Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Skandal by Lindsay Smith

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A paranormal thriller about Cold War espionage with an X-Men-esque twist awaits readers in Skandal by Lindsay Smith, the pulse-pounding sequel to her debut novel, Sekret.

skandalThe dramatic sequel to Sekret, this psychic Cold War espionage thriller follows Yulia to Washington, DC, where she fights to discover the truth about her family without losing control of her mind.

My mind is mine alone.

Life in Washington, D.C., is not the safe haven Yulia hoped for when she risked everything to flee communist Russia. Her father is reckless and aloof, and Valentin is distant and haunted by his past. Her mother is being targeted by the CIA and the US government is suspicious of Yulia’s allegiance. And when super-psychics start turning up in the US capitol, it seems that even Rostov is still a threat. Ultimately, Yulia must keep control of her own mind to save the people she loves and avoid an international Skandal.

Skandal is one part historical study, one part spy thriller, and one part edge-of-your-seat thriller. The combination is a truly un-put-downable book. And as much as I love Smith’s paranormal twist on the Cold War espionage thriller — what really sets this book apart is her attention to historical detail.

Not only does she offer a portrait of life during the Cold War, but she examines the different societal changes that began brewing during the early- to mid-1960s in the United States. She examines women’s roles in the workforce, race equality, even burgeoning fashion freedoms (with the “mod” style seen as counterculture). This historical portrait — couched in a paranormal espionage thriller — is really what helps make Skandal so compelling and sets it apart from other books in this genre.

Fans of Sekret will also be happy to see the return of their favorite (and not-so-favorite) characters, and an exciting continuation of the Cold War drama that began in the first book. Happily, this appears to be a duology only, and readers should find themselves quite satisfied by the ultimate ending.

Betrayal, love, and psychic espionage abound. Look for Skandal in stores April 7th.

Book Review: The Start of Me & You by Emery Lord

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A sweet, romantic story about second chances and starting over, The Start of Me & You by Emery Lord will leave readers swooning.

start of me and youBrimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

The Start of Me & You is a charming love story with two protagonists that readers will be rooting for through every up and down. Though the ultimate outcome is a wee bit predictable, the road getting there is not — and that’s what makes this such a fun book to read. You want to see how Paige and Max will come together, overcome the odds, and make things work.

Besides two charming protagonists, Lord has populated The Start of Me & You with a collection of realistic and relatable supporting characters that help bring Paige’s world to life.

More than just overcoming a romantic hurdle, The Start of Me & You is also about one young woman moving past a tragedy, overcoming her own fears and insecurities, and discovering who she really wants to be — something quintessential for every human being who is going through or has gone through adolescence.

The Start of Me & You is in stores March 31st.

Blog Tour Book Review + Contest: Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark

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Today’s book review is part of the official blog tour for Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark. Be sure to keep reading for your chance to win a copy!

A sweet romance about overcoming unlikely obstacles, and moving forward after heartbreak and loss. Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark is an easily readable love story filled with humor and charm.

Finding Mr. BrightsideAbram and Juliette know each other. They’ve lived down the street from each other their whole lives. But they don’t really know each other—at least, not until Juliette’s mom and Abram’s dad have a torrid affair that culminates in a deadly car crash. Sharing the same subdivision is uncomfortable, to say the least. They don’t speak.

Fast-forward to the neighborhood pharmacy, a year later. Abram decides to say hello. Then he decides to invite Juliette to Taco Bell.

To her surprise as well as his, she agrees. And the real love story begins.

I adored Clark’s first novel, The Edumacation of Jay Baker, and the same witty prose that I adored there shines through again in Finding Mr. Brightside. His writing is fresh, funny, and clever; it draws readers in and keeps them engaged as the story unfolds.

His characters are instantly likable — they are brutally honest, funny despite their faults, and realistically flawed. As Abram and Juliette come together, we see their personalities unfold and the beautiful way they fill each other out despite the unique (and uniquely challenging) aspects of their relationship.

The romance is sweet and charming, and it’s one you will root for throughout every up and down. A fast read and easily engaging, Finding Mr. Brightside is in stores March 24th.

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We’re giving away one copy of Finding Mr. Brightside courtesy of Macmillan Teen Books. Just tell us in the comments why you want to read Finding Mr. Brightside, and then fill out the Rafflecopter form HERE.

