P.S. I Like You – Kasie West

families, love, Middle Grade Romance, music, Safe Bets, Young Readers

Lily wants to be a songwriter and her constant need to create lyrics eventually leads her to a secret pen-pal who can also talk about music.  For a girl who doesn’t feel she fits in at her high school other than with her best friend and no help to Cade, who singles her out whenever he can, she finally finds a person who she can be completely open with. It begins as a simple doodle and lyric on a desk in Chemistry class, but soon develops to a full note exchange between classes.  This is similar to You’ve Got Mail with pen-pals being school notes left in a desk.

Once Lily learns a few details about her pen-pal, she begins to look at most kids in her school with a curious thought: could he/she be the pen pal?  Juggling school, a music competition, and her overcrowded house with a sister and twin younger brothers, there’s not a lot of time for Lily to write.  Add to this, her best friend and her boyfriend trying to set her up with their friend Daniel.  Soon Lily wonders is her pen pal the cute boy she always sees listening to his headphones or should she stop hiding behind the secrecy of letter writing and focus on Daniel right in front of her?

She is a strong girl who doesn’t mind wearing the clothes she buys from thrift stores or being the odd girl who stands up to Cade.  Still, the mystery of a stranger who she can speak about music with is inciting and causes Lily to act similarly as any teenager with a crush.  It’s honest and real and any teen uninterested in dating or those that don’t mind developing crushes each week will enjoy.  Readers will find themselves in a little bit of Lily.  Characters can be independently strong, yet also susceptible to the actions of peers and the distractions of a first crush.


Read-a-Likes:

 

Advertisements

Wither – Lauren DeStefano

Dystopian, Fantasy, Female Leads

In a future where science has resulted in men dying at the age of 25 and women at the age of 20, life rules have changed and what is legal has certainly changed. Previous generations tried to create a super-race, but instead have given early death sentences to future generations.

The Gatherers, a group of men who kidnap women to be young brides only to procreate before their deaths and help the human race survive, have captured Rhine.  She now faces a future away from her brother and as a new bride in a house that feels more prison than “starter home.”  Along with her are two other teenagers.  These are her future sister wives.  This is part dystopian and part Mormon family lifestyle.  While their groom Linden seems to actually be considerate, Rhine soon realizes he is in the dark on how the girls were captured and sent to his mansion.  At the patriarchal lead is Linden’s dad Vaughn, who even though he is one of the first generation doctors, there is a sinister side to him and what goes on in the basement of the mansion.  Is he really working on a cure that will let people live past their 20’s?

Rhine must deal with her spoiled captivity and fights against it the full time she’s in the mansion.  Her sister wives are opposites and while young Cecily is eager for the marriage, Jenna approaches this kidnapping as a place to die.  Friendships among the ladies occur, but their differences are always apparent in how much they give in to the marriage and inner resistance.    Rhine wants to escape and must find a way to escape, under the noses of Vaughn and Linden, but also find her way back to her brother.

There’s mystery, love, relationships, and enough questions left unanswered that the series is worth a read.


The Chemical Garder series continues with Fever and Sever

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.

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! 

A School for Unusual Girls – Kathleen Baldwin

Female Leads, period pieces, Safe Bets, Series, Young Readers

It’s 1814 and Georgiana Fitzwilliam is not the submissive, dainty, quiet daughter her high society parents expect in a daughter.  In fact, she’s a scientist (!)  and after setting the family’s barn and fields on fire (oops!) from a failed science experiment, she is sent to Miss. Stranje – a woman known for breaking wild girls of their strong spirit and reforming them into high society’s expectations of a well behaved female…… or so the Stranje House is believed to do.

As any smart spy knows, one must have a good cover – and that’s what the Stranje House is: a cover for girls with skills to be honed in an effort to help Britain avoid another war.  Emma Stranje is not the harsh Headmistress who reforms wild girls, as parents believe, but she is a clever, atypical female herself who will train these young females and place them in dangerous situations with some of England’s most secretive of spies. A truly bold woman using the innate skills of young ladies to help her country.  A patriot in a corset!

A period piece, not historical fiction but a story that takes elements of history (not as accurate as a Dateline episode, but far better than a Lifetime movie), but a setting that readers will enjoy dreaming about even once the book is finished. Another tale of young females dreaming of living outside of their sexist, limited options.

Gerogie and the other girls of Stranje House all have skills that will help the British army and keep the French Napoleon sympathizers from gaining control of France.  Throw in a few spy scenarios, a ball to attend, and secrets from a few sinister characters, as well as a gallant hero and that’s the story.  But it isn’t as romance-novel as it sounds since, after all, Georgie and the other ladies from Stranje House are some of the most clever, ranging from realistically sloppy to the most naturally beautiful, heroes of this adventure.   It ends with a new foe and challenge even the Strange House ladies do not know how to conquor, but (sweetly) concludes with Georgie finally finding a home among the other “unusual” girls.


