Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Last Time We Say Goodbye

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The Last Time We Say Goodbye

Cynthia Hand’s The Last Time We Say Goodbye is one book I’ve been meaning to read for a while now, and when I saw it was on sale on Amazon for $1.99, I grabbed it up.  It tackles a tough topic, teen suicide, but I found it wasn’t as depressing as I expected.  This is really a book about healing and forgiveness, and I think there is a message for everyone who takes the time to read it.  Fans of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why and Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places will be particularly interested.

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Goodreads Summary

There’s death all around us.

We just don’t pay attention.

Until we do.

The last time Lex was happy, it was before. When she had a family that was whole. A boyfriend she loved. Friends who didn’t look at her like she might break down at any moment.

Now she’s just the girl whose brother killed himself. And it feels like that’s all she’ll ever be.

As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died. But there’s a secret she hasn’t told anyone-a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

Lex’s brother is gone. But Lex is about to discover that a ghost doesn’t have to be real to keep you from moving on.

From New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Hand, The Last Time We Say Goodbye is a gorgeous and heart-wrenching story of love, loss, and letting go.

My Thoughts

I liked this book a lot.  Lex’s narrative voice is honest and easy to connect with, even if you’ve never experienced tragedy on the scale she has.  When she talks about the distance she has created from her friends and the concern she has about moving on but leaving her mother behind, it is easy to see the universal appeal in this work.  I was intrigued by the addition of her brother’s ghost into the story – it’s pretty hard to incorporate a spirit into an otherwise straight read, and I thought it was done exceptionally well here.  Real or delusion, he wasn’t a static character, either, and that made a huge difference.  I liked the fact that the story moved between the present and Lex’s childhood memories, which is really what allowed him to become something more than just a concept.  I was relieved that the bulk of the book was about Lex finding her way out of her mire.  I kept waiting for the inevitable romance, but this book really didn’t cheapen either Lex’s experience or her emotions by trying to give her heart a distraction when she needed it the least.  In the end, this was a cathartic read – I cried and laughed and felt at peace when I finished. Language and situations are appropriate from grades 14+.

This book is in our classroom library.

Memories of Ash – Why Intisar Khanani might be a YA fantasy goddess.

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Memories of Ash – Why Intisar Khanani might be a YA fantasy goddess.

Intisar Khanani has been on my must-read list since I first encountered Thorn, but she has really, really shown what she can do in her latest book, Memories of Ash.  This is a sequel to Sunbolt, which reads more like a novella, so it doesn’t take long to read and it is absolutely worth your time.  It only hints at how awesome this series is going to be, though, because Memories of Ash took things to an epic level.   Khanani is an indie writer, but she is one of the best I’ve ever read.  I would seriously wager on her in a write-of with some of the biggest names in YA fantasy, and you can snag her ebooks for about $4!!!  If you love your leading ladies strong, and your settings exotic and magical, you can’t go wrong with this book. I gave it a solid five stars.

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Goodreads Summary

In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

My Thoughts

I put this one down after a straight read through and all I could think was WOW!!  Fans of Sarah J. Maas, Rae Carson, and Leigh Bardugo will fall in love, not only with the determined yet vulnerable Hitomi, but also with the plot which blends action, adventure, magic, loyalty and betrayal in an irresistible way.  Hitomi, through a powerful spell, has lost her past, but her future is the one thing she is determined to hold on to, and if that means making bargains with mystical creatures, trekking through sun baked deserts, or following through with one of the more impressive jail breaks I’ve encountered, well, so be it.  The secondary cast isn’t too shabby either – they boast a surprising depth and almost no one is precisely who he or she seems.  And they populate a world as vast and unexpected as any fantasy reader could desire.  Honestly, the only complaint I have about this stellar sequel is that it left me with a terrible book hangover and the ennui that always accompanies the wait for the next book.  I will gladly wait, though, because this book just went to the top of my favorite reads of the year.  I can’t wait to share it with my high school readers, particularly those who enjoy a great female protagonist.  It is definitely going on my classroom library wishlist, and it is a book I know I will revisit and linger over again and again.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+, but adult readers will find it just as compelling.

I received an ARC from the author (thank you, thank you, thank you) in exchange for an honest review.  You couldn’t pay me to gush like this if I didn’t mean it!