U.S. only. Contest runs through midnight (PT) on Friday, March 27th.

jay clark author photoAbout the Author:

Jay Clark is the author of The Edumacation of Jay Baker, which was named a Bank Street College Best Book. He’s also a random blogger. Surprisingly popular entries like “How to stop hating people in 21 minutes” and “8 tips for posting your best selfie yet!” can be found on his website: jayclarkbooks.com. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Book Review: Boys Don’t Knit by T.S. Easton

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An instantly charming story full of wit and whimsy, Boys Don’t Knit by T.S. Easton is a delightful coming of age, with a unique twist and beloved characters leading the charge.

boys don't knitKnitting is a man’s game.

After an incident regarding a crossing guard and a bottle of Martini & Rossi (and his bonehead friends), 17-year-old worrier Ben Fletcher must develop his sense of social alignment, take up a hobby, and do some community service to avoid any further probation.

He takes a knitting class (it was that or his father’s mechanic class) under the impression that it’s taught by the hot teacher all the boys like. Turns out, it’s not. Perfect.

Regardless, he sticks with it and comes to find that he’s a natural knitter, maybe even great. It even helps ease his anxiety and worrying. The only challenge now is to keep it hidden from his friends, his crush, and his soccer-obsessed father. What a tangled web Ben has weaved . . . or knitted.

I adore this book so, so much — I’m not even sure how to describe just how much I love it, but let’s give it a shot, shall we?

I’m always a sucker for a clever, funny, and moving coming of age story — but Easton has upped the game with his charming and unique twist, which sees Ben discovering his natural talent for knitting. The writing is witty and humorous, the characters are so endearing, and the story is completely engaging.

What makes Boys Don’t Knit so utterly captivating is that it’s more than this funny little twist about Ben’s knitting. It’s about his family life, his friendships, his crush, his school work and his volunteer work, his “criminal experience.” It’s about one teen boy’s life, and the unique situation he finds himself in at a crucial turning point.

Boys Don’t Knit is the perfect package of contemporary YA lit: clever, funny, moving, and remarkable. Look for it in stores March 24th.

 

Book Review + Giveaway: The Tightrope Walkers by David Almond

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Keep reading after our review for your chance to win one of two finished copies of this book, courtesy of Candlewick Press!

A beautiful story about growing up and coming of age, The Tightrope Walkers by David Almond follows narrator Dominic Hall from childhood to adulthood in taut prose brimming with lush descriptions and richly imagined characters.

tight rope walkersInternational award winner David Almond draws on memories of his early years in Tyneside, England, for a moving coming-of-age novel, masterfully told.

A gentle visionary coming of age in the shadow of the shipyards of northern England, Dominic Hall is torn between extremes. On the one hand, he craves the freedom he feels when he steals away with the eccentric girl artist next door, Holly Stroud—his first and abiding love—to balance above the earth on a makeshift tightrope. With Holly, Dom dreams of a life different in every way from his shipbuilder dad’s, a life fashioned of words and images and story. On the other hand, he finds himself irresistibly drawn to the brutal charms of Vincent McAlinden, a complex bully who awakens something wild and reckless and killing in Dom. In a raw and beautifully crafted bildungsroman, David Almond reveals the rich inner world of a boy teetering on the edge of manhood, a boy so curious and open to impulse that we fear for him and question his balance—and ultimately exult in his triumphs.

Almond’s writing is just lovely, transporting readers to the tiny town of Tyneside, England where we see Dom walking a fine line (as delicate as the tight ropes he balances) between light and dark. On the one hand, he is drawn – always – to his creative side: to writing and tightrope walking and the artistic girl across the street. On the other hand, he is tempted by the neighborhood bully and Vincent’s ability to satisfy Dom’s darker side. Much as Dom loves walking the tightrope with Holly, he finds himself more precariously balanced between his two selves.

I love that Almond’s story is more than just a story of adolescent coming of age; rather, we see Dom grow up — from childhood to adulthood — and face all the challenges that entails. The result is an achingly beautiful story that shows how the events of our lives, both big and small, shape who we become in this world; and how we will address each new challenge life throws our way.

With mass appeal for both teen and adult readers, The Tightrope Walkers is a gripping story, beautifully written, that will linger in your thoughts long after finishing the last page. Look for itin stores March 24th.

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We’re giving away two finished copies of The Tightrope Walkers, courtesy of Candlewick Press. To enter, tell us in the comments why you want to read it & then fill out the Rafflecopter form HERE.

