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The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is poignant and thoughtful YA about growing up as an outsider in a small southern town

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The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner is poignant and thoughtful YA about growing up as an outsider in a small southern town

The heartbreaking choices and unfurling promise of growing up are vivid and raw in this clear and insightful read about three outsiders in a small southern town.  Carefully crafted characters and poignant moments with universal resonance make for an emotional and thoughtful story that stuck with me long after I turned the last page.  The plot unerringly focuses on the moments in life, both monumental and minuscule, that force people to stretch and revise their world view.

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Goodreads Summary

Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy.
Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.

My Thoughts

You are going to recognize these characters.  Maybe they are just people you pass in the hallway at school, or maybe they remind you of yourself, but you will know them from the moment they are introduced.  You’ve read books about characters like Lydia, and her drive and ambition will make her easy to relate to. Travis, too, is a sidekick I’ve seen before, but his simple and complete acceptance of who he is is really a beautiful thing to behold in this book.  Dill, though, he isn’t a familiar character type.  I found him especially fascinating because he gave me some real food for thought about all those boys with dubious origins that seem to have little desire or drive to leave the small towns that ruin them.  It never occurred to me that there might be something else going on, and I’m really glad I got a chance to have a new perspective.  As far as plot, this book is fairly evenly paced, but it is more about character development and relationships than action.  There were some predictable elements, but that is part of telling the truth.  There were also some rather big surprises.  I found myself engrossed, and I think my high school readers will as well.  I do have to say this was a rather bittersweet coming of age story, and while I loved watching these characters grow and evolve, it was a little darker than I expected.  Themes about friendship, being true to yourself, and overcoming obstacles that feel insurmountable add a great deal of depth.  I really enjoyed this book, and it is definitely going on my classroom library wish list.  I would recommend it to both my guy and gal readers, and I think it will be just as engaging for adults as YAs.  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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Placebo Junkies tries to be a Trainspotting for a new generation, but I’m calling it a fail

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Placebo Junkies tries to be a Trainspotting for a new generation, but I’m calling it a fail

Placebo Junkies is edgy, dark, and completely without redeeming qualities.  I’ve read other reviews left by people who loved this book and they all felt it was an important expression of pain in the lives of these young characters.  I respectfully disagree, and I have to wonder if they finished the book because that isn’t what this story is about in the end.  I gave this book two stars.

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Goodreads Summary

Going Bovine meets Trainspotting in this gritty portrait of at-risk teens gaming the prescription drug trial system.

Meet Audie: Professional lab rat. Guinea pig. Serial human test subject. For Audie and her friends, “volunteering” for pharmaceutical drug trials means a quick fix and easy cash.

Sure, there’s the occasional nasty side effect, but Audie’s got things under control. If Monday’s pill causes a rash, Tuesday’s ointment usually clears it right up. Wednesday’s injection soothes the sting from Tuesday’s “cure,” and Thursday’s procedure makes her forget all about Wednesday’s headache. By the time Friday rolls around, there’s plenty of cash in hand and perhaps even a slot in a government-funded psilocybin study, because WEEKEND!

But the best fix of all is her boyfriend, Dylan, whose terminal illness just makes them even more compatible. He’s turning eighteen soon, so Audie is saving up to make it an unforgettable birthday. That means more drug trials than ever before, but Dylan is worth it.

No pain, no gain, Audie tells herself as the pills wear away at her body and mind. No pain, no gain, she repeats as her grip on reality starts to slide….

Raw and irreverent, Placebo Junkies will captivate readers until the very end, when author J. C. Carleson leans in for a final twist of the knife.

My Thoughts

In the tradition of other horrifying things I’ve been compelled to stick with until the bitter end, Placebo Junkies was an extremely visceral and disturbing look behind the curtain of experimental medicine.  There was a twist worthy of the second season of American Horror in there as well, and I can’t decide if it made the story more or less upsetting.  I wasn’t really sure what the message was and there wasn’t really a clear direction for concerned readers to address the horrors of the corrupt and unethical practices described.  It is certainly on par with Trainspotting and Requim for a Dream for being relentlessly gritty and depressing, and I have no doubt that it will be the insider ticket to outsider hip just as they were a couple of decades ago.  Unfortunately, I have outgrown the desire to be the edgiest, so I didn’t enjoy this read.  I can’t begin to imagine who I could recommend this to, since it didn’t even really amount to a cautionary tale in the end.  The language, situations, and general level of depressing lead me to say this isn’t appropriate for high school students.  The characters are teens, but the situations are entirely adult.

