Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Cage by Megan Shepherd

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A science fiction thriller, The Cage by Megan Shepherd will keep readers guessing with its twists and turns, and unexpected romance.

cage, theThe Maze Runner meets Scott Westerfeld in this gripping new series about teens held captive in a human zoo by an otherworldly race. From Megan Shepherd, the acclaimed author of The Madman’s Daughter trilogy.

When Cora Mason wakes in a desert, she doesn’t know where she is or who put her there. As she explores, she finds an impossible mix of environments—tundra next to desert, farm next to jungle, and a strangely empty town cobbled together from different cultures—all watched over by eerie black windows. And she isn’t alone.

Four other teenagers have also been taken: a beautiful model, a tattooed smuggler, a secretive genius, and an army brat who seems to know too much about Cora’s past. None of them have a clue as to what happened, and all of them have secrets. As the unlikely group struggles for leadership, they slowly start to trust each other. But when their mysterious jailer—a handsome young guard called Cassian—appears, they realize that their captivity is more terrifying than they could ever imagine: Their captors aren’t from Earth. And they have taken the five teenagers for an otherworldly zoo—where the exhibits are humans.

As a forbidden attraction develops between Cora and Cassian, she realizes that her best chance of escape might be in the arms of her own jailer—though that would mean leaving the others behind. Can Cora manage to save herself and her companions? And if so . . . what world lies beyond the walls of their cage?

Forbidden romance gets a whole new spin, as Shepherd crafts a story of an unlikely love between a teen girl and the alien who has imprisoned her (along with four others) in a bizarre human zoo. Mysteries abound within the pages of The Cage: who imprisoned the teens, why were they taken, what lies beyond their prison walls, and what do their captors really want with the teens. These are just a few of the questions that pop up as Shepherd’s story unfolds.

And while we find some of the (supposed) answers by the end of The Cage, a whole host of new mysteries unfold — which will leave readers wanting more. (The Cage is the first in a new series — so more is certainly coming.)

The Cage is a thrilling new entry in teen science fiction, with a fresh new twist on the classic genre. It perhaps leaves a few too many unanswered questions by the book’s end, but there is certainly plenty of room for more to be resolved as the series progresses.

The Cage is in stores May 26th.

Book Review: Strays by Jennifer Caloyeras

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Today, I am pleased to be kicking off a new week-long feature for a really remarkable new YA novel — in stores now — about the unique relationship between an outcast teen girl and an unwanted dog. Be sure to tune in every day this week for more unique content about the book, plus your chance to win a copy.

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A touching story about the unlikely bond between a troubled teen and an unwanted dog, Strays by Jennifer Caloyeras embodies the spirit and power of second chances.

straysSometimes, life becomes unleashed…

Sixteen-year-old Iris Moody has a problem controlling her temper—but then, she has a lot to be angry about. Dead mother. Workaholic father. Dumped by her boyfriend. Failing English.

When a note in Iris’s journal is mistaken as a threat against her English teacher, she finds herself in trouble not only with school authorities but with the law.

In addition to summer school, dog-phobic Iris is sentenced to an entire summer of community service, rehabilitating troubled dogs. Iris believes she is nothing like Roman, the three-legged pit bull who is struggling to overcome his own dark past, not to mention the other humans in the program. But when Roman’s life is on the line, Iris learns that counting on the help of others may be the only way to save him.

With sparkling prose and delightful humor, Jennifer Caloyeras’s novel beautifully portrays the human-animal bond.

Strays is a quietly moving story about starting over, and the powerful bond that can form between animals and humans. Caloyeras’ prose is instantly captivating, and readers will feel for Iris’s agony and her pain. Iris is a multi-faceted character — as are the others we are introduced to throughout the story. These fully-realized individuals — both people and dogs — who populate the story are what really bring Strays to life.

