nominee (2017)

The Distance Between Lost and Found – Kathryn Holmes

Action, religious, Young Readers

If ever there was a metaphor, this title is the icing on the cake (get it?)

In all seriousness, Hallie (Hallelujah) is dealing with a deep secret and some serious isolation and bullying.  On a youth group trip, the story begins reliving the last 6 months of Hallie’s life as well as the current predicament of trying to both be invisible and also how to stand her ground towards the cause of her troubles – Luke.  She explains early on to a newcomer Rachel, that Luke didn’t raper her, but while you read you wonder what could have done to her besides that which led to rumors resulting in her friends abandoning her, her parents distrusting her, and her inner anxiety and self of irrelevancy that removed her voice, both figuratively and literally (the singing voice, that is).

On the day of a 12 mile hike with her youth group, Hallie finds herself with Rachel, both willing to lose the group and be reprimanded with being sent home.  Only they, and a once-friend, now foe Jonah, end up isolated from the group and lost in the woods ….. for days.  As the rain pours down and their energy bars soggy, the threesome realize their own damaging pasts and guilt, but know for the sake of survival they must focus as a team.  Hallie and Jonah face their past when his friendship abandoned her and together the three of them try to survive the nights and days lost in the woods.

I liked the premise, but it got a  little religious for me and my YA typical reading.  I think it’s fair to believe teenagers have these questions of when God is present, when he is not, how bad things happen, etc.  But it was a bit overkill for me.  I believe the character growth, forgiveness, and facing fear (as well as beauty in nature – yes, even on their 5th day lost, really…..) could have been covered with a little less focus on spirituality, but some may dig it.  I imagine preteens or parents of who want certain behavior from children and want them to be devout would enjoy the book.  I really liked the three friends coming together and finally Hallie stands up for herself once rescued.  But I feel the adventure and survivalist plot was overshadowed by the religious conversations.  Still, teenagers could all learn some to focus on treating people kindly and also on the skill of forgiveness so maybe I’m reading too much into this plot [get it?  another pun …. “reading into it” and it’s a novel, ha].

 

 

Scarlett Undercover – Jennifer Lathiam

Award Nominee, diversity in YA, Female Leads, Young Readers

Scarlett is a Muslim-American, private detective.  Not much past teenage years, she seems to have either insanely good luck or an unprecedented ability of street smarts, an unrealistic ability in observational tendencies (more than the local police), and is very smart and able to defend herself.  In summary – this is a bit far fetched (and that’s before we get to the mystery of a suicide with secrets, relics which hold special power, and the murder of her own father.)

I understand and appreciate the diversity Lathiam offers with a Muslim narrator and her community, but it’s not enough for this book to have my vote for the Arkansas Teen Book Award, which is why I read it.  I enjoyed some of the mystery when we first learned a suicide isn’t all it appears to be and the scrappy little siblings of a pair of friends who have more depth to them then the detective, even though she is older and is the main character.  It’s a light mystery, but mostly far fetched, even if the effort is to bring about minorities in a young adult novel, the plot isn’t enough.  Well done on diversity and a little creativity, but it doesn’t totally deliver.  Or maybe it does for the pre-teen crowd, I was just expecting more.

Although, before you hand it to the preteen crowd, there are deaths within this story besides the suicide or Scarlett’s dad.  Also, there is a strong focus on the Muslim community and Arabic appears throughout – in greetings and mention of prayers – but for such a focus on a devout Muslim family, and a sister named Reem who wears a hijab, I don’t find the name Scarlett fitting with the family.

Court of Fives – Kate Elliott

Authors, Award Nominee, families, Favorites, Female Leads, Series

The intro is part Game of Thrones, Shakespeare, and mystery – sign me up!

Five sisters, one of which is Jessamy, a strong willed daughter who seeks adventure and freedom, are prim and proper born to a family rising in power and expected to behave as the highborn.  Since her father was born poor, but whose status has elevated due to his career and her mother is a commoner (who her father cannot marry!) the daughters are constantly insulted and considered commoner’s in their family’s new elevated status.  They are not the same as highborn, yet they are not commoners.  If this wasn’t challenging enough, Jessamy is a free spirit who wants to compete in the games of the Court of Fives.

