Monthly Archives: July 2016

Miranda Kennelly’s newest: Defending Taylor

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Miranda Kennelly’s newest: Defending Taylor

The biggest strength of this book is the theme:  a life without enjoyment is a hollow endeavor. I love this message in a book for YA’s, and I think that it will hit home with many readers.  The rest of the book is pretty much what fans of Miranda Kennelly are expecting.  I mean that in a good way. If you haven’t read any of Kennelly’s books but you are a fan of Abbi Glines, I think you will enjoy these because it has the same feel as the early books in her Sea Breeze series.

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Goodreads Summary

There are no mistakes in love.

Captain of the soccer team, president of the Debate Club, contender for valedictorian: Taylor’s always pushed herself to be perfect. After all, that’s what is expected of a senator’s daughter. But one impulsive decision-one lie to cover for her boyfriend-and Taylor’s kicked out of private school. Everything she’s worked so hard for is gone, and now she’s starting over at Hundred Oaks High.

Soccer has always been Taylor’s escape from the pressures of school and family, but it’s hard to fit in and play on a team that used to be her rival. The only person who seems to understand all that she’s going through is her older brother’s best friend, Ezra. Taylor’s had a crush on him for as long as she can remember. But it’s hard to trust after having been betrayed. Will Taylor repeat her past mistakes or can she score a fresh start?

My Thoughts

The narrator, Taylor, is easy to connect with and her love interest is crush-worthy.  The romantic relationship is believable, in part because there is some history between these two characters that began long before the start of the story.  This past is clearly laid out, so readers can relax and enjoy watching it come to fruition without having to backtrack and read an earlier book in the series.  That being said, a few beloved characters from Hundred Oaks make cameos, so if you have read the series, you will get a chance to catch up with a few of your favorites.

Another thumbs up goes to the family and friendship angles that this book explores.  They allow characters to actually work through issues in a positive way.  Don’t get me wrong, there is still all the drama readers want, but the resolutions are satisfying and heartening.

I had never read any books by this author until last year, and when I put a copy of Jesse’s Girl in my classroom library, my high school girls demanded more instantly.  So far, Breathe, Annie, Breathe is their favorite, and I don’t think this book will usurp its standing, but I’m certain they will enjoy Defending Taylor.  It’s a hard call to put this one on my shelves, though.  Interest and engagement are high for this series, but it feels like this particular book is crossing out of YA and into New Adult territory.  Fans won’t mind, but their parents might object to some of the sensuality.  I would say this one is really for more mature high school and college readers.

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

Life After Juliet 

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Life After Juliet 

What a great read!  I devoured it in a couple of hours, and I dare you not to do the same.  If you are looking for a contemporary YA romance to read this summer, I think you would be hard pressed to do better than Life After Juliet.  Bookworms will find a special kinship in Becca, the narrator, but even you extroverts will enjoy this story about putting yourself out there.  I gave this book five stars.

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Goodreads Summary

Becca Hanson was never able to make sense of the real world. When her best friend Charlotte died, she gave up on it altogether. Fortunately, Becca can count on her books to escape—to other times, other places, other people…

Until she meets Max Herrera. He’s experienced loss, too, and his gorgeous, dark eyes see Becca the way no one else in school can.
As it turns out, kissing is a lot better in real life than on a page. But love and life are a lot more complicated in the real world…and happy endings aren’t always guaranteed.

The companion novel to Love and Other Unknown Variables is an exploration of loss and regret, of kissing and love, and most importantly, a celebration of hope and discovering a life worth living again.

My Thoughts

Becca’s voice is so real and easy to connect with, especially for those of us with introverted, nose-in-book tendencies.  I haven’t suffered a loss like Becca’s, but I certainly fight every day to make myself put the book down and do some living of my own, and that is really what this story is about.  She conquers fears, but in a way that is still true to herself in the end, and I adored her for it.  The romantic relationship is also pretty awesome.  It is given the time it needs to develop into something that will squeeze your heart. And the the romantic interest? So, so, so swoon-worthy, ladies.  And every fairy-tale love story needs a witch, right?  I particularly liked the villainess in this story – she is a delightful surprise.   I’ll admit I didn’t enjoy the companion book, so I wasn’t prepared for this one to grab me so completely. I think it can be read as a stand-alone because there is enough background info there to fill you in, and it has been ages since I read the first one and it was no deal to pick this one up and sink in.  It’s definitely going on my classroom library wish list because I just know my high school readers are going to be as wild about it as I am.  I’m also recommending it to our drama teacher because I see a definite peak in interest in school plays in conjunction with the reading of this book!  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+, but adult readers will find it has the depth to engage them as well.

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

Learning to Swear in America – the (possible) destruction of Earth has never been so charming and funny

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Learning to Swear in America – the (possible) destruction of Earth has never been so charming and funny

Sheldon Cooper, move over because Yuri Strelnikov just took your place as the most loveable, socially awkward scientist in my heart.  I love him for his brain and his ineptitude with articles and for his ego and his shortcomings.  And I think he is about to take the YA Geek nation by storm.  The book wasn’t too bad either.  I gave this funny, heartfelt read five stars.

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Goodreads Summary

Brimming with humor and one-of-a-kind characters, this end-of-the world novel will grab hold of Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell fans.