It’s also refreshing to find a more mature story about the human-animal bond. So often, stories about animals are geared towards younger readers (or they are traumatizingly heartbreaking, thank you very much, Marley & Me, ahem). Strays is an ultimately uplifting and hopeful story — but certainly deals with tough subjects in a mature fashion that both teens and adult readers will appreciate.

Beyond the bond between animal and human, Strays is also about the bond between individuals — friends, family, teachers, partners. And the parallels between Iris and Roman help show that everybody — whether you walk on two legs or four — sometimes needs a hand up, and a second chance.

Strays is in stores now.

 

Book Review: Gabby Duran & the Unsittables by Elise Allen & Daryle Conners

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Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia and Stacey may have had their fair share of drama — but I’m guessing the original members of the Baby-Sitter’s Club never had to deal with intergalactic toddlers. Enter Gabby Duran, baby-sitter to the stars — and now, to alien kiddos in Gabby Duran & the Unsittables by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners. 

gabby duran and the unsittablesCase File: The First Unsittable

Summary: The Association Linking Intergalatics and Earthlings (hereby known as A.L.I.E.N.) has a new member. After months of investigation, Gabby Duran, Associate 4118-25125A, has proven herself to be a babysitter extraordinaire. Her celebrity clients fly her around the country to care for their rambunctious little humans. Our spy, Associate 4118-23432B, otherwise known as Edwina, believes Gabby can be trusted with the truth: aliens are living among humans on Earth. And here at A.L.I.E.N we believe that even extraterrestrials need a babysitter now and then. No one was up to the task until now.

After accepting the top-secret position, Edwina has paired our new associate up with her first charge, a little girl from the planet Flarknartia. The timing for associate 4118-25125A is less than ideal. It’s a school day on Planet Earth, Gabby’s audition for the solo part in the band is tonight, and this tiny alien is a bit more than meets the eye.

Can Gabby Duran, Associate 4118-25125A, First Sitter to the Unsittables, keep her otherworldly charge safe in the unpredictable halls of middle-school and keep A.L.I.E.N hidden?

The book gets off to a bit of a slow start as we are introduced to Gabby and her miraculous, natural talent for babysitting even the most difficult children — and as the premise for her new assignment is laid out. But once Gabby’s role as a babysitter for aliens living hidden on Earth is established, the book really takes off on a fun and hilarious ride.

The premise is wacky, and it makes for some really entertaining scenes as Gabby learns to juggle the unpredictable nature of alien children. But she also learns that alien kids and human kids have a LOT in common — and it’s fun to see the different ways her alien ward interacts with both Gabby and the other humans she encounters.

The groundwork is clearly laid for a series of Gabby’s future adventures in alien babysitting, and this first entry is a really entertaining and funny first foray.

The Baby-Sitter’s Club meets The X-Files, Gabby Duran & the Unsittables is in stores now.

Book Review: Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt

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A crime family drama, loosely based on a classic fairy tale, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt is a seductive thriller about love, loss, and betrayal.

hold me like a breathPenelope Landlow has grown up with the knowledge that almost anything can be bought or sold—including body parts. She’s the daughter of one of the three crime families that control the black market for organ transplants.

Penelope’s surrounded by all the suffocating privilege and protection her family can provide, but they can’t protect her from the autoimmune disorder that causes her to bruise so easily.

And in her family’s line of work no one can be safe forever.

All Penelope has ever wanted is freedom and independence. But when she’s caught in the crossfire as rival families scramble for prominence, she learns that her wishes come with casualties, that betrayal hurts worse than bruises, that love is a risk worth taking . . . and maybe she’s not as fragile as everyone thinks.

I’ve made no secret about the fact that I love, love, LOVE YA novels about crime families and the mob. Whether paired with a supernatural element or kept contemporary (like this one), I can’t get enough of these stories. So of course I dove right into Hold Me Like a Breath eagerly anticipating another favorite read, and was NOT disappointed.

Where do I begin?

