Tag Archives: reviews

The Border

The Border Book Cover The Border
Steve Schafer
Young Adult Fiction
Sourcebooks Fire
September 1, 2017
368

One moment changed their lives forever. A band plays, glasses clink, and four teens sneak into the Mexican desert, the hum of celebration receding behind them. Crack. Crack. Crack. Not fireworks—gunshots. The music stops. And Pato, Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys are powerless as the lives they once knew are taken from them. Then they are seen by the gunmen. They run. Except they have nowhere to go. The narcosresponsible for their families' murders have put out a reward for the teens' capture. Staying in Mexico is certain death, but attempting to cross the border through an unforgiving desert may be as deadly as the secrets they are trying to escape...

 

Review:

Words cannot describe how important I think “The Border” is for everyone from middle grade up to read.  The story really put a face on the plights of those crossing the US border from the south.  The author did meticulous research and took great care to tell the story in an easy to understand manner.  This would be perfect for classroom and child/parent discussions.  It’s also a good choice for reluctant readers and those looking for diversity in their books.  Highly recommended.

This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Brief Sexual Situations, Violence, Underage Smoking

Glitter

Glitter Book Cover Glitter
Glitter Duology, Book 1
Aprilynne Pike
JUVENILE FICTION
Random House Books for Young Readers
October 25, 2016
384

"A teenager living in an alternate-history futuristic Versailles must escape its walls by selling a happy-enducing makeup called Glitter"--

 

Review:

“Glitter” is definitely a unique book that will appeal to many.  Unfortunately, I am not one of them.

The world is fascinating and the characters are diverse.  The author did not do an info dump about it all, which was both appreciated and frustrating.  By frustrating, I mean it seemed to go too long before anything at all was explained. It read slowly for me, but overall was well-written, and I believe many will fall in love with the story.

“Glitter” is a book I can neither recommend nor warn against.  My suggestion is to try it yourself if it sounds like something that may appeal to you.

This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.

 

Content Warnings:

Language, Sexual Situations, Violence, Smoking, Underage Drinking, drug abuse

Don’t Get Caught

Don't Get Caught Book Cover Don't Get Caught
Kurt Dinan
Juvenile Fiction
Sourcebooks Fire
April 1, 2016
336

Get even. Get revenge. Just don't get caught. Max Cobb is sick of being "Just Max"—the kind of guy whose resume boasts a measly 2.5 GPA and a deep love of heist films. So when an invitation appears in his locker to join the anonymous, untraceable, epic prank-pulling Chaos Club, Max jumps at the opportunity. Except that the invite is really a setup, and Max, plus the four other misfits who received similar invitations, are apprehended by school security for defacing the water tower. Max has finally had enough. It's time for payback. Time to unmask Chaos. Let the prank war begin.

 

Review:

“Don’t Get Caught” is hands-down one of the best young adult books I have ever read.  It’s a nice break from the tragedy filled contemporary, fantasy, and dystopian genres.

Max, the main character, is obsessed with heist films.  He knows the list of heist movie rules with the same precision that Randy from “Scream” knows the rules of horror movies.  When combined with an unlikely group of very different personalities all on a mission, he is able to put his skills to good use.  All of the characters are well-developed and engaging, and all of them go beyond the normal teenage tropes.  Think “The Breakfast Club” with a little less angst and a lot more humor.

The plot is based around a prank war.  I don’t want to go into too much detail, because much like heist films the beauty is in the twists, but I can say that this book had me literally laughing out loud.  In fact, it was more of an embarrassing belly laugh that turned into snorts, hiccups, and ultimately choking.  It really was that funny.  There is also only a hint of romance, so those who find that “not their thing” will get a break from love triangles and the like.

“Don’t Get Caught” is one of those rare books that will hold universal appeal.  The target audience is high school and up, but almost every adult will also enjoy it, even if they are not necessarily fans of young adult books.  If you like humor, you will probably like this.  Also, if you have a reluctant reader in your life get this into their hands as soon as you possibly can. It’s the type of book that can help foster a lifetime love of reading.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Sexual Dialogue, Brief (Very Brief) Sexual Situations, Violence

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth Book Cover The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
Christopher Scotton
Fiction
Grand Central Publishing
2015-01-06
480

After witnessing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, 14-year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin's grandfather. In this peeled-paint coal town deep in Appalachia, Kevin quickly falls in with a half-wild hollow kid named Buzzy Fink who schools him in the mysteries and magnificence of the woods. The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky. Medgar is beset by a massive Mountaintop Removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows. Kevin's grandfather and others in town attempt to rally the citizens against the 'company' and its powerful owner to stop the plunder of their mountain heritage. When Buzzy witnesses the brutal murder of the opposition leader, a sequence is set in play which tests Buzzy and Kevin to their absolute limits in an epic struggle for survival in the Kentucky mountains. Redemptive and emotionally resonant, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is narrated by an adult Kevin looking back on the summer when he sloughed the coverings of a boy and took his first faltering steps as a man among a rich cast of characters and an ambitious effort to reclaim a once great community.