The Fives is part gladiator games and part Ninja Warrior with alternating challenges of strength and flexibility.  The contestants can be anyone who can afford the entry fee and they are masked so identities are unknown.  Jessamy finds a way to enter, but she knows she must lose for winning would bring shame to her father and family – and they already have enough obstacles against them.  Once her secret is discovered, by a fellow highborn contender, her life gets even more complicated.   As Jessamy struggles with her want to compete, she must fight the urge of The Fives, but also with the want to see the boy she cannot.

When a death causes a life twist to Jessamy and her sisters, she both gets what she’s always wanted and also what she’s always feared – how does she choose between her dream and her personal freedom or her devotion to her family?

This is action, entertainment, character growth, and facing how allegiances made from the strangest of partners can be the strongest of partners [see, Shakespearean]. The writing is both old fashioned and beautiful, similarly as Jane Austen or other period pieces.  I have a new insult: “Your argument is a sieve that cannot hold water”

There are plenty of twists, dangers to overcome, but mostly Jess learns that decisions aren’t always clear and even after made, sometimes there was no choice at all, but an unfortunate ending to those who do not control their own lives.


Series continues with: Poisoned Blade and a 3rd untitled.

The Detour – S.A. Bodeen

Action, Favorites

This is like the Young Adult version of Stephen King’s Misery – a plot I still do not want to read as an adult.   I began this novel with some reluctance, but as it’s up for the Arkansas Teen Book Award (and I must read it as I’m on the committee), I remembered I am an adult and I can handle a sort of scary plot.  So here we go –

When a  rich, beautiful YA author (17 years old) crashes her car on the way to a conference she is rescued(??) by a young girl and her mother and Livvy assumes she will get to go home.  Not only is that not true, but she is locked in a basement and told that she must remember what she has done that would warrant this treatment.  As if that weren’t scary enough, the child that is 50% responsible for Livvy’s captive state, is a bit sadistic as well.  Known simply as “flute girl” since she was playing the flute on the side of the road which led to Livvy’s car crash, the pain she inflicts is sometimes worse than the mental games of her mother.  [Are we sure this is a young adult novel?  I’m still not feeling safe with that classification choice]

Peg keeps blaming Livvy for something that she destroyed.  Although Livvy has no idea what she has done, she begins to plan ways she can escape.  It seems each ray of hope she finds or hope she has for being rescued (they will find her car, right?) is quickly shattered by the cold Peg, evil “Flute Girl”, or a perverted cousin trying to get into Livvy’s room.  While Livvy spends her day napping and planning, she also flashbacks to her rough childhood of mean girls who teased, of hair pulling she inflicted upon herself, and the dread that her private journal in her car will be found by Peg – who can use words just as violently as her hands.

This is an insane story – but so fabulous!  There are twists, surprises, and I was shocked many times.  Well worth the read and one of my votes for sure.  Teens and adults will enjoy it, but I wonder if we will get more of “Flute Girl” …. that girl is crazy.

The Cipher – John C. Ford

Action, Award Nominee, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Any fan of action plots, computer geeks and techy secrets, and a discovery that would both break into any computer account or basic internet connections will find this fast paced plot entertaining – oh, there’s also a mysterious death and a beautiful girl.

Smiles is the misfit son of a successful, computer systems genius millionaire. On a whim to accompany his neighbor genius to a math conference (because it’s in Vegas and he’s a gambler), Smiles and Ben not only cause a scene at the conference, but Ben has uncovered a cipher that can break into any bank account, computer account, online anything.  And then Smiles has the plan to sell it and make his own millions, away from his father’s company.  So they try to deal with the government, which you know isn’t going to go smoothly.

The other part of the plot is Smile’s ex-girlfriend Melanie who is uncovering a mystery of her own dealing with the company Smile’s dad created and her dad’s employer.  There’s a suicide decades ago that seems to have raised questions recently.  Also,  a secret letter Smiles was to receive when he turned 18 was destroyed by his father and Melanie is piecing together clues of what that suicide has to do with her father and Smile’s dad.

Vegas, disappearances, and a code to break the internet accounts and government records…. it will certainly appeal to fans of mysteries, those who believe in conspiracy theories, and any misfit trying to find his identity.  What makes it special is the twist.  It all comes full circle and besides a lovely plot wrap up, the reader will see how good guys can sometimes be bad and how bad guys can sometimes be good people.  A mind blowing realization that even a cipher couldn’t uncover.