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize–if there’s ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri’s 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he’s not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

My Thoughts

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the blurb for Learning to Swear in America, but the mix of humor, real life awkwardness and one bad A of an Asteroid is a winning combination.  Themes about perspective and what it means to grow up (or down) add depth to the tale, but the real reason you pick this book up and read it straight through is because it will make you laugh.  If you’ve ever felt lonely or like the only person who doesn’t get a joke, you are going to connect with this odd-ball cast of characters in their certain death scenario.  I can’t wait to get this book in my classroom library because it is the perfect read for so many of my guy readers who hate the sports books that are always thrust in their direction, but the jocks and the fairytale girls, and the romance-only gals are going to enjoy it as well if they give it a chance (not because it has those things in it but because it is generally awesome).  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+, though adult readers of YA will be just as enchanted.

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

Jeff Hirsch’s Black River Falls – Memories can be a blessing or a curse

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Jeff Hirsch’s Black River Falls – Memories can be a blessing or a curse

Jeff Hirsch has a knack for engaging middle and high school readers (and some adults, too) with his post-apocalyptic scenarios and believable characters.  Black River Falls is no exception.  If the memory stealing virus doesn’t grab you, the tale of Cardinal and his family will.

Black River Falls publishes Tuesday, July 5, 2016.

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Goodreads Summary

Seventeen-year-old Cardinal has escaped the virus that ravaged his town, leaving its victims alive but without their memories. He chooses to remain in the quarantined zone, caring for a group of orphaned kids in a mountain camp with the help of the former brutal school bully, now transformed by the virus into his best friend. But then a strong-willed and mysterious young woman appears, and the closed-off world Cardinal has created begins to crumble.

A thrilling, fast-paced work of speculative fiction for teens, from a bestselling author, Black River Falls is an unforgettable story about survival, identity, and family.

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed this book, and I think lots of YA readers will as well.  Cardinal, the narrator is easy to connect with, and the slow unfolding of his past is perfectly paced to maintain interest.  There is a lot of tension, sometimes warranted, and sometimes not, throughout the story, which made the turns of the plot hard to predict.  The entire premise was fascinating, particularly the subplot that brought in the comic books that Cardinal’s father created.  It paralleled nicely with his own struggle to be a hero, and I liked the way that sometimes his journey went into the gray areas.  It was his faults and failures that made him feel like a real person and not just a character.  I did struggle a bit with the transitions between scenes – there was a bit too much of Cardinal suddenly finding himself somewhere, and sometimes the action was a bit blurry, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.  I think my guy readers will find this story very engaging, but themes about memories and forgetting and the way those things shape us add some depth that means a wide audience can appreciate this story.  It’s definitely going on my high school classroom library wish list.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+.

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

True Grit meets The Road in Beth Lewis’ The Wolf Road

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True Grit meets The Road in Beth Lewis’ The Wolf Road

The comparison between The Wolf Road and True Grit meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road isn’t far from the mark.  I can easily imagine the Coen brothers adapting this horror of a western set in a post-apocalyptic version of a kill or be killed future. That means that readers will find the setting cinematic in its detail, the characters dynamic in their conflicts, and a story that is equal parts contemplative and bloody minded action.  I gave it five stars, and fellow reviewers on Goodreads are giving it high marks as well.  It doesn’t seem fair to give you a glimpse of this book and then tell you it doesn’t publish until Tuesday, July 5, but it is one that I can definitely say is worth the wait for fans of westerns and the end times.

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Goodreads Summary

True Grit meets The Road in this postapocalyptic psychological thriller–narrated by a young girl who has just learned that her adopted father may be a serial killer, and that she may be his next victim.

In the remote wilds of a ravaged land, Elka has been raised by a man who isn’t her father. Since finding her wandering in the woods when she was seven, he has taught her how to hunt, shoot, set snares and start fires–everything she needs to survive. All she knows of the world outside is gleaned from whispers of a cataclysmic event that turned the clock back on civilization by a hundred and fifty years and reduced governments and technology to shambles, leaving men at the mercy of the elements–and each other.

Everything changes when Elka learns that the man she has been calling father is harboring a terrible secret. Armed with nothing but her knife and her wiles, she decides to escape his clutches and sets out on a long journey to the frozen north in the hope of finding her long-lost parents.

But as the trail of blood and bodies grows in her path, Elka realizes that daddy won’t be letting his little girl go without a fight. If she’s going to survive, she’ll have to turn and confront not just him, but the truth about what he’s turned her into.

My Thoughts

Elka, the narrator is a strong and distinctive voice that is pitch perfect for the duality of her character.  She is both a no-nonsense, determined survivor and a victim seeking redemption and revenge, a mix that has always found favor in westerns.  She isn’t the only character that has a satisfying complexity, either.  Villains and allies have that blend of vulnerability and steel that make the population of this desperate world come alive.  While I found some lulls in the action, the time was used to develop surprising traits and revelations about the people I thought I knew, and I read them as eagerly as I read the bloody and violent battles for survival.  Frankly, I found it hard to put this book down, and I think others will as well.  Language and violence make this more of an adult novel than a YA, but the narrative perspective and the themes make for a story that will hit home with teens despite and perhaps because of the brutality inherent in the tale.

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