Contest open to the U.S. only. Runs through midnight (PT) on Friday, March 20th.

Book Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

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Partly an examination of human nature, partly a look at how we define ourselves, and partly a look at what would happen if the end of the world was coming. We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach proposes a thought-provoking “what if” scenario.

we all looked upFour high school seniors put their hopes, hearts, and humanity on the line as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth in this contemporary novel.

They always say that high school is the best time of your life.

Peter, the star basketball player at his school, is worried “they” might actually be right. Meanwhile Eliza can’t wait to escape Seattle—and her reputation—and perfect-on-paper Anita wonders if admission to Princeton is worth the price of abandoning her real dreams. Andy, for his part, doesn’t understand all the fuss about college and career—the future can wait.

Or can it? Because it turns out the future is hurtling through space with the potential to wipe out life on Earth. As these four seniors—along with the rest of the planet—wait to see what damage an asteroid will cause, they must abandon all thoughts of the future and decide how they’re going to spend what remains of the present.

Andrew Smith (author of Grasshopper Jungle) called We All Looked Up “this generation’s The Stand,” and I can see the comparison. Much as Stephen King’s classic examined how society would devolve in the event of an apocalyptic event, so, too, does We All Looked Up – which sees anarchy flourish, a military state imposed, and general lawlessness perpetuated. But that’s really only half of the story.

The other half of We All Looked Up is much more internal — as each of the main characters must decide how to spend their last few weeks on Earth. What kind of person do they want to be when the end comes? When college applications and grades and career plans no longer matter, what does? They have two months left to live — and We All Looked Up explores how these characters define living in their final moments.

We All Looked Up gave me a lot to ponder, and I really loved the different characters and seeing how they reacted to their situation. But a couple weeks after finishing the book, I’m still struggling with my feelings on the book. I like to read for escapism — and while We All Looked Up does offer that in its fantastical scenario, much of it is also rooted very harshly in reality, with its themes on death and dying. Difficult subjects to discuss and contemplate. And maybe that’s what I didn’t like about this book — how it forced me to contemplate these darker subjects. (What can I say, I like things light and fluffy.)

One thing I can say for certain is that We All Looked Up will give you plenty to think about. Look for it in stores March 24th.

 

 

Book Review: Little Peach by Peggy Kern

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Little Peach by Peggy Kern offers a stark and haunting glimpse into the real-life problem of human trafficking.

little peachWhat do you do if you’re in trouble?

When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York City, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: she is alone and out of options.

Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels.

But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution where he becomes her “Daddy” and she his “Little Peach.” It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition.

This hauntingly vivid story illustrates the human spirit’s indomitable search for home, and one girl’s struggle to survive.

Any book that tackles a real-life issue runs the risk of reading like an after-school special, but Kern manages to avoid those pitfulls with Little Peach, while still offering a realistic glimpse at the horrors and dangers of human trafficking and teenage prostitution. At the same time, she manages to write a story that offers up an ultimately hopeful ending, without downplaying the grittier aspects of this horrific issue.

Little Peach alternates between Michelle’s past and her present, showing how she wound up being forced into prostitution and the frightening — but incredibly brave — steps she took to escape. There are a lot of complexities to the world of human trafficking, and Kern successfully integrates these fine details into Michelle’s story.

Though a quick read, Little Peach is a book that was written with care and attention to detail. Kern’s thorough research is apparent, and shines through in the authenticity of her story. Little Peach is a captivating read — but even more, it’s the launching point for an important discussion about the conditions that perpetuate human trafficking in the United States today.

Little Peach is in stores March 10th.

Book Review: My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa Schroeder

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Once again, Lisa Schroeder has crafted an utterly charming story about family, friendship, and cherishing the little things that matter most, with her latest middle grade novel, My Secret Guide to Paris.

secret guide to paris alt coverNora has always wanted to see Paris, thanks to her Grandma Sylvia’s stories. But when Sylvia suddenly passes away just months before their planned trip, Nora thinks she’s lost everything.

Nora still dreams of Paris–and when she finds her own name on a set of clues to a Parisian scavenger hunt packed away in her grandmother’s room, along with plane tickets, Nora knows that Sylvia still wants her to go, too.

At last, Nora sets off on the adventure–and mystery–of a lifetime. What did Grandma Sylvia want her to find in Paris? Why do all the clues insist that Nora’s mother be with her? And could the key to healing and forgiveness be found at the top of the Eiffel Tower?