Anna Michael’s 26 Kisses – it may or may not be the best cure for the common breakup

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Anna Michael’s 26 Kisses – it may or may not be the best cure for the common breakup

A cute, fast and clean read, and not a bad pick to kick off your summer, but it is one that I found hard to get through.  I never really liked any of the characters, but that doesn’t mean you will feel the same way.  I gave it three stars, and other readers seemed a little torn.  Some thought it was the cutest thing since kittens, while other saw the main character as Jezebel-lite.  I didn’t feel that extreme, but I wasn’t sold on the idea of swapping spit with 26 strangers after a couple of letters into the alphabet (most of the kisses were actually much more chaste than that implies, but, still).  Eew.

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Goodreads Summary

Breaking up with her boyfriend is not how Veda planned on starting her summer. When Mark makes it clear that it’s over between them, Veda is heartbroken and humiliated—but, more importantly, she’s inspired. And so she sets out on the love quest of a lifetime: use the summer to forget about Mark, move on, and move up. All she has to do is kiss twenty-six boys with twenty-six different names—one for each letter of the alphabet.

From the top of the Ferris wheel at her hometown carnival to the sandy dunes of Lake Michigan, Veda takes every opportunity she can to add kisses (and boys) to her list, and soon the breakup doesn’t sting quite as much. But just when Veda thinks she has the whole kissing thing figured out, she meets someone who turns her world upside down.

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Anna Michels’s debut is the story of one girl who realizes that moving on from the supposed love of your life means taking a chance—and having the courage to love again.

My Thoughts

I was pretty unhappy with the protagonist at the halfway point, so I took a long break from reading.  I did go back, and, ultimately, I was pleased with the book in the end.  I don’t think I will be the only reader a little put off by Veda’s decisions. I’m not sure she actually got the lesson inherent in her questionable quest, either.   I think the problem is that the clear choice is introduced really early in the story – this allows for a nice relationship development, but it also makes Veda look a little dumb or stubborn or scared (probably all of those because she’s human).  It was frustrating.  The love interests in this book, too, are a little unconventional.  Girls who like their guys artsy fartsy are going to find this romance more appealing than those who don’t.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Steven James’ Curse wraps up the Blur Trilogy

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Steven James’ Curse wraps up the Blur Trilogy

There were lots of things that drew me to Steven James’ Blur series. The main character is an athelete, but the books aren’t about sports – they are mysteries.  He has some pretty frightening encounters with spirits, and the living antagonists are believable threats.  I included both Blur and Fury in my classroom library, and they have gained some following, especially among my guy readers.  I wasn’t as impressed with the direction that Curse took, but it was an action packed conclusion to the series.

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Goodreads Summary

Don’t miss this intriguing and climactic conclusion to the Blur Trilogy.

As Daniel Byers prepares to attend a basketball camp before his senior year of high school, the terrifying blurs that’ve plagued him for the last nine months return.
Dark images begin to haunt him—creatures crawling from the deepest pits of his nightmares, glimmers of chilling memories from his early childhood. But before he can unearth the meaning behind his mysterious hallucinations, Daniel must team up with two other extraordinary teens to save a young woman who has been abducted by a scientist obsessed with enacting his own warped form of justice.

This atmospheric mystery picks up where Fury left off and takes readers into the uncharted regions where reality and madness intertwine.

My Thoughts

Not my favorite book in the series, but I think that if you read the first two books, you will want to read this one because it does offer some closure to the big questions posed by the first two books.  There is plenty of action and danger for both Daniel and his friends (both old and new) in this book, and the suspense is sustained right until the end.  My biggest gripe is that the book takes Daniel out of his hometown and effectively skirts the real issues he needed to resolve with his mother.  I am also always annoyed when new characters are added at the end of a series.  I didn’t care about them, and the mystery really relied more heavily on their abilities – Daniel didn’t feel as pivotal.  I also struggled to think that Daniel’s parents would let him travel halfway across America with a bunch of other 16 or 17 year olds, and I had a harder time believing his father wouldn’t have extracted him from the obviously dangerous situation, no matter what the cost would be to someone else.  Hey, ghosts I can accept, but irresponsible parenting from Daniel’s dad – not so much.  Regardless of my thoughts on the book, I have several of my high school readers invested in this series, so I’m adding it to my classroom library wish list.  I actually think they will find it exciting and a nice bit of closure to the series, more so than I did.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Kill the Boy Band – Dark YA humor about being a fan 

