Not Now Not Ever

REVIEW: Not Now, Not Ever by Lily Anderson

Summary


Elliot Lawrence Gabaroche is expected to go to either the Air Force Academy (like the Lawrence part of the family) or go into Law like her dad (which means attending a summer mock trial camp).

But “Ever” Lawrence has been accepted to Camp Onward, a camp for genius students where she hopes to win a scholarship to Rayevich College so she can join their science fiction literature program.

While everyone thinks Ellie is doing what THEY want her to do, she hops a train to Oregon as Ever to pursue her own plans for the future.

Ever doesn’t count on her annoying cousin, Isaiah, showing up at the same camp. They have to pretend to be twins so no one at the camp catches on to their secrets – her real name, his real age, and the fact that neither set of parents knows where they are. If their parents find out, both kids will lose their chance at the scholarship and setting their own course for the future. Ever also doesn’t count on meeting a great guy, making terrific friends, or stumbling into a mystery.

Review


This was excellent! The voice was outstanding. Ever is smart and sharp and so funny. I was truly sad when the book ended and there was no more Ever.

This is the second book published by the author, Lily Anderson, and I have loved both of them. The writing is fantastic. Lots of great voice and terrific humor. Anderson is an author I will put on a “must buy” list because I really enjoy her style.

The cast of characters is quirky and fun. The interplay between the kids on Ever’s team was a hoot. There were lots of great geeky moments. I kept reading passages aloud to my family because I was enjoying the book so much. The scene where the team gets together for the first time, and the counselors give them a taste of what is to come, is one of my favorites.

I loved Ever’s quest for her own path while feeling pressure and expectations from her whole family. The camp scholarship contest was a great plot – it brought interesting characters together and threw in some nice twists and a little mystery. Everything clicked perfectly for me in this book. (Some language)

Many, many thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press/Wednesday Books for an electronic review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Reading this book was a delight!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Names They Gave Us

REVIEW: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Summary


For Lucy, the hits just keep on coming. Her boyfriend put their relationship on “pause” for the summer so they can re-evaluate their relationship. Instead of spending the summer hosting church groups at her family’s church camp, Lucy’s mom asks her to counsel at Dayspring. Dayspring is a camp for kids who’ve experienced difficulties in life – teen pregnancy, grief, loss, family issues, and abuse. And Lucy feels like she HAS to do what her mom asks because her mom’s cancer is back. Not knowing what might happen to her mom, how can she say no to a request from her?

Working at Dayspring will give Lucy a chance to grow in ways she can’t even imagine when the summer begins. It’s a safe place to work through her crisis of faith and her feelings about everything happening in her life. And she will find a community she didn’t know she needed.

Review


Stellar. Outstanding. I almost don’t have the adjectives to describe how amazing this story is.

This is not a Christian novel, per se. It’s not published by a Christian publisher. It includes lifestyle pieces that a traditional Christian story wouldn’t address. But there is a DEEP faith core to this story. And it’s about faith in hard times. Where is God when tragedy strikes, when cancer returns? And for me, the faith pieces were right on target – from Lucy’s awkwardness in the face of things she has never encountered before and her earnest desire to be compassionate to the question of “Is it okay to be a Christian and be mad at God?”

Having lived through a similar situation of recurring cancer at a similar age to Lucy’s, I identified with her thoughts and feelings. Her wrestling felt genuine. There’s a scene towards the end with Lucy’s dad that just wrecked me. It was all too familiar – and so authentic. This book left me feeling known and understood.

I think this is an amazing book even if you haven’t faced the same things as Lucy because her story is told so well. There is some mature content in the book (language, teen pregnancy, drinking, sexual identity), so this is a good fit for older teens/young adults and adults. If I could give this more than five stars, I absolutely would. This was fantastic!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Miles Morales

REVIEW: Miles Morales Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds

Summary


Miles is an exceedingly bright kid on scholarship to a pricey prep school. He longs to overcome his family history of crime and hustling. And this school is his way to accomplish that.

But his spider-sense is jacking up his opportunity. It keeps going off in history, and Miles can only make up so many bathroom excuses before he gets in trouble and is suspended. So Miles is DONE with Spider-Man. He’s just going to be Miles for now and try to stay out of trouble.

Just being “Miles,” though, isn’t as easy as it sounds. He has horrifying nightmares. He feels tremendous guilt about his uncle Aaron. There’s a cousin in juvenile he never knew existed. Folks in his neighborhood seem to be disappearing. There’s a girl he likes, but he keeps blowing his chances to let her know. And his history teacher seems to think the South was right on the issue of slavery in the Civil War and takes every opportunity to point that out to Miles, who is half black and half Puerto Rican. Just being Miles is a lot more intense than he thought it would be.

Review


I am not familiar with the Miles Morales iteration of Spider-Man from the comics. So I approached this book with no preconceived notions or comic book story lines in mind. I knew the name Miles Morales and nothing else. And I enjoyed this story!

Miles is an awesome character. He’s bright and determined. He’s haunted by his past. He has superpowers but they are more of a burden than a blessing. When should he draw the line between taking care of his responsibilities and his own life and trying to save  the neighborhood around him?