My Secret Guide to Paris is filled with whimsical adventures and the charming details that make each of Schroeder’s books so enchanting.

First, it’s like a little love letter to the city of Paris, which has never been more enticing to me than after reading this book. Despite never have visited herself, Schroeder captures the magic and romantic appeal of Paris in such a loving way. The city itself becomes a character in the book, and helps bring each moment to life — and bring the human characters together in meaningful ways.

But while My Secret Guide to Paris may focus on the grandeur and beauty of the city, the real heart of the book is the relationship between Nora, her grandmother, and her mother. These three generations of women connect in a beautiful, honest way — and Schroeder really captures the intricacies of these relationships. The dynamic between Nora and her mother, and their conflicted emotions over Nora’s grandmother, is really what sets this story apart. My Secret Guide to Paris is, more than anything else, a book about mothers and daughters, and the sometimes tumultuous road they must travel to reach understanding and unconditional love.

My Secret Guide to Paris is in stores now.

Book Review: Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles

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An intriguing examination at the intertwining lives of several people — and the quiet problems we keep to ourselves — is the premise behind Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles.

read between the linesThanks to a bully in gym class, unpopular Nate suffers a broken finger—the middle one, splinted to flip off the world. It won’t be the last time a middle finger is raised on this day. Dreamer Claire envisions herself sitting in an artsy café, filling a journal, but fate has other plans. One cheerleader dates a closeted basketball star; another questions just how, as a “big girl,” she fits in. A group of boys scam drivers for beer money without remorse—or so it seems. Over the course of a single day, these voices and others speak loud and clear about the complex dance that is life in a small town. They resonate in a gritty and unflinching portrayal of a day like any other, with ordinary traumas, heartbreak, and revenge. But on any given day, the line where presentation and perception meet is a tenuous one, so hard to discern. Unless, of course, one looks a little closer—and reads between the lines.

Now, you may be wondering — based on the title and that cover — if Read Between the Lines means what you think it means. It does. The one common element that carries over into each individual character’s story is the middle finger, and all it represents. Whether they are on the giving or receiving end of it (or both), that small gesture is the unifying thread that holds this story together.

It’s an intriguing premise, and Knowles tackles it deftly. Part of me wanted a little more from the story — a bigger impact, some great defined moment where everything came together in some perfect resolution. But upon further reflection, I realized that’s not quite the point of the story.

The story is less about a conflict and a resolution; rather, it’s a glimpse into the lives of these people. Their struggles and wishes and dreams and thoughts — and how we keep these things so often to ourselves. We see so many perspectives presented throughout Read Between the Lines, that it’s fascinating to stop and think about who we are as individuals, versus the person we present to the world. What makes us want to flip off another person, and what makes that other person do something to warrant us flipping them off?

A beautifully written and thought-provoking examination of reality and perception, Read Between the Lines is in stores March 10th.

Book Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

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A psychological thriller with plenty of twists and turns from best-selling author Lauren Oliver, Vanishing Girls promises to keep readers guessing from the edge of their seat as they delve into the tumultuous relationship between two sisters.

Vanishing GirlsDara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it’s too late.

In this edgy and compelling novel, Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

Lauren’s writing is always just so lovely, and Vanishing Girls is no exception. The prose is quite beautiful, and it helps set the stage for an exquisite story about two sisters and their rocky relationship. But don’t be deceived by the official synopsis (above) — much of the book centers more on Nick and Dara’s relationship, and less so on the mystery involving the missing nine-year-old. (That takes center stage as the book’s climax peaks.)

The loveliest moments of the book, to me, were with Nick at her job at the amusement park. I loved the atmosphere and feel of these scenes. Lauren’s sensory writing fills each of these scenes with sights, smells, temperatures … the amusement park really came to life for me, and honestly, I would have loved this book if it was just about Nick’s summer working there.

But of course, this is a psychological thriller — so there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. Readers may or may not guess the ultimate “twist” of the book — but not everyone will find it satisfying. Personally, I felt as if the “surprise” was a bit predictable and had hoped for something a little more compelling from Oliver. That’s not to say it’s bad — it isn’t — I guess I just wanted more from an author who I know can do so much.

Regardless of how the ending makes you feel, Vanishing Girls is a beautifully written book that is worth the read. If anything, it will make you re-examine the close relationships in your life, much as Nick examines her relationship with her sister.

Vanishing Girls is in stores March 10th.