Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu

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Originally reviewed in School Library Journal, March 2017.

Gr. 9 & Up – Yu’s debut, realistic fiction young adult novel is set in upstate New York at Camp Ugunduzi, a wilderness therapy camp for troubled teens. The quickly-paced story is told in alternating points-of-view between five unique campers, just introduced and grouped together during the four week long camp. Clarissa, suffering from OCD, wants to get better and experience some “normal” teen activities. Andrew, whose eating disorder caused the band to break-up, is guilt-ridden and longs to get better. Ben, unable to separate fantasy from reality, prefers to go through life pretending to be in a movie, complete with voice-overs. Cold, unfeeling Stella has been to camp before, and doesn’t want to be back. Mason, narcissistic and full of himself, feels he has no problem, but is merely surrounded by idiots. Thrown together with no social media or daily luxuries, the teens find themselves getting comfortable with each other, despite initial trepidation. Perhaps one thing they all share is annoyance at the counselors: middle-age, hippie Josh and overbearing, prude Jessie. When tragedy strikes midway through camp, the teens’ progress and outlook are tested. The emotionally-charged, yet hopeful ending will encourage understanding and empathy to even the most reluctant readers. Background material is added piecemeal, as characters think back to the situations which brought them to camp. The characters are diverse, balanced well between male and female, and appealing to readers of both genders. The story includes mature language and content (i.e. underage drinking and smoking). At times raw and heartbreaking, the language is realistic, which teens will appreciate. VERDICT – Recommended as a first purchase for teens. Humorous scenes throughout will delight readers, despite the heavy subject matter.

 

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The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Weber

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Review first appeared in School Library Journal, January 2017.

WEBBER, Katherine. The Heartbeats of Wing Jones. 336p. Delacorte Press. Mar. 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780399555022.

Gr 8 Up – Set in 1990’s Atlanta, this coming-of-age story is realistic fiction with a touch of magical realism, is full of diverse and strong female characters. Bullied for her looks, Wing Jones, half Chinese and half black, doesn’t stand out like her football star, golden boy brother, Marcus. After a night of drinking, Marcus causes an accident, killing two people and ending up in a coma.  Unable to sleep at night, worrying for Marcus and living on the brink of poverty, Wing starts running. Though Marcus is one of the reasons Wing is running, she is able to step out of his shadow, finally feeling acceptance and accomplishment. Aaron, Marcus’s best friend and Wing’s long-time crush, is also a runner, providing a romantic element and additional distraction for Wing. Running gives her the courage to embrace her differences and stand out. Wing’s family back-story regarding her father is heartbreaking, revealed early on, explaining why her father is not in the picture. Wing lives with her mother and both grandmothers, and as such, is surrounded by female role models with take-charge attitudes. The plot moves along quickly, written in first person through Wing’s perspective of the changing world around her. Fans of Jandy Nelson and Stephanie Perkins will enjoy Webber’s debut novel. VERDICT A uniquely original novel about family, love, and the courage to stand up to life’s challenges and triumph which will delight teen readers. Recommended as a general purchase for all libraries.

Starr Fall by Kim Briggs (Book Review & Giveaway)

51rBBKqt6QLAs a thank-you to readers, author Kim Briggs, has generously donated a copy of Starr Fall to giveaway to one lucky person. To be entered in the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post by Friday, March 24th, 2017. Winner will be notified by email.

*****

Preparing to take an entrance test for the Leadership Academy, high school junior, Starr Bishop, has no idea how much her life will change in a matter of hours. Starr is a typical high school student, highly successful, heavily involved, and popular. Everyone loves her and she is athletic (a star swimmer),  beautiful, and smart – the whole package. It turns out that The Organization wants her to be their lead assassin and lead the other recruits. After completing the test, Starr is held against her will and told that she will be trained as an elite assassin. Her two best friends have been killed by the Organization, their deaths staged to look like a car accident. Thanks to her excellent swimming skills and brave determination, Starr is able to escape from the Organization. Now she is on the run from them, with virtually no information about why they chose her and what exactly they want her to do. What she does know is that they are extremely dangerous and will stop at nothing to find her. As she tries to figure out how best to hide, an unlikely guardian angel turns up to help – Christian Evergood. Christian may put up a front at school as a Goth loner, but he turns out to be a regular teenage boy who can’t resist Starr’s charm. Part Cherokee and very knowledgeable about nature, Christian is also sexy and mysterious. He has a place to hide and a plan, so he decides to protect Starr with his life, no matter the cost. What has he got to lose? Starr is a strong female character who doesn’t need anyone to save her; but when help shows up out of the blue in the form of Christian, she decides to go with the flow. And readers will be so glad she did.

