Monthly Archives: February 2017

Gardenia by Kelsey Sutton

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Gardenia by Kelsey Sutton

Kelsey Sutton’s Gardenia didn’t really grab me at first glance, but as soon as I read an excerpt, I was hooked.  I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and I think you might, too.  I will admit that the premise did sound like a few other books I’ve seen before, but this story had some charm that I thought the others lacked.  I gave this YA suspense four stars.

Gardenia is publishing Tuesday, February 28, 2017.


Goodreads Summary

Seventeen-year-old Ivy Erickson has one month, twenty-seven days, four hours, fifty-nine minutes, and two seconds to live.

Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been able to see countdown clocks over everyone’s heads indicating how long before they will die. She can’t do anything about anyone else’s, nor can she do anything about her own, which will hit the zero hour before she even graduates high school.

A life cut short is tragic, but Ivy does her best to make the most of it. She struggles emotionally with her deep love for on-again, off-again boyfriend Myers Patripski. She struggles financially, working outside of school to help her mom and her sister. And she struggles to cope with the murder of her best friend, another life she couldn’t save. Vanessa Donovan was killed in the woods, and everyone in town believes Ivy had something to do with it.

Then more girls start disappearing. Ivy tries to put her own life in order as she pieces together the truth of who ended Vanessa’s. To save lives and for her own sanity.

The clock is always ticking. And Ivy’s only hope is to expose the truth before it runs out completely. 

My Thoughts

What an engrossing suspense read!  There are so many possible suspects and so many red herrings that I found it impossible to even take a good guess at the killer’s identity.  To be fair, I’m not sure the clues are there until the big reveal, which can be a pet peeve of mine, but I didn’t mind in this case.  What was even more surprising was how satisfying the narrator’s development is in the midst of the mystery.  I love the fact that she makes a tough decision about facing her short future, and it is really heartwarming (something I can’t often say about a book in this genre).  It definitely made the ending more rewarding.  I also really like how the narrator is a believable character. She is a blend of selfish and self-sacrificing that really allowed me to feel she was genuine, and it was easy to be sympathetic to her situation.   I did find it hard to keep all the male characters straight – a couple had names that started with “M,” and that made it more difficult.  It wasn’t a perfect read, but I thought it was a really good one.  There is just enough creepiness to really draw my high school students in, and enough depth to keep them reading.  I know my mystery and suspense readers will find it as hard to put down as I did, so this is definitely going on my classroom library wish list.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+.

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

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If you liked The Night Circus, try Stephanie Garber’s Caraval

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If you liked The Night Circus, try Stephanie Garber’s Caraval

I love my tattered copy of The Night Circus, but I’m desperately tired of waiting for the author’s next stroke of genius.  I am always delighted when I find a book that evokes some of that magical enchantment, and Caraval did that for me.  I gave it four stars – it has its weaknesses, but the feels outweighed them.


Goodreads Summary

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . . 

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever. 

My Thoughts

Caraval is magical and engaging, and a little brutal at times.  There is definitely some danger and horror mixed into the enchanting world of of this tale.  It is this contrast – feverbright setting and a lingering, light dread – that really feels spot on.  Think Wonderland, with its topsy-turvy setting and characters, meets THAT nightmare, the one built on your deepest desires and darkest fears.  I wasn’t scared, but I certainly feared something terrible was around every corner.  I do have to say some of the backstory and the ultimate “why” are threadbare and patchy, but I enjoyed it anyway.  While I couldn’t help thinking of The Night Circus while I read, I also couldn’t help thinking it was so much more YA friendly.  I know many of my students will enjoy this dark and sumptuous tale, so it’s going on my high school classroom library wish list.  Language and situations appropriate for grades 9+. 

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

Kim Savage’s Beautiful Broken Girls 

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Kim Savage’s Beautiful Broken Girls 

Because I enjoyed Kim Savage’s first book,   After the Woods, I was excited to see what she had in store for me in Beautiful Broken Girls.  The premise evoked Thirteen Reasons Why and The Virgin Suicides.  The cover intrigued me – the image is both gorgeous and unsettling.  Unfortunately, this just didn’t live up to my expectations.  I gave it three stars.


Goodreads Summary

Remember the places you touched me.

The parts of Mira Cillo that Ben touched are etched on his soul.

Palm. Hair. Chest. Cheek. Lips. Throat. Heart.

It was the last one that broke her. After her death, Mira sends Ben on a quest for notes she left in the seven places where they touched—notes that explain why she and her sister, Francesca, drowned themselves in the quarry. How Ben interprets those notes has everything to do with the way he was touched by a bad coach years before. But the truth behind the girls’ suicides is far more complicated, involving a dangerous infatuation, a deadly miracle, and a crushing lie.

My Thoughts

I think the author was trying to create a book that was haunting and ethereal, but it impacted the coherence of the story.  The narrative is disjointed and hard to follow.  It didn’t help that I could never decipher what was motivating anyone.  All of the characters are enigmas for the entirety of the book.  I think the most glaring issue is that there is no character to function as a reliable guide for a reader just entering into this tragic and strange world.  I was intrigued by the mystery initially, but ultimately felt like the solution fell flat despite the fact that it is beyond bizarre.  I get where the comparison to The Virgin Suicides and Thirteen Reasons Why is drawn, but readers looking for either of those are bound to be disappointed with what they actually find.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 10+.

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

Optimists Die First

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Optimists Die First

I was not convinced that I could really enjoy a quirky book, but I really did this time.  From a stealth pooping cat named Anne of Green Gables!!! to a difficult apology that involves sun bonnets and dialogue straight from Little House on the Prairie – this book cracked me up.  I gave Optimists Die First a five star rating, not because it was perfect, but because it was perfectly fun to read.  High five, Susin Nielsen!  


