Tag Archives: family

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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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 Other F Word

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The Other F Word

Natasha Friend’s The Other F Word is a funny and honest look at the mess that is family.  I enjoyed it, even though it made me cry a teeny, tiny bit.  I gave this book a four star rating.

Goodreads Summary

A fresh, humorous, and timely YA novel about two teens conceived via in vitro fertilization who go in search for answers about their donor.

Milo has two great moms, but he’s never known what it’s like to have a dad. When Milo’s doctor suggests asking his biological father to undergo genetic testing to shed some light on Milo’s extreme allergies, he realizes this is a golden opportunity to find the man he’s always wondered about.

Hollis’s mom Leigh hasn’t been the same since her other mom, Pam, passed away seven years ago. But suddenly, Leigh seems happy—giddy, even—by the thought of reconnecting with Hollis’s half-brother Milo. Hollis and Milo were conceived using the same sperm donor. They met once, years ago, before Pam died.

Now Milo has reached out to Hollis to help him find their donor. Along the way, they locate three other donor siblings, and they discover the true meaning of the other F-word: family.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed the dual narrative perspectives – it was a smart and interesting way to give two viewpoints about the topic, and the fact that it gave a male and a female perspective made this a book that I would hand to readers of both genders.  The narrators are funny and embarrassed of their family and amazed by their family and pretty much feel like real teenagers.  The decisions the characters face bring up a lot of emotions, and the book does a good job at portraying them honestly and in a way that allows readers to connect with them even if this is nothing like their own situation.   I also appreciated the fact that it gave both of the main characters a journey that was meaningful.  This really is a book about family, and it does highlight the fact that family can mean a lot of things.  Themes of grief, independence, and belonging add a nice weight to the story. I’m adding it to my high school classroom library wishlist and recommending it my my school librarian.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+, but adult readers of YA can enjoy it as well.

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.

Billed as a Gone Girl meets Nashville, Escaping Perfect is a bit of a disappointment.

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Billed as a Gone Girl meets Nashville, Escaping Perfect is a bit of a disappointment.

Let’s start by clarifying that there is no real comparison between this book and Gone Girl or the show Nashville as far as I can tell.   Someone runs away.  There is romantic drama. Seriously.  The blurb for this book lead me to expect something darker and more twisty, but I still liked the concept – girl runs from controlling mother and finds the life she wants to live in a small town in Tennesee.  Unfortunately, things started to fall apart as the story strayed further and further away from reality.  I gave it three stars, but there are some real haters on Goodreads.

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Goodreads Summary

Gone Girl meets the TV show Nashville in this sultry summer read about a girl who runs away from her high-profile past to live the normal life she’s always wanted.

Cecilia Montgomery has been America’s sweetheart since the day she was born. A member of the prestigious Montgomery family—the US equivalent of royalty—her childhood was cut short after she was nearly kidnapped. Since then, Cecilia has been hidden away, her adolescence spent at an exclusive boarding school.

Her dreams of becoming a professional violinist—dashed.

Her desire to be a normal teenager—not possible.

Her relationship with her once-loving parents—bitter and strained.

Nothing about Cecilia’s life is what she would have planned for herself. So when an opportune moment presents itself, Cecilia seizes the chance to become someone else. To escape. To disappear. To have the life she always dreamed about, far away from her mother’s biting remarks and her sheltered upbringing.

Cecilia says goodbye to the Montgomery name and legacy to become Lia Washington: relaxed, wild, in love, free, and living on her own terms for the very first time. But being on your own isn’t always as easy as it seems…

My Thoughts

I liked Cecilia/Lia as a narrative voice, and I was excited for her to get a little experience and fun.  The town seemed awfully diverse and exciting for a small town, but I was willing to let that slide. I even liked the unrealistic but charming romantic interest she encounters.  Their romantic relationship is fairly unlikely and entirely too whirlwind, but I was okay with that as well because I wanted them together.  I thought there was a lot of drama in their relationship, and I really didn’t understand what exactly lover boy saw in Cecilia/Lia that made him want to reform (special snow-flake trigger warning).  I still didn’t mind it.  What I really minded was the terrible cliffhanger – if you want to resolve the major conflict and tease me with an enticing but smaller cliffhanger that is fine, but it just isn’t fair to leave a major conflict hanging like this book did.  I’m pretty irritated by this, and it think a lot of other readers will be as well.  It would be different if the story were more realistic, but if you are going to magic a romance, can’t you engineer a perfect ending?  I think too many of my high school kids will be frustrated by the final chapter to make this a book I would recommend highly.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

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

Thicker Than Water – this isn’t your run of the mill YA mystery

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Thicker Than Water – this isn’t your run of the mill YA mystery

This was a rather unusual mystery for a couple of reasons. First, the isolation and dislike the protagonist experiences is much more intense than I anticipated. There is no doubt that people really think Thomas killed his mother, and they are on a hairpin trigger to get him. It was kind of shocking, and it was palpable. Second, this isn’t the straightforward contemporary YA mystery I expected. The blurb leaves out a few surprises. Some readers won’t be bothered by the unexpected twists to the story, but other readers might feel like they had been a little mislead, especially if they expected a more run of the mill mystery.  I only gave it three stars because it had some issues, but I still found it a compelling read, and for $2.99, this book could definitely be an easy way to kill a few summer hours.