The story is written in completely in Starr’s point of view. The sequel, Starr Lost, which was released in January 2017, actually switches back and forth between Starr’s and Christian’s point of view. I certainly would like to see what is going on in Christian’s mind! Briggs has done an excellent job of developing interesting, unique characters in both Starr and Christian. There is quite a bit of mystery to the story, as well. Starr, who readers later find out is actually named Jessica, has secrets regarding her grandparents, who try to kidnap her in their mansion after not having seen her for many years. There is quite a bit more romance to this story than in most suspense novels. However, I say that as a good thing! The romantic scenes are more implied than explicit, which  I appreciate. A few of the scenes are very tense, such as when the Organization first kidnaps her and when she is locked inside the mansion by her grandparents, to name a few. The ending is abrupt and clearly leads into the next part of the series. Like myself, readers will be excited to continue Starr and Christian’s love story, as well as figure out more about the Organization and how Starr will avenge her friends’ deaths.

This is a well-written series starter which teens and adults alike will enjoy. As I mentioned, the romance is not explicit and the language is pretty tame, so the book is appropriate for even younger teens and tweens.

*****

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Kim for donating a copy of Starr Fall to give away to a lucky reader!

To enter to win the book, please leave a comment on this post. Contest ends Friday, March 24th, 2017. Winner will be notified by email. 

 

Guest Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I let my father, Monty, also an avid reader, borrow an ARC and asked him to write up a guest review for the blog. Here’s what he thought about Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman.

9780393609097_a8601Definitely worth reading, informative and enjoyable – this is my summary of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology due for publication on Feb 7, 2017 from W. W. Norton & Company.

From the initial chapter, ‘The Players’, through the closing about ‘Ragnarok’, Gaiman’s collection of stories of the Norse Gods held my interest – each one begging to read the next. I felt transported to another world filled with wonder and magic, much as I felt as a teen at my first reading of Hamilton’s Mythology, or when I was writing a high school term paper on Greek and Roman gods. I especially liked the descriptions of boisterous feasts in great halls, which spoke to my long term fascination with medieval castles.

The reader will enjoy accounts of Odin, Thor, Loki, Freya and others, as they encounter giants and dwarves, trick each other, travel to fantastic places, battle monsters, win magical weapons and treasures, and even compete in drinking contests. This easy read will take you back to the ancient world of northern tales and myths…..watch out for poison in your beer and ice in your beard!

-Review from Monty, Librarian Laura’s father. (Thanks, Dad!)

One last note – doesn’t this have the most beautiful book cover!?!

What Light by Jay Asher

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What Light will be published on October 18, 2016 by Razorbill (a Penguin imprint).

Though meant for the young adult audience, adults would really enjoy this story as well. With respect to many YA books, the language and romance are very tame. What Light was like a breath of fresh air, compared to some of the YA books that I have read which are full of sex scenes and unsavory language.

This is a perfect book to get into the Holiday season and spirit of giving. For Sierra, Christmas tree farming has been in her family for generations and it is her life. She looks forward to the Holiday season each year, when she temporarily moves from Oregon to California to set up a Christmas tree lot there. Having done so since she was 5, Sierra has developed a set of best friends and neighbors in each of her homes. This Holiday season, however, is going to be bittersweet because it may be Sierra’s last winter spent in California. Her family doesn’t know how much longer they can afford to keep the tree lot open in California during the Holiday season. As with all the years prior, Sierra spends her days working at the Christmas tree lot and her free time with her best friend, Heather.

Though determined not to, Sierra ends up meeting and falling for a guy. Right away, Sierra can tell that Caleb is unlike any of the guys she has known in the past. Sierra has heard rumors about his past and she wonders about the truth. How can a guy who uses his own hard earned money to purchase Christmas trees for others be as bad as the rumors suggest? As Sierra gets closer to Caleb, despite her father’s protests, the Holiday season is also drawing to an end. Once Sierra discovers the truth about Caleb, will she be able to move forward and help him find forgiveness?  Along with the themes of first love and friendship, this novel also has a large focus on family relationships. Sierra’s relationship with her parents will change a bit this Holiday season as well.

I truly loved this book, and I couldn’t put it down. It really put me into the spirit for the upcoming Holiday season. Jay Asher has a knack for creating real characters; characters we can see in those around us on a daily basis. I highly recommend this book!

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star is set for release on November 1, 2016. Having absolutely adored Yoon’s first novel, Everything, Everything, I have been very eager to read her newest work.

The story provides a behind-the-scenes peek at how an undocumented immigrant has to live with the daily uncertainty of being sent away from her home – the place she considers home in her heart.

