Category Archives: Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams are books that rate a four stars or above

Laurie Forest’s The Black Witch

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Laurie Forest’s The Black Witch

Laurie Forest’s The Black Witch got some rotten and unfair reviews.  I suspect that anyone who slammed this book as racist didn’t read the whole book.  Perhaps they are just so stupid they missed the very clear point.  In life, we all start out believing whatever we have been taught.  When we hit a certain age and venture out into the bigger world, most of us come to the realization that some of those values we were raised to accept are worth holding on to, but others are the result of fear and a limited world view.  This is a fantasy read that incorporates that experience.  If you stick with the book beyond the first few chapters, it is obvious that this is all about learning to accept and even cherish differences.  I gave this book four stars, and I think readers who give the book a real chance will agree.


Goodreads Summary
A new Black Witch will rise…her powers vast beyond imagining.

Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.

When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.

As evil looms on the horizon and the pressure to live up to her heritage builds, everything Elloren thought she knew will be challenged and torn away. Her best hope of survival may be among the most unlikely band of misfits…if only she can find the courage to trust those she’s been taught to hate and fear. 

My Thoughts

The Black Witch is an easy book to fall into, and I apparently raced through 600+ pages this evening without realizing it!  I quickly recognized that this was going to be a fairly predictable read, and I wasn’t wrong, but I still found myself drawn into the vast world populated with characters I became attached to – Diana was surprisingly my favorite.  I was a bit disappointed that such a big book didn’t move me a little closer to more resolution, but I will be quite happy to luxuriate in a couple more volumes to get those resolutions.  A lot of the book is spent in pairing off couples in romances, which I thought slowed the pace and watered down the story, but I imagine many YA readers will appreciate the forbidden kisses and the longing.  Themes are timely and address prejudice, friendship, and standing up for what is right.  I know my high school readers will enjoy this book, especially those who liked Harry Potter or who have ever felt like they just didn’t fit in with the crowd.  I’m adding it to my classroom library wishlist.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+.

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

Corrie Wang’s The Takedown 

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Corrie Wang’s The Takedown 

Corrie Wang’s The Takedown wasn’t really on my radar until I saw it on the Amazon editor’s picks for YA in April, but I’m so glad I snagged a last minute ARC on NetGalley.  I could not put it down. There is a lot going on in this story beyond the very compelling mystery of who is trying to ruin Kyla, and it is both timely and engaging.  The Takedown is publishing Tuesday, April 11, 2017, and it is well worth your time.


Goodreads Summary

Kyla Cheng doesn’t expect you to like her. For the record, she doesn’t need you to. On track to be valedictorian, she’s president of her community club, a debate team champ, plus the yummy Mackenzie Rodriguez has firmly attached himself to her hip. She and her three high-powered best friends don’t just own their senior year at their exclusive Park Slope, Brooklyn high school, they practically define the hated species Popular. Kyla’s even managed to make it through high school completely unscathed.

Until someone takes issue with this arrangement.

A week before college applications are due, a video of Kyla “doing it” with her crush-worthy English teacher is uploaded to her school’s website. It instantly goes viral, but here’s the thing: it’s not Kyla in the video. With time running out, Kyla delves into a world of hackers, haters and creepy stalkers in an attempt to do the impossible-take something off the internet-all while dealing with the fallout from her own karmic footprint. Set in near-future Brooklyn, where privacy is a bygone luxury and every perfect profile masks damning secrets, The Takedown is a stylish, propulsive, and provocative whodunit, asking who would you rely on if your tech turned against you?

My Thoughts

It was thought-provoking to follow Kyla through an experience that blurred her carefully cultivated and curated image.  I really thought I would be cheering for the downfall of this queen bee, so imagine my surprise when her narrative voice spoke to me deeply.  Some people will only see a teen drama with a scary message about personal privacy, but I saw it as a book that makes readers think about how actions will always have consequences – good and bad.  Kyla’s character goes through a nice development without betraying her – she doesn’t have to become the things others want her to be in order to grow into a better version of herself – and that was really important to me as a reader.  The messages are relevant and strong, and I think they can speak to a wide audience.  And that mystery?  It kept me guessing right up until the big reveal – bravo! This is definitely going on my high school classroom library wishlist, and it is a book I will highly recommend to my students.  Language (some of it in annoying but relevant text talk) and situations are appropriate for grades 10+.

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

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Whitney Taylor’s Definitions of Indefinable Things – Snarky, Savage, Hopeful

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Whitney Taylor’s Definitions of Indefinable Things – Snarky, Savage, Hopeful

It’s hard to write a funny book about depression.  First, well . . . Duh – depression is depressing.  Second, humor can make depression look a lot less painful than it really is.  I felt like Whitney Taylor managed to walk the thin line between the two in Definitions of Indefinable Things.  It is hilarious, but it is also pretty honest about the realities of depression. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because of that balance, so this is a solid four star read.


