Belles

REVIEW: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Summary


In the world of Orléans, the Belles are a gift to the world from the goddess of beauty. The God of the Sky turned the humans of Orléans grey and ugly in a fit of anger. The Bells were sent to bring beauty back to the world.

Camellia is one of six Belles debuting this year. When each of the girls has displayed her skills to the queen at the Beauté Carnaval, the queen will assign the girls to the place where they will serve the people. Only one of them can be “the favorite” and serve the royal family and their most honored guests at the palace. And Camellia – Camille – is determined to win.

But nothing goes as Camille expects. There are secrets at the palace. And at the tea houses where the Belles serve. Even back at the home where they were raised. Secrets. Lies. Manipulations. Betrayals. Nothing has prepared Camille for the reality of her new life or what will be asked of her.

Review


Wow! This book left me feeling stunned. It was nothing like I expected. It doesn’t look like a fantasy from the cover, but it very much is. There’s a lot of world building that went into the development of this story. It took me a little while to get the feel of it. It’s about beauty on one level – about being the best of the best. I think I was expecting something along the line of The Selection, but this is something entirely different.

I’m can’t exactly say I enjoyed this. I didn’t click with the main character. And characters are almost always what makes a book special for me. There are enough secrets and twists in this that it’s hard to feel like you really know the characters.  And Camille is stuck between a rock and a hard place. She’s not even sure who she’s going to be in the face of some events.

At the same time, the story was absolutely captivating. I was rooting for Camille against her foes. I was breathless as things accelerated toward the end. The finish left me at loose ends, wondering what could possibly happen next. Underneath the beauty pieces is a dark, twisty and suspenseful tale of madness, betrayal and manipulation. It’s brilliantly written. And while I feel no draw to a character or my usual feelings about a great book, I also know I will have to read the next book to find out what happens. (Trigger warning for assault)

Thanks to Netgalley and Freeform for the opportunity to read an electronic copy of this book for review purposes. While it was nothing like I was expecting, and at the same time it was excellent.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

Gatekeepers

REVIEW: The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster

Summary


In the Chicago suburb of North Shore, excellence is the status quo. In the Breakfast Club era of their parents, kids fit into one of many stereotypes. But in North Shore, the teens meet them all. It’s not sufficient to be smart OR athletic. You must be both. And you have to be the best. Best on the team. Super involved in extracurriculars. And planning and prepping for an Ivy League college all through high school.

The kids of North Shore deliver on all of these expectations. Their test scores and rates of college admission are among the best. This in turn draws in more (wealthy) families who can give their kids everything money can buy.

But North Shore has a hidden dark side. These kids who seem to have every advantage can’t always keep up with the pressure. Two kids committed suicide this summer alone. How does North Shore respond? A couple days for grieving and then back to the grind.

How long can they keep this up? What will it take to stop the cycle?

Review


Wow. I was drawn to this story about high-achieving, uber-pressured kids who step up to help one another when they lose one of their own. But it took awhile to get to that part of the story. While part of me wondered when the story would really kick into gear, another part was okay with the wait because the characters were interesting. The slow build gave me time to get to know them and care about them.

By the final third of the story, I had a hard time setting the book down. I kept thinking about the characters and wondering how everything would shake out. The ending was perfect. I would go back and read the last few chapters again. Once some of the main characters owned and shared their true thoughts and feelings about their losses, I was entranced.

This book talks about difficult subjects – teen suicide, drug use, abuse, mental health – honestly and authentically. There’s a LOT here that would be great for group discussion with teens. I read this right after As You Wish which made for an interesting pairing. There are many stark differences between the books, but the pressure on teens is a consistent theme in both. I highly recommend this book for older teens, young adults and adults, especially those who work with and care about teens.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

STAGS

REVIEW: S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett

Summary


Greer is a new student – a scholarship student – at St. Aidan the Great School, or STAGS boarding school. It’s not easy to be the one who sticks out at a new school. But Greer isn’t one to try to be something she’s not. So she keeps her head down and tries to stay out of trouble. At least she doesn’t stick out like Shafeen, the only minority student at STAGS, or Chanel whose money is too new for the blue bloods at STAGS.