Diversity and race issues are primary in the story which makes this a timely read. The villain and “mystery” of the story was really interesting. While it is resolved on one level in the book, there are many questions still open, too. Hopefully those will be addressed in a future book. Give this to your young superhero fans in 5th grade or older. I think they will love it!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Murder, Magic and What We Wore

REVIEW: Murder, Magic and What We Wore by Kelly Jones

Summary


Annis Whitworth has been raised by her Aunt Cassia, who cared for her when her mother became sick while her father traveled for work. Annis has long suspected that her father was a spy. And that seems to be confirmed when his lawyer arrives, talking in code and announcing that her father is dead.

Annis isn’t convinced that her father died in an accident. The facts don’t line up. And she finds a message in the handkerchiefs that are among her father’s things. But when she cannot get anyone to take her seriously, she is determined to figure things out for herself. But all of her father’s money has disappeared. Annis and her aunt have nothing to live off of. But Annis discovers that she can do magic – she can sew glamours and change garments into other items when she sews. So Annis is going to put her magic – and her mind – to work to save her country, save what’s left of her family, and discover what really happened to her father.

Review


This was a delight from start to finish. The story holds up well as historical fiction and also as a mystery. The magical elements are a nice twist. They give this story something special to set it apart. An extra layer of awesome.

Annis and her maid, Millie, are fantastic as a team. But the author makes sure the reader doesn’t forget their differences in station and what assets and liabilities they each bring  to the partnership. There are some great nuances to their relationship.

While I figured out the mystery well before the end, there were several little twists and reveals left to come. Overall the full solution and wrap up was thorough and satisfying. There are a lot of ways to continue this as a series – more adventures for Annis and Millie and others to have in this time period and more to develop on the magic side of the story.

I will absolutely read any additional books in this series because I thoroughly enjoyed this one!

Many thanks to Knopf Books and Netgalley for providing an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review. It was a treat to read this book!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

Duels & Deception

REVIEW: Duels & Deception by Cindy Anstey

Summary


Miss Lydia Whitfield of Roseberry Hall inherited her family estate upon the death of her father. As she was a minor at the time, her uncle and his family moved to Roseberry to supervise the estate and help Lydia, her mother and her sister. Uncle Arthur fancies himself the master of the estate despite Lydia’s capabilities, and as such he tries to make  ridiculous changes, forcing Lydia to call in her attorney. The attorney sends his apprentice, Robert Newton.

Robert is able to help Lydia deal with her uncle and protect the estate from his rogue ideas. He also helps her begin to outline a marriage agreement with Lord Aldershot, the man Lydia’s father had informally selected for her to marry. But before they can solidify the agreement, Lydia is kidnapped. While Robert is able to rescue her and they fabricate a story to salvage her reputation, the kidnappers escape and Lydia is still in danger. Working with Robert, Lydia might have a chance at saving her future. But what will she do about Lord Aldershot when her heart seems to be set on Robert?

Review


I loved this! I rarely read historical fiction. The rules for women in this time period are frustrating to the point of distraction for me. But in this case, Lydia is fortunate to have circumstances and people around her who let her voice carry weight. She doesn’t have to hide her intelligence and wisdom for anyone, even when she knows it will cause trouble.

The characters were terrific. I would happily spend more time with them if there is ever a sequel to this book. Lydia is a strong, bright young woman. Her resourcefulness is outstanding. Loved her character! The mystery was well plotted and kept me turning pages to see what would happen next. I was able to guess the culprit, and I was delighted with how everything wrapped up in the end.

Even though historical fiction isn’t my first choice, I enjoyed this so much I want to check out the author’s previous book, Love, Lies and Spies. This is definitely an author I will keep an eye on in the future! In fact, I just found out that she will have a new book out in the spring of 2018, Suitors and Sabotage! It is already on my 2018 wish list!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Windfall

REVIEW: Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

Summary


Alice buys a lottery ticket for her best friend, Teddy, for his 18th birthday. And it’s a winner. Over 140 million dollars!

Suddenly everything changes. Teddy’s spending money left and right. He’s on talk shows. Kids at school are hanging all over him – or jeering jealously behind his back.

And when Teddy tries to give half to Alice since she bought the ticket and picked the numbers, she turns him down, leading to their biggest fight in 9 years of friendship.

Alice’s life is upside down. Her best friend is living the high life, and she’s afraid he is headed for a big fall. Her aunt and uncle are encouraging her to consider other colleges when they know it is her dream to go to Stanford. And her cousin has broken up with his boyfriend even though they are obviously in love. A cute guy is asking her out but she can’t get past the feelings she has for Teddy. Through it all, she wonders if the choices she’s making for her life are really hers, or if she’s trying to do what she thinks her parents would have wanted.

Review


While this is a lottery story, it is so much more. It’s about friends and family, money and charity, and the past and the future. All three of the main characters – Alice, Teddy and Leo – are driven by their past or fear of the future. Teddy goes overboard with the money because of how hard things were after his dad lost all the family’s money and ran off. Alice is trying to recapture a sense of home from before her parents died. And Leo is afraid of losing Max when they are both in college, maybe in different places. He’s seen Teddy and Alice face such hardships in life, and he’s afraid he is due for a personal disaster.

The money situation from the lottery win shines a light on the choices the teens are making. It also raises great questions about what to do with such a windfall. What’s fun and what’s practical? What’s responsible? How do you know whose motives to trust?