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

Kat Spears is back with another loveably uncertain, sorta bad boy in Breakaway, and chances are good you’ll really like him

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Kat Spears is back with another loveably uncertain, sorta bad boy in Breakaway, and chances are good you’ll really like him

Kat Spears is quickly becoming an author to watch.  Her book, Sway, is easily one of my favorite contemporary reads.  Her characters are far from perfect, but they feel genuine.  They also make me laugh a lot. Breakaway manages to be thoughtful and funny, and it is a solid four star book that will interest readers of both genders, especially fans of books like The Spectacular Now.  Breakaway is publishing on September 15, 2015.

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Goodreads Summary

From Kat Spears, author of Sway, comes a new novel that asks the question: when a group of four best friends begin to drift apart, what will it take to bring them back together?

When Jason Marshall’s younger sister dies, he knows he can count on his three best friends and soccer teammates — Mario, Jordie, and Chick — to be there for him. With a grief-crippled mother and a father who’s not in the picture, he needs them more than ever. But when Mario starts hanging out with a rough group of friends and Jordie finally lands the girl of his dreams, Jason is left to fend for himself while maintaining a strained relationship with troubled and quiet Chick. Then Jason meets Raine, a girl he thinks is out of his league but who sees him for everything he wants to be, and he finds himself pulled between building a healthy and stable relationship with a girl he might be falling in love with, grieving for his sister, and trying to hold onto the friendships he has always relied on.
A witty and emotionally moving tale of friendship, first love, and loss, Breakaway is Kat Spears at her finest.

My Thoughts

I really enjoy this author’s male protagonists.  They come across as the perfect mix of devil and saint, and they feel honest, believable and fragile on some level.  Jaz is certainly an interesting mix of tough and gentle as he struggles with the loss of his sister, the evolution of his closest friendships, and the introduction to what may be love or a bad case of indigestion.  While Jaz isn’t as charming as Kat Spears’ leading man in Sway, he certainly is compelling.  I enjoyed this book, but I think some readers will struggle for a couple of reasons.  First, the romance is a more organic and real portrayal of love that some people will not easily embrace because it isn’t the fast, pretty and manufactured romances that they are trained to expect.  Second, this isn’t a character or plot driven book.  It feels to me like it is a theme driven book, and that results in a sense that there is no real resolution.  “But that sounds horrible!” you say.  But it isn’t!  This is a book about responsibility, and we all know that responsibility never really ends – it just morphs into something else.  “Blech,” you spit, “Who wants to read about responsibility?  This sounds boring.”  But it isn’t. You don’t even realize this deep thinking is going on inside you – you are just mesmerized by the pithy and smart dialogue and the humor and sorrow of teen drama.  It isn’t until you reach the end that you start thinking about the deep stuff.  And you need to think about the deep stuff.  We all have responsibilities – as children, as friends, as parents.  This isn’t going to go away.  And this book doesn’t hold the punches when it comes to showing readers the consequences that radiate outwards when someone fails to live up to their responsibilities (or even just feels like they didn’t live up to them).  I’m not going to lie to you.  I think that Sway is the author’s stronger book, but if you have already read it and loved it, you should give Breakaway a whirl.  I promise it will resonate long after you’ve turned the last page.  This is a book with mature language and sexual references, and there are a lot of drugs and alcohol flowing, but it comes with thoughtful commentary and honest consequence, so 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.

Edgewater is a twisty read, reminiscent of Grey Gardens full of money, eccentrics, and scandal

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Edgewater is a twisty read, reminiscent of Grey Gardens full of money, eccentrics, and scandal

I have an affection for crazy folks of all kinds.  I find rich crazy very intriguing – Miss Havisham from Great Expectations with her rotting wedding cake and decomposing mansion was a real fascination for me.  The first time I saw HBO’s Grey Gardens with Jackie O’s delightfully bizarre family, I was in hog heaven.  I picked up Edgewater because it sounded like a combination of the two, and it is.  It is also full of scandal and secrets.

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Goodreads Summary

Lorrie Hollander used to be a rich girl, but now she’s lost everything because of the secrets and lies of the people around her. It’s been 12 years since Lorrie’s mother skipped town and left Lorrie in the care of her unstable aunt Gigi. Together they live in a neglected, decrepit mansion called Edgewater, the eyesore in a town of extraordinary wealth and privilege.

