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! 


This is Where It Ends – Marieke Nijkamp

Books Worth Crying Over, death, diversity in YA, families, gay characters

When all the students of Opportunity High try to leave their assembly, they find the doors are locked.  They then see Tyler on stage with a gun.  “Everyone has a reason to fear the boy with the gun.”  The majority of the novel is 53 terrifying minutes.

The plot unravels from different narrators, all of whom know Tyler in a different way: as a sister, an ex-girlfriend, those he’s accused of ruining his life and taking his family from him, and various classmates.  Students are able to text and alert the outside, but the instant posting can’t deflect the instant picking off of students or teachers from a trigger happy dropout.  This is dark, no doubt, but is getting lots of buzz so I read it.

Our different narrators are:

  • Tomas: a student who was breaking into school files during the assembly so happens to be one of two people free to roam the halls and try to get the doors unlocked.  He has also fought with Tyler in the past. He searches for his identity and role in family and school, but figures his most important role is to get people out of the auditorium.
  • Sylv: Sister to Tomas and girlfriend interest to Autumn, Tyler’s sister.  She is torn between her role at home and her dreams.  She will face Tyler to protect both Autumn and Tomas.
  • Autumn: Tyler’s sister and skilled dancer who takes verbal and physical abuse from their father ever since their mother’s death.  She must deal with her feelings of responsibility by association.  She is also willing to sacrifice herself for classmates.  She still loves her brother even though he’s become this monster and wants to protect him too.
  • Claire: Tyler’s ex-girlfriend.  She was outside running with the track team and she and Chris run from school to find a phone to call for help.  They realize the shooter is Tyler when they find his car next to the school security man’s car – the security guard is dead from a gunshot and the ammo cartridges are in Tyler’s car. Her brother Matt is inside.
  • Various texts messages from students within the auditorium.

Tyler is clearly a sociopath and he enjoys being in control of those in the auditorium.  It becomes clear to everyone that he is looking for specific people to shoot, but also shooting people at random so no one feels safe and Autumn places herself in a position to try and reason with her brother.  The story is told from many points of view with each chapter representing a few minutes of time.  It really reads fast in action and dialog, like I’m sure the chaos and confusion of a scene like this would, but also really slowly with the majority of plot and shootings occurring within 30 minutes of time.  Having the time stated at each narration prolongs the fear and uncertainty of victims and how each second would focus on breathing, the sound of one’s own heartbeat, or hearing every snicker from Tyler like seconds ticking away. The world stops in that auditorium and Nijkamp successfully covers this heavy, delicate topic and how teenagers would react.  The loss and shock is covered as well as anger and confusion.

“Together we could be so strong, but the gun has made us individuals”

This story is more than an overly dramatic scene or imaginative school shooting, and it is written with sensitivity, but also shows the darkness to a mentally unstable person like Tyler.   Adults in the assembly try to rationalize with an irrational Tyler, only to result in being picked off one by one.  There is both a method and randomness to Tyler’s victims and throughout the story, we learn about the previous relationships among the classmates.  They all are focused around the sense of family, whether their own, their missing family, or the family that develops in a positive high school experience with peers and teachers.   It also delves into serious topics of parents and children, and when the children sometimes take on the parental role; abuse at the hands of a parent; sibling relationships; bullying; sexual identities; sexual assault; and being an outsider in a small town.  The different narrators feel different levels of responsibility, believing “if only” situations then they could have prevented the shooting.  Some are brave in trying to stop him or find their sibling, most are just compassionate and scared.  It’s very sad to read [obviously], but all face a sense of loss whether losing a loved one, their dreams, or their lives.  Tyler’s actions are devastating right up to the end.

This is a story that breaks you heart for the school shooting aspect, of course, but makes one realize just how senseless crimes like these are and how we treat one another is important.  Nijkamp never claims to look into the psychology of killing or go into Tyler’s reasoning.  This is a book that shows what it is like for other people to live through (or not) a tragedy.  There are a variety of characters and their responses to not only the shooter, but the shooter’s sister, are honest.  This isn’t a psychological thriller.  It’s a sad story and an example of a mutli-person point of view telling of a tragedy.  It also shows that no one person could prevent Tyler’s actions, but characters come together to help as many students as they can, even in the last few minutes of death.  As with real tragedies, this book doesn’t wrap up into a nice ending.  Just because the shooting has stopped, doesn’t mean the pain and fear are over.  However, people will survive and in a Gone With The Wind realization they know that ‘tomorrow is another day’.


The Naturals – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Award Nominee, death, families, Female Leads, Series

Cassie is viewed as trouble.  Her dad is across the world and her mother is missing, presumed dead.  Cassie lives with her extended Italian family while her dad is away and one day when a young stranger leaves a business card for the FBI, her usual mundane life has an element of mystery.  This card attracts her interest in that she may finally gain some answers about her mother’s disappearance 5 years ago.