Schmidt has written a captivating cast of characters — and as the story unfolds, she continues to increase the stakes, the drama, and the tension. It’s so fantastic to see a character like Penelope — burdened by a childhood illness, and told her whole life that she is weak and delicate and in need of protection — come into her own, and find her own kind of strength and power. Penelope’s character development is the true star of Hold Me Like a Breath. She is a strong, female character that shatters stereotypes about strong, female characters — and I love her for it.

Schmidt also keeps the twists coming. Even when I thought I knew where something was going, she surprised me and kept me on my toes. Hold Me Like a Breath is full of shocking surprises — even when you think you know the twist, you don’t. And I didn’t even realize it was based loosely on a fairy tale until the very end, when reading the author’s note. That just made me love the story even more!

Billed as the first in the Once Upon a Crime Family series, Hold Me Like a Breath still reads like a standalone novel — which is really the best of both worlds. I get a self-contained novel, with the promise of still more to come. I am so in.

Look for Hold Me Like a Breath in stores May 19th.

Book Review: The Last Good Day of the Year by Jessica Warman

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A chilling “ripped-from-the-headlines” premise about a young girl kidnapped and killed paves the way for a gripping and quiet thriller about the aftermath of such a tragedy. The Last Good Day of the Year is a slowly paced, intriguing look at what happens to the people left behind after a gruesome crime.

last good day of the yearTen years ago, in the early hours of New Year’s Day, seven-year-old Samantha and her next door neighbor, Remy, watched as a man broke into Sam’s home and took her younger sister, Turtle, from her sleeping bag. Remy and Sam, too afraid to intervene at the time, later identified the man as Sam’s sister Gretchen’s much older ex-boyfriend, Steven, who was sent to prison for Turtle’s murder.

Now, Sam’s shattered family is returning to her childhood home in an effort to heal. As long-buried memories begin to surface, Sam wonders if she and Remy accurately registered everything they saw. The more they re-examine the events of that fateful night, the more questions they discover about what really happened to Turtle.

Master storyteller Jessica Warman keeps readers guessing in this arresting page-turner.

There is a quietness to The Last Good Day of the Year that you wouldn’t expect from most thrillers — and while the slow-building tension may not work for all readers, I found it captivating. I was intrigued by Sam’s life in the wake of her sister’s disappearance, and the emotional roller coaster she experiences returning to the home where the kidnapping took place.

And while Sam is haunted by her sister’s death — and her rising doubts about who is really to blame — we also see that there is more to her than just being “the sister of the kidnapped girl.” She has hopes and dreams; feelings for the boy next door. Typical teenage problems — wrapped up in the turmoil and tragedy that haunts her family wherever they go.

The Last Good Day of the Year is a captivating look beyond a headline-making tragedy, and a gripping portrayal of love and life. Look for it in stores on May 19th.

Book Review: Apple & Rain by Sarah Crossan

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A stunning portrayal of a broken family and the path to healing. Sarah Crossan’s Apple & Rain is a gorgeous story filled with raw, honest emotion and the meaning of truly unconditional love.

apple and rainWhen Apple’s mother returns after eleven years of absence, Apple feels almost whole again. In order to heal completely, her mother will have to answer one burning question: Why did she abandon her? But just like the stormy Christmas Eve when she left, her mother’s homecoming is bittersweet. It’s only when Apple meets her younger sister, Rain-someone more lost than she is- that she begins to see things for how they really are, allowing Apple to discover something that might help her to feel truly whole again.

From the author of the acclaimed The Weight of Water comes a beautifully-crafted, moving novel about family, betrayal, and the ultimate path to healing.

The story of Apple and her sister can be quite difficult to read at times — especially as an older reader, I think — to see them struggle through troubling situations. As an adult, I wanted to wrap Apple in my arms and bring her comfort, and show her that there is a better way for her. But to witness her slow path to this realization on her own was far more rewarding. Apple’s story is, ultimately, a successful one — but the path to get there is harrowing, and it’s a triumphant experience as the reader to see her get there.

