Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Treatment by Suzanne Young

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The horrifying imagined world in which teen suicide has become an epidemic, and the only cure is erasing memories, comes to a thrilling conclusion in Suzanne Young’s The Treatment.

treatment, theCan Sloane and James survive the lies and secrets surrounding them, or will The Program claim them in the end? Find out in this sequel to The Program, which Publishers Weekly called “chilling and suspenseful.”

How do you stop an epidemic?

Sloane and James are on the run after barely surviving the suicide epidemic and The Program. But they’re not out of danger. Huge pieces of their memories are still missing, and although Sloane and James have found their way back to each other, The Program isn’t ready to let them go.

Escaping with a group of troubled rebels, Sloane and James will have to figure out who they can trust, and how to take down The Program. But for as far as they’ve come, there’s still a lot Sloane and James can’t remember. The key to unlocking their past lies with the Treatment—a pill that can bring back forgotten memories, but at a high cost. And there’s only one dose.

Ultimately when the stakes are at their highest, can Sloane and James survive the many lies and secrets surrounding them, or will The Program claim them in the end?

When I first read The Program, I remember asking myself: is it possible that just the idea of the Program itself is perpetuating the suicides? This very idea is at the heart of The Treatment and is thoroughly and satisfactorily addressed — all while Young also expands on the saga of her characters (both those familiar to readers and those new to this second book).

The Treatment is an emotional ride, and Young deftly balances the action and drama of her story, with the gut-wrenching emotions that propel her characters forward. There is loss and grief, but also a push to survive and thrive — and these dueling feelings play out delicately throughout the novel.

As always, Young balances out the drama and tension of her story with just the right dose of romance and humor — giving readers a chance to catch their breath whenever the weight of the story becomes too heavy. It’s a careful balancing act, and The Treatment pulls it off with aplomb, even as the story builds to its climactic ending.

The Treatment is a gripping and emotionally satisfying conclusion to The Program, rich with depth and passion on every page. It is in stores April 29th.

Book Review: The Dyerville Tales by M.P. Kozlowsky

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M.P. Kozlowsky’s new middle grade adventure, The Dyerville Tales, is a beautiful story about hope, magic, and love.

dyerville talesVince Elgin is an orphan, having lost his mother and his father in a fire when he was young, but beyond that, his life hasn’t been much of a fairy tale. With only a senile grandfather he barely knows to call family, Vince was remanded to a group home, where he spun fantastical stories, dreaming of the possibility that his father, whose body was never found, might one day return for him. But it’s been a long time since the fire, a long time since Vince has told himself a story worth believing in.

That’s when a letter arrives, telling Vince his grandfather has passed away. Vince cannot explain it, but he’s convinced that if his father is somehow still alive, he’ll find him at the funeral. He strikes out for his grandfather’s small hometown of Dyerville carrying only one thing with him: his grandfather’s journal. The journal tells a story that could not possibly be true, a story of his grandfather’s young life involving witches, giants, magical books, and evil spirits. But as Vince reads on and gets closer to Dyerville, fact and fiction begin to intertwine, and Vince finds that his very real adventure may have more in common with his grandfather’s than he ever could have known.

M. P. Kozlowsky, the author of Juniper Berry, has crafted a powerfully imaginative novel of the spaces in life where fantasy and reality intersect, a touching story of the things we give up to recover the things we’ve lost.

Kozlowsky elegantly captures the battle between hope and belief and magic we feel as a child, and the brutal onslaught of reality and disappointment that we face as we mature. Left orphaned at a young age, Vince is even more susceptible to this depression — and yet, armed with the waning belief that his father is still alive, and the stories his grandfather has left for him, Vince soldiers on. He faces his fears and anxieties, and embarks on an incredible journey.

Along the way, Vince learns that hope and belief and magic are not something he has to give up in order to grow up. He learns that sometimes hope is the most powerful magic of all.

The Dyerville Tales is in stores April 22nd.

Book Review: The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

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Journeys – both physical and mental – abound within the pages of Kenneth Oppel’s The Boundless, a stunning new middle grade saga that combines action, adventure, and magic into one thrilling story.

boundless, theAll aboard for an action-packed escapade from the internationally bestselling author of Airborne and the Silverwing trilogy.

The Boundless, the greatest train ever built, is on its maiden voyage across the country, and first-class passenger Will Everett is about to embark on the adventure of his life!

When Will ends up in possession of the key to a train car containing priceless treasures, he becomes the target of sinister figures from his past.

In order to survive, Will must join a traveling circus, enlisting the aid of Mr. Dorian, the ringmaster and leader of the troupe, and Maren, a girl his age who is an expert escape artist. With villains fast on their heels, can Will and Maren reach Will’s father and save The Boundless before someone winds up dead?