When Charlie, the son of an esteemed senator, takes an interest in Lorrie, her shame for her family and lifestyle runs deep. But what she doesn’t know is that Charlie’s family is hiding something, too, and that their secrets are inextricably tied. Now Lorrie must confront the truth about her family—and everything she ever thought she knew about herself.

 

My Thoughts

I picked this book up because the description sounded like this was set in a mix of Grey Gardens and Mrs. Havisham’s house, and I wasn’t far off the mark.  This looming disaster of a house and its strange inhabitants are a large part of the conflict for Lorrie, the protagonist.  They are also representative of her internal conflict which is fueled by the disorder created by a snarled web of secrets that she has to untangle before she can move forward.  I really liked Lorrie because even though she lives in a world that most readers don’t experience and view as glamorous, she has problems that most readers can relate to.  I thought that it was populated by characters who started out as rather enigmatic but came into focus as their perspectives found their way into the book.  I liked the mystery, even if I puzzled most of it out early on.  There were still a few surprise twists that I wasn’t sure of until the end.  I was pretty satisfied by Lorrie’s growth as a character and the resolution to the overall plot.  I was a little sqeamish about the romantic resolution, and I think other readers will be as well. I’m pretty sure you are going to want to talk about it because I know it was something I was dying to discuss.  I still enjoyed the read, and I think you probably will as well.

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

Survive the Night reads like a B Horror Movie for teens that will leave you puzzled and forever cautious of drugs, raves, and the subway

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I wasn’t a fan of this book, and it felt like a bit of bait and switch by the end, but if you enjoy teen horror flicks, this might interest you.  It is not scary because it is ridiculous, but one part reminded me of a movie I saw as a kid – a group of teens get stuck on a floating dock in the middle of a lake because some oil slick looking thing eats anyone who tries to swim for shore.  I have no idea what the movie was or why I was allowed to watch it – I think my biological father is to blame for this ridiculously inappropriate viewing – but it certainly made an impression on me.  So, if you are into that kind of thing, here you go . . .

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Goodreads Summary

We’re all gonna die down here. . . .

Julie lies dead and disemboweled in a dank, black subway tunnel, red-eyed rats nibbling at her fingers. Her friends think she’s just off with some guy—no one could hear her getting torn apart over the sound of pulsing music.

In a tunnel nearby, Casey regrets coming to Survive the Night, the all-night underground rave in the New York City subway. Her best friend Shana talked her into it, even though Casey just got out of rehab. Alone and lost in the dark, creepy tunnels, Casey doesn’t think Survive the Night could get any worse . . .

. . . until she comes across Julie’s body, and the party turns deadly.

Desperate for help, Casey and her friends find themselves running through the putrid subway system, searching for a way out. But every manhole is sealed shut, and every noise echoes eerily in the dark, reminding them they’re not alone.

They’re being hunted.

Trapped underground with someone—or something—out to get them, Casey can’t help but listen to her friend’s terrified refrain: “We’re all gonna die down here. . . .” in this bone-chilling sophmore novel by the acclaimed author of The Merciless.

My Thoughts

This is a wholly unrealistic teen horror book, and if that isn’t what you are looking for, please move along.  This is a book you read for fun and escape.  It is reminiscent of the Christopher Pike teen scream books from the nineties, but it is a little heavier on its attempt to add depth to the story by developing conflicts around addiction, friendship, and love.  The truth is, though, that you are reading this for the thrills, or you probably will wish you weren’t reading it, so no depth really needed.  This attempt at depth is actually what slows the story down.  There is a large chunk of the book that was dedicated to establishing character and situation.  However, when the action does pick up, it is pretty decent horror sequence action.  One of the best things about this book is the reader’s uncertainty about whether or not the narrator is reliable.  I honestly couldn’t tell, right up till the very end.  It got a few laughs from me, some of them were probably even intentional, and I thought there was a good sense of ” this is a bad idea, guys” throughout.  There is an excellent final sequence that surprised me and definitely left me asking WT?  If this is what you are looking for, I think you will be moderately pleased.  If you are looking for a more realistic scare, this is probably just going to annoy you.  Language and situations are probably appropriate for high school, and though there is a variety of bad ideas and terrible behaviors in this book, most of those are punished in traditional horror movie fashion.