Forbidden – Eve Bunting

Award Nominee, families, Female Leads, Read-a-Likes, Young Readers

It is 1807 in Edinburgh, Scotland and Josie, a recent orphan is carted off to an unknown uncle and aunt to live for the next two years until she becomes of age.  Immediately Josie sees how her life is to change.  Not just in wealth and love, but also in expected behavior and told to be a participant of a continuing crime.

Soon Josie learns the truth of her uncle’s “fishing” and a town secret is uncovered.  The story is a short one with a little mystery involved, but the length does not leave any element or secret uncovered.  It focuses more on Josie who grows from a formal, privileged girl of wealth into one who is strong, determined, and focused on doing the right thing.  In one moment she finds her inner will – both confident against her rough aunt or uncle but also against their fierce dog, mistakenly named Lamb.   She is offered a little kindness from Eli, the boy her uncle and the town warn her against, and his grandmother who know the truth of the town’s pillaging.

This is a safe little mystery for young readers.  With only a hint of romance, but a larger focus on finding the courage to do what is right even if it means you must do it alone.  Not as Dark as Seraphina and the Black Cloak, but a similar mystery and young girl who lives to do what is right in the world.

 

Daughter of Deep Silence – Carrie Ryan

Female Leads

Frances and Libby are rescued from being lost at sea for seven days, only Libby is dead and Frances’ parents are dead, and hundreds of others are dead after the cruise ship was attacked by gunmen.  This begins so dark and heavy and instantly addictive due to the detailed, clear writing.  Within a few pages – you will be hooked to learn more of France’s story and why the cruise liner was attacked.  As she is looked over by a medic, she finds out two other passengers survived: Senator Wells and his son Grey, the boy she fell in love with on board the cruise ship Persephone.  However, they are telling a lie about what happened to the cruise. 

As you read the story, you learn through flashbacks the events of that night.  You also learn of the great, detailed writing, such as

The bodies “And the blood and the screams and the smell of it all, like overripe peaches stuffed with pennies”

Frances finds news coverage of the Persephone and of the senator and his son being interviewed, but instead of telling the truth they have a different story.  Frances tells Libby’s dad, Cecil, the truth.   In an effort to protect her and investigate why the cruise was attacked, Cecil convinces Frances to pretend to be Libby so that they can stay together.

4 Years Later —– wait, what? 

This is a great revenge mystery like the Embassy Row series and the empowerment Frances feels at finally confronting the past at age 18 is exciting even if a little unrealistic in the timing of inheriting a trust fund, which allows her both the financial freedom and the freedom of being an adult, at the convenient age of 18.  Flashbacks to the night on board reappear throughout the story offering surreal and vivid images, descriptions of fear and witness of death, and detailed imagery that gets pretty dark. (This reminded me a lot of the show “Revenge” which is also a story of a young female planning a revenge for years and having unrealistic training, finances, and luck to achieve her ultimate revenge.

As Frances/Libby returns home for the first time in 4 years, she must pull off appearing as Libby for a fundraiser she hosts for her enemy, Senator Wells.  This provides a pupblic reunion of the only survivors from the disaster years before.   Frances/Libby can bounce from fully trained Libby traits and smile on the surface to full on rage bottled up for the last four years.  She must plan her revenge while playing the part.  And of course, others fall in her wake of revenge and truth seeking.

Besides the mystery, throw in the mix two young, dashing possible as love interests and whether Frances tells them the truth, and it’s a devious plan of revenge and a detailed plot.  Oh, did I mention one of the love interests is Grey – who Frances both wants to be the sweet boy that she knew on the cruise, but also wants to punish as the lying Senator’s son who helped hill her parents and friend.   The other love interest is Shep, Libby’s old boyfriend.   Ether way, a guy will be shocked and hurt, and Francis will have to live with how people suffer due to her plan of revenge. 

This book shows not everything is wrapped up in a bow.  Yet, teenage years are difficult for any young adult and especially for Frances who faced loss, fear, and survival, but must face her quest for revenge and truth while learning if she can ever trust anyone again and let people into her life.  The conspiracy is a good one too.   5 Stars!