Crossan has such a gift for telling raw, honest portrayals of families and the intricate dynamics between parental figures and their children; between siblings; between friends. (Her novel-in-verse The Weight of Water is another stunning example of her writing.) Her ability to deftly tell a difficult story, and keep her characters true to themselves — while experiencing genuine growth — is admirable, and makes for a purely enjoyable read.

Apple & Rain is a heartbreaking and beautiful story about love, redemption, and forgiveness. It is in stores now.

Book Review: Love Fortunes & Other Disasters by Kimberly Karalius

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A cute story, set in a world where magic is common and romance is expected awaits readers within the pages of Love Fortunes & Other Disasters by Kimberly Karalius.

love fortunes and other disastersLove is real in the town of Grimbaud, and Fallon Dupree has dreamed of attending high school there for years. After all, generations of Duprees have successfully followed the (100% accurate!) love fortunes from Zita’s famous Love Charms Shop to happily marry their high school sweethearts. It’s a tradition. So she is both stunned and devastated when her fortune states that she will NEVER find love.

Fortunately, Fallon isn’t the only student with a terrible love fortune, and a rebellion is brewing. Fallon is determined to take control of her own fate—even if it means working with a notorious heartbreaker like Sebastian.

Will Fallon and Sebastian be able to overthrow Zita’s tyranny and fall in love?

The premise for Love Fortunes & Other Disasters is a sweet one, and Karalius’s world of common, practical magic is charming. The story is very PG and in fact read more like a middle grade than a YA to me. In many ways, I wanted a little more action; a little more drama; just a little more. Since I was set up to expect a YA novel, I also expected everything to be elevated to a bit more complexity.

But despite my misguided expectations, the book is charming. The world Karalius has created is a fun one, and it’s entertaining to see the inner workings unfold as the plot progresses. (The world building is blended into the story itself very seamlessly — though at times, it does slow down the pace just a bit.)

Love Fortunes & Other Disasters was by no means a ground-breaking book — and it didn’t suck me in completely, or make me feel compelled to read just one more chapter (this was a very slow read for me, actually). But it is a cute book, with a very sweet and charming premise, and an ultimately happy ending that will leave readers pleased. It is especially appropriate for younger readers — and I would certainly categorize it as more middle grade than YA.

It is in stores today.

Book Review: Velvet by Temple West

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The latest release from Macmillan’s SwoonReads imprint is Velvet by Temple West, a sexy, seductive, and addictive story filled with romance, danger, and tension.

Oh, and did I mention a hot vampire bodyguard? Yeah, that, too.

velvetFirst rule of dealing with hot vampire bodyguards? Don’t fall in love.

After losing both her parents before age seventeen, aspiring designer Caitlin Holte feels like her whole world has been turned upside down, and that was before the terrifying encounter with a supernatural force. Then, she learns that her hot bad-boy neighbor, Adrian—who might have just saved her life—is actually a half-demon vampire.

Suddenly Caitlin is stuck with a vampire bodyguard who feels that the best way to protect her is to become her pretend boyfriend. Trouble is, Caitlin is starting to fall in love for real, while Adrian can never love a human. Caitlin trusts Adrian to keep her safe from his demon father, but will he be able to protect her heart?

In a post Twilight world, many publishers have since shied away from vampire YA stories — but I’ve ALWAYS loved vampire stories, and Velvet more than satisfied my hankering. It created a whole new level of addiction — because I just want more. I want more of Caitlin and Adrian, and their intriguing world. I want more of their story.

Velvet swept me up with a lush setting, engaging and entertaining characters, and a completely addictive plot. And as the climax peaked, the ending left me only thirsting for more. I absolutely must find out what happens next! (The author has promised there is a sequel on the way — and honestly, I just want to know how long until I can get a copy in my eager little hands.)