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

Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall should come packaged with a box of tissue and a stress ball

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Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall should come packaged with a box of tissue and a stress ball

Sugar made me feel like I had been run over by an emotional dump truck. I have never been so angry, sad, and happy when finishing a book. Needless to say, this plot is going to wreck you. I’m not a big fan of books that take me through an emotional wringer, but I don’t begrudge those of you who are.   In the end, it reminded me of Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, which I was fascinated by in my own young adulthood.  I gave it four stars despite its turmoil because I really had trouble putting it down.  If you need a good cathartic cry, this will do the deed.

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Goodreads Summary

I’m the fat Puerto Rican–Polish girl who doesn’t feel like she belongs in her skin, or anywhere else for that matter. I’ve always been too much and yet not enough.

Sugar Legowski-Gracia wasn’t always fat, but fat is what she is now at age seventeen. Not as fat as her mama, who is so big she hasn’t gotten out of bed in months. Not as heavy as her brother, Skunk, who has more meanness in him than fat, which is saying something. But she’s large enough to be the object of ridicule wherever she is: at the grocery store, walking down the street, at school. Sugar’s life is dictated by taking care of Mama in their run-down home—cooking, shopping, and, well, eating. A lot of eating, which Sugar hates as much as she loves.

When Sugar meets Even (not Evan—his nearly illiterate father misspelled his name on the birth certificate), she has the new experience of someone seeing her and not her body. As their unlikely friendship builds, Sugar allows herself to think about the future for the first time, a future not weighed down by her body or her mother.

Soon Sugar will have to decide whether to become the girl that Even helps her see within herself or to sink into the darkness of the skin-deep role her family and her life have created for her.

My Thoughts

First,this book is paced to develop the character of Sugar.  I thought there were some lulls created by repetition of events, so it could have been more tightly plotted, but since the lulls coincide with low points in Sugar’s life, they can be passed off as metaphorical.  As far as characters go, they are going to wreck you almost as much as the plot.  Even is very thing a romantic interest could be, and Sugar is someone readers can genuinely get invested in.  I usually have problems with characters like Sugar, and I did find her passive acceptance of everything very irritating, but she did grow and develop into someone I could enjoy.  I also usually have a problem when a book equates weight loss with being happier because usually weight is a symptom of something much bigger than just a lack of self control.  The author did address Sugar’s emotions as part of the problem, and the weight loss was something Sugar liked, but she liked her emotional life worked out more, so I’m not going to complain about it this time.  Some of the weight loss stuff felt like it was from a guidance counselor pamphlet rather than personal experience – who uses the word nutritious as a teen?  Overall, I liked the book, but it took a lot out of me, and I wasn’t really happy with the way everything worked out in the end – the big blow I took at the climax was never going to let me recover.  This is a book for someone who likes emotional books, so if you want to laugh and cry and rage, this book is for you.  I personally want to repress everything, so it wasn’t my favorite read.  However, I think everyone should have to read something like this as part of empathy training.  I’m not sure why people feel like they are allowed to taunt people openly about their weight – once when I was working at a bank, a total stranger told me I could be quite pretty if I wasn’t so chubby – and I think it would do the world some good to see what it really feels like to be playing a game of tug of war with food and happiness.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Naked by Stacey Trombley was a surprisingly layered YA contemporary read

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Naked by Stacey Trombley was a surprisingly layered YA contemporary read

Sometimes I feel like books exploit shocking issues to sell more books, but Naked felt like a work that used a sensational topic to introduce a lot of great messages about isolation, empowerment, exploitation, honesty and love.  It is a tough read, content wise, but there is more to this book than just a teen prostitute looking to go straight.  There are possible rape triggers in this book.  