Goodreads Summary

This heartbreaking, humorous novel is about three teens whose lives intersect in ways they never expected.

Reggie Mason is all too familiar with “the Three Stages of Depression.” She believes she’s unlocked the secret to keeping herself safe: Nobody can hurt you if you never let them in.

Reggie encounters an unexpected challenge to her misanthropy: a Twizzler-chomping, indie film-making narcissist named Snake. Snake’s presence, while reassuring, is not exactly stable—especially since his ex-girlfriend is seven months pregnant. As Reggie falls for Snake, she must decide whether it’s time to rewrite the rules that have defined her.

My Thoughts

I like my leading ladies savage and snarky, and I’m not sure any character is more savage and snarky than Reggie.  Watching her navigate the ridiculousness of her life is so worth your time.  The thing I liked most about her is that, while she lashes out, she really does have a heart.  She cannot overcome her innate goodness, even when spewing venom.  Now, this is an unflinching look at depression. If you have never had it, you will walk away understanding exactly how it feels.  If you have, I think you will recognize the black hole.  But what really makes this book amazing is that it is also a look at life getting better.  It isn’t a fairy tale. Things aren’t perfect or quick, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  So, don’t skip it just because you don’t want to read something depressing.  This book is so much more.  While the language and situations are frequently mature,  I think it will speak more to my high school students about the unbreakable human spirit and believing in the good things life has to offer.  I’m adding it to my classroom library wish list.  Grades 10+.

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

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Margaret Stohl’s Royce Rolls – for those who love (and love to hate) reality tv

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Margaret Stohl’s Royce Rolls – for those who love (and love to hate) reality tv

I really enjoyed Margaret Stohl’s Royce Rolls despite (or because of) my innate cynicism about modern reality TV.  I’ve always delighted in pointing out every staged scene in my husband’s favorite shows, and this book confirmed all I believe about what goes on behind the scenes.  This is the perfect book for someone who wants a funny, fluff mystery read.  I gave it four stars, but fans of the author are a little more torn.


Goodreads Summary

Sixteen-year-old Bentley Royce seems to have it all: an actual Bentley, tuition to a fancy private school, lavish vacations, and everything else that comes along with being an LA starlet. But after five seasons on her family’s reality show, Rolling with the Royces, and a lifetime of dealing with her narcissistic sister, Porsche, media-obsessed mother, Mercedes, and somewhat clueless brother, Maybach, Bentley wants out. Luckily for her, without a hook for season six, cancellation is looming and freedom is nigh. With their lifestyle on the brink, however, Bentley’s family starts to crumble, and one thing becomes startlingly clear–without the show, there is no family. And since Bentley loves her family, she has to do the unthinkable–save the show. But when her future brother-in-law’s car goes over a cliff with both Bentley and her sister’s fiancé inside-on the day of the big made-for-TV wedding, no less-things get real.

Really real. Like, not reality show real.

Told in a tongue-in-cheek voice that takes a swipe at all things Hollywood, Royce Rolls is a laugh-out-loud funny romp with an LA noir twist about what it means to grow up with the cameras rolling and what really happens behind the scenes.

My Thoughts

A Kardashian-esque family is the center of this story, and they manage to be absolutely fake and absolutely real at the same time.  The main character’s irritation with the whole fame-for-the-sake-of-fame scheme plays well to readers like me.  She is dark and witty, and quickly became the trusted voice of reason in her mother and sister’s insane last grab for fifteen more minutes of fame.  There are plenty of twists and unexpected turns, and the opening lines set up a nice mystery that is engaging to unravel.  There is also plenty of glam for those who want it, but beneath the clothes and makeup, there is some depth.  I will say the ending is a little overproduced, but it is acceptable because the story does take place in a TV world where anything goes.  I absolutely enjoyed reading this book, and I think my high school students will as well, so I’m adding it to my classroom library wishlist.  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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Ashley Poston’s Geekerella is the perfect fairy tale for the Geek Girl in you

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Ashley Poston’s Geekerella is the perfect fairy tale for the Geek Girl in you

There have been so many times that I have held my breath, waiting to see who will be cast as a beloved character.  Some have met my approval – Claire and Jamie from Outlander.  Others have broken my heart – I’m pointing at you entire cast of Twilight (yes – it mattered very much to this grown woman).  I completely understood Elle Wittimer from Chapter 1 of Geekerella.  Her world crashes down when her favorite character is clearly miscast .  . . Or is he?

I very much enjoyed this Geek girl version of Cinderella, and I’m not alone – this book has a 4+ star rating with more than 500 reviewers on Goodreads!


Goodreads Summary
Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

Enter to win a copy of Geekerella on Goodreads until May 1, 2017!