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Goodreads Summary

Thomas Bellweather hasn’t been in town long. Just long enough for his newlywed mother to be murdered, and for his new stepdad’s cop colleagues to decide Thomas is the primary suspect.

Not that there’s any evidence. But before Thomas got to Garretts Mill there had just been one other murder in twenty years.

The only person who believes him is Charlotte Rooker, little sister to three cops and, with her soft hands and sweet curves, straight-up dangerous to Thomas. Her best friend was the other murder vic. And she’d like a couple answers.

Answers that could get them both killed, and reveal a truth Thomas would die to keep hidden…

My Thoughts

I’m not going to ruin the surprise – okay, I’m going to ruin the surprise – there is a left field supernatural element in this book I never anticipated.  I wasn’t quite satisfied by the explanation I was given about that element because there were a few things I just couldn’t quite get to track.  Despite these misgivings, I would still recommend this book to many of my high school readers because, like I said, it is very compelling.  I read it in a few hours because I really did find the story engaging and I kind of liked that the rabbit hole just kept changing.  I liked both of the main characters, and I thought they were almost as surprising as the plot.  Charlotte was an interesting mix of old fashioned and modern, and she might have been a little too naive for my comfort (seriously, leave the maybe-murderer alone, Charlotte) but she held her own in the end.  The plot moves quickly and efficiently towards a resolution, but it does give readers time to get some character depth and some relationship development.  I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between Stan and Thomas because it felt so real – two guys just living together in that silent “man” way.  It was cute and funny and honest.  I did pinpoint the perp long before the book was over, but there was enough of a red-herring that I began to second guess myself.   Overall, I enjoyed this book even if it wasn’t exactly what I expected and open minded YA mystery readers probably will as well.  I think there are clarity issues around the supernatural element, but I could roll with it.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

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

This Raging Light 

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This Raging Light 

This is a surprisingly hopeful look at a teen dealing with a profoundly upsetting situation.  Lucille’s dad lost his mind and her mother took off, leaving Lucille to deal with her younger sister, a quickly amassing pile of bills, and questions of the heart that could destroy the fragile support system that she depends on to keep going.

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Amazon Summary

For fans of Jandy Nelson and Rainbow Rowell comes a gorgeous debut novel about family, friends, and first love. 

Lucille Bennett is pushed into adulthood after her mom decides to “take a break”…from parenting, from responsibility, from Lucille and her little sister, Wren. Left to cover for her absentee parents, Lucille thinks, “Wren and Lucille. Lucille and Wren. I will do whatever I have to. No one will pull us apart.”

Now is not the time for level-headed Lucille to fall in love. But love—messy, inconvenient love—is what she’s about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend’s brother. With blazing longing that builds to a fever pitch, Estelle Laure’s soulful debut will keep readers hooked and hoping until the very last page.

 “A funny, poetic, big-hearted reminder that life can—and will—take us all by surprise.”

—Jennifer E. Smith, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

“Lucille may not take down a beast or assassinate any super bads, but she’s what heroines look like and love like in real life.”

—Justine Magazine

My Thoughts

I haven’t cried while reading a book for years, but this one got me.  Lucille is a great character, and anyone who has been asked to take on burdens too big for young shoulders will find her voice true to the situation.  She is willing to sacrifice so much of what it means to be a carefree teen if it means she and her sister can stay together, but she just wants one thing of her own, and that was spot on. Some of the other characters were a little less developed than Lucille, but I felt like that was part of the alienation her situation demanded of her, so it was really a virtue more than a fault.  The prose is smart and drifts to dreamy at times, and it is well paced to develop both the situation and the romantic relationship.  I can’t say I was completely satisfied by the ending, which left readers to make a few inferences of their own, but it was very compelling.  Themes about friendship and support add a nice depth to the story. I think this will be a book that many of my high school readers will enjoy, so I’m adding it to my classroom library.  I would probably recommend it to readers who enjoy realistic contemporary YA, especially YA that explores the hard hitting situations.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+.

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

American Girls

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American Girls

Honestly, I’m so glad I gave this book a chance.  I love stories where a character experiences revelations that force them to recalibrate their picture of the world, and Anna’s strange summer of discontent does exactly that.  Better, I like the fact that this book has the possibility of reorienting the world for the reader.  I didn’t love the cover or the blurb, but I did enjoy the read.