 

Review:

For the first time, I feel like a jerk for giving something three stars as opposed to four, because at its heart “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” is a solid four-star novel.  There are some plot flaws that made me feel the need to dock a star, and they may not bother others, so please research other reviews along with mine to determine if this novel is right for you.

“The Secret Wisdom of the Earth” is a coming-of-age tale in the slice-of-life tradition.  It meanders through the beautiful world of the Kentucky mountains, creating a respect within the reader for the beauty and fragility of nature.  Mixed in are the very real issues of coal mining, poverty, and homophobia.  All are handled in a realistic and unflinchingly honest way.

The main characters of Kevin, Pops, and Buzzy are likable and flawed, making them people whom those from all walks of life can relate.  The supporting characters are all given complex stories and personalities that make you want to sit around at the diner and get to know them better.

Given all of these positives, you may be wondering why the three-star rating.  The problem comes at the end.  While some issues were not resolved, and should not have been, there were others that were not addressed at all, leaving the reader with no closure.  On the opposite end, there was too much closure in the epilogue, with as many personal details crammed in as possible.  It cluttered what would have been such a great book had the ending simply addressed the initial themes as opposed to ignoring them for the minor details.

I don’t regret reading “The Secret Wisdom of the Earth”, but I do have mixed feelings about it.  I can neither recommend nor not recommend this novel.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content:

I don’t do content warnings for adult books, but do want to warn that there is strong homophobic and racist comments, as well as animal abuse.

Inked

Inked Book Cover Inked
Eric Smith
Juvenile Fiction
Bloomsbury Publishing USA
2015-01-20
250

Sometimes your only chance to survive, and what you most fear... is to be INKED. Tattoos once were an act of rebellion. Now they decide your destiny the moment the magical Ink settles under your skin. And in a world where Ink controls your fate, Caenum can't escape soon enough. He is ready to run from his family, and his best friend Dreya, and the home he has known, just to have a chance at a choice. But when he upsets the very Scribe scheduled to give him his Ink on his eighteenth birthday, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that sends the corrupt, magic-fearing government, The Citadel, after him and those he loves. Now Caenum, Dreya, and their reluctant companion Kenzi must find their way to the Sanctuary, a secret town where those with the gift of magic are safe. Along the way, they learn the truth behind Ink, its dark origins, and why they are the only ones who can stop the Citadel. Eric Smith takes you on a fast-paced fantasy adventure, perfect for anyone who has dreamed of being different...only to discover that destiny is more than skin deep. Advance Praise "INKED is an action-packed read with a hero I could root for, magic I wanted to have, and a vivid fantasy world to back it all up. Smith's prose had me turning pages way past my bedtime." - Susan Dennard, author of Something Strange & Deadly "A fast-paced page-turner from Eric Smith filled with magic, mystery and mayhem." - Kristi Helvig, Author of Burn Out "With a lively cast of characters and a captivating idea, INKED draws its readers into a world where magic lives on every page." Kat Zhang, author of The Hybrid Chronicles series

 

Review:

Judging from the summary and the cover, I had really high hopes for the tale of magical tattoos and the main character, Caenum.  Unfortunately, “Inked” is a prime example of not being able to judge a book by its cover.

The story started in a promising way, introducing the familiar themes of becoming an adult and being afraid of what the world may hold for you.  The descriptions of how the magic tattoos looked and moved were intriguing and very well-done.  The world building, while not the best I have read, was sufficient to give the reader a decent idea of what Caenum is encountering.

The beginning of the plot resembles a fairy tale, but by the halfway mark it begins to go off of the rails.  The plot tries to fit too much in, and given the short length of the book, it detracts from the simple, linear plot that would have been much more readable and enjoyable.  By the end, you have more questions than answers, and there are characters who never became fleshed out enough to make the story reach a satisfactory conclusion.  In fact, it seems as though it is meant to be a series, yet ends as though the story has reached its conclusion.