Greer’s luck seems to be changing when she receives an invitation to a weekend of “huntin’, shootin’, and fishin’.” Sure, it seems weird that it’s just the Medievals – the prefects and popular kids – plus Greer, Shafeen and Chanel. And there are no adults besides the servants. And there was that one girl who told her not to go…. But it’s an invitation from Henry de Warlencourt! He’s so handsome. And he welcomes Greer so warmly. While she doesn’t know anything about hunting, shooting or fishing, she’s sure it’s just going to be a nice weekend away from school. What more would it be?

Review


This was a slow-building story with a punch. The author does a great job of telling you something is coming that is going to rock the reader’s world while also letting the story unfold in its own time. Sometimes authors try this and it’s obnoxious, and you just want them to stop dropping hints and get on with it. But the author made this work for this story. As Greer dropped hints of what was coming, it amped up the tension for me and kept me turning pages. I liked Greer. The film references she makes are entertaining and communicate some extra layers to the story.

It’s hard to say I “liked” the book exactly. I liked trying to figure out what was really going on. The last section, though, made the whole book click for me. It made me sit up and start reading faster in order to see the whole picture. It left me wide-eyed and saying “wow” in the end.

If you enjoy school stories that set up on-the-fringe students against some sort of popular clique/mean girls group, definitely put this on your reading list. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Thanks to Netgalley and Delacorte Press for an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

 

Everything All at Once

REVIEW: Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno

Summary


Helen Reaves is a beloved author. Her Alvin and Margo Hatter series is the most popular set of children’s books of all time. When she passes away at 40, the world mourns.

To Lottie, though, Helen Reaves is so much more than a favorite author. She’s Aunt Helen. And Lottie and her family are devastated by their loss.

Even though her aunt is dead, Helen still has something to say to Lottie. She leaves her 24 letters to be opened one at a time. When Lottie completes a letter’s challenge (do something risky, celebrate life at a party, get angry), she opens another.

Each letter pushes Lottie. The anxiety and panic attacks she experiences threaten to overwhelm her, but she still tackles each challenge out of love for her aunt. But one letter may push her too far. And what will Lottie do when the letters are finished but her grief remains?

Review


From the opening scene (which some might find horrifying, but I found funny, having had a cremains issue once myself), I was hooked. I loved the relationship between Helen and Lottie, even though we only know about it from the letters. I loved Lottie’s family. Each person is grieving in his/her own way, and they give each other space for that while still being supportive.

The glimpses into Helen’s famous series invoke hints of a Harry Potter-like popularity and also reminded me of the structure of Fangirl. They were fun interludes that eventually tie into Lottie’s story.

There’s an interesting twist to the story. I have mixed feelings about it. I saw it coming, and it changed how I felt about the whole book. It shifted where I thought things were going. It all came together in the end in a satisfying way. But it changed what I thought the story was going to be. (Some language)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Lake Effect

REVIEW: The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan

Summary


Briggs has an awesome job for the summer before he heads off to college to study law and business. He’s going to spend the summer at a house on the beach in South Haven, Michigan helping an elderly woman with household projects and transportation. He has no idea that so much of his summer will be spent at funerals, carting Mrs. B to one after another after another.

While Briggs is enjoying his summer at the Lake, he starts to see things in his life from a new perspective – his family’s money trouble, his relationship with his parents and grandmother, his friendships and his future plans. Neighbor, Abigail, intrigues him. South Haven locals razz him about his “tourist” status. And he will NEVER live down the cell phone incident at the funeral.

This summer is going to be different than anything Briggs imagined.

Review


Briggs was the highlight of this book for me. He’s extremely likable, even when he goofs up in memorable ways. He’s good natured about Mrs. B’s quirks (although some of that comes from how much he wants to keep his job). He’s let the hard ties in his life teach him skills and gratitude.

Briggs’ family dynamics were also very interesting. Even though most of the story takes place at the lake, the meat of the relationships are centered around Briggs’ relationships back at home. I enjoyed how all the pieces came together in the end. In fact, the last 100 pages are probably my favorites in the book.