Regardless of your feelings on vampire stories, Velvet is a fun and sexy YA paranormal, filled with plenty of twists, turns, and challenges for the characters to overcome. It will leave you both satisfied and wanting more. Look for it in stores tomorrow.

 

Book Review: The Game of Love & Death by Martha Brockenbrough

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A stunning and powerful story about life, love, and the beautiful meaning of death, Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death is a timeless book for readers of all ages.

Game of Love and DeathAntony and Cleopatra. Helen of Troy and Paris. Romeo and Juliet. And now . . . Henry and Flora.

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured — a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Achingly romantic and brilliantly imagined, The Game of Love and Death is a love story you will never forget.

This book struck me on a very deeply personal level — hitting on topics that have been knocking around in my head for a while now, and offering a new level of clarity on the subject of death and dying that I have been longing for.

You see, my husband and I have been talking about death a lot this past year. We’re not trying to be morbid, but it’s one of those topics that comes up as you’re starting a life together — especially given that we very suddenly lost his aunt about a year ago. We talk about what will happen when we lose our parents; we talk about needing to write formal wills and make plans for our last wishes and know what the other wants, should the worst happen. All responsible, adult things — and all horrible topics to discuss. Not having a strong faith in any sort of spiritual or religious manner, I often find myself overwhelmed with very morose and sad thoughts about what happens after we die. I find myself often paralyzed with fear over just the thought.

And so, when I read Brockenbrough’s beautiful story about Love and Death, and how together they make life worth living, and the lovely way in which Death cradles those she has come to take, I found myself weeping in wonder. Yes, I thought. Yes, this is something I can believe. This brings me comfort.

But even beyond this comforting portrayal of Love and Death, Brockenbrough’s book is just a gorgeous piece of literature. The Game of Love and Death features some truly beautiful passages; Brockenbrough’s gift for turning a phrase is just so lovely, and I often found myself lingering over certain words and sentences just for their sheer beauty.

And then there are the characters. The Game of Love and Death offers a timeless couple; you want Henry and Flora to come together; you want their love to endure. It’s a timeless, end-all, be-all love that makes its mark on the world — and their romance is beautiful and honest and raw. But so, too, does Brockenbrough imbue the characters of Love and Death with so much honesty and passion and lovely flaws.

The Game of Love and Death knocked me over with its powerful message, beautiful love story, and gorgeous writing. It is in stores now.

Book Review: A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Maas

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Seduction and danger lurk within the pages of A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, a sexy and thrilling twist on the classic “Beauty & the Beast” story, brilliantly blended with faerie mythology.

court of thorns and rosesWhen nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

I’ll admit, I was hesitant to bust open the pages of A Court of Thorns & Roses because I’ve never been a big fan of books about faeries. There are a couple rare exceptions, but in general, I just can’t get into them. I also think I don’t like fantasy (despite loving some YA fantasy titles that have come out in the last year or so). But I’m also a huge fan of Sarah J. Maas, and the incredible worlds and stories she creates. And I do love a good twist on a classic fairy tale. So it was with only moderate trepidation that I began reading A Court of Thorns & Roses …

And now I can’t stop thinking about this incredible book!!!

I was swept away by our heroine, Feyre. Captivated by the mysterious and enigmatic Tamlin. And dying to learn all the secrets of Tamlin’s curse, and the mysteries and intricacies of the faerie world. I wanted more — and every page gave it to me.

A Court of Thorns & Roses is sexy, seductive, and a fun fantasy at its very finest. Maas has crafted a clever, but easily approachable fantasy world — and proves, yet again, that she has a gift for writing multidimensional, kick-ass female characters.

And while this is the first installment in a larger series (because, YAY, I want more books in this world!!!) — A Court of Thorns & Roses does finish almost as if it could be a self-contained, standalone novel. So I feel like that gives me the best of both worlds — a book that gives me a satisfying ending (and no agonizing cliffhanger), while still promising more to come. (And believe me, you want more.)

A Court of Thorns & Roses is in stores tomorrow.