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Goodreads Summary

She was looking for a place to land.

Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl slouching toward adulthood, and she’s had it with her life at home. So Anna “borrows” her stepmom’s credit card an runs away to Los Angeles, where her half-sister takes her in. But LA isn’t quite the glamorous escape Anna had imagined.

As Anna spends her days on TV and movie sets, she engrosses herself in a project researching the murderous Manson girls—and although the violence in her own life isn’t the kind that leaves physical scars, she begins to notice the parallels between herself and the lost girls of LA, and of America, past and present.

In Anna’s singular voice, we glimpse not only a picture of life on the B-list in LA, but also a clear-eyed reflection on being young, vulnerable, lost, and female in America—in short, on the B-list of life. Alison Umminger writes about girls, sex, violence, and which people society deems worthy of caring about, which ones it doesn’t, in a way not often seen in YA fiction.

My Thoughts

Anna is easy to connect with, and she feels genuine.  She is confused and a little angry at the people who are suppose to be her support system, and I think many YA readers will find that feels familiar.  She spends a lot of time thinking about what motivates people, and she comes to some big conclusions about how the choices we make have a bigger impact than the choices that are made for us.  (You are responsible for being more than just the things that happen to you).  I loved the fact that The Great Gatsby came up because there is a true sense of careless, superficial, and wasteland about the LA that Anna experiences.  Anna is a bit of a Nick, herself, though her judgements are a little less delighted voyer than his. The Manson girls, too, are part of the story, but not in the way I expected – much less sensationalized and an integral part of the story.  I did find some of the characters a bit awful (personality-wise), and I did think some of the plot points were a little strange, but I believed they were likely to be real in the land of celebrity.  If anything, it does play to the stereotypes of the ugly world behind the curtain that regular folks like me love to believe.  Overall, I think this is an engaging read with a strong message that doesn’t come on too strong.   The language and situations are going to be more appropriate for a mature high school reader.

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


 

The Cresswell Plot – And you thought your family was horrifying!

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The Cresswell Plot – And you thought your family was horrifying!

So, there are books about cults, and then there is this – The Cresswell Plot.  Homegrown religion courtesy of a clearly unbalanced and abusive father.  It is weird and disturbing in ways you probably can’t imagine. I gave it four stars on entertainment value, but many critics thought three stars were generous.  I think it’s about expectations – if you are reading this for some meaningful thoughts about . . . Well . . . anything, you are going to be disappointed.  However, if you just want to rubberneck some strange – this is your book.

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Goodreads Summary

The woods were insane in the dark, terrifying and magical at the same time. But best of all were the stars, which trumpeted their light into the misty dark.

Castella Cresswell and her five siblings—Hannan, Caspar, Mortimer, Delvive, and Jerusalem—know what it’s like to be different. For years, their world has been confined to their ramshackle family home deep in the woods of upstate New York. They abide by the strict rule of God, whose messages come directly from their father.

Slowly, Castley and her siblings start to test the boundaries of the laws that bind them. But, at school, they’re still the freaks they’ve always been to the outside world. Marked by their plain clothing. Unexplained bruising. Utter isolation from their classmates. That is, until Castley is forced to partner with the totally irritating, totally normal George Gray, who offers her a glimpse of a life filled with freedom and choice.

Castley’s world rapidly expands beyond the woods she knows so well and the beliefs she once thought were the only truths. There is a future waiting for her if she can escape her father’s grasp, but Castley refuses to leave her siblings behind. Just as she begins to form a plan, her father makes a chilling announcement: the Cresswells will soon return to their home in heaven. With time running out on all of their lives, Castley must expose the depth of her father’s lies. The forest has buried the truth in darkness for far too long. Castley might be their last hope for salvation.

My Thoughts

I’m going to be straight – this book is full of crazy.  I couldn’t tell who was buying into the religious indoctrination and who was just playing along and biding their time.  That made it really hard to predict what was going to happen next.  I read this in horrified fascination just like I would read about any extreme, real life horror story, and I think most readers will find themselves just as entranced.   It was a bit of a guilty pleasure because the book focuses on giving readers the most sensationalized picture of religious extremism spurred by mental illness possible.  There are no answers or even real nods to the fact that the father clearly has had a break with reality, though the fear that permeates a house ruled by an unstable and unpredictable mind rings true.  What it boils down to is that the book plays on people’s fears and expectations, but does little to advance their understanding or compassion towards those who suffer from mental illness.  Personally, I think that is okay, but if you are looking for more depth or message, it just isn’t here.  It is strange and engaging and suspenseful, and most readers will be pretty fascinated by Castley’s living Hell.  I’m adding it to my high school classroom library wish list, and I will recommend it to fans of psychological horror.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+.

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