Tag Archives: contemporary

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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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.

The Killer in Me

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The Killer in Me

The Killer in Me is an intense and fast paced read with a pitch perfect creepy atmosphere.  It will leave you uncertain and unsettled in a wonderful way.  I couldn’t put it down, and I think other readers will find it just as absorbing. Fans of Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers and Lisa McMann’s Wake series will be interested, but I think it holds a wider appeal that transcends gender and age.  I gave it five stars.

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Goodreads Summary

Seventeen-year-old Nina Barrows knows all about the Thief. She’s intimately familiar with his hunting methods: how he stalks and kills at random, how he disposes of his victims’ bodies in an abandoned mine in the deepest, most desolate part of a desert.

Now, for the first time, Nina has the chance to do something about the serial killer that no one else knows exists. With the help of her former best friend, Warren, she tracks the Thief two thousand miles, to his home turf—the deserts of New Mexico.

But the man she meets there seems nothing like the brutal sociopath with whom she’s had a disturbing connection her whole life. To anyone else, Dylan Shadwell is exactly what he appears to be: a young veteran committed to his girlfriend and her young daughter. As Nina spends more time with him, she begins to doubt the truth she once held as certain: Dylan Shadwell is the Thief. She even starts to wonder . . . what if there is no Thief?

My Thoughts

I think the most compelling element is the fact that you really never have a solid grasp of whether Nina is a reliable narrator.  Is she really experiencing something or has she created a story in her sleep deprived mind?  She is balanced nicely by Warren, a character who comes across as solid and trustworthy.  I liked how the author manages to build some history between them  because it adds so much validity to the relationship.  As much as I liked that aspect of the book, the central conflict between Nina and the Thief is the real reason to read this book.  The author masterfully puts readers through their paces.  I found myself relaxing only to feel the tension creeping back in time after time.  There really isn’t anything I didn’t like about this book, and I can’t wait to add it to my high school classroom library.   Situations make this most appropriate for mature high school readers.

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

Enter Title Here – this is one crazy book about overachieving in ways that even Tracy Flick would find over the top. 

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Enter Title Here – this is one crazy book about overachieving in ways that even Tracy Flick would find over the top. 

Enter Title Here – a book with enough buzz that I actually heard about the buzz.  In truth, it is a buzz-worthy read.  The main character, Reshma, is a real deal antihero – driven, calculating, and selfish.  The tiny evil part of your soul is going to recognize her as your kindred or, if you really are that nice, you will be appalled by her.  Real people, though, will probably feel both by turns.  This is such a unique read – I’ve never really seen anything like it – and that means you might not love it at first sight.  I wasn’t sure I loved it by the end.  I do have to say, though, that it is a stunning testament to the author’s creativity.  I gave it four stars.

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Goodreads Summary

I’m your protagonist—Reshma Kapoor—and if you have the free time to read this book, then you’re probably nothing like me.

Reshma is a college counselor’s dream. She’s the top-ranked senior at her ultra-competitive Silicon Valley high school, with a spotless academic record and a long roster of extracurriculars. But there are plenty of perfect students in the country, and if Reshma wants to get into Stanford, and into med school after that, she needs the hook to beat them all.

What’s a habitual over-achiever to do? Land herself a literary agent, of course. Which is exactly what Reshma does after agent Linda Montrose spots an article she wrote for Huffington Post. Linda wants to represent Reshma, and, with her new agent’s help scoring a book deal, Reshma knows she’ll finally have the key to Stanford.

But she’s convinced no one would want to read a novel about a study machine like her. To make herself a more relatable protagonist, she must start doing all the regular American girl stuff she normally ignores. For starters, she has to make a friend, then get a boyfriend. And she’s already planned the perfect ending: after struggling for three hundred pages with her own perfectionism, Reshma will learn that meaningful relationships can be more important than success—a character arc librarians and critics alike will enjoy.

Of course, even with a mastermind like Reshma in charge, things can’t always go as planned. And when the valedictorian spot begins to slip from her grasp, she’ll have to decide just how far she’ll go for that satisfying ending. (Note: It’s pretty far.)

