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.
As 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.
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.
Definitely 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!?!
I’m thrilled to have author Liz Coley here for an interview. I met Liz at the Indiana state library conference after her YA novel, Pretty Girl-13 was chosen as the winner of the Eliot Rosewater Award. (More on the Eliot Rosewater Award here.)
Liz is a brilliant writer, but also very humble and down-to-earth. I must say I was so nervous to meet her, but it was awesome! She is a definite rock-star in my opinion. Pretty Girl-13, her first novel for young adults was suspenseful & excellent. Liz’s newest book, The Captain’s Kid, was released in October 2016. I’ll be interviewing her about the book, as well as including my review below. I hope you enjoy “meeting” Liz as much as I did! And, please, let me know what you think about The Captain’s Kid. You can purchase it from Amazon here.
Liz Coley has been writing long and short fiction for teens and adults for more than ten years. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and several speculative fiction anthologies: The Last Man, More Scary Kisses, Strange Worlds, Flights of Fiction, Winter’s Regret, and You Are Not Alone.
In 2013, psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 was released by HarperCollins and HarperCollins UK in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. Foreign translations have been published in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, Czech, Slovakian, and Traditional Chinese. German and Simplified Chinese are in the works.
Liz lives in Ohio, where she is surrounded by a fantastic community of writers, beaten regularly by better tennis players, uplifted by her choir, supported by her husband, teased by her teenaged daughter, cheered from afar by her two older sons, and adorned with hair by her cats Tiger, Pippin, and Merry.
Liz invites you to follow @LizColeyBooks on Twitter and Instagram, like Liz Coley Books on Facebook, and visit her website at lizcoley.com, where you can watch the Pretty Girl-13 book trailer, download editing tips, and read her confessional blog postings “Scenes from a Life.”
Author Interview with Liz Coley
Question 1. The Captain’s Kid is a much different genre than your previous novel, Pretty Girl-13. How did you decide to write science fiction? Have you always been a fan of sci-fi?
I have always loved sci-fi, from the fifth grade when I read the age appropriate Wrinkle in Time and the age inappropriate Thuvia, Maid of Mars. My seventh/eighth grade English teacher was a huge sci-fi fan as well and even used sci-fi in curriculum, so I was in heaven in middle school. I actually got into the writing biz specifically to write sci-fi for tweenagers. I call Pretty Girl-13 “the book I accidentally wrote.” In fact, if you stare at it closely, you’ll see that a science fiction question was at the heart of the story: if you had the choice to remember or forget the worst things that had ever happened to you, what would you do? I tackled that from both the realistic therapy angle–reintegrating memories–and from the sci-fi angle–deactivating memories at the neuron level. Science fiction is still my favorite genre to read.
Question 2. Were any of characters in The Captain’s Kid modeled after real people you knew? If so, which ones?
Brandon is somewhat a reflection of my oldest son Ian as he was at that age–precocious in math, physically uncoordinated in normal gravity, very hungry, addicted to video games, unable to keep clothes off the floor, and unaware of his leadership potential. The theme of vegetarianism was completely informed by my younger son Connor’s commitment to becoming a vegetarian around the age of 10. Everyone else hopped onto the page via my imagination.
Question 3. Are you working on any other novels at this time?
I used to be disciplined and write one story at a time. Now I find myself with a variety of tales at the halfway point. There’s a thriller-mystery that I think of as a mashup of Rashomon, Oedipus Rex, and Breakfast Club called We Thought We Knew You. There’s a story about one of my favorite calming pastimes, Balancing Stones, about self-forgiveness and healing. There’s a lively romance that takes place in the bureaucratic upside-down high-rise that is Purgatory, tentatively called Living Down Under, and there’s a weird reincarnation mystery story I’m trying to wrap my head around. Also, I’m dabbling in playwriting.
Question 4. What age group do you feel The Captain’s Kid would appeal to most?
The Captain’s Kid seems to have two audiences. The obvious one, tween/teen boys and girls, ranges from a precocious 10-year old reader to a reluctant 16-year-old reader, with the sweet spot at about 7th-8th grade. Then there are the grown-ups who want a nostalgic read, a clean space adventure with teenage heroes, real life problems, and a first kiss.
Question 5. The acknowledgements mention that you wrote The Captain’s Kid for your two sons. That’s really cool! Did they help you brainstorm to come up with any of the characters or ideas in the novel?
The original version of The Captain’s Kid started as something I wrote in spiral notebooks while the boys were at Taekwondo and piano lessons. After I typed up each scene, I would read it to them in bed as part of our nightly 45 minutes or more of reading aloud. They were extremely helpful as far as their unedited natural reactions, whether laughing with or at me. Since I don’t work with outlines, they made me as anxious to know what was coming next as they were. As a vegetarian, Connor did take real exception to one part of the story and refused to listen for weeks! That little episode showd the impact of fiction on developing minds and codes of ethics.
Question 6. If you had to explain The Captain’s Kid in one sentence or less, what would it be?
When thirteen-year-old Brandon Webb set out on his first interstellar voyage, he little suspects that the fate of a failing colony will come to depend on his courage, creativity, and compassion.
Question 7. Anything else you would like to say about the novel?
I’ve met a lot of middle schoolers through school visits who still like being read to. Maybe they haven’t told their parents, but they’ve told me. So I recorded myself reading The Captain’s Kid as a YouTube serial–no fancy production values–just me being a mom and reading aloud, chapter by chapter. My dream is that kids who don’t enjoy reading because of reading challenges will find the series and take the opportunity to read along with me, the book in their hands and my voice in their ears. I branded the series “Undercover Reading,” and if nothing else you should check out the neat morphing logo I designed for it.
