Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

book reviews banner2
Any YA reader has probably asked themselves what they would do if they found themselves in the same situation as the protagonist of the book they were reading. What if you volunteered for the Hunger Games? What if you fell in love with a 100-year-old vampire? What if you were chosen to save society?

the rest of us just live hereBut what about everybody else in those stories? The kids on the sidelines who just get caught up in the drama and the action, but aren’t actively involved.

That is precisely what author Patrick Ness explores in his latest book, The Rest of Us Just Live Here.

What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshiped by mountain lions.

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

The book at once skewers and celebrates the “chosen one” trope so prevalent in YA literature (and pop culture at large; Buffy, anyone?). And it’s not just the paranormal that falls under Ness’s radar; he even takes a hilarious (and yes, much-needed) jab at the plethora of “teens-with-cancer” books that hit store shelves following the success of The Fault in Our Stars.

Ness deftly and cleverly shows that even in the midst of an apocalypse, life goes on. If you’re not the Chosen One, you still have finals to study for. Prom to attend. Family drama to deal with. A crush who may or may not like you back. The mundane goes on, even if it’s not normally in the spotlight when the story is focused on the savior at the center of a crisis. The bystanders have lives, too … and most of them would prefer not to become collateral damage.

With The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Ness has dreamed up a world where crazy things happen all the time, and the regular kids have just learned to keep their heads down, stay out of the way, and cope.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here is beautifully written and cleverly plotted; brimming with imagination, wit, and charm, it is a must-read for any fan of YA literature. Look for it in stores October 6th.

Book Review: Beastly Bones by William Ritter

book reviews banner2
Dear BBC America: If you have not yet begun production on your TV series adaptation of Jackaby by William Ritter, I implore you to do so now. If that first book was not enough to convince, then you need only look as far as its sequel, Beastly Bones, and you will surely be as convinced as I that these books are simply BEGGING to be adapted for television.


“I’ve found very little about private detective R. F. Jackaby to be standard in the time I’ve known him. Working as his assistant tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality.”

In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer R. F. Jackaby are called upon to investigate the supernatural.

First, a vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens, and a day later, their owner is found murdered with a single mysterious puncture wound. Then in nearby Gad’s Valley, now home to the exiled New Fiddleham police detective Charlie Cane, dinosaur bones from a recent dig mysteriously go missing, and an unidentifiable beast starts attacking animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Charlie calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.

Jackaby — aptly described as a mix between Sherlock and the Doctor — is in fine form with this sequel, which picks up nicely following the events of the first book. Fans will eagerly dive into his latest adventure with his assistant Abigail, as they find themselves on another mysterious and possibly magical case.

The tone and atmosphere of Ritter’s novels are immersive and delightful. The immediately transport the reader to New Fiddleham, with lush descriptive writing and engaging scenes. One of my favorite descriptive passages from Beastly Bones is such:

The black teeth of the tree line had swallowed the sun like a ripe grapefruit, and the seeping mess of red and orange had begun to spread across the sky.

How insanely gorgeous is that? The entire book is filled with similarly rich language, which evokes the perfect mood for Jackaby’s madcap — sometimes horrifying — adventures.

The characters we fell in love with in the first book are back, and we see wonderful continued development as they face new situations and challenges.

The world of Jackaby is one I could live in for a long time, and I hope Ritter is as eager to continue writing his adventures as I am eager to continue reading them. (And I do sincerely hope that BBC America could get on board with that TV series adaptation, because that would be really great, thanks.)

Beastly Bones is in stores September 22nd.

Book Review: The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet

book reviews banner2

Darkly humorous and intensely satirical, The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet is a disturbingly hilarious send-up of the fanatical nature of YA fantasy — both the fans who clamor for it and the publishing industry eager to cash in on it.

murdstone trilogyHow hard can it be to write a fantasy trilogy? From Carnegie Medalist Mal Peet comes an outrageously funny black comedy about an impoverished literary writer who makes a pact with the devil.