My Thoughts

This retelling of Cinderella is a contemporary take, perfect for anyone who has ever loved a fandom.  The decision to make “Prince Charming” a movie star is brilliant, and the fact that his side of the story is an important part of the plot adds a lot to the tale you think you know.  And you do know this story, but if you think that means you won’t feel anxious, you are wrong.  This evil stepmother is wicked, and if her brand of mean feels a bit thick at times, it doesn’t stop you from feeling outraged when she pulls her ugly stunts.  Despite her dark cloud, the modern touches are charming – from the pumpkin themed food truck to the decidedly modern take on the fairy godmother – it is worth reading just to study the parallels.  The vibe is more teen movie than fairytale, but I think it will appeal to a pretty broad audience.   I’m definitely adding it to my high school classroom library wishlist and recommending it to fans of reimagined fairy tales as well as those who love a good fandom.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+, but adults can enjoy it as well.

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

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Defy the Stars – another stellar YA SciFi read 

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Defy the Stars – another stellar YA SciFi read 

Claudia Gray’s Defy the Stars is another amazing addition to the YA SciFi genre.  If you enjoyed Ami Kauffman’s Illuminae, you definitely want to give this book a look.  I gave this book my rare five star rating because it grabbed my imagination and high jacked my evening from the first chapter.


Goodreads Summary

Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.

After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.

Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.

My Thoughts

What a great read!  Plenty of action and suspense kept me glued to this one for a straight read through.  There is attention and detail given to the building of characters and a fascinating new world.  I cared about these characters and the conflicts that drove them.  I liked the fact that the relationship between the main characters is believable despite the seeming impossibility of feelings and AI. It is also a timely read – Westworld has us questioning what it means to be a human while current political debates have us thinking about isolationism, terrorism, and the environment.  This book does a great job of giving readers room to consider these issues in a thoughtful way without ruining the story for those who just want a good escape read.  I’m definitely adding it to my high school classroom library wishlist, and I have already seen it in our high school library (but it won’t be there for long once I start talking it up).  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+, but it will appeal to adult readers of YA as well.

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

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Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost

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Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost

Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost is a tale of two people finding each other when they need someone the most.  It will appeal to fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park and Julie Buxbaum’s Tell Me Three Things.  I found it engaging and satisfying, so I gave it four stars.

Letters to the Lost is publishing Tuesday, April 4, 2017.


Goodreads Summary

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed this book.  The main characters are believable, especially because they aren’t always perfect, and I found myself invested in their lives quickly.  I did think this was going to be more of a romance, but I wasn’t disappointed.  Juliet and Declan form a much needed friendship, and I was pleased when that seemed to be the bigger focus.  While the angry boy and sad girl are not new ideas; their journey to better is not the usual YA romance solution – readers can actually see the realistic actions that bring about their changes.  It hits home that the choices you make do impact the way you feel, the way you are perceived, and the way you are treated.  I really appreciate the fact that this book has all the drama my high school students want, but it also has messages that they can tie to their own lives.  I’m adding it to my classroom library wishlist and I know it will be a hit, especially with students who enjoy contemporary YA.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school, but adult readers of YA can enjoy it just as much.

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

We Are Still Tornadoes 

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We Are Still Tornadoes 

What a fun read!  We Are Still Tornadoes is funny and smart and sweet in all the right places.  This is a five star read that will engage a broad audience.  Lived through the eighties?  You will appreciate the references.  Just lived your first year away from home?  You will be so connected.  It wasn’t what I expected, but it turned out to be exactly what I wanted.


Goodreads Summary

It’s the summer of 1982, and for Scott and Cath, everything is about to change.

Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends for most of their lives. Now they’ve graduated high school, and Cath is off to college while Scott stays at home trying to get his band off the ground. Neither of them realized that their first year after high school would be so hard.

Fortunately, Scott and Cath still have each other, and it’s through their letters that they survive heartache, annoying roommates, family dramas, and the pressure of figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they’ve ever wanted to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should think about being more than friends? One thing is clear: Change is an inescapable part of growing up, and we share unbreakable bonds with the friends who help us navigate it.

My Thoughts

I’m always cautious about novels that are in the format of letters – it is easy to loose character voices or skimp on the  imagery when forced to rely only on the words the characters actually commit to the page.  I can honestly say that nothing was lost in this book.  Cath and Scott are vivid and distinct voices, and their letters make it easy to picture exactly what is taking place both within and between the lines.  I was quickly drawn into their dramas and their daily lives alike.  Their comraderie shines through every exchange, and it is charming.  The story their exchanges tell is a universal one – it is the story of growing up and seeing things through a new, more adult perspective.  While I think my high school readers will enjoy this book, it will really hit the mark with the new adults and beyond crowd because this is the audience who will better understand what Cath and Scott are going through the first year out of high school.  I’m adding it to my high school classroom library wish list, but this is also one I would definitely recommend to my adult friends, especially those who enjoyed Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments. Language and situations are appropriate for mature high school readers.