Goodreads Summary

Life ahead: Proceed with caution.

Sixteen-year-old Petula De Wilde is anything but wild. A family tragedy has made her shut herself off from the world. Once a crafting fiend with a happy life, Petula now sees danger in everything, from airplanes to ground beef.

The worst part of her week is her comically lame mandatory art therapy class. She has nothing in common with this small band of teenage misfits, except that they all carry their own burden of guilt.

When Jacob joins their ranks, he seems so normal and confident. Petula wants nothing to do with him, or his prosthetic arm. But when they’re forced to collaborate on a unique school project, she slowly opens up, and he inspires her to face her fears.

Until a hidden truth threatens to derail everything. 

My Thoughts

Look, this book made me laugh a lot.  That means something, especially considering these characters are dealing with some real downer stuff.  It’s just that they are all so surprising and still easy enough to imagine as real people who might populate your own art therapy class from Hell.  They feel genuine, and the situations feel honest.  I admit that it took a few chapters to convince myself that I could roll with Petula, but now we are fast friends.  I will say that tough girl Koula almost stole the show for me, and I hope she gets a story of her own someday.  Her tattoo alone is worth the read.  Themes of forgiveness, grief and friendship add nice depth and go surprisingly well with the humor.  I want this in my high school classroom library.  I know there are many of my students who could appreciate the most disfunctional and bizarrely heartwarming version of The Breakfast Club I have ever seen.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 10+.

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

The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom is so hard to put down that I just quit trying

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The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom is so hard to put down that I just quit trying

If the Jason Bourne movies had a baby with the show Alias, it might look a lot like the awesomeness that is The Cruelty.  I guess the author, Scott Bergstrom, ticked off some people in the YA community based on what I saw on Goodreads, but the truth is that I read the book with no knowledge of any controversy (nor have I bothered to really research it since), and I loved the story.  It was so hard to put down that I just quit trying. I gave The Cruelty five stars, but I will say this doesn’t really read like YA, and it isn’t appropriate for younger readers.


Goodreads Summary

When her diplomat father is kidnapped and the U.S. Government is unable to help, 17 year-old Gwendolyn Bloom sets off across the sordid underbelly of Europe to rescue him. Following the only lead she has—the name of a Palestinian informer living in France—she plunges into a brutal world of arms smuggling and human trafficking. As she journeys from the slums of Paris, to the nightclubs of Berlin, to the heart of the most feared crime family in Prague, Gwendolyn discovers that to survive in this new world she must become every bit as cruel as the men she’s hunting. 

My Thoughts

The Cruelty is wildly engaging once the action kicks off.  Gritty, suspenseful, and full of dangerous maneuvering – I just couldn’t put it down.  And it is more than just action – this main character has real development and reflection that I thought added so much to the impact of the story.   I will say I wasn’t sold right away.  The author takes time to develop a baseline for the main character, and that baseline is the polar opposite of what I wanted her to be.  It is essential, though, because it really shows you how far down the rabbit hole this character goes in her quest for answers to her father’s disappearance.  It blew me away.  I also want to make it clear that the only YA element of this story is the main character’s age.  This isn’t a cute, bumbling wanna-be “spy girl” getting help finding her dad – this chick is all in, and often on her own.  There is much murder and mayhem, and the shadowy places she descends to are really full of all the awfulness the world has to offer.  I’m an adult reader, so I didn’t flinch, but younger YA readers might find it a little too intense (and their parents will probably stroke out).  That being said, I would be hard pressed to name a book that would be more likely hold my high school readers in thrall than The Cruelty.  I’m adding it to my classroom library wishlist, and I would recommend it to more mature fans of the old middle school spy books and thrillers like Alex Rider or Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick and even to those who enjoyed Jennifer Barnes’ The Natural’s series.  Mature language, heaps of violence and references to the sex trade and trafficking make this one most appropriate for grades 11+.

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

Gilded Cage by Vic James is perfect for fans of Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series

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Gilded Cage by Vic James is perfect for fans of Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series

Vic James’ Gilded Cage has a lot to offer YA readers who enjoyed Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series.  The social order is divided between those with extraordinary powers and those with no power.  It has intrigue and forbidden feelings, and things are not always as they seem. There are some big differences, notably that Gilded Cage is somewhat terrifyingly gothic, but I think the two call to the same ideas of equality and humanity.  While I gave them both four star ratings, I think Gilded Cage is the better book.  


Goodreads Summary

Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world. 

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price? 

A boy dreams of revolution.
Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution. 

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy? 

My Thoughts

This is a solid read.  The divided classes and the tyranny of those with power will speak to many YA readers – young and old.  The setting is intriguing, and, though the story dives in with little explanation, it was easy to pick up on the rules. Some readers will find the story slows as care is taken to explain some of the politics of the society, but it is necessary to really grasp how far under the thumb the powerless are. I particularly appreciated the fact that every one of the ruling class had a very ominous feel, even when they were being kind enough – it made it easy to understand the anxiety of the narrators and it helped me connect with them. There are several twists in this story, and many of them knocked me sideways. I was pleased that this wasn’t predictable, but I know it will leave some readers feeling a bit bowled over. This book does take a little brainwork. A cast of many characters and the intrigue mean you have to pay attention, but I thought it was well worth the effort. I’m pretty interested in what the second book holds, and I think my high school readers will enjoy it as much as I did, so it is going on my classroom library wishlist. Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

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