The chapters alternate between Cassie’s life and the narration of a serial killer [be warned, 14 and older].  Cassie is a “natural” a personality type the FBI is searching for of young teenagers with natural abilities – profiler, mind-reader, statistician, emotion-reader.  Now Cassie’s ability, trained by her mother’s influence seems to have a real purpose.  As she goes to D.C. under the ruse of a specialty government school, her FBI training begins, but for Cassie there is always the haunting reminder of her mother’s absence.  Her desire to learn the truth about her mom leads her to join this special group of the FBI, trained by real FBI agents.

Cassie and the four other “naturals” she is being trained alongside focus on their specialties also while trying to deal with typical teenage relationships, crushes, grudges, and confusion. Soon, of course, Cassie’s past and her mother’s death become key elements to a current serial killer’s traits and murders.  When Cassie begins receiving anonymous “gifts” from the killer, the FBI and The Naturals must all hone their abilities and work together to protect Cassie and catch the killer – before the killer gets Cassie.

It ends up being a good mystery and the “Naturals” are all interesting characters with good backstories.  I’m interested in if the series remains as dark as this first one with the plot of a serial killer or if there will be a variety of types of cases.  Also, will Cassie ever get the real answers surrounding her mother’s disappearance?

On a side (and fascination note) Jennifer Barnes is a professor of psychology, has a PhD from Yale, and has advanced degrees in psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive science.  This definitely adds a level of respect to the series and her darker characters.



All The Rage – Courtney Summers

Award Nominee, Female Leads

The title isn’t a trendy saying, instead it’s the rage of Romy Grey who was date raped by a popular boy, and Sheriff’s son.   Once he is accused, Romy is an outcast – seen as a liar and bullied by the small town high school teenagers, and even prominent adults in the community. This is a story that needs to be told- date rape occurs and should be reported.  I’ll get this out at the beginning – Romy is a survivor in more ways than one.

It begins with the retelling of a night in which Romy was so excited – what to wear on an anticipated date, being asked out by the cutest boy, and then having “fun” defined  by the 6, 7, 8, 9, and even 10 shots of alcohol she ingested  – probably no more then 110 pounds.

“How do you get a girl to stop crying?  You cover her mouth”

Where are the friends the night of and where are the adults the days after I was left wondering?  It makes me sad to read about the isolation and shame that results after a rape and certainly after a woman doesn’t report it. This is a strongly written, bold and powerful novel.  If every girl who experience some form of harassment had the strength of Romy, we would bee strong  stronger as  a female population.  Romy struggles and it is also important for readers to see protagonists with real life struggles and that there isn’t always a quick fix.

Months after her rapist has left town, the harassment continues as classmates are angry of his absence and she is seen as a liar.  Throughout the novel, she uses red nail polish and red lipstick as her shield and Romy finds courage to go to school each day (impressively), but her real solace is working in a diner one town over with people who don’t know her or her history.  When these worlds collide, Romy must face her past and also her vulnerability.  There are positive people in her life, but they cannot offset the mean girls at school and the harassment of boys. When Romy is found on a dirt road, 30 miles from town after going missing one night, with her clothes messed up and the words “Rape Me” written on her stomach, she cannot ignore her past any longer.   The same night, the town’s favorite popular girl also goes missing and Romy wonders if the coincidence of their disappearance on the same night has any link to her past.

Summers covers the aftermath of rape – isolation, shame, anger – well and also shows the strength in Romy as she deals with a town who shames her and calls her a liar.  When even the Sheriff publicly humiliates a teenager, one can’t read past the unfairness and sexism that Romy faces and that females still face such horrible backlash if coming forward with rape accusations against the wrong guy – even if it is the truth.  There is cruelty and unfairness in this novel, but there is also determination and strength.   In the end, Romy’s truth is known, she accepts support, and kindness from an unlikely person helps her feel validated and have a sense of worth.  Still, there are lots of serious mature issues in this besides the date rape.  Definitely a book I won’t forget for a while for the honest and respectful way it dealt with a serious issue of rape, teenage parties and bullying being allowed by adults, and how quickly one girl can get lost and isolated.

