Tag Archives: five stars

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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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 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.

Children of Icarus by Caighlan Smith – What a find!

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Children of Icarus by Caighlan Smith – What a find!

Look, I saw the cover for Children of Icarus and read the cryptic summary and I seriously thought about passing on it.  What a mistake that would have been!  This is one of my favorite reads of 2016.  I found myself racing through this compelling book, and I ended it questioning how far I would go to get my hands on the second.  The answer would shock you, unless you’ve read it, too.  Reviews have been mixed, but it is interesting to note that even those who didn’t love it acknowledged that it would appeal to fans of the big dystopian hits like The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games.  I gave it five stars, and it will be the first book I purchase for my classroom library this year.

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Goodreads Summary

It is Clara who is desperate to enter the labyrinth and it is Clara who is bright, strong, and fearless enough to take on any challenge. It is no surprise when she is chosen. But so is the girl who has always lived in her shadow. Together they enter. Within minutes, they are torn apart forever. Now the girl who has never left the city walls must fight to survive in a living nightmare, where one false turn with who to trust means a certain dead end.

My Thoughts

Look, that summary doesn’t give you much.  So . . . In a future society, Icarus is worshipped.  Special children between the ages of ten and sixteen are chosen on the day Icarus fell to go into the labyrinth of Icarus and to ascend as angels.  Except, the labyrinth is definitely not a holy place, and all those kids?  Well, some of them might be angels, but it had nothing to do with Icarus and a lot to do with the nasty truth about what really happens in the labyrinth.

While it reminded me in part of The Maze Runner (mysterious labyrinth with horrifying depths) and it reminded me a bit of Ann Aguire’s Enclave (a primitive society born operating in confusion and fear), it was something all its own and that something was rich and engaging.  The narrator is not the fierce warrior woman, as a matter of fact, she is the forgettable sidekick, and that leaves a lot of room for growth.  The mystery and palpable danger of her situation make it hard to leave her side, even when you need a bathroom break.  The twist at the end left me stunned, and the questions I’m still pondering have me itching to talk about it to anyone who will listen.  I can’t wait to share it with my high school readers.  The fast-paced action and the unique brand of mystery make for a winning combination that I know my students will embrace.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

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

Life After Juliet 

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Life After Juliet 

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

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Goodreads Summary

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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Goodreads Summary

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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Goodreads Summary

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

And I Darken – What if Vlad the Impaler was a Woman?  

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And I Darken – What if Vlad the Impaler was a Woman?  

And I Darken poses the concept of Vlad the Impaler as a woman, and I was not disappointed.  It was initially billed as Dracula meets Game of Thrones, but that is a bit misleading.  Don’t expect any vampires and understand the comparison to Game of Thrones is really based on children being used as pawns in a game of corrupt politics. If that sounds like your cup of tea, prepare yourself for an immersive read that takes you to the rich and exotic Ottoman Empire where every ally can turn into a fierce enemy, and the sacrifices you choose to make can brand you a slave or a powerhouse.  I thought it was a five star read.

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Goodreads Summary

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

My Thoughts

Excellent read with enough action, adventure, and bloodthirsty ambition to keep any reader entertained.  Lada is the daughter that her father never wanted, but she has all the qualities of the son he needs.   She is ruthless, fearless, and feral and she is exactly the character I wanted from the woman who would become the Impaler.  If you love your strong female protagonists holding a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other, she will be exactly what you want, too.  Some readers will see her as heartless because she is frighteningly calculating and, at times, purposefully cruel, so, if you are looking for a gooey core to your warrior woman, you can pass on this one.  However, if you like your antihero fierce and smart, step right up.  Radu, Lada’s younger brother, does play as a nice foil, and he provides the softer perspective to the narrative, so it isn’t all hard edges but there is a very sharp learning curve in this deadly game of power.  It is definitely going on my high school classroom library wish list because it will definitely be a big hit with my readers.   I can’t wait to recommend it to fans of Throne of Glass, Graceling, The Young Elites and Rebel of the Sands.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+, but adults will find this just as engaging.

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

The Loose Ends List – an awesome YA about loving life and letting go

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The Loose Ends List – an awesome YA about loving life and letting go

Half of this book will have you snorting with laughter, and the other half will leave you searching for tissue.  Seriously.  It’s a feelings read, and even the hardest hearts (me, for instance) will find it hard to resist the cast of vivid characters and their collective journey.  I liked the world travel and the ridiculous antics, but I also liked the lessons about dealing with the hard things in life.  I gave this book five stars.

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Goodreads Summary

First loves. Last Wishes. Letting go.

Seventeen-year-old Maddie O’Neill Levine lives a charmed life, and is primed to spend the perfect pre-college summer with her best friends and young-at-heart socialite grandmother (also Maddie’s closest confidante), tying up high school loose ends. Maddie’s plans change the instant Gram announces that she is terminally ill and has booked the family on a secret “death with dignity” cruise ship so that she can leave the world in her own unconventional way – and give the O’Neill clan an unforgettable summer of dreams-come-true in the process.

Soon, Maddie is on the trip of a lifetime with her over-the-top family. As they travel the globe, Maddie bonds with other passengers and falls for Enzo, who is processing his own grief. But despite the laughter, headiness of first love, and excitement of glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram. She struggles to find the strength to say good-bye in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, loss, and the power of forgiveness.

My Thoughts

First, and foremost, this is a book about love, and sometimes it’s about finding and reveling in love, and sometimes it’s about letting go of the things you love.  This lesson comes at a pivotal time in the narrator’s life and is the right mix of levity for young adult readers who are probably facing some of the same heartbreaking and breathtaking experiences.  Older readers will draw from the story in a different but equally compelling way.  The characters are rich, the plot is unexpected, and the culmination is absolutely worth your time.  I want it for my high school classroom library because it is the equivalent of hiding the broccoli in the cheese – so good that the kids won’t even notice the important messages they are also getting.  This book does take a stance on assisted death, and there are some pretty frank (and hilarious) discussions about sex as well as a few scenes of sensuality, so it isn’t for everyone, but I think it is appropriate for mature high school readers.

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