Whenever his parents went out on missions for the Space Survey Corps, Brandon Webb was left behind on Luna, left to dream of journeying between the stars, meeting aliens, defeating villains, saving the world. Now it’s his turn for adventure, permitted at last by the captain, his father, to join a year-long trip to a failing colonial planet on an emergency resupply run. Or so he’s told.
Brandon’s former dreams could turn to nightmares when the starship is sabotaged, the alien holds secrets about his past, the villain is on the right side, and the world isn’t ready to be saved.
Librarian Laura’s Review of The Captain’s Kid by Liz Coley
First, let me point out that I am not a reader of science fiction. However, I am so glad to have read The Captain’s Kid! I couldn’t put it down, mainly because the story line was so intriguing with just enough mystery to keep it moving along at a quick pace. Additionally, the main character, Brandon Webb, the “Captain’s kid,” was such a unique teenager. Smart as a whip, he still has the boyish clumsiness and goofiness that allow him to keep a positive attitude in perilous situations. With both parents working for the Space Survey Corps, Brandon grew up in an intellectually charged environment, which is clear by his genius in math and computer programming (or “hacking,” as some would refer to it). Brandon’s mother, missing and presumed dead, never returned from a space mission four years prior to Esperanza, a war-torn planet.
One day, Brandon’s father, Gordon, receives a call, and he’s back working for the SSC and planning a resupply mission to Esperanza. Having promised Brandon to never leave him behind, he must make good on his promise. So, Brandon is about to go on his first space mission, a “nube,” embarking on a year-long voyage on the starship named RELIABLE to Esperanza, the place his mother was last alive. He is nervous, but also very excited, having always dreamed of journeying in space.
When Brandon boards the ship and meets some of the other “space kids,” the trip becomes even more interesting for him. There’s Karthik, the son of RELIABLE’s head cook, who quickly becomes his best friend and confidant. And then there is Audrey, whom Brandon is instantly smitten over from the start. If only he can play it cool and not screw up his chances with her, being the klutz that he is. When Brandon becomes the main target of sabotage, however, he has to figure out who on the ship could be an enemy and why they are trying to put a stop to the mission and his life. As the RELIABLE gets closer to Esperanza, Brandon grows closer to Audrey, the danger aboard ship intensifies. Can Brandon and his friends figure out a way to save the mission, and themselves in time? You’ll have to read it and find out for yourselves. You won’t be sorry – it’s a great adventure with a neat ending. The book is well written, and very clean. Middle grade kids, young adults, and adults alike will enjoy this fast-paced space adventure.
Another really cool thing about this book is that Liz has a YouTube channel (LizColeyBooks) with a read-along serial of this book read by Liz herself as part of the Undercover Reading series. Anyone is welcome to subscribe and listen to Liz narrate this story and others.
I’m thrilled to have my friend and colleague, Cameron, who blogs at Cam Loves Books, here for a guest review post. Cam reviews YA books and her reviews are witty & fabulous!
Children’s and young adult book blogger. Library professional. Dog mom. English major. Intersectional feminist. Livin’ life one book at a time.
Cam’s Review of History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (release date 1/17/17)
History is All You Left Me, Adam Silvera’s sophomore novel, cements him firmly in the ranks of my auto-buy, auto-love, absolute rock star, favorite young adult authors. His main characters, Griffin, Theo, and Jackson, all leap off the page as fully-formed, deeply grieving boys, mapping uncharted territories of love and friendship in ways I’ve yet to see explored in YA fiction. The book’s plot is new and intriguing, and its gorgeous execution left me speechless. I know it’s early, but I’m calling it now: this will be one of my favorite reads of 2017.
When Griffin’s ex-boyfriend, Theo, drowns while swimming in the ocean, Griffin is devastated. Griffin, who has OCD, thought that he and Theo were a perfect match, and that Theo might be the only person in the world who could understand and love him. He had always believed he and Theo would get back together, and imagining a future without him is something Griffin never thought he would have to do. His grief, guilt, and loneliness are threatening to consume him when Jackson, Theo’s boyfriend at the time of his death and the only other person who could understand what it’s like to lose him, offers to talk to him about their shared loss. As the surviving boys become closer and help each other heal, each must reveal secrets that could destroy their friendship, and potentially their memories of Theo, forever. With lovely writing and frank, complex examinations of grief and friendship, History is All You Left Me is a masterpiece from one of YA’s bravest new voices.
Adam Silvera is an evil genius, and perhaps the greatest praise I can give his book is that I started crying in chapter three. It took me no time at all to understand the relationship dynamics between the characters and to care enough for each of them that it brought me to tears. And in a book that starts out with a bang – the death of a major character – it would have been easy for the action to fizzle, but Silvera managed to maintain a slight air of mystery throughout the entire story that leads to an even more shocking second act. I blame Adam Silvera for the worst book hangover of my life, because after reading his debut, More Happy Than Not, it took me five full weeks to be able to finish another book. So I knew I had to mentally prepare myself to read History. I knew it would make me cry, and I knew I would be faced with brutal realities packaged in gorgeous writing, which is an emotional one-two punch in itself. I definitely think you should come prepared to be knocked down, too: I think you should bring tissues, a fuzzy blanket, and your best waterproof mascara. However, I also think you should come prepared to be built back up, to think hard about friendship and healing, to learn something important about mental health, and to come out the other side a little more hopeful than you started out.
Thanks again to Cam for this beautiful review. You can check out more of her reviews here.
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 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.