A Stranje House series continues with Exile for Dreamers

exile

 

The Rose Society – Marie Lu

Action, Fantasy, Favorites, Female Leads, gay characters, Read-a-Likes, Series, Young Readers

So. Excited. For. This. Sequel!!!!  There are some awesome females in this series:  “Right now, what I want is the throne.  Enzo’s power.  A perfect revenge.  And all the Inquisitors, queens, and Daggers in the world won’t be able to stop me.” (196)   —— Boom ———

Adelina is strong and she and her sister immediately begin their search for other Elites.  In hiding their powers, they sneak among society, but ever fearful of being caught by the Inquisitors ruled by Teren and Queen Giulietta – those who fear the malfettos (aka: gifted people after the fever left them with powers.  Those with the strongest powers are the Elites).  This sequel immediately keeps the plot moving and character’s personalities grow.  I may just prefer the sequel to the debut, something that I haven’t done since Catching Fire from the The Hunger Games series.

Raffaele Laurent Bessette is a new leader of the Dagger Society and a former consort, and former confidant to Prince Enzo – an Elite himself who was killed by Teren, (the self hating Elite who works and loves Queen Giulietta, the sister of Enzo) —- a very connected group of characters for sure.  While Raffaele is taken under a new Queen’s charge he struggles with the loss of Enzo.  Maeve, the Malfetto Queen and ally to Enzo with her vengeance and violent tendencies, has recently risen to power and has no problems using Raffaele as a tool, even if it means his death.  She fights and has a ferocious white tiger and I keep thinking of Lady MacBeth, yep – she’s sort of that frightening as a newly crowned young Queen.  Her power is one of the darkest.

Lots of secrets and trickery, but a fast moving plot and unlike Six of Crows, which has similarities, this one is easier to follow.  Maybe it’s just that  we’re following 3 groups instead of 6 backstories, but it flows better.  And as far as sequels go, it keeps you reading and I almost want to reread it.

Another side of the plot’s maturity deals with love, the disappointment with it (not in a teenage sappy love story).  It covers the gut wrenching loss of a confidant, the cruelty given by a parent, and true abandonment.  Not to mention our characters have to choose between friends, choose who suffers pain (even death), and who to let go.  Adelina certainly comes to understand how her ideal of love has changed.

“I’m suddenly angry.  Why must I lose everything that I care for? Why is love such a weakness? I wish, for an instant, that I didn’t need such a thing.  I can win the same things in my life with fear, with power.  What is the point of searching for love, when love is nothing but an illusion?”

I think what really makes this book stand out is the darkness that comes through for many of the characters, Adelina mostly who struggles with a desire of revenge and power, but also of the prejudice towards the malfettos.  Eventually her drive for power, and the whispers in her head overtake her initial goal of justice and it’s a glorious spiral out of control.  One that is very Shakespearean or Game of Thrones like.  Not a typical depth found in Young Adult Literature and one Marie Lu covers so well.  You will not put this book down for the last half, I promise.

Sadly, I must now wait for the third book, but at least we’re already into 2016 right?   I love this series and recommend it to male and female students and also to adults.  It does not disappoint in action, plot, creativity, and characters.

Six of Crows -Leigh Bardugo

Fantasy, Female Leads, Young Readers

Continuing the YA trend of teens with special powers comes Six of Crows, a recently published book that I am reading within a month of being published and hope I’m ahead of the popularity – I predict it to become another YA popular book.

Chapters alternate between characters who hide their powers, are taken advantage of for their powers, and characters who are fighting for survival and those who have secret pasts in which they are trying to forget.  In other words —– exciting!  We have narration of male and female characters, but all are strong in mental ability or physical strength and in the first 10 chapters I just kept wanting them to get together already and become a force of rebels with superpowers like X-men.

I had to wait…… and wait.   Disappointingly long for any real action to get going. (Did I mention the wait?)

Kaz is sort of a gang ruler of misfits, thugs, and survivalists.  It’s a time where groups clash, powerful people are taken and locked away, and politics decide who survives.  As he gets together a group in a sort of Oceans 11 coming together to pull of a heist, readers slowly learn more of each of the six and of the heist.  It’s good enough with some action, but not near as much as I expected.  I kept thinking it would build.

Inej is a strong, confident, female – a loner for sure.  Jesper

Wylan is the out of place character, later to find out his sole purpose is to be a hostage against his powerful father…. until his power saves the crew.

Nina is respected and feared, and both quick and as silent as a cat.

Matthias is their captured hostage with a past with Nina, one in which both of them wish to alternate between loving and killing the other.

Trying to keep it all straight – me too. Finally around page 150 I was enjoying it.  Still, I couldn’t make myself finish it at this time.  Maybe later….. other people seem to like it so maybe I was just interrupted too often with this book and holidays got in the way – but I couldn’t force myself to finish it.  There were good parts so I was hopeful, but I’ve decided to let this one go.