Award-winning YA author Philip Murdstone is in trouble. His star has waned. The world is leaving him behind. His agent, the ruthless Minerva Cinch, convinces him that his only hope is to write a sword-and-sorcery blockbuster. Unfortunately, Philip—allergic to the faintest trace of Tolkien—is utterly unsuited to the task. In a dark hour, a dwarfish stranger comes to his rescue. But the deal he makes with Pocket Wellfair turns out to have Faustian consequences. The Murdstone Trilogy is a richly dark comedy described by one U.K. reviewer as “totally insane in the best way possible.”

Fans of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett will surely delight in Peet’s send-up of the fantasy genre. The Murdstone Trilogy is ruthless, as Peet offers hilarious and satirical looks at all facets of the publishing industry. The book is at once outlandishly ridiculous and steeped in reality.

Though pitched as a cross-over for both YA and adult readers, I’d argue that The Murdstone Trilogy is much more adult than young adult. Though the character is writing a YA series, his narrative and his struggles are decidedly mature. The slower paced narrative is also more likely to appeal to traditional adult readers, not YA readers.

That said, for anyone involved in the YA publishing industry even remotely — authors, agents, editors, publicists, bloggers, even just passionate fans — The Murdstone Trilogy is a ruthlessly funny examination at the more ridiculous aspects of this book world we love.

Book Review + Giveaway: Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

book reviews banner2
A powerful story about finding your inner strength, speaking up, and being heard, Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate is a soaring triumph of middle grade literature.

crenshawIn her first novel since winning the Newbery Medal, Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.

Crenshaw is at once heartbreaking and heartwarming. Applegate beautifully addresses serious and heavy subjects in a way that is easily approachable for young readers, and makes older readers take pause and rethink how they might address such topics with the children in their own lives.

Beautifully written and richly imagined, Crenshaw chronicles Jackson’s struggle with his family’s troubles, and figuring out how he can address his concerns to both his friends and to his own family. Through the power of imagination, Applegate shows Jackson — and her readers — how to channel their own inner strength and face their fears.

Crenshaw is in stores September 22nd.

Thanks to the kind folks at Macmillan, we’re giving away a copy of Crenshaw to one lucky winner!

To enter, tell us in the comments below about an imaginary friend YOU had as a child. Then fill out the Rafflecopter here to complete your entry & earn more chances to win.

The contest runs through midnight (PT) on Thursday, September 17th.

Book Review: Confessions of an Imaginary Friend by Michelle Cuevas

book reviews banner2
An endearing and quirky story about love and identity, Confessions of an Imaginary Friend by Michelle Cuevas will charm readers with the story of Jacques, an imaginary friend who doesn’t know he’s imaginary!

confessions of an imaginary friendJacques Papier has the sneaking suspicion that everyone except his sister Fleur hates him. Teachers ignore him when his hand is raised in class, he is never chosen for sports teams, and his parents often need to be reminded to set a place for him at the dinner table. But he is shocked when he finally learns the truth: He is Fleur’s imaginary friend! When he convinces Fleur to set him free, he begins a surprising, touching, and always funny quest to find himself—to figure out who Jacques Papier truly is, and where he belongs.

Readers will fall in love with Jacques’s sweet, quirky voice as he gives them a look at life from an incredible new perspective.

Filled with fun references to the world’s most well-known imaginary friend, Puff the Magic Dragon (Jacques Papier is French for Jackie Paper), Cuevas captures the magic of having a childhood imaginary friend … from the imaginary friend’s perspective. What’s it like being at the whim of your child’s imagination? And how do you define your identity if that identity is always changing?

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend demonstrates the power of friendship — both real and imagined — and how our pretend playmates can play a powerful and pivotal role in helping us find the strength to stand up and be ourselves.

Cuevas’ story invokes the magic of childhood, innocence, and imagination through Jacques’ story. It will fill readers of all ages with warmth and happiness as they follow Jacques through the discovery of his true nature, and the search to define his role in the world.

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend is in stores now.

Book Review: Anne & Henry by Dawn Ius

Sept 2015 botm banner
Sexy and deliciously entertaining, Anne & Henry by Dawn Ius is a seductive and clever twist on one of history’s most well-known and ill-fated love stories.

anne and henryHenry Tudor’s life has been mapped out since the day he was born: student body president, valedictorian, Harvard Law School, and a stunning political career just like his father’s. But ever since the death of his brother, the pressure for Henry to be perfect has doubled. And now he’s trapped: forbidden from pursuing a life as an artist or dating any girl who isn’t Tudor-approved.