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 Goodreads Summary

The best place to hide is in a lie…

I could never fit in to the life my parents demanded. By the time I was thirteen, it was too much. I ran away to New York City…and found a nightmare that lasted three years. A nightmare that began and ended with a pimp named Luis. Now I am Dirty Anna. Broken, like everything inside me has gone bad.
Except that for the first time, I have a chance to start over. Not just with my parents but at school. Still, the rumors follow me everywhere. Down the hall. In classes. And the only hope I can see is in the wide, brightly lit smile of Jackson, the boy next door. So I lie to him. I lie to protect him from my past. I lie so that I don’t have to be The Girl Who Went Bad.
The only problem is that someone in my school knows about New York. 
Someone knows who I really am.
And it’s just a matter of time before the real Anna is exposed… 

My Thoughts

The most interesting aspect of this book for me was Anna’s perspective on the guy who sold her for sex.  In her mind, he was her savior because he kept her “safe” when she first arrived in New York as a thirteen year old runaway.  She didn’t want to testify against him because of some sense of loyalty, and that is a hard concept for a lot of people to understand.  I think this book does a good job of helping recreate the complex emotions and experiences that lead to those seemingly inexplicable victim beliefs.  I particularly appreciated the fact that one of those experiences wasn’t the typical poverty and broken home that society wants to blame for every evil in the world.   As a matter of fact, this book goes a long way towards steering clear of a lot of stereotypes –  many of the characters surprised me by making choices that don’t fit the norms, and that is what made this more than just a book about a sensational topic.  By introducing the idea that there is no real normal, the author has created a more universal theme that is relevant to a wide audience.  I also liked the fact that the author chose to point out that choices have consequences instead of pinpointing a scapegoat for every bad thing that happened.  That is an important lesson that everyone has to learn at some point, and it made the book feel more honest. That being said, this isn’t a book for everyone.  The dark nature of the central topic makes for a rocky and sometimes depressing read.  Writing about social issues often feels too heavy-handed to me, and this book is no exception.  The situation is ugly, and it is dramatic.  For the most part, I felt like I was able to slip into the story, but there were moments when it read like a crisis pamphlet.  I think that is part of writing about issues like this responsibly, so I can accept it when they aren’t too intrusive.  The pace is sometimes slow, and Anna’s thoughts seem to be on repeat, which is probably a true assessment of her mental state, but it will bother some readers.  While I wasn’t particularly into this book at the beginning, especially before I really understood Anna’s whole dynamic, I found myself pretty impressed by the end.  I think my readers who enjoy gritty realism paired with dramatic experiences will enjoy it, particularly fans of Ellen Hopkins or books like Living Dead Girl.  Language and situations are mature without being explicit, so it is probably appropriate for most high school readers.

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

Rebecca Phillips’ Faking Perfect is an honest and compelling YA contemporary read

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Rebecca Phillips’ Faking Perfect is an honest and compelling YA contemporary read

The premise for this book sounded like The DUFF, which I thought was one of the most reprehensible books ever written for a YA female audience. But Huntley Fitzpatrick plugged Faking Perfect, and I adored My Life Next Door, so the worst that could happen was I would end up writing a rant about it. There were some similarities, but Faking Perfect is by far the superior book. It manages to be edgy and honest without sending the wrong message to teens about sexuality.  I thought it was really quite good, and if you enjoy contemporary YA fiction, I think you will, too.

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 Goodreads Summary

“Edgy and honest, Faking Perfect is the real thing.” –Huntley Fitzpatrick

When Lexi Shaw seduced Oakfield High’s resident bad boy Tyler Flynn at the beginning of senior year, he seemed perfectly okay with her rules:

1. Avoid her at school.

2. Keep his mouth shut about what they do together.

3. Never tease her about her friend (and unrequited crush) Ben.

Because with his integrity and values and golden boy looks, Ben can never find out about what she’s been doing behind closed doors with Tyler. Or that her mom’s too busy drinking and chasing losers to pay the bills. Or that Lexi’s dad hasn’t been a part of her life for the last thirteen years. But with Tyler suddenly breaking the rules, Ben asking her out, and her dad back in the picture, how long will she be able to go on faking perfect?
My Thoughts

I really liked how this book portrayed the internal and external conflicts that Lexi faces.  She felt like an honest-to-goodness teenager with real grey areas in her thoughts and behaviors.  Themes focused on love in all forms and had real things to say about expectations and fears that are attached to those relationships.  It had positive messages about the ability to change but also presented the truth that sometimes people don’t change, even when you really need them to.  Lexi works through a tangle of relationships, both with the boys she is attracted to and the parents who seem to fail her.  I think a lot of YA readers will find her authentic voice, the realistic outlook on life, and the imperfect romance very compelling.  As far as YA contemporary goes, this is one of the stronger offerings I’ve read in a long time.  While I don’t particularly care for the choices the characters make about sex, drugs, and alcohol, I think the book portrays them in a thoughtful, tasteful and honest light that allows readers to draw their own conclusions without feeling like they are sitting through a sermon.  Adult readers will appreciate the writing and complexity of this book more than the average YA contemporary.

