Mystery, Drama, Suspense…What’s not to love?

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I needed a quick read today so I browsed the teen titles on Overdrive and stumbled upon Margaux Froley’s Keaton School Novels. At first, they seemed like typical teen angst novels with private school snobbery for thrown in for flavor. But it soon became apparent that there was much more to these novels and now, I’m hoping that there are more to come!

In Escape Theory, we meet Devon MacIntosh, a scholarship kid at a prestigious private school overlooking the Pacific ocean. To say she feels out of place is an understatement. She’s managed to get to her Junior year under the radar but with college applications looming, she decides to get involved with the newly created peer counseling program. She wasn’t prepared for how quickly her services would be needed. The school year started with the suicide of one of it’s most popular and well-liked students. Jason Hutchins, known by all as “Hutch” was the golden boy who really had a heart of gold. As his friends came to her, they slowly began to trust her and let out their secrets and fears but, as they did, Devon began to realize that there was more to Hutch’s suicide than anyone else thought. Maybe she was crazy or obsessed with losing him before figuring out what was really between them but she just knew that he did not kill himself. Proving it, though, opened a whole other can of very dangerous worms.

In Hero Complex, Devon and her classmates are doing what they can to move past the losses of the semester before and get on with their lives. New Year’s Eve, Cleo convinces her to go to a party on a yacht to have a bit of fun and to get away from things for a while. At first, it was working. The lights, the swaying of the boat and the single glass of bubbly have Devon thinking that things are going to be okay. Suddenly someone hits her on the back of the head. Cleo finds her a few minutes later but there’s no sign of her assailant. Now, everyone thinks she’s paranoid and obsessive. Ironically, she is required to go through therapy because of the trauma she suffered. It seems that solving Hutch’s murder was just the beginning of a much deeper mystery and Reed Hutchins, Hutch’s grandfather, know the answers. With the help of Reed’s diary from his youth, she uncovers something someone is willing to kill for. The truths long hidden from her come out that will change her life forever.

A Great Return

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I don’t know if you’ve read anything by Tamora Pierce before but if you haven’t, you need to pick up any of her books. My favorites were the Song of the Lioness series and the Trickster’s Choice duet. It’s been a while since she’s published anything new so when I heard that she had another book coming out and that it was going to be set in Tortall, I was over the moon! I couldn’t wait until the fall when the book would be available through my school (I pre-ordered) so I checked it out from the library. It was absolutely fabulous, as expected. Tamora is a consummate storyteller. Her characters are always interesting and always flawed in the coolest ways. She keeps you guessing and coming back for more. Her latest book is called Tempests and Slaughter.

Arram has a knack for getting into trouble. His burgeoning powers are becoming too much to handle so his family sends him The Imperial University for his training and education. He is the youngest student there. On his first day of class, he performs a complicated spell that works a little too well, earning him deep distrust from one teacher and great interest from others. He is moved into private tutoring and a new dorm where he befriends Ozorn, the “left-over” prince and Varice whose gifts are powerful but often go unnoticed. They form a bond that seems unbreakable but one day, Arram will have to make a choice about where his loyalties lie.

This is a bit of an origin story for a major character in some of the other books and you will meet characters you will see again.

OMG OMG OMG

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I’m going to geek out a bit right now. One of my most favorite authors JUST ANSWERED MY EMAIL!!! Okay, now it’s probably not actually her but an assistant or something but I’m going to pretend it was really her. it seemed like her, anyway. Either way, how cool is that! I emailed Juliet Marillier to see if she was going to continue the Blackthorn and Grim series. If you’ve not read it and you enjoy high fantasy full of reluctant heroes, then it’s a must-read! I will put a brief description later in this post. Anyway, Juliet is an Australian author who wrote the Seven Waters series (Daughter of the Forest, etc.), Wildwood Dancing (there’s an earlier post about that one) and so many others. Many of her books are retellings of fairy tales but with many more twists and turns. Sigh…I get the same thrill when M.T. Anderson answers my posts on his Facebook page.

It is dark, dank and rat-infested in Mathiuin’s prison. She barely resembles a human much less a woman. He is an enormous lump of a man huddled in the back of the cell across the way. A guard delivers the devastating news that she is to be executed in the morning, quietly and without a hearing. She thinks she’s lost. He is afraid of losing her. As it turns out, though, fate has another idea. When the prison walls seem to explode and collapse, they make their escape but it doesn’t come without strings attached and they are held by a very powerful Fey being. She must forget vengeance for 7 years and use her wise woman powers for good. She calls herself Blackthorn and her companion is Grim. Together they must survive trials and tribulations but most difficult of all, they must survive their healing.