Though intended for a middle grade audience, The Boundless contains plenty of content to entertain and engage readers of just about any age. Woven into the story are themes about family, love, friendship, coming of age, and courage. Oppel brings these themes together seamlessly with a story that is packed with action, intrigue, and a touch of magic and whimsy.

As captivating as The Boundless (the train) is to its passengers, so is The Boundless (the book) captivating to Oppel’s readers. The writing is just lovely, and the storytelling engaging. It’s easy to get swept up in the extravagance and adventure of Oppel’s story.

The Boundless is in stores April 22nd.

Book Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley

If I could tell you only one thing about Noggin by John Corey Whaley, it would be this: YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.

But since that’s not the only thing I can tell you, I should also mention that Noggin is funny, smart, irreverent, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and absolutely crazy, insane, and just perfect.

nogginListen — Travis Coates was alive once and then he wasn’t.

Now he’s alive again.

Simple as that.

The in between part is still a little fuzzy, but he can tell you that, at some point or another, his head got chopped off and shoved into a freezer in Denver, Colorado. Five years later, it was reattached to some other guy’s body, and well, here he is. Despite all logic, he’s still 16 and everything and everyone around him has changed. That includes his bedroom, his parents, his best friend, and his girlfriend. Or maybe she’s not his girlfriend anymore? That’s a bit fuzzy too.

Looks like if the new Travis and the old Travis are ever going to find a way to exist together, then there are going to be a few more scars.

Oh well, you only live twice.

Noggin has everything I look for in a book: it is funny, but also sad. Unique, yet offers a refreshing perspective on universal experiences. Beautifully written and it sticks with you long after finishing the last page. Noggin bears all the earmarks of a beloved coming of age story, while still remaining wholly unique.

Whaley’s insightful and casual writing lends the story the perfect tone, delicately balancing the absurd with the emotional. Noggin rings with nostalgia, as Travis reflects longingly on the life he left behind five years earlier — while also illustrating the importance of accepting what is, and moving forward, rather than living in the past.

It’s this theme, more than anything else, I think, that sets Noggin apart. Because these feelings, and the challenge of moving forward rather than living in the past, are not something unique to Travis and his situation. This is something everyone experiences throughout their lives not just as teenagers, but continuously throughout adulthood, as well. We all have those moments when we look fondly back on the past and long for those days, which often seem far better than they probably, actually were.

And Noggin perfectly captures this struggle: the struggle to look back fondly, while moving on — and finding peace and joy and happiness in the path ahead.

Noggin is in stores tomorrow.

Book Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

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Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor is the perfectly epic conclusion to an already epic trilogy – a fitting finale, to be sure.

dreams of gods and monstersBy way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.

Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael’s brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz … something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?

Dreams of Gods & Monsters kept me up late at night, in a delicious, delightful, magical, (sleep-deprived) way — and not just for reading. Yes, I had to know what would unfold next. I had to know what fate awaited Karou, Akiva, Kiri, Mik, Zuzana, and all the rest. Even in this final book, Taylor set up and revealed new layers of her magical world — and I wanted to witness each one being peeled back and revealed.

But even when I stopped reading for the night, I found myself lying awake, thinking about these characters and these worlds and the struggles ahead of them. The very essence of Dreams of Gods & Monsters stuck with me, far beyond the page.

With Dreams of Gods & Monsters, Taylor has crafted an elegant and magnificent finale to her masterful trilogy. Beautifully written and masterfully plotted, Dreams of Gods & Monsters is the perfect ending to an incomparable series.

It is in stores tomorrow.

Book Review: Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley

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I didn’t plan to read Ask Me by Kimberly Pauley in a single sitting. I didn’t plan to stay up until midnight finishing the last page. I didn’t plan to race through all 293 pages in the same day.

ask meBut what’s that saying about “The best laid plans” … well, needless to say, I did read Ask Me in a single sitting. In the same day. And stayed up until midnight to do so. Because sometimes a book is so captivating, the characters so engaging, and the plot so enticing that you can’t just put it down and go to sleep. Such was the case with Ask Me.

Ask Aria Morse anything, and she must answer with the truth. Yet she rarely understands the cryptic words she‘s compelled to utter. Blessed—or cursed—with the power of an Oracle who cannot decipher her own predictions, she does her best to avoid anyone and everyone.

But Aria can no longer hide when Jade, one of the few girls at school who ever showed her any kindness, disappears. Any time Aria overhears a question about Jade, she inadvertently reveals something new, a clue or hint as to why Jade vanished. But like stray pieces from different puzzles, her words never present a clear picture.