Then Anne Boleyn crashes into his life.

Wild, brash, and outspoken, Anne is everything Henry isn’t allowed to be—or want. But soon Anne is all he can think about. His mother, his friends, and even his girlfriend warn him away, but his desire for Anne consumes him.

Henry is willing to do anything to be with her, but once they’re together, will their romance destroy them both?

Inspired by the true story of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, Anne & Henry beautifully reimagines the intensity, love, and betrayal between one of the most infamous couples of all time.

History comes alive in a whole new way, as Ius retells one of the world’s most infamous affairs, set in a modern American high school. It’s a clever twist on a classic story, and Ius tackles the challenge of translating a factual story into modern day fiction brilliantly. It’s fun to see how she manipulates the story of Anne and Henry to take place — believably — in a contemporary high school setting. And the story itself is as entrancing to read, regardless of how well you know Anne and Henry’s doomed romance.

The concept of studying history to understand the present is given new meaning with Anne & Henry, as Ius juxtaposes the 16th century British monarchy against contemporary high school patriarchy. And though heads may not literally roll in this version … the story of Anne & Henry is just as captivating — if not more so — than it ever has been.

Anne & Henry is in stores now.

Book Review: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

book reviews banner2
A gritty and nuanced tale of love and revenge in the wild west, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman will leave you swooning and thirsty for more.

vengeance roadWhen Kate Thompson’s father is killed by the notorious Rose Riders for a mysterious journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine, the eighteen-year-old disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers and justice. What she finds are devious strangers, dust storms, and a pair of brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, she gets closer to the truth about herself and must decide if there’s room for love in a heart so full of hate.

In the spirit of True Grit, the cutthroat days of the Wild West come to life for a new generation.

Bowman sucks readers in immediately with the easy going vernacular of a young woman raised in the old west, and the immediacy of the story’s plot already in action. There’s no waiting around for things to unfold — Bowman drops her readers right into the thick of the action, and it’s a nonstop ride until the very end.

And as if that stunning cover weren’t enough to draw you in, Bowman has crafted a top-notch book about the many ways people overcome their grief, layered with a story about vengeance and unexpected love. Family, too, plays an important role in the story, and in the characters’ motivations.

Vengeance Road is also thoroughly researched. Drawing inspiration from old legends, Bowman transport readers to 1877 Arizona — making them feel the desert heat, see the golden landscapes, and sense the dirt on their shoes. The writing creates reactions in all of your senses — not just emotions, but conjuring up tastes and smells and tactile feelings.

Vengeance Road is in stores now.


Book Review: Infinite in Between by Carolyn Mackler

book reviews banner2
Four of the most pivotal years in a person’s life are chronicled within the pages of Infinite in Between by Carolyn Mackler, a beautiful and raw look at the interconnecting lives of five teenagers, and how much can change during the course of high school.

infinite in betweenPrintz Honor author Carolyn Mackler returns with this striking new novel that chronicles the lives of five teenagers through the thrills, heartbreaks, and joys of their four years in high school.

Zoe, Jake, Mia, Gregor, and Whitney meet at freshman orientation. At the end of that first day, they make a promise to reunite after graduation. So much can happen in those in-between years….

Zoe feels like she will live forever in her famous mother’s shadow. Jake struggles to find the right connections in friendship and in love. Mia keeps trying on new identities, looking for one that actually fits. Gregor thought he wanted to be more than just a band geek. And Whitney seems to have it all, until it’s all falling apart around her.

Echoing aspects of John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club, Carolyn Mackler skillfully brings the stories of these five disparate teens together to create a distinct and cohesive whole—a novel about how we can all affect one another’s lives in the most unexpected and amazing ways.

The real beauty of this book is how Mackler follows the teens throughout significant moments over their four years of high school. It’s truly a coming of age story told unlike any other. Those four years a teen spends in high school are so critical and so formative in who a person becomes; Infinite in Between really captures that process and shows how it’s moments both big and small that contribute to the process.