My Thoughts

However you feel about Reshma, her story is one you will keep reading because you can’t give up the hope that, eventually, she will have that epiphany that will turn her from a monster into a functioning human. Or for the moment when her conniving and manipulation finally pays off.  I’m not going to tell you whether you get those moments or not.  Half the fun is seeing exactly how far this crazy train will go, and I can assure you that Reshma is the most determined character I have ever encountered (so she gives the energizer bunny a run for its money).  I’m not going to tell you if she gets her just deserts or if hard work really does pay off in the end.  That, too, is one of the best knots to work through in this novel. I am going to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.  Funny, unexpected, and unbelievably and horrifyingly honest – this is a book that digs into the dark heart of a girl with a goal and the venom and cynicism that won’t let her fall short.  I would say this is a book that will appeal to fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl because Reshma is the younger, Indian equivalent of Amazing Amy.  It will also appeal to anyone brimming with potential that others can’t see, folks who have ever been taken down by that ridiculous overachiever in your high school, and people who like to laugh – that should cover just about everyone.   Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

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.

Geoff Herbach’s Anything You Want – as thoughtful as it is hilarious

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Geoff Herbach’s Anything You Want – as thoughtful as it is hilarious

If you can tolerate the lovable idiot who narrates this book, you will find a pretty amazing story inside.  I do not tolerate lovable idiots easily, so trust me when I say this – Anything You Want is definitely worth the read.  It is so funny and so full of heart, and I can’t imagine a smarter way to entertain and still engage readers in thoughtful commentary on big life lessons.  I do have to say that this is one time I really scored a book a lot higher than other critics.  I gave it five stars, but it only has a three star average on Goodreads – again, you have to commit to the lovable idiot and actually finish the book to see what I saw.

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Goodreads Summary

Expect a bundle of joy—er, trouble—in this hilarious, heartwarming story from the award-winning author of Stupid Fast Geoff Herbach

Taco’s mom always said, “Today is the best day of your life, and tomorrow will be even better.” That was hard to believe the day she died of cancer and when Taco’s dad had to move up north for work, but he sure did believe it when Maggie Corrigan agreed to go with him to junior prom. Taco loves Maggie- even more than the tacos that earned him his nickname. And she loves him right back.

Except all that love? It gets Maggie pregnant. Everyone else may be freaking out, but Taco can’t wait to have a real family again. He just has to figure out what it means to be a dad and how to pass calculus. And then there’s getting Maggie’s parents to like him. Because it would be so much easier for them to be together if he didn’t have to climb the side of the Corrigans’ house to see her…

My Thoughts

Taco’s relentless enthusiasm and optimism keep the story from getting too heavy without minimizing the issues.  This book really tackles universal themes and truths about growing up and being a family, and Taco’s clueless perspective is sometimes exhausting, but it makes these themes a lot more palatable to the YA reader.  I see this being a big hit in my high school classroom library, and a book that both guys and gals can embrace.  It is exactly the kind of book I want to hand my readers because they will come for the party that is Taco, but they will stay for the business that is real life.  It is definitely going on my classroom library wish list.  Language and situations make this most appropriate for high school readers, but I bet there are many adults who will still get a real kick out of this read.

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

The Art of Not Breathing

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The Art of Not Breathing

Unlikeable and unreliable narrators are all the rage right now (Thanks, Gillian Flynn), but The Art of Not Breathing really pushes those concepts to my limit.  It took a lot of work to get myself past the point of no return, but I was ultimately glad I stuck it out.  Elsie is a hot mess, and her support system sucks, so I’m glad I got to see her character get a little bit back by the end.  I gave it three stars.

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Goodreads Summary

Since her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago, sixteen-year-old Elsie Main has tried to remember what really happened that fateful day on the beach. One minute Eddie was there, and the next he was gone. Seventeen-year-old Tay McKenzie is a cute and mysterious boy that Elsie meets in her favorite boathouse hangout. When Tay introduces Elsie to the world of freediving, she vows to find the answers she seeks at the bottom of the sea.

My Thoughts

This book takes a little time to draw in the reader.  While the mystery that drives the story is introduced almost immediately, the messenger, Elsie, is hard to embrace.  She is strange and it takes a while to really get past the part of her that drives everyone away.  That changes once she meets the boy who will ultimately force her out of the stasis that tragedy placed her in years earlier.  He’ll change her life in more ways than she could have ever expected.  I enjoyed watching Elsie’s transformation, and I think other readers will as well.  That is really the strength of this book because the mystery fell a little flat, perhaps because it is a believable solution.  There is quite a bit of teen drama, but it didn’t feel excessive.  Each character is reacting to a tragic event that has been repressed, and those reactions felt like reasonable reactions to that stress.  Overall, I enjoyed the book, and though it was a little depressing to watch these characters lance the infection that was killing them all, I was invested in the outcome and I was satisfied by the resolution.  Language and some sensuality make this more appropriate for grades 9+.

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