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Kill the Boy Band – Dark YA humor about being a fan 

In the vein of some of the great eighties teen movies where a little innocent fun and rebellion turns into a major cluster that has to be covered up before the parents come home, Kill the Boy Band is funny and improbable and a great escape read.  It reminded me of my New Kids On the Block days (fourth grade) when I championed Danny because he was the one member I thought might be unattractive enough to be attainable – I really did think that.  I still have a giant pin of his head that I used to wear on my jean jacket.  No.  I won’t sell it to you, but you can experience the angst and calculated admiration I felt by reading this dark and funny YA.

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Goodreads Summary

From debut author Goldy Moldavsky, the story of four superfan friends whose devotion to their favorite boy band has darkly comical and murderous results.

Okay, so just know from the start that it wasn’t supposed to go like this. All we wanted was to get near The Ruperts, our favorite boy band.

We didn’t mean to kidnap one of the guys. It kind of, sort of happened that way. But now he’s tied up in our hotel room. And the worst part of all, it’s Rupert P. All four members of The Ruperts might have the same first name, but they couldn’t be more different. And Rupert P. is the biggest flop out of the whole group.

We didn’t mean to hold hostage a member of The Ruperts, I swear. At least, I didn’t. We are fans. Okay, superfans who spend all of our free time tweeting about the boys and updating our fan tumblrs. But so what, that’s what you do when you love a group so much it hurts.

How did it get this far? Who knows. I mean midterms are coming up. I really do not have time to go to hell.

My Thoughts

There will be crybaby reviewers who will be offended for the perceived insults about fandom or whatever “stereotype” they most closely relate to, but those people have missed the point.  Yes, it’s over the top, but it’s really about those moments when the narrator awakens to those awful coming of age realizations that we all have.  Your perception of a friendship isn’t always the truth. People will sometimes use you to further their own agenda. You often feel passionate about something you will later feel embarrassed about. You are not a unique snowflake having a unique experience – yes, this really is just a phase that almost everyone else has or will experience in some form. Your idols are not as great in real life as in your imagination.  All of these little gems and more are wrapped up in an over-the-top, dark, teen girl version of a The Hangover type of scenario.  I thought it was a lot of fun.  I don’t care how reasonable the scenario is because it wasn’t suppose to be.  Some language, sexual references, and dark situations, but I think it is appropriate for high school readers.  Adult readers who once adored NKOTB or ‘N Sync and fans of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off will get a good laugh as well.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You

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The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You

Every snarky geek girl needs a copy of this book.  Actually, every snarky girl needs a copy of this book, even if they don’t have the credentials to be considered a geek girl. Why?  Because this author gets it right – she has to be one of us, or at the very least, a friend of one of us.

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Goodreads Summary

Trixie Watson has two very important goals for senior year: to finally save enough to buy the set of Doctor Who figurines at the local comic books store, and to place third in her class and knock Ben West–and his horrendous new mustache that he spent all summer growing–down to number four.

Trixie will do anything to get her name ranked over Ben’s, including give up sleep and comic books–well, maybe not comic books–but definitely sleep. After all, the war of Watson v. West is as vicious as the Doctor v. Daleks and Browncoats v. Alliance combined, and it goes all the way back to the infamous monkey bars incident in the first grade. Over a decade later, it’s time to declare a champion once and for all.

The war is Trixie’s for the winning, until her best friend starts dating Ben’s best friend and the two are unceremoniously dumped together and told to play nice. Finding common ground is odious and tooth-pullingly-painful, but Trixie and Ben’s cautious truce slowly transforms into a fandom-based tentative friendship. When Trixie’s best friend gets expelled for cheating and Trixie cries foul play, however, they have to choose who to believe and which side they’re on–and they might not pick the same side.