The reason I have given “Inked” three stars, as opposed to two, is that in spite of all of its problems I believe it will hold the attention of children in the age range of 10-12.  It’s relatively clean and does, at least, hold a quick pace.  Unless you fall in that age group, I do not recommend this book.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

Mild Language, Violence

 

UnSouled

UnSouled Book Cover UnSouled
UnWind Dystology, Book 3
Neal Shusterman
Juvenile Fiction
Simon and Schuster
2014-10-14
432

After the destruction of the Graveyard, Connor and Lev are on the run, seeking a woman who may be the key to bringing down unwinding forever while Cam, the rewound boy, tries to prove his love for Risa by bringing Proactive Citizenry to its knees.

 

Review:

“UnSouled”, the third book in the brilliant Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman, is the best in the series thus far.  It takes the existentialist themes to an entirely new level.

It’s difficult to review “UnSouled” without giving away major plot developments, so please excuse the generalities found in this review.

There are many difficult questions that can make the reader uneasy, as they should, because there are no real answers.  What is a soul?  Can only God create it?  What control do we have over what makes us who we are?  All of these questions are presented so well, with arguments from different points of view, that I believe “UnSouled” should be taught in upper level english classes as the perfect example of existentialism.

The plot is engaging, and it flows perfectly from the previous book, “UnDivided”. Nothing seems forced and the progression of society seems natural.  Character development is deep and well-executed.  The issue of human rights, and to what degree should society interfere with those rights with criminals, adds another dimension to an already excellent book.

I recommend “UnSouled” for all readers who like books that aren’t afraid to make them uncomfortable.  It’s wonderful and definitely worth the ride.

 

Content Warning:

Violence, Language, Sexual Situations, Disturbing Imagery

Just Call Me Superhero

Just Call Me Superhero Book Cover Just Call Me Superhero
Alina Bronsky
Fiction
Europa Editions Incorporated
2014-10-07
240

His face disfigured after being attacked by a dog, 17-year-old Marek has a lot to come to terms with. Tricked into attending a support group for teens with disabilities, he is rude and dismissive to the other members, with one exception. An atmospheric evocation of modern Berlin, a vivid portrait of youth under pressure, and a moving story about learning to love oneself and others, Just Call Me a Superhero is destined to consolidate Alina Bronsky's reputation as one of Europe's most wryly entertaining authors.

 

Review:

“Just Call Me Superhero”, by Alina Bronsky, is the story of a young man named Marek, who lives in modern-day Berlin.  Marek was attacked by a rottweiler, leading to facial disfigurement, and is tricked by his mother into attending a support group.  This forms the basis of the story.

Make no mistake about it, Marek is far from a likable character.  He is blunt, homophobic, a jerk to anyone who finds themselves unlucky enough to be in his company, and seems to have no problem with any of it.  However, he is an also extremely well-developed character who shows a wonderful amount of growth by the end of the book.

The wry humor had me literally laughing out loud at times.  Bronsky knows exactly when to insert sarcasm and absurdity to break mounting tension.  It makes what could be an extremely depressing book an enjoyable and somewhat lighthearted one.

The only reason I gave “Just Call Me Superhero” four stars instead of five is the homophobia is very over-the-top.  There is growth and resolution to it, but I believe some of the phrasing may be a result of it being a translation.  As long as you keep this in mind, I recommend “Just Call Me Superhero”.

This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher through the Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Sexual Situations

Waistcoats and Weaponry

Waistcoats & Weaponry Book Cover Waistcoats & Weaponry
Finishing School, Book 3
Gail Carriger
Juvenile Fiction
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
2014-11-04
304

Class is back in session... Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style--with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey stowaway on a train to return their classmate Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. No one suspected what--or who--they would find aboard that suspiciously empty train. Sophronia uncovers a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos and she must decide where her loyalties lie, once and for all. Gather your poison, steel tipped quill, and the rest of your school supplies and join Mademoiselle Geraldine's proper young killing machines in the third rousing installment in the New York Times bestselling Finishing School Series by steampunk author, Gail Carriger.

 

Review:

“Waistcoats and Weaponry” is the latest in the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger, and it is by far my favorite thus far.

The book begins with Sophronia’s second year at her finishing school for espionage.  Many things have changed, not the least of which being the challenges that come with being older.  Young men, potential sponsors, marriage, and prospective employment keep Sophronia on her toes.

As with the Harry Potter series, the topics explored in “Waistcoats and Weaponry” are geared toward a bit older set than the previous two of the series.  While it is still suitable for middle readers, it should be noted that there is quite a bit more dealing with sex, though nothing is graphic.  It also delves much more deeply into the matters of politics and the supernatural.