Then there’s Alex, damaged and dangerous, but the first person other than Jade to stand up for her. And Will, who offers a bond that seems impossible for a girl who’s always been alone. Both were involved with Jade. Aria may be the only one who can find out what happened, but the closer she gets to solving the crime, the more she becomes a target. Not everyone wants the truth to come out.

Ask Me hooked me from the very first page, as a mysterious narrator describes hitting and killing a man with his car on purpose. The narrator is so casual in this description, so blase about the whole matter. It’s shocking – and yet the narrator’s demeanor so calm. As a reader, I immediately wanted to know more — only to have this twisted, murderous, captivating narrator taken away from me on the very next page.

Then we meet Aria — who is just as captivating in her own, less murderous way. Sure, she’s an angsty teen — but with a damn good reason for her angst. She’s an oracle, after all, and can’t help herself from responding to questions (any question) with often mysterious answers. This “gift” has made her something of a social pariah — but as she fights to unravel the mystery of her friend’s death, Aria blossoms as a character. We see growth, development, strength.

And even though I figured out the identity of the murderer before the actual “reveal” — it didn’t matter. There was still so much mystery layered into the story, that I had to keep reading. I had to know more. Motives and reasons and emotions were all at stake, and these questions kept me turning the pages of Ask Me until the whole truth was revealed.

Perfect for fans of Kimberly Derting’s The Body Finder series, Ask Me is a masterful new addition to the YA shelves. Pauley weaves together the thriller and paranormal genres, tossing in a dose of romance and the charm that is an earmark of all her books, creating a story that is wholly engaging and delightful to read. It’s not an easy feat to combine a toe-curling romance with edge-of-your-seat thrills, but Pauley does so masterfully.

And though it appears Ask Me is (for now, at least) a standalone novel — I would gladly, happily read more adventures featuring Aria and her friends.

Ask Me is in stores April 8th.

Book Review: This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready

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Faith, love, and loss all come to play in Jeri Smith-Ready’s touching and charming new novel, This Side of Salvation.

side of salvation, thisEveryone mourns differently. When his older brother was killed, David got angry. As in, fist-meets-someone-else’s-face furious. But his parents? They got religious. David’s still figuring out his relationship with a higher power, but there’s one thing he does know for sure: The closer he gets to new-girl Bailey, the better, brighter, happier, more he feels.

Then his parents start cutting all their worldly ties in to prepare for the Rush, the divine moment when the faithful will be whisked off to Heaven…and they want David to do the same. David’s torn. There’s a big difference between living in the moment and giving up his best friend, varsity baseball, and Bailey—especially Bailey—in hope of salvation.

But when he comes home late from prom, and late for the Rush, to find that his parents have vanished, David is in more trouble than he ever could have imagined…

What could have so easily been a manifesto on religion and faith is, instead, a charming story about one boy’s mission to save his family after a tragedy tears them apart. Smith-Ready deftly tackles a controversial subject with ease and grace. It doesn’t matter what your views on religion and faith are; This Side of Salvation is not an argument for any one side. Instead, it’s about David and his family.

That’s it. A portrait of one boy and his family, undergoing some extreme circumstances.

I was instantly captivated by David’s story, and loved seeing his journey play out in alternating chapters that flip from before to after the Rush. I wanted to know what David felt about his faith. I wanted to know what really happened to his brother. I wanted to know what David was going to do when his parents started planning for the Rush. I wanted to spend time with David and his sister; with David and Bailey; with David and his best friend Kane.

This Side of Salvation is not about the Rush (or the Rapture). It’s not about Christianity or faith or religion. It’s about life and grief, and the different ways we cope with loss, and how we can mend a broken family. That Smith-Ready writes this story so beautifully is just a bonus.

This Side of Salvation is in stores April 1st.

Book Review: Sekret by Lindsay Smith

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Who knew Cold War Russia could be so captivating? Sekret by Lindsay Smith lifts the Iron Curtain for a fascinating, paranormal twist on one of history’s most intriguing periods.

sekretAn empty mind is a safe mind.

Yulia’s father always taught her to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive the harsh realities of Soviet Russia. But when she’s captured by the KGB and forced to work as a psychic spy with a mission to undermine the U.S. space program, she’s thrust into a world of suspicion, deceit, and horrifying power. Yulia quickly realizes she can trust no one–not her KGB superiors or the other operatives vying for her attention–and must rely on her own wits and skills to survive in this world where no SEKRET can stay hidden for long.