I was initially wary of a book that promised to cover so much — not just four years of high school, but the lives of five different characters. And yet, Mackler managed to pluck out just the most significant moments from each characters’ lives and each year of school to really beautifully capture their transition from childhood to adulthood. Because even though we all do a lot of maturing and growing up after high school, it’s during those four years that much of our adult selves begin to take shape. We define who we want to be as individuals; what impact we want to have on the world; what we want to do with our lives.

And that’s what Infinite in Between captures so beautifully: the journey to these realizations.

Infinite in Between is in stores September 1st.

Book Review: The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton

book reviews banner2
Easily one of the best middle grade books I’ve read in ages, The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton promises to become an instant classic for readers young and old alike.

vanishing islandDoes the Vanishing Island really exist? And if so, what treasure—or terrible secret—was hidden by its disappearance?

It’s 1599, the Age of Discovery in Europe. But for Bren Owen, growing up in the small town of Map on the coast of Britannia has meant anything but adventure. Enticed by the tales sailors have brought through Map’s port, and inspired by the arcane maps his father creates as a cartographer for the cruel and charismatic map mogul named Rand McNally, Bren is convinced that fame and fortune await him elsewhere. That is, until his repeated attempts to run away land him a punishment worse than death—cleaning up the town vomitorium.

It is there that Bren meets a dying sailor, who gives him a strange gift that hides a hidden message. Cracking the code could lead Bren to a fabled lost treasure that could change his life forever, and that of his widowed father. But to get there he will have to tie his fate to a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map.

Before long, Bren is in greater danger than he ever imagined, and will need the help of an unusual friend named Mouse to survive. Barry Wolverton’s thrilling adventure spans oceans and cultures, brings together the folklore of East and West, and proves that fortune is always a double-edged sword.

Wolverton’s writing is delightful, transporting readers easily to Bren’s world: first, his dismal life in Map — and then his adventures aboard a Dutch ship, as they search for the mysterious and titular Vanishing Island. I was instantly swept away by the story, and honestly can’t wait for the next installment in Wolverton’s fantastic new middle grade saga.

Packed with humor, adventure, and important (but not heavy-handed) messages about life and growing up, mixed in with exciting locations and wonderfully charming characters, The Vanishing Island contains all the ingredients for a perfect middle grade series — and lives up to that promise.

Wbat’s more, Wolverton doesn’t hold back for his young readers. The Vanishing Island is not a warm and fuzzy story. The novel includes plenty of gore and violence, and Wolverton doesn’t shy away from being raw and honest in his portrayal of the world’s darker aspects. (That said, it IS still age-appropriate!) In many ways, it’s this brutal honesty that makes for the best middle grade stories. (Let’s be honest; Harry Potter was pretty dark. And I’m certain fellow fans of the boy wizard will adore The Vanishing Island, just as I did.)

The adventure sets sail September 1st when The Vanishing Island hits store shelves.

Book Review: A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

book reviews banner2
A dazzling tale of courage, friendship, and love, A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano is a wondrous and beautifully-written story about facing our darkest tragedies.

a curious tale of the in-betweenPram Bellamy is special—she can talk to ghosts. She doesn’t have too many friends amongst the living, but that’s all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.

Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help. But this spiritualist knows the true nature of Pram’s power, and what she has planned is more terrifying than any ghost.

It’s hard at any age to talk about death, and yet in A Curious Tale of the In-Between, DeStefano has found a way to make the subject accessible for her readers (both children and adults, alike). As one of the characters comments, “Death isn’t a punishment. It’s just what comes next.” DeStefano’s writing is so beautiful and elegant as she takes us along on Pram and Clarence’s time together. The story both evokes a time gone by, and yet is just as easily timeless. It’s not the time or place or setting that matters really; and that’s the point, I think. That this story is about the characters and their experiences.

Throughout the story, DeStefano’s characters display incredible courage and love. Pram and Clarence are such a wonderful pair; but so, too, are Prams’ aunts and Clarence’s father; Pram’s ghost-friend Felix. Their emotions give the story a raw honesty that makes the book’s message so much more compelling.

I was swept away by Pram’s world and her gifts, and her extraordinary journey. I was riveted to find out what would happen next, and to witness her growth as a character. If this is a standalone, I am wholly satisfied with what DeStefano has provided. And yet, if this turns out to be a series, and there are more adventures in store for Pram and her companions, I will gladly hop aboard for the ride.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between is in stores September 1st.