My Thoughts

Trixie is definitely prickly, but under that exterior beats a heart.  She can’t resist a chance to banter with her nemesis, and she doesn’t hold back the punches, but when she finds out that her frenemy takes her words to heart, she is determined to right her wrongs.  I loved the loyalty and the feelings and the funny that this character has to offer.  She is authentic and spot on.  Bonus: The plot isn’t bad either.  There is a mystery and some teen dating drama, a high pressure school for genius and some library/bathroom/supply closet make-out sessions – no one walks away without a prize on this one.  And while this book does have a geek element, you don’t have to be versed in a Joss Whedon or Dr. Who to get it (though that helps).  Themes and thoughts are universal enough that a few Star Wars references won’t leave you feeling out of the loop.  I clearly enjoyed this book, and I know others will as well.  It is definitely going on my high school classroom library wish list, and I can’t wait to recommend it to those snarky girls in my classes.  Language and situations are appropriated for ages 14+, but grown up geek girls will enjoy it just as much.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Brenna Yovanoff’s Places No One Knows

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Brenna Yovanoff’s Places No One Knows

While I was reading Places No One Knows, I kept hearing Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” in the background.  The first stanza kept running through my mind:  “WE wear the mask that grins and lies, /  It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— / This debt we pay to human guile; /  With torn and bleeding hearts we smile. . .”  Brenna Yovanoff’s characters are wearing the mask and playing their parts for all they are worth – you have to in high school.  So what happens when the single most real relationship in your life threatens that mask?  It can go either way.

Five stars
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Goodreads Summary

Waverly Camdenmar spends her nights running until she can’t even think. Then the sun comes up, life goes on, and Waverly goes back to her perfectly hateful best friend, her perfectly dull classes, and the tiny, nagging suspicion that there’s more to life than student council and GPAs.

Marshall Holt is a loser. He drinks on school nights and gets stoned in the park. He is at risk of not graduating, he does not care, he is no one. He is not even close to being in Waverly’s world.

But then one night Waverly falls asleep and dreams herself into Marshall’s bedroom—and when the sun comes up, nothing in her life can ever be the same. In Waverly’s dreams, the rules have changed. But in her days, she’ll have to decide if it’s worth losing everything for a boy who barely exists.

My Thoughts

I found myself thinking that this was a beautifully written love story, and then I thought that was kind of strange.  It is a little stark and the main characters are initially either concealed razor sharp edges or just invisible voids, but it really did feel like such a perfect intersection of two characters who could have been lost forever if they hadn’t found each other.  I loved that the dual perspectives offer readers many ways to connect with these characters, and I think the plot is one that creates a lasting investment in the outcome.  As far as the magical element goes, it really doesn’t take over the story, so readers who shun books with supernatural elements will still find that this contemporary romance is, in fact, focused on relationships.  Themes of truth, friendship and kindness add a nice depth, and they are done right.  YA readers will understand that this author grasps the balancing act of being accepted by the wolves who will turn on you in an instant, and acting on that small, still voice that is the truth inside.  I found the psychology of relationships that laced throughout the story fascinating, and I think it will appeal to my high school readers as well.  This one is definitely going on my classroom library wishlist.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+, but I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult reader.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summer of Supernovas

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Summer of Supernovas

A promise made before her mother’s death and a unique alignment of the stars mean that Wilamena has to get her love life in order pronto, but following the stars conflicts with following her heart. This conflict is the cornerstone for this sweet YA romance, and while it does lead to a dreaded love triangle, it makes for an engaging and bumpy ride in Wil’s journey to finding love.  I gave Summer of Supernovas four stars, and fans of contemporary, light YA romance will enjoy it as well.

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Goodreads Summary

Fans of Jennifer E. Smith and Jenny Han will fall in love with this heartfelt and humor-laced debut following one girl’s race to find the guy of her cosmic dreams.

When zodiac-obsessed teen Wilamena Carlisle discovers a planetary alignment that won’t repeat for a decade, she’s forced to tackle her greatest astrological fear: The Fifth House—relationships and love.

But when Wil falls for a sensitive guitar player hailing from the wrong side of the astrology chart, she must decide whether a cosmically doomed love is worth rejecting her dead mother’s legacy and the very system she’s faithfully followed through a lifetime of unfailing belief.