A great summer read (or a reminder that summer will come again). A great teen story about family and relationships. (Some language)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Taxonomy of Love

REVIEW: Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen

Summary


Spencer meets Hope when they are both 13. He’s never met anyone like her. She loves to climb trees, she stands up to bullies, and she doesn’t freak out about the tics Spencer experiences because of Tourette’s.

They are neighbors. And best friends. And Spencer hopes it might one day be even more than that. But time takes a toll on the two teens. Personal loss. Misunderstandings. Other romantic relationships. Through it all, there is an ebb and flow in their relationship of closeness and distance. But Spencer holds onto hope that something more might develop. Someday. Or that maybe he could at least get his best friend back.

Review


Spencer and Hope are a delight. At times, I wondered where the story was going, but Spencer and Hope kept me engaged and turning pages.

Spencer is especially endearing. I loved that the Tourette’s was a fact of life and not just an issue to be used as a plot point. It was fully integrated into the story at many levels, most of them relational. The author did a terrific job with this.

The story takes place over 5 years – taking the kids from 7th grade through their senior year. The evolution in ALL the characters over time was really well done. As I read an electronic ARC, I was not able to see some of the taxonomy pieces the way they will look in the finished book. I am curious to see those in person. (Some language and other mature content.)

Thanks to Netgalley and Amulet books for the opportunity to read an electronic review copy of this book!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Teen Titans Vol 1 Damian Knows Best

REVIEW: Teen Titans Vol 1: Damian Knows Best by Benjamin Percy

Summary


Damian Wayne. Son of Batman. Grandson of Ra’s Al Ghul. Heir to the League of Assassins – until he chose his father’s path instead.

Batman. Absentee father. Damian spends his 13th birthday with his butler. His grandfather sends him a gift that he has been marked for death. Great birthday.

Starfire. Raven. Kid Flash. Beast Boy. All with powers that could make them heroes, but flawed and trapped by their own pasts. Together, as a team, they could be so much more than they have been alone. But trust is hard to come by. And it’s hard to build trust while a team of assassins is trying to kill you.

A ragtag set of heroes will find out if they have any hope of becoming a team.

Review


I really enjoyed this! I’m not much of a DC Comics person, but our family loves the Young Justice series that was on TV several years ago. And I like the idea of the characters on Teen Titans Go, but the stupidity of the show makes me want to beat my head against a wall. But this storyline was smart and enjoyable. I really enjoyed the characterization in this graphic novel. I felt like I had enough information about each character to enjoy the story and not feel like I was “behind” already. I’d like more backstory, but I’m also fascinated by how this group might band together to eventually become a team. And there is plenty of conflict potential still there for future stories.

The art is beautiful. I’m extremely picky about the art styles I enjoy. I’ll give up on a good story if the art doesn’t work for me or becomes a distraction. This art is terrific and really worked for telling this story well. I would definitely read more in this series. Volume 2 should release in March. (Some language)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

As You Wish

REVIEW: As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti

Summary


Madison, Nevada is a dusty, rundown town in the middle of the desert. It’s the sort of place you pass through on your way to something else. And the locals like it that way. They don’t want folks to linger.

That’s because Madison is hiding a secret. While it seems like a dump on the surface, they are hiding magic. A wish-granting cave. Any time a resident of Madison turns 18, he or she goes to the cave and makes a wish. And that wish always comes true.

Eldon Wilkes is looking forward to his wishing day like someone would “look forward” to an invasive medical procedure. He’s seen how wishes have turned out for others. His parents’ marriage is strained to put it mildly. His sister’s condition is because of a wish. People are trapped in Madison because of wishing. Eldon’s feeling the pressure to make a wish to “fix” his family, but he knows no wish could fix what’s really wrong. But the clock is ticking. Eldon HAS to decide what he’s going to wish for.

Review


Wow. This book has really forced me to think. What impact did wishing have on the town and people of Madison? What would I have wished for? Would I have done something different in Eldon’s place? Eldon’s conversation with Othello Dewitt was the most thought provoking part of all. It’s the sort of passage you would go back to and read through again.

Eldon is an interesting character. I can’t say that I liked Eldon, but I was captivated by him and by his dilemma.  He’s complicated. His whole family is grieving while he is trying to make this huge decision. He’s feeling pressure from all sides. While a guaranteed wish sounds like an awesome thing, Eldon shows that there’s a dark side.