It’s rare in the U.S. to hear a story about the Cold War told from anyone’s perspective but our own. And perhaps that is the first ingredient that makes Sekret such a success — Smith tells the story from the USSR’s perspective. At least, from someone within the USSR. It’s a different perspective on history that most of us in the States don’t consider — and Smith does so without imparting any strong political beliefs or debating who was right and who was wrong in the Cold War. It’s just: this is what happened, and here is this girl caught in the middle.

But beyond presenting a different perspective on this time in history, Smith writes a captivating premise that sucks readers in. Psychic teens helping the KGB win the Space Race? It’s insane and unique and I loved it. Loved. It.

Sekret also introduces readers to a curious group of characters, each with their own talents, their own desires, and their own challenges. Yulia, who just wants to find her family and be left alone. Valentin, with dark secrets of his own. Masha and Misha, the twins eager to please the KGB and the Socialist Party. Sergei, who is happy just to play hockey in between secret KGB missions. Larissa, who goes along to get along, but isn’t afraid to fight back when she can get away with it.

Sekret is easily one of my favorite books of the year, and I can’t wait to see what happens next in this stunning and intriguing new series that is unlike anything else I’ve read in the YA market. Sekret is in stores April 1st.

(On a side note … I particularly enjoyed reading Sekret soon after finishing Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick. Though the two books are unrelated, they follow each other chronologically. Many of the historical events that take place during Tsarina lay important ground work for the political situation during Sekret. Plus, both books combine Russian history with the supernatural, and that’s just awesome.)

Book Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

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Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira is a coming-of-age story cloaked in grief and guilt. Championed by Perks of Being a Wallflower author Stephen Chbosky as “the announcement of a bold new literary voice,” Love Letters to the Dead is a striking story about accepting loss, and learning to see beyond one’s own grief to those around you.

love letters to the deadIt begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was; lovely and amazing and deeply flawed; can she begin to discover her own path.

Laurel’s story is not an easy one to read. Though her letters are written in a breezy, engaging style — Laurel is leading a tough life, in which bad things have happened to her. And reading about her experience is not easy. I so wanted to love this book – from Chbosky’s endorsement, to the epistolary style I love so much, to the lovely and beautiful prose Dellaira captivates.

I think it was the story’s underlying darkness that kept me from loving this book as much as I wanted to. Don’t take that as a direct criticism of the book, however. Just a warning that if you have personal triggers related to sexual abuse, suicide, or drugs, you may have a hard time reading Love Letters to the Dead. I certainly did. There were times when it just felt like too much. Perhaps it is the books’ overwhelming darkness that made it so difficult: there is nothing to lighten the mood, so the book grows heavier the more you read on. The slow, easy pace that begins becomes more burdened as the story unfolds and more of Laurel’s troubled past comes to light.

Perhaps, too, it’s the fact that Laurel is not an easily likable character. You feel for her … but at the same time, her anger, her choices, and her emotional trauma make it hard to root for her. You want to root for her, and yet … seeing her make repeatedly bad decisions makes it hard. Even as a teenager, she should know better. (Or maybe that’s the adult in me?)

Still, Dellaira elegantly captures one tumultuous year in this girl’s life and shows the growth she experiences from her first letter to Kurt Cobain … until she is finally able to write a letter to the one dead person she seems intent on avoiding, her sister.

Love Letters to the Dead is in stores April 1st.

Book Review: Stay Where You Are & Then Leave by John Boyne

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During a dark time in world history, Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne shows one boy’s determination and unrelenting hope in a beautiful portrait of love, strength, and how far we’ll go to save the ones who hold most dear.

stay where you are and then leaveThe day the First World War broke out, Alfie Summerfield’s father promised he wouldn’t go away to fight—but he broke that promise the following day. Four years later, Alfie doesn’t know where his father might be, other than that he’s away on a special, secret mission. Then, while shining shoes at King’s Cross Station, Alfie unexpectedly sees his father’s name on a sheaf of papers belonging to a military doctor. Bewildered and confused, Alfie realizes his father is in a hospital close by—a hospital treating soldiers with shell shock. Alfie isn’t sure what shell shock is, but he is determined to rescue his father from this strange, unnerving place. . . .

Boyne paints a captivating portrait of life for one boy during World War I – capturing the terror of Alfie’s neighbors, the fears and anxieties of his mother, and the realities that — while soldiers went off to war — back home, life moved on. Income, food, rent, all the necessities of daily life still needed to be addressed amidst this greater turmoil.

Woven in between his portraits of life during the war, Boyne shows one boy’s determination to help his family and bring his father home safely. It shows the courage of children during trying times. And it shows that adults don’t always know best, even if they think they do. Alfie is a glowing example that children are stronger than we so often give them credit for being, and are often braver in their innocence than adults are in their knowledge.

Stay Where You Are & Then Leaveis in stores March 25th.