The adventure is darker, but still keeps the humor and detail that makes the series  so enjoyable.  I highly recommend “Waistcoats and Weaponry” to all of those who enjoy the first two of the Finishing School Series.

This review is based on an advanced copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

Violence, Sexual Situations

Love and Other Unknown Variables

Love and Other Unknown Variables Book Cover Love and Other Unknown Variables
Shannon Alexander
Juvenile Fiction
Entangled: Teen
2014-10-07
352

Charlie Hanson has a clear vision of his future. A senior at Brighton School of Mathematics and Science, he knows he’ll graduate, go to MIT, and inevitably discover solutions to the universe’s greatest unanswerable problems. He’s that smart. But Charlie’s future blurs the moment he reaches out to touch the tattoo on a beautiful girl’s neck. The future has never seemed very kind to Charlotte Finch, so she’s counting on the present. She’s not impressed by the strange boy pawing at her—until she learns he’s a student at Brighton where her sister has just taken a job as the English teacher. With her encouragement, Charlie orchestrates the most effective prank campaign in Brighton history. But, in doing so, he puts his own future in jeopardy. By the time he learns she's ill—and that the pranks were a way to distract Ms. Finch from Charlotte’s illness—Charlotte’s gravitational pull is too great to overcome. Soon he must choose between the familiar formulas he’s always relied on or the girl he’s falling for (at far more than 32 feet per second).

 

Review:

This is a review of an ARC provided through Netgalley by Entangled Press in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t even know where to begin with how much I love “Love and Other Unknown Variables.”  Love may not be a strong enough word.  There are so many things about it that make it a breath of fresh air in the Young Adult genre.

Shannon Lee Alexander’s writing seems effortless and flows in a way that pulls you in quickly and keeps you engaged, making it nearly impossible to put it down.  The characters are all intriguing and the dialogue is realistic for teenagers, something not always present, which adds to the relatibility of the characters to the target audience.

I was thrilled to find a coming-of-age romance narrated with such tenderness by a male narrator.  Charlie is flawed but likable, and grows in a way that is inspiring.  It was especially wonderful to see how siblings can grow together and become friends as they age, as well as how those we think we know can be so much more than we give them credit for.

I can’t say much else without spoiling the book, but the themes of difficult choices and thinking outside of the lines, both literally and metaphorically in this case, are explored with an excellent mix of humor and gravity.

I feel privileged for the opportunity to be one of the first to read “Love and Other Unknown Variables.”  My honest opinion is that the book, as well as Shannon Lee Alexander, will become a force to be reckoned with in the world of Young Adult literature, something which is well-deserved.

 

Content Warning:

Language, Sexual Situations

Through the Ever Night

Through the Ever Night Book Cover Through the Ever Night
Under the Never Sky, Book 2
Veronica Rossi
Juvenile Fiction
HarperCollins
2013-12-23
368

In this second book in her spellbinding Under the Never Sky trilogy, Rossi combines fantasy and dystopian elements to create a captivating love story as perilous as it is unforgettable.

 

Review:

Aria and Perry continue their quest to escape the tumultuous atmosphere, save the lives of others, and make me question whether or not Perry is supposed to be Fabio in the sequel to “Under the Never Sky”.  Spoiler alert:  Perry has much more access to shirts in this one.

All joking aside, it’s a testament to the author’s skill and style that I neither enjoy this sort of mixed genre nor find myself drawn to the world of rustic, long-haired tribal leaders, and yet I still found myself devouring this book like it was a Big Mac and I hadn’t eaten for a week.  Actually, this book was even more satisfying than the Big Mac would be.  I would have foregone food for another day or two if it meant more of Perry and Aria.

The story is still absolutely ridiculous to me, but the character development is excellent.  All of the actions in the first book make sense as we learn more about each one’s past and become to care about them on a deeper level.  None of them are one-dimensional, even though it would have been quite easy to make them so, and the dialogue is very snappy and witty.  It breathes life into the characters.

My favorite aspect of the book, and I hope I do not live to regret these words when I read “Into the Still Blue”, is that there is an actual, meaningful relationship between characters of the opposite sex that is tender and does not involve any sort of weird posturing and triangle nonsense.  I could faintly hear a chorus of angels singing in the distance as I read about Aria and Roar.  Perfect.

I found this book to be highly enjoyable.  It’s an easy read that isn’t sloppily written and flows in a way only a good author can write.  “Under the Never Sky” has become my guiltiest pleasure outside of “Divergent”.

 

Content Warning:

Strong Language, Violence, Some Sexual Situations