It’s easy to see the wish pieces of this story from the perspective of the decisions teens are making as they anticipate graduation and their future. I love that this book really made me think – even after the reading was done. I would like to read this with some high school juniors and seniors and talk about the parallels with the decisions they are trying to make. This would make a great book for group discussion. (Language)

Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks for an electronic advanced reader copy of this for review purposes in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Prince in Disguise

REVIEW: Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Summary


It’s hard for Dylan to live in her sister, Dusty’s, shadow. Dusty is tall and gorgeous and popular and confident. She was Miss Mississippi. And now she is marrying Ronan, a Scottish lord-to-be that she met on the Bachelor-style reality show Prince in Disguise. Next to Dusty, Dylan feels geeky and awkward and out of place.

This is especially true when she finds herself at Ronan’s Scottish castle for their Christmas Eve wedding. First, the best man leaves her standing in the cold for almost an hour, waiting for a ride to the castle. She’s rescued by another groomsman, Jamie. At least he’s her age, smart and funny. But at the castle, she feels the cameras all around her. Dusty may be fine with all the TV attention, but Dylan wants no part of it.

The wedding-prep days include a lot of surprises for Dylan – things she’d like to keep off camera and to herself. Not the least of which are her feelings about Jamie. But she may find there are more important things than protecting her own privacy.

Review


I’m not sure I have words big enough for how much I loved this book! It was outstanding! I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book like I did this one. It’s SO funny! It’s romantic. Sweet and fun and fiesty! I wanted it to go on and on. I loved the characters and wanted to spend even more time with them. This will definitely be a re-read for me! If the author decides to write a sequel, I will be the first in line to buy it!

Everything worked for me in this. The reality TV plot was terrific. It forced characters to decide what was for public consumption and what wasn’t. And how they would handle the difference. The family relationships changed and developed in the story in great, realistic ways. The chemistry between Dylan and Jamie was endearing. I loved them together. There were some fun surprises and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. This could easily be my favorite book of 2017.

Many, many thanks to Netgalley and Disney Hyperion for the opportunity to read an electronic review copy of this spectacular book in exchange for an honest review. I honestly adored it. I read another book by Stephanie Kate Strohm earlier this year – It’s Not Me, It’s You– and I loved it too. That book made it onto my Holiday Hint List for 2017 – and if I had read this before I published the list, Prince in Disguise would have been on there, too.  Hand both of these books to the teens in your life – especially the ones who might not want books with the language and mature content found in some other books for teens and young adults.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥+++

Lock and Key

REVIEW: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Summary


Ruby has gotten used to being abandoned. After her parents’ divorce, her dad drifted off to a new life without Ruby, or her sister Cora. When Cora left for college, she never looked back at her life with an alcoholic mother. Even though she had been Ruby’s protector when they were kids, she left Ruby alone with their mother. Now, Ruby’s mom has walked off, too, leaving 17-year-old Ruby to fend for herself. And she can only dodge their landlord for so long before someone notices that she’s alone and barely getting by.

Once Social Services gets involved, Ruby is sent to live with Cora and her husband, Jamie, in their ritzy neighborhood with expensive cars and expensive private schools. How is Ruby supposed to live in this foreign place with the sister who left her? They are like strangers now. Her other life may have been lonely and desperate, but it was familiar and comfortable. Maybe Ruby would be better off going back to that life.

Review


I must confess, I’ve never read a Sarah Dessen book before. She’s wildly popular, but I just hadn’t tried one. A former student said this was her favorite, and I decided to give it a try on her recommendation.

I really enjoyed it. It felt familiar in some ways – the teen pulled out of her unhealthy yet familiar surroundings, struggling against a safe yet foreign new way of living. But I loved the configuration of family and friends – and circumstances – that led Ruby to eventually give this new life a chance. The road isn’t easy. New challenges and revelations push Ruby to see herself and her life from new angles. This is so well done.

Definitely for teens with language and substance abuse as well as child abuse and neglect. This was so well done. I would definitely read more Sarah Dessen books after enjoying this one.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