I am interested in Courtney Summers now and her award winning other books.  I love that this is her idea of a great character, “She likes writing books about girls who only have themselves because sometimes that realization is the scariest and most important thing–the slow untangling of the difference between ‘lonely’ and ‘alone.’ Her favorite kind of stories are the ones that make you wish so badly they’d ended differently but deep down you know they really couldn’t have gone any other way.”   She is a strong voice, who seems to focus on strong female characters.  Read more about her on her website


The Gathering – Kelley Armstrong

diversity in YA, families, Fantasy

A teenage girl lives in a community owned by a pharmaceutical company and the town thinks nothing of it (#1 mystery foreshadow).  Oh yeah, her best friend – a great swimmer – drowned last year (#2 mystery foreshadow) and she can heal animals faster than the vet. It isn’t until a newcomer comes to down, an old lady calls Maya a witch – and that’s why her biological parents left her (ouch! They just met), and she begins to have fainting spells does Maya think her life may not be as normal as it seems.  Lots of mysteries thrown in this first book of Darkness Rising.

She also seems to connect closely with animals, mostly the cougars who live on the park her dad manages.  Yeah…. she thought this was a normal life.  Although I guess when you live in isolation your idea of ‘normal’ needs to be put in perspective. So this is fantasy and clearly the real reason all of these scientists and families live isolated will come out, but what begins at a normal teenage party results in the realization that skinwalkers (shape shifters) exist and a certain birthmark identifies you as such.  Have I mentioned that all of these teenagers excel at some athletic ability: swimming, boxing, running?  And the company which owns the town sends a team of doctors once a year to do physical check ups on these kids. Part Native American folklore and part Science Fiction, the story incorporates many creative elements to keep the mystery going nearly to the end.  And as it’s the first of a series….. the mystery clearly continues past shape shifters, strangers with guns, and the reason the town has to be evacuated.

Other topics: folklore, adoption, love, death, and communicating with animals.   So far this series is safe for younger readers – minus one incident with a drink being drugged, but nothing happened.

Series continues with The Calling and The Rising.


Halo – Alexandra Adornetto

death, religious, Series

I usually don’t read angel books, but this came recommended.  Angels are coming to Earth to try and get humanity on the right track.  This is less about going to church and more about stopping violence so I thought that was a good enough reason to begin reading.  It’s the first of a trilogy so who knows how into religion it goes, but considering the following titles are Hades and Heaven, I’m guessing it gets deeper.  What I like about this series so far is less the idea of angles and more the budding love story between Bethany (the teen angel) and Xavier.  He is School Captain and overall nice guy, but still guarded after the death of both his girlfriend and best friend.  Odd things have occurred in this town, which is why Bethany and her two siblings – both Heavenly and as a cover story for their Earthly presence – were sent.

As Bethany learns the ways of a small town and stereotypical high school experiences, she sees the good in humanity.  It isn’t until the (obvious) introduction of the mysterious, cute, British rebel that the storyline isn’t all rainbows and goodness.  It’s obvious from the beginning of meeting Jake Thorne that he will be a demon or something to counter the good (and lazily named) sibling trio, whose chosen last name is Church.


I kept thinking this shared the obvious, and overly too perfect for each other love of the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer.  Two beings, from different worlds, are both drawn to one another and in a far, too dramatic in teen angst, but too mature in adult reasoning and relationship revelations type of love relationship.  In these two books, the ability to process such complex relationship issues as one would have if loving an angel from Heaven or a vampire from hundreds of years ago is not a realistic ability in maturity of the typical 17 year old.  But why try to draw reason in these plots when the series is so clearly for preteen girls just beginning to think of relationships and wanting the never-ending love that they believe is the love story waiting for them?

This has an OK storyline.  It certainly won’t offend most parents since it involves angels and at least in this first segment, it’s not too religious to offend this laid back Episcopalian.  Jake eventually gets a following and brings some demons to earth and our angels must intervene, but I am sort of curious about the next in the trilogy…… alluring most readers with the title of Hades and with the promise that a spurned and angry Jake (demon) Thorne is returning.


Overall, this is just as over the top teen love and high school driven plot as many YA novels where the love story is between a mortal and immortal being.  Not sure how religious it goes, but it is not subtle in showing how decisions (drinking, dating, sex, grades, responsibility) affect one’s life, which is probably a lesson many preteens need to be reminded of and one most parents wouldn’t mind this angle-mortal love story teaching.

Sweet – Emmy Laybourne

Action, death, Favorites, Female Leads

Celebrities and overweight people are on a cruise with a special, new, dietary aid.  Solu is a sweetener to put on your food, in coffee, or cook with, and it will help people lose weight – or at least that is the stipulation for this expensive PR 24/7 event.  Its introduction is a week long cruise, with press, celebrities, and average people (well, those that can afford it) being televised over satellite before Solu is released to the public 7 days later.

