Where I Live by Brenda Rufener

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Originally published in School Library Journal, November 2017.

Grade 9 & Up – Secretly living in Hinderwood High, teenager Linden is homeless and working two jobs to afford living essentials. After her mother was killed, she ended up in Oregon at her grandmother’s nursing home, before she died too. Linden, white and homeless, and her best friends, Korean American Seung, and gay, fun-loving Ham make up the Triangle. Linden’s goal is to graduate and go to college with the Triangle, her only family and support. While reporting for the school blog and trying to keep her homelessness a secret, Linden uncovers perfect, mean-girl Bea’s secret – an abusive boyfriend. Not wanting to draw attention to herself, Linden worries for Bea, but does not expose her secret. When Seung becomes more than a best friend, Linden inadvertently lets her guard down, starting a new chapter in her life. When the truth is revealed, reactions of her friends and community prove that family is where your heart is, regardless of blood relation. Rufener’s cast of diverse characters and genuine dialogue helps balance the unlikely premise that a teenager could be living in a high school undetected. Readers will empathize with Linden, because her matter-of-fact attitude and bravery, never wallowing in self-pity. VERDICT: Recommended for strictly additional purchase for older teens due to mature language. Fans of Jennifer Niven and Nicola Yoon will enjoy this debut realistic fiction novel which brings to light heavy topics of homelessness and abuse.

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One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

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This is such a cool book. It’s like a modern-day Breakfast Club with a twist – a murder investigation! Five students from Bayview High go into to detention and only four students make it out. There’s Bronwyn, the brainiac who only has time to be successful, Addy, the beauty queen who prefers to be treated as a princess, Nate, the criminal who sells pills and tries to fly under the radar, and Cooper, the star baseball player who is being scouted by the pros, but isn’t quite telling the truth about his stellar performance on the field. After a strange fender-bender outside the school draws their teacher out of the room for a moment, Simon ends up dead. Simon, the social outcast who runs a gossip blog, and as such, he is known but not necessarily liked by many. The other four students, who are as different as can be, are targets in Simon’s blog post set to be released the day after his death, exposing their deepest, darkest secrets and making them all murder suspects. What looked like an accidental death due to a severe peanut allergy at first turns out to be a murder with serious planning and consequences.

As the investigation unfolds, the story pacing gets quicker and quicker, each chapter switching point-of-view between Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, and Cooper. Readers will try to figure out which of the four students is lying and who really knows what happened to Simon. This is an addictive, can’t-put-down-until-it’s-over kind of thriller which will appeal to both adults and teens. I highly recommend it. Can you figure out which one is lying?

Blood and Ink by Stephen Davies

9781580897907_34ab1First appeared in School Library Journal, July 2017.

Though both raised in the Fulani tribe, teens Ali and Kadi are like oil and water when their paths cross in the midst of political turmoil in their home of Timbuktu, Mali. Religiously strict Ali belongs to the Defenders of Faith, a branch of Al Queda. His current assignment is to take control of Timbuktu, destroying any opposition in the way. Equally strict, brave, and feisty is Kadi, a lover of music and literature and the daughter of a librarian. As a Guardian, Kadi must keep ancient manuscripts safe at all costs. While trying to flee Timbuktu with the manuscripts, Kadi ends up in mortal danger. Ali must choose where his true loyalty lies. The ending is abrupt, but hopeful, and it begs for a sequel. Modern-day Timbuktu is brought to life in this timely, fast-paced story of teens falling in love despite being at war with each other. Historically rich background and Islamic culture combine, providing two perspectives on the war in Mali. The drama unfolds in alternating points of view between well-developed characters with multicultural subject matter that is unique, but relevant to current events.  Davies’ writing is authentic, because he spent over a decade with the Fulani tribe. Both a glossary and a fact & fiction section are included to enhance reader’s understanding and provide factual background of Islamic practices. VERDICT: Readers will enjoy the well-drawn characters and fast-paced action of this diverse YA thriller with a hint of romance.

Welcome to the Slipstream by Natalka Burian

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Originally published in School Library Journal, May 2017.

Grade 9 & up: Van, 17, was forced to grow up quickly in the slipstream of her mentally ill, brilliant mother. Her father died of a drug overdose when she was an infant. Van, her mother Sophie, and Ida, a surrogate grandmother, have lived as vagrants, following Sophie’s work. Leaving their home in Uzbekistan, the women land in Vegas, the city that never sleeps, for Sophie’s job at the Silver Saddle Casino. Van is tutored and left to spend her free time inside the lavish place with, Alex, a handsome college student, as her guide. Alex becomes her first true friend and love interest. Playing the guitar has always been Van’s true joy and form of escape, and she is now given the opportunity to join a band. Then, tragedy strikes and her family unit is falling apart before her very eyes. With Ida ill and Sophie caught in a scam, taken to the Sedona desert for “healing” by a cult, Van follows, determined to save her mother. The pacing is quick, parallel to the constant movement of Van and her mother Sophie. Van has an out of body experience and ends up fighting to survive in the desert. The end is filled with heavy-hearted goodbyes, but also hope and promise for Van’s future. It’s more of a beginning as Van makes a tough decision to set out on her own. The mood throughout is laced with worry and uncertainty, and readers will empathize with Van. Burian’s debut realistic fiction novel is based upon real-life events she witnessed. VERDICT: Recommended for general purchase, teen readers will enjoy the story line and well developed characters, while rooting for the strong female lead to survive what life has dealt her.

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.

 

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!?!