Virginia Reader’s Choice: Girl in the Blue Coat

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This is a mystery wrapped up in war and hidden by the lies we tell ourselves to survive.

It’s late in World War II and Amsterdam has been overtaken by the Nazis. Henneke is a resourceful young woman who helps her family survive. Food and everyday items are in short supply but she has a reputation for being able to find anything. Officially, she does paperwork for the local undertaker but her unofficial job is to fill black market orders for her clients around the city. On her usual delivery route, Mrs. Jensen makes an unusual and dangerous request. She wants Henneke to find a young Jewish girl whose family was wiped out in a raid in which Mr. Jensen was also killed weeks before. There are a million reasons not to take on this task but there’s something deep inside that makes her need to find this girl. Accepting this assignment takes Henneke on a journey to places she never imagined she’d go and the danger she puts herself into borders on reckless but the horror of watching what is happening to her country, her neighbors and friends are too much. She must do something but there are twists and turns in this hunt and, in the end, someone is found but another is lost. Such is life in war.

 

Virginia Reader’s choice: The Serpent King

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Have you ever read a book that touched your soul making you laugh out loud and cry your eyes out? The last one I read like that was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I love books like that; so real and raw.

Dill lives in the deep rural South where there are snakes both inside and outside. Dill’s father is a Pentecostal, snake-handling, poison-drinking preacher whose fall from grace hangs around Dill’s neck like a noose. The only things that keep him sane are his friends Travis and Lydia who hang out at the bottom of the social ladder like him and his music. Things are different this year, though. This is the year for doing things they are afraid of. Travis, a 6′ 6″ gentle giant, loves his fantasy stories and the chat rooms he hangs out in. It’s in one of these rooms he meets Amelia, and he’s smitten. Lydia convinces Dill to perform in the talent contest which has a $50 prize. Lydia is applying to colleges and working on her very popular (everywhere but home) blog. It’s their senior year, and everything is about to change in ways they do not expect.

Your heart will break and mend a dozen times in this book. If you are, like me, phobic about snakes, it will add another level of discomfort to your reading. Still, the story is apropos for these times we are living in, sadly. As a Southern woman, I had to cringe sometimes at the spot-on portrayal of the culture in certain areas of my home. It’s an important book, though, because it highlights the resilience of youth, the power of friendship and the influence (both positive and negative) of family.

No Good Deed

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“No good deed goes unpunished” is how the saying goes. I never really understood what it meant. I thought doing good deeds was, well, good. The kids in the book No Good Deed by Goldy Moldavsky takes good-deed doing to a whole new and often painful level.

Gregor is a typical teen, but only if the typical teen wants to save the world. Specifically, he wants to feed all of the starving children and has been working to do just that for two years. Now, though, he has the chance to kick his campaign skills into high gear. He’s been selected to attend the elite Camp Save the World along with dozens of other do-gooders from around the globe. Things start off fairly normal but quickly derail when “The Prize” is announced. Suddenly the mood turns ugly. A mural is destroyed, rumors run rampant and every night another camper is unceremoniously dumped into the lake. Regardless of how zany some of the camper’s campaigns are, they all fight like mad to get points but Gregor finds out something about the camp and its founder, Robert Drill, that changes everything for him and turns his dreams into something else.

This has to be the wackiest story I’ve read in a while. It had me laughing out loud at some of the antics of the campers and scratching my head at some of the actions of the “adults”. This is a great book if you like lots of twists and turns that don’t make sense sometimes (kind of like walking through a maze and running into a dead end over and over again but the scenery is so vivid and weird that you don’t really mind).

Virginia Reader’s Choice: Piecing Me Together

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If the first two books I’ve read from this list are any indication, judging the best one will be difficult. Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson is a powerful and apropos story for today’s climate. I kept thinking that I’d love to see some of Jade’s art. I love collage. It’s a uniquely beautiful art form and the descriptions of it made me curious. Oh well, I’ll just have to imagine it.

Jade is an artist, a scholar and an all-around bright girl who knows full well that the only way she becomes successful is if she gets out of her neighborhood, maybe even out of Portland. She’s a scholarship kid at a swanky private school, where she’s one of the very few black students. She’s determined to take every opportunity that the school provides; Saturday morning SAT test prep and tutoring are in her regular rotation. One opportunity, though, she’s not sure she wants. She’s been invited to take part in Woman to Woman, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Her mentor, Maxine, is a graduate of the same private school and is black but that doesn’t mean she understands what Jade is dealing with. Still, completion of the program means a scholarship to a good university so Jade decides to hunker down and get what she can out of it. Soon, though, she’s frustrated with everything and decides to teach these women a thing or two about what girls like her really want, really need to be successful. Jade finds her voice and her light which she uses to guide those around her and herself to a whole new level of respect and understanding.

