Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

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A difficult, but deeply moving story about one boy’s struggle with mental illness, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman is today’s teen version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

challenger deepCaden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence, to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.

A captivating and powerful novel that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by one of today’s most admired writers for teens.

Challenger Deep is a stunning book, but difficult to read as you watch Caden’s descent into mental illness — and his struggle between succumbing to the world inside his head, or fighting for reality. It is sad to watch him go through this, and yet it is eye-opening in ways other books about mental illness rarely are. Shusterman has used his own son’s experiences to lend the book such authenticity. Challenger Deep is startling and honest in its portrayal, and is all the more powerful for it.

Shusterman’s elegant writing carries the story through its darkest moments, and his son’s illustrations help make the story feel real. And though Caden’s spiral into mental illness is heartbreaking, the message of Challenger Deep is ultimately hopeful and uplifting. It is raw and honest, and so the message is that not all cases of mental illness can have such positive outcomes — but the book still shows that there is hope.

Challenger Deep is in stores April 21st.

Book Review: Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

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An exhilarating sci fi romp, with an ingenious futuristic twist on a classic sport awaits readers within the pages of Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee.

ZeroboxerA rising star in the weightless combat sport of zeroboxing, Carr “the Raptor” Luka dreams of winning the championship title. Recognizing his talent, the Zero Gravity Fighting Association assigns Risha, an ambitious and beautiful Martian colonist, to be his brandhelm––a personal marketing strategist. It isn’t long before she’s made Carr into a popular celebrity and stolen his heart along the way.

As his fame grows, Carr becomes an inspirational hero on Earth, a once-great planet that’s fallen into the shadow of its more prosperous colonies. But when Carr discovers a far-reaching criminal scheme, he becomes the keeper of a devastating secret. Not only will his choices place everything he cares about in jeopardy, but they may also spill the violence from the sports arena into the solar system.

I’ll admit, I’m not normally a huge fan of science fiction … and I’m not really a sports fan, either. But I AM a fan of Zeroboxer. Lee does a fantastic job of making both the genre and her dreamed up sport of zero gravity boxing extremely approachable to readers. I was never got caught up in the particulars of her science fiction world, and I never got lost in the details of each fight. Rather, I was on the edge of my seat as the action unfolded — both within the fighting ring, and beyond.

Because beyond the science fiction and the fighting, Zeroboxer has a little dash of The Godfather, with Carr caught in the midst of a major crime ring. Being a sucker for mob stories, I particularly loved this aspect of the story — which is what really elevates Zeroboxer beyond what you’d expect from a science fiction novel. It’s a crime drama; a story about the human narrative — a teen boy seeking love, fame, fortune, but more than anything else, to do the right thing and find his place in the universe.

A fast, thrilling read, Zeroboxer will appeal to readers regardless of their feelings on the sci fi genre. It’s just a good story, and easily engrossing. It’s in stores now.

Book Review: The Queen of Bright & Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre

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Equal parts light-hearted romance, and deeply thought-provoking drama, The Queen of Bright & Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre is the perfect balance of serious and sweetness.

queen of bright and shiny thingsSage Czinski is trying really hard to be perfect. If she manages it, people won’t peer beyond the surface, or ask hard questions about her past. She’s learned to substitute causes for relationships, and it’s working just fine… until Shane Cavendish strolls into her math class. He’s a little antisocial, a lot beautiful, and everything she never knew she always wanted.

Shane Cavendish just wants to be left alone to play guitar and work on his music. He’s got heartbreak and loneliness in his rearview mirror, and this new school represents his last chance. He doesn’t expect to be happy; he only wants to graduate and move on. He never counted on a girl like Sage.

But love doesn’t mend all broken things, and sometimes life has to fall apart before it can be put back together again…

There was so much I loved about this book! I’m going to count the ways … (yep, I went there.)

1. The Romance. I was rooting for Sage and Shane from very early on. They are two individuals who have suffered a great deal in a very short amount of time, and you can see how hard each of them is working to overcome the odds against them and do something better with their lives. So to see these two come together and bring brightness and happiness to each other is just really wonderful.

2. The Post-Its. Sage’s nickname — and the book’s title — comes from her habit of writing random compliments on Post-It notes and sticking them to her classmates’ lockers each day. It’s random and sweet, and really wonderful. Not only is Sage’s habit a sign of her determination to bring goodness into the world, it’s just a good reminder to all of us that sometimes a simple compliment can make a huge difference in a person’s life; even a stranger’s life.

3. The Seriousness. Despite a lot of “bright and shiny things” in this book, Aguirre does not shy away from some very serious, dark topics. In fact, she addresses them head-on and in a very realistic and pragmatic way, without overly dramatizing the situations. It’s not melodramatic; it’s just honest. And I loved this book all the more for that honesty.

Look for The Queen of Bright & Shiny Things in stores today.

 

Book Review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

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A stunning portrayal of guilt and innocence, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma is a soaring example of modern day magic realism. With prose that sings, Suma weaves a ghost story that will leave readers haunted by beautiful imagery and the sting of justice.

walls around usThe Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.

We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.

Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and innocence, and what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

Truly, The Walls Around Us is a genuine masterpiece of literature — haunting in all the best ways. Lyrical writing, deeply flawed and beautiful characters, and an intense narrative mystery interwoven with just a dash of the supernatural.

I was captivated by this book from the very first page, and the mystery of these three girls kept me eagerly turning the pages to learn more. But as quickly as I wanted to race through the book to find out the next twist of the story, I also wanted to linger on each careful turn of phrase. Suma’s writing is always so lovely, but perhaps never more so than within these pages — as this book brings together so many wonderful elements.

The Walls Around Us is a beautiful book, from start to finish (inside and out, too, as the cover is just gorgeous) — and will keep readers captivated long after finishing the last page. Thought-provoking and elegant at once, The Walls Around Us is in stores now.

Book Review: Summer by Summer by Heather Burch

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If you never got over your obsession with Blue Lagoon, but like your “stranded on a deserted island” love stories a little less incestuous, then Summer by Summer by Heather Burch is the book for you.

summer by summerWhen Summer took a job as a nanny for a couple vacationing in Belize, she imagined it would be a fresh start before starting college in the fall. And while she adores her charge, Josh, she can’t say the same for her employers’ oldest son, Bray. He’s cocky, inconsiderate, and makes her feel she’s a chore he has to put up with. In short, he’s everything she dislikes in a guy.

Bray had a plan for the summer: party, hang out with friends, and forget all the responsibilities waiting for him back home. But every time he’s forced to be around Summer, her dour, serious mood sets him off. Not to mention she has a habit of picking up on what he already knows is wrong with him.

Then the two find themselves on a dive trip gone wrong, stranded on a remote island. As they focus on survival, their differences melt away, and they find being together may be what both needed all along.

Summer by Summer delivers on its synopsis, giving readers the unlikely romance they would want and expect from such a description, with a lush tropical setting and unexpected danger thrown in for good measure. Though the latter did offer some plot twists and elevated intensity, the story is – for the most part – rather predictable.

And though ultimately Summer and Bray share a sweet and endearing romance, their coming together did not flow very naturally. Their initial mutual dislike felt forced, and then cleared up surprisingly quickly. And yes, the fact that they then fall in love while stranded together on a tropical island was very expected and predictable. But that’s why you’re reading this book, right?

One additional note: while I know that Blink, the publisher of Summer by Summer,  is a Christian imprint, I did feel as if the religious aspect of the story was very heavy-handed. So if that’s not your thing, you might get frustrated at certain parts of the book.

Summer by Summer is in stores April 7th.

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.