My Thoughts

The characters are lightly quirky and wholly believable, and the romantic gestures are actually romantic. My only real issue was Wil’s (completely understandable and yet still annoying) devotion to the astrology that is so clearly leading her astray. I think most readers would like to think that there is a sure fire way of knowing that you are getting it right in love, though, so the majority of readers will be willing to cut her some slack. This is a fun read that doesn’t plum too far into the depths but still manages to create a world readers will enjoy escaping into. Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Matthew Quick’s Newest YA, Every Exquisite Thing, ponders the costs of conformity

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Matthew Quick’s Newest YA, Every Exquisite Thing, ponders the costs of conformity

Like other books by Matthew Quick, Every Exquisite Thing explores what it is to be an outsider of sorts. In this case, the narrator is contemplating the life she lives for others versus the life she wants to live for herself.  I loved the idea – we are all forced to wear masks if we want to fit in.  However, Quick’s writing can be a bit more demanding than the average YA.  This isn’t a beach read, and it will ask too much of many readers, but for those who want an intense, thought-provoking story that refuses to follow the rules, this is your book.  I gave it five stars.

Every Exquisite Thing publishes Tuesday, May 10, 2016.  CORRECTION:   the publication date was moved to May 31, 2016.  I should have double checked against NetGalley. 

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Goodreads Summary

Nanette O’Hare is an unassuming teen who has played the role of dutiful daughter, hardworking student, and star athlete for as long as she can remember. But when a beloved teacher gives her his worn copy of The Bugglegum Reaper–a mysterious, out-of-print cult classic–the rebel within Nanette awakens.

As she befriends the reclusive author, falls in love with a young troubled poet, and attempts to insert her true self into the world with wild abandon, Nanette learns the hard way that rebellion sometimes comes at a high price.

My Thoughts

I think that many high school readers will connect with this book and its narrator.  The central theme is one that many YA’s spend time considering:  Do I conform or do I fight to be an individual?  Nanette’s journey to decide that question is fraught with a realistic look at what society does to those who go their own way.  It is at times contemplative, ridiculous, confusing, insightful, heartbreaking and heartwarming.  You know, like real life inside your own head, but a little more dramatic.  Matthew Quick has a knack for taking outsiders and easing audiences into an empathetic understanding of their perspective.  I think this perspective is easier to embrace because who hasn’t played the joining game just to avoid grief? The plot was refreshingly unexpected and the characters were well drawn.  I enjoyed it, and readers who don’t mind actually thinking about what they are reading will as well.  Folks who just want a mindless YA contemporary need not apply.  Language and situations are most appropriate for grades 10+, and adults will find it compelling as well.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Genius: The Game 

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Genius: The Game 

Genius: The Game sounded exactly like a book I wanted for my high school classroom library. A competition, tech savvy kids and an unbelievable prize: I imagined something like Ready Player One, a book that was a big hit with my guy readers.  And best, James Patterson blurbed it – my kids loved his Maximum Ride books.  Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations.  I was bored for a good majority of the book.  However, the book has its staunch supporters.  I gave it two stars, but it averaged three and a half stars on Goodreads.

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Goodreads Summary

Trust no one. Every camera is an eye. Every microphone an ear. Find me and we can stop him together.

The Game: Get ready for Zero Hour as 200 geniuses from around the world go head to head in a competition hand-devised by India’s youngest CEO and visionary.
The Players:
Rex- One of the best programmers/hackers in the world, this 16-year-old Mexican-American is determined to find his missing brother.

Tunde-This14-year-old self-taught engineering genius has drawn the attention of a ruthless military warlord by single-handedly bringing electricity and internet to his small Nigerian village.

Painted Wolf-One of China’s most respected activist bloggers, this mysterious 16-year-old is being pulled into the spotlight by her father’s new deal with a corrupt Chinese official.

The Stakes: Are higher than you can imagine. Like life and death. Welcome to the revolution. And get ready to run

My Thoughts

What sounded like a really compelling adventure turned out to be a bit of a snooze.  The descriptions are straightforward and bland, the dialogue is unremarkable except for the fact that I noticed how dull and unremarkable it was, and the plot is predictable.  I was honestly expecting a really engaging story that would capture my imagination, and I’ll admit that I did enjoy the puzzles presented in the actual competition, but I wasn’t connected to the characters nor was I really invested in the outcome (because who didn’t see that coming from the start?). The heavy foreshadowing killed the suspense.  It is a bit of a conundrum because the characters are suppose to be smart and discerning, so I think the problem is that the villains need to really be smarter if this story is going to work.  I think readers will be annoyed that the book doesn’t really resolve many of the conflicts, but I’m not sure they will be invested enough to look for a follow up book to get those resolutions.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.