There’s a lot to unpack in this book. Issues of race, police brutality and gender inequality are woven into the narrative of a strong, self-aware young woman determined to be more than just a statistic. Renee Watson is a consummate storyteller, deftly dealing with these charged issues with compassion but with a little bit of a bite. I look forward to reading more from her.

Virginia Reader’s Choice: Imagery

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Have you ever read a book so beautifully written that, upon closing your eyes, you can see everything? I am always awed by an author’s ability to use the same words that the rest of us use but in a way that evokes an image that the reader feels a part of it. Inkheart is one such book and that Cornelia Funke’s first language isn’t even English makes it even more astounding. Another book to add to the list is The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi. This is one of the VA Reader’s Choice (high school) titles for the 2018-2019 school year.

“I could see where the winds yawned with silver lips and curled themselves to sleep. I could glimpse the moon folding herself into crescents and half-smiles.” Maya is a princess who has been left to her own devices for most of her life. She has free reign of the castle and grounds and takes advantage of it. This day, however, she cannot spend daydreaming. Her father has an announcement about the impending war. From her perch in the rafters, she is shocked when his solution involves marrying her off to appease the rebels. Her days of freedom are over, or so she thinks. As it turns out, being the queen of Akaran gives her the voice she’s never had and a power she never expected. Not all is as it seems in her new kingdom, however. There are doors that are locked to her and secrets hiding behind Amar’s eyes. Soon, she will make a decision that will shake herself and everything around her to the core and she must find her way through the secrets in order to save herself, Amar and the very world she loves.

This story is fantasy, mysticism, and magic; a tapestry woven with human strands that fray and end. It is a story of betrayal and rebuilt trust but most of all, it is a story about the power of love.

Issues, With a Twist

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If you’ve read YA books at all, you know that they all deal with some sort of teenage issue because teenagers are some of the most interesting people on the planet. I am, of course, biased as I have worked with them for most of my adult career. I started You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner because I like the idea of graffiti. It’s beautiful, complicated, defiant, unruly, emotional…just like most teens. There are a plethora of issues in this book and I was a bit worried that they would steal the focus but in the hands of a good writer, it was just a really good story!

The slur was nasty and Julia could not let that stand. Jordyn is her best (and only) friend so Julia paints over the ugliness with a beautiful mural on the school wall, late at night, without permission. Days later, she is kicked out of her nice, safe school for the deaf. Why? Because Jordyn snitched on her to the principal. Now, Julia is stuck in a regular public school with a t00-perky interpreter and the weight of her two mother’s disappointment. The only thing left to her is her art and she’s not about to give that up. In an effort to carve out her own space, she tags several locations only to find them changed the next day. Not just change but improved. She’s been called out and must answer but at what cost? With some unexpected allies, Julia finds herself in the middle of a graffiti war that touches more than just overpasses and water towers.

Deaf culture, prejudice, lesbian parents (one of whom is Indian-American), graffiti…seems like a lot to tackle in one book but Whitney Gardner expertly weaves them through the tale making it as vibrant and wild as the street art that may just be Julia’s true best friend.

Story Time

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I love to read. The thicker the book the better. A few summers ago, I indulged in the re-reading of the Outlander series…all 8 books. That’s close to 7,000 pages! I absolutely loved every second. Each turn of the page made me feel like I was meeting an old friend. Tears and terror, anger and pain, love and healing kept me up late or early, again. I did this because the television series was beginning the following fall and a new book was coming out. The television series was everything I hoped it would be. The T.V. Jamie was the same man I fell in love with in 1991 when I first read Outlander. The book, however, was a different story…literally.

I don’t like to read short stories. They are, well, short; TOO short. When I get to the end, I’m usually frustrated because I want more. I bought Seven Stones to Stand or Fall, though, because it’s by Diana Gabaldon and I love her books. Still, I wasn’t sure I could trust her to write the kind of stories that wouldn’t leave me hanging on the edge of a cliff by my fingernails during a rainstorm with lightning flashing all around me and nothing but jagged rocks to dash my body to bits waiting below. I shouldn’t have worried, though. She’s Diana Gabaldon, master storyteller and keeper of dreams (I’m still waiting to find my very own Jamie…).

Reading the stories was like savoring my favorite meal. The starter is just enough to whet the whistle for more goodness to come. The main course was full of flavor, complicated and spicy storylines and interesting twists to familiar favorites. Dessert was the perfect blend of sweet and savory with a dash of heat to finish things up. Has this book changed my mind about short stories? Probably not but at least they kept me entertained as I wait for the next REAL Outlander book, Go Tell the Bees I’m Gone. Hurry Up, Diana…we’re all waiting on the edge of that cliff I  mentioned earlier!