In the span of one single day, Daniel and Natasha’s story unfolds. They get to know one another bit-by-bit each time they cross paths. Fate, as far as they can tell, keeps bringing them together again. The characters are quite different in their outlook on the future, but still are immediately attracted to each other, creating an innocent, sweet romance with amazing possibilities. Both have futures planned out for them, which are not their choice. Daniel feels enormous pressure to become a doctor like his brother, in order to have a better life than his father had. Because of the mistake of her father, Natasha is being forced back to Jamaica where she doesn’t have any real connections or interests. When they meet and share their stories, the urge to try to save themselves becomes even more urgent – before it’s too late and they lose each other forever. They day they spend together allows them freedom from the extreme pressure & stress they are facing. Together, they are able to be themselves, with no one to impress and only each other to please.

The ending of the story is hopeful, allowing the reader to imagine a future for both Natasha and Daniel, rather than detailing what is going to happen to them and tying everything up with a little bow.

A really neat thing about this story is that the author, Nicola Yoon, is Jamaican American like Natasha and her husband is Korean American like Daniel. She wrote what she knew from her own personal life, and it’s evident by the true-to-life feel of the story. Great job, Nicola. This is a beautifully written, moving story which will stay with readers long after the last pages are read.

Thank you to Random House for sending an early review copy of this book.

The Summer Before Forever By Melissa Chambers

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I am excited to be participating in the YA Reads Blog Tour for The Summer Before Forever by Melissa Chambers. Below is all the information about the book, followed by my review and a giveaway!

The Summer Before ForeverAbout the Book

The Summer Before Forever by Melissa Chambers
Published by Entangled Teen (YA Contemporary genre)
To be released August 22nd, 2016
Amazon
Entangled Teen
Barnes & Noble

Some boys break your heart. Others teach you how to heal it.

Chloe Stone’s life is a hot mess. Determined to stop being so freaking skittish, she packs up her quasi-famous best friend and heads to Florida. The goal? Complete the summer bucket list to end all bucket lists. The problem? Her hot soon-to-be stepbrother, Landon Jacobs.

Landon’s mom will throttle him if he even looks at his future stepsister the wrong way. Problem is, Chloe is everything he didn’t know he wanted, and that’s…inconvenient. Watching her tear it up on a karaoke stage, stand up to his asshole friend, and rock her first string bikini destroys his sanity.

But there’s more than their future family on the line. Landon is hiding something—something he knows will change how she feels about him—and she’s hiding something from him, too. And when the secrets come out, there’s a good chance neither will look at the other the same way again…

About the Author

melissa chambers

Melissa Chambers writes contemporary novels for young, new, and actual adults. A Nashville native, she spends her days working in the music industry and her nights tapping away at her keyboard. While she’s slightly obsessed with alt rock, she leaves the guitar playing to her husband and kid. She never misses a chance to play a tennis match, listen to an audiobook, or eat a bowl of ice cream. (Rocky road, please!) She’s a member of SCBWI and RWA including several local and online chapters thereof. She holds her B.S. in Communications from the University of Tennessee.
Website: http://www.melissachambers.com
Twitter: @MelChambersAuth

 

Librarian Laura’s Review

The Summer Before Forever is a classic forbidden love story, in which there seems to really be no way it can end well for the characters involved. The story line moves along quidkly, keeping the reader’s interest with alternating points of view between Chloe and Landon.

Chloe plans to spend the summer with her wild & crazy best friend, Jenna, at the beach in Florida without any cares or worries. Little does she know, her life is going to heat up in more ways than one in the Sunshine State. Upon arrival from her home in TN, she meets her dad’s fiance and future step-brother, Landon, for the first time. Rather than the geek she assumed he would be, Landon is instead an all-American heartthrob. He’s smart, gorgeous, gentlemanly, a football player and a wrestler. The total package. The only problem: he’ll be her step-brother later in the summer. Landon immediately takes notice in Chloe, and Chloe is drawn right to him even though she knows she should steer clear.

As they get to know one another oh so well, they begin to realize that summer will soon end. Landon will be off to college and Chloe will be back to her life in Tennessee. Will the end of the summer be the end of their heated, secret romance? Or, will they find a way to make things work before it’s too late. No doubt about it, Chloe’s summer in Florida will be a summer to remember.

Jenna’s character is hilarious – she’s the best friend that every girl wants – loyal to a fault, but crazy enough to keep life interesting. Jenna decides that Chloe needs to gain confidence so she makes is her personal mission, creating a confidence building list of tasks for Chloe to complete over the summer. As the summer wares on and Chloe’s confidence grows, she also becomes more comfortable with herself and her decisions. The novel is nicely combined with romance, humor, and coming-of-age elements.

The ending left me wanting more information on what would happen with Chloe and Landon, but I’m glad to see that it will be a series. I wonder what the next chapter will hold for them. I found some of the story to be predictable in parts, but all in all, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to fans of romance and contemporary YA fiction.

Click here for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card!