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

Sarah Ganon’s Date With A Rockstar is a purely escapist YA read, and I enjoyed every far-fetched minute of it

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Sarah Ganon’s Date With A Rockstar is a purely escapist YA read, and I enjoyed every far-fetched minute of it

I thoroughly enjoyed this guilty pleasure of a book. It combines a lot of things that I enjoy – a rock star love interest, an underdog protagonist, and a reality TV competition (I can’t watch them, but I love to read about them). Think The Selection minus the annoying love triangle and the reluctant participant, and you have the main idea of this book.

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Goodreads Summary

A Dystopian future + a Bachelor-esque reality show = a sly yet heartfelt love story that will have you tearing through the pages to see how it all ends. –Heather Lyons, author of the Fate series

Monet isn t just another lust-struck teenager trying to win the heart of Rock God Jeremy Bane–she needs the prize money from his new reality show to cure her illness. Monet has Fluxem, a contagious disease that’s spread through saliva. It’s completely curable if you have enough money, which she and her single mother don’t. Now that she’s on the show, Monet has to work harder to keep her Fluxem hidden. She only has to keep the secret long enough to woo Jeremy Bane so he picks her as the winner. She doesn’t even care about the love part; the prize alone will change her life. But the real Jeremy Bane is nothing like she imagined. Monet finds herself fighting against feelings that make her want to give in to her attraction and Jeremy’s attempts for a kiss. The further she goes in the competition, the more impossible it becomes to resist him–and when the producers turn the tables and start digging up dirt on the contestants, Monet fears her secret will be revealed before she’s ready and ruin everything. The only way to win Jeremy’s heart is to tell him the truth, but confessing her disease could cost her the competition, the prize money, and him.

My Thoughts

Monet is a character I could get behind.  She doesn’t have money or material advantages that the other contestants have, but she is down to Earth and someone readers can cheer for.  Jeremy, the rockstar, is also someone readers will like.  He didn’t blow me away, and most of the things that are designed to make him attractive are examples of simple human decency, but he is a suitable, if generic, love interest.  The other contestants range from crazy to crazier, and I enjoyed the inevitable cattiness and drama.   The book takes place in a future that seems pretty bleak, which I didn’t really expect from the premise.  It added a subtle but thoughtful commentary on ecological, economic, and social issues.  The book moved quickly and had a satisfying conclusion.  It isn’t great literature, but it was fun to read.  I finished it in a few hours and it was one I read straight through.

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

Dirt Daughter By Michele Shaw is a grim, intriguing YA mystery 

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Dirt Daughter By Michele Shaw is a grim, intriguing YA mystery 

While the grim setting and frequently depressing action in Dirt Daughter may turn some readers off, YA readers who like books like Living Dead Girl or who are fans of Ellen Hopkins will approve of the realism in this YA mystery.    I find that there is just something so appealing about truth and honesty for many of my high school readers, and this book certainly doesn’t try to gloss things over.  

  

Seventeen year old Elena knows who murdered her best friend, Lizzie, on that long ago day in the woods.  She knows the stages of decomposition that her body went through, and has a good idea of where her small bones lie hidden, so why has she lied about it to everyone?  That is the question that drives this YA mystery, and the answer isn’t clear until the end, and it was what kept me reading long after I wanted to turn my head and pretend that no one really lives this way.  The plot moves fairly quickly, and the atmosphere is consistently threatening.  I liked Elena, who had a hard home life but was fighting for a better future.  I also liked the love interest in this book because he was a thoughtful guy, just the type of person Elena needed.  His Native American heritage was a nice addition to his character, and added some diversity to the mainly impoverished and white cast of characters. I like all of the characters who Elena bonded with, as a matter of fact.  This book was well paced as a whole, but I was a little worn out wondering why Elena wouldn’t just get the truth out.  Once all the pieces were in place, it made sense, but it was really hard to comprehend her decisions until nearly the end.  The narrative does move around a little, starting at the end and then flashing back, but I didn’t think that it was hard to follow the shift, and it created an interesting question that sat at the back of my mind throughout the story and added to the suspense.  This is one of those books that doesn’t hold back on the realism, so don’t be surprised by the awful disfunction and vividly grim events.  Welcome to life as the other half, readers!

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