The story has dual narrators – Laurel who is along with her best friend.  Both girls are slightly overweight and while Laurel is not there to lose weight her best friend Viv is.  Viv’s dad paid for the girls to go on this cruise hosted by Tom, our second narrator.  Tom is a reality star who is famous for his years of being overweight child Tom-Tom to a televised audience.  Now in shape, Tom doesn’t care to take Solu and neither does Laurel.  The foreshadowing that they will not only witness the effects of Solu, but then have to try and survive isolated on this ship is clear, but just like Monument 14 – Emmy Laybourne keeps on delivering twists to the plot and crazy gruesome details of injuries and death.  I love her books, but I do recommend them with caution and often only to older readers.

I can’t give much more detail to the story itself without giving a lot away.  There’s a love connection, a corrupt scientist, and a whole lot of addicts who being to resemble zombies or brainwashed people losing all inhibitions and fear.  Parts seem to be more zombie-esque than survivalist, but it’s full of action –  and funny at times even when people are going crazy, which is a pretty impressive balance to pull off.

All Fall Down: Book One of Embassy Row -Ally Carter

Action, families, Female Leads, revenge, Series

all fall down

Grace is the grand daughter of the American ambassador and has returned to live with her Grandfather 3 years after her mother’s death – a death that only Grace knows the real cause: Murder.  As the only witness, Grace is haunted by her mother’s death, which other’s believe was an accident.  No one believes her – not her grandfather, not the police, not anyone who can help her on Embassy Row.

That is, until she meets some new friends and reunites with another child of Embassy Row. Besides mystery concerning Grace’s mother’s death, is the mystery of the tunnels beneath the city and the men who Grace accidentally comes across and hear’s plan for another killing.  As Grace and her new cohorts, the few who do believe her, explore the city, hack into computers, and follow the man with the scar, one can assume that soon this secret surrounding Grace’s mother’s death will of course include the politicians.  The book, after all, is the beginning of a series called “Embassy Row” so I think our curious international characters will become quite the spy team.

What’s nice about this mystery is the group of friends that comes together, from different countries, of different races, and of different ages.  They speak of Embassies, and of their homes, as the country their parents or grandparents represent, which means we get comical passages like [paraphrasing here] “I look up and I’m in Iran” or ‘I crossed the wall from Canada to Germany’.

There were some twists with who the good guys were verses who the bad guys were and it ends with a little mystery.  This would interest those who like mysteries or conspiracies.

Sequel:  See How They Run

The Living – Matt de la Pena



Shy is a Mexican-American teenage boy working on a 5-star cruise ship for the summer.  He has a great group of coworkers who are friends with the appropriate amount of teenage teasing, but nothing too mean – which a lot of YA books don’t balance as well.  One night early into his voyage, a man confesses strange things to Shy and climbs overboard the highest deck, ultimately letting go and committing suicide.

If this weren’t enough to weigh on a young adult’s mind, soon someone appears asking questions about Shy and what this man discussed on the deck with him before jumping.  Right as the story takes a turn focused on a Pharmaceutical company conspiracy focused around a deadly illness, the cruise line is informed of a massive earthquake that hit California.  The weather begins to worsen and soon a tsunami hits the ship.  Action ensues with our favorite ship employees and a few passengers – the good and the bad – and soon the ship is sinking.  There is a lot of action from the first wave through Shy’s 8 days at sea: people are found, people die, sharks attack, water runs out, and hope is lost.  Besides the great action of this book, and there is plenty, there is a more mature subplot on class, opportunities given (or abused) based on class, and even when characters realize the injustices of the world – not including the bad luck of being aboard a sinking ship – there are moments of kindness, understanding, empathy, and simply learning that stereotypes are not always truthful.

Obviously Shy doesn’t die on the lifeboat – or there would be no book, and certainly not a sequel – but I can’t really continue without giving away the plot.  So know that if you can handle some very detailed chapters about a ship sinking, shark attacks, and life trying to survive on a lifeboat you will be able to make it through the scariest parts of this story to the much deeper conspiracy.  There are some great side characters and action.

A book most boys will like, mostly action and less romance since it’s a male narrator, but be warned – there is a good amount of cussing. Still, the plot (and one certain character) have sparked enough of an interest, and I feel devoted to Shy after surviving with him, that I will continue with the story.

“. . . adventure survival enthusiasts will relish the vivid and raw descriptions of the sinking ship, blistering sun, and shark-infested waters. But most appealing is the empathetic teen, portrayed as a tough guy with a romantic side, who will appeal to both males and females . . . ” — School Library Journal

“Peña takes the time to establish some solid rapport among his characters before unleashing the mayhem, though, and the central disease and drug scam is so viciously immoral that readers will probably book passage on the upcoming sequel, to learn whether Shy and his two smokin’-hot love interests will bring the bad guys to their knees.” — The Bulletin

Sequel – The Hunted (already out)