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

Emma Wunsch’s The Movie Version proves that no one’s life is perfect

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Emma Wunsch’s The Movie Version proves that no one’s life is perfect

So, here’s the thing – when your life crashes down around you, you don’t always do, feel, or think the right things.  That is the honesty this book has to offer.   If you are looking for a perfect protagonist, don’t bother.  If you are looking for a book that is realistic and relatable, this might be your book.  I gave The Movie Version four stars.


Goodreads Summary

A whip-smart, heart-wrenching debut YA novel about first love, first loss, and filmmaking that will delight fans of Jandy Nelson and Jennifer Niven

In the movie version of Amelia’s life, the roles have always been clear. Her older brother, Toby: definitely the Star. As popular with the stoners as he is with the cheerleaders, Toby is someone you’d pay ten bucks to watch sweep Battle of the Bands and build a “beach party” in the bathroom. As for Amelia? She’s Toby Anderson’s Younger Sister. She’s perfectly happy to watch Toby’s hijinks from the sidelines, when she’s not engrossed in one of her elaborately themed Netflix movie marathons.

But recently Toby’s been acting in a very non-movie-version way. He’s stopped hanging out with his horde of friends and started obsessively journaling and disappearing for days at a time. Amelia doesn’t know what’s happened to her awesome older brother, or who this strange actor is that’s taken his place. And there’s someone else pulling at her attention: a smart, cute new boyfriend who wants to know the real Amelia—not Toby’s Sidekick. Amelia feels adrift without her star, but to best help Toby—and herself—it might be time to cast a new role: Amelia Anderson, leading lady.

My Thoughts

Amelia, the narrator, experiences a bunch of life altering events all at the same time, and she doesn’t always come across looking good.  She is sometimes selfish, sometimes angry, sometimes willfully ignorant.  She is also loving, resilient, and open minded.  That doesn’t always make it easy to like her, but I think it does make it easy to feel like average and good human beings sometimes flub things up and they can bounce back.  That is the message of the story for me, and I think it is a message that many YA readers will respond to.  The beef some readers will have with that honesty is that it doesn’t portray the perfect and socially progressive response to mental illness.  However, that is the point – people aren’t living a movie version of life, and we certainly aren’t always camera ready.  In a perfect world, we wouldn’t flinch in the face of adversity, but real YA’s need to know they aren’t alone when they find themselves in our imperfect reality with their own imperfect responses.  This book offers that perspective, and I think it is an important one.  That being said, I found Amelia frustratingly awkward at times, and her experience with first love isn’t going to be the romance you keep coming back for.  Again, it’s honest but not always pleasant.  I did like the way the author used flashbacks to reveal Amelia’s devotion to her brother, but sometimes I thought they were just distracting.  Overall, I liked the message, but I wasn’t as engaged by the presentation.  Language and some sexual situations make this most appropriate for more mature high school readers.

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

Life In A Fishbowl

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Life In A Fishbowl

Len Vlahos’ Life In A Fishbowl is an unexpected find. The reality show horror angle drew me in, but the message kept me reading.  If you are up for a contemporary YA with some real, smart, thought-provoking social commentary, you should give this book a go.


Goodreads Summary

Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone is a prisoner in her own house. Everything she says and does 24/7 is being taped and broadcast to every television in America. Why? Because her dad is dying of a brain tumor and he has auctioned his life on eBay to the highest bidder: a ruthless TV reality show executive at ATN.

Gone is her mom’s attention and cooking and parent-teacher conferences. Gone is her sister’s trust ever since she’s been dazzled by the cameras and new-found infamy. Gone is her privacy. Gone is the whole family’s dignity as ATN twists their words and makes a public mockery of their lives on Life and Death. But most of all, Jackie fears that one day very soon her father will just be . . . gone. Armed only with her ingenuity and the power of the internet, Jackie is determined to end the show and reclaim all of their lives, even in death.

My Thoughts

Ultimately, this is such a satisfying book about the little guys (and gals, in this case) versus The MAN.  I am so glad I stuck with it. While I initially found the huge list of narrative perspectives annoying, and I wasn’t sure if I was okay with the humor or the Debbie Downer of a main character, I eventually found myself engrossed in the epic battle this story follows.  I don’t want to ruin anything for you, so I’ll just say that you have to trust the author on this one.  He deftly weaves all these perspectives into a master story that will leave you satisfied.  There will be tears, but there will also be fist pumps.  The social issues are pretty heavy – cancer, privacy and media, euthanasia – but they are countered by strong themes about love, friendship, and good people doing the right thing.  It won’t be the book for everyone, but it is certainly one I think many of my high school readers will enjoy.  Some mature language, but it is appropriate for grades 9+.  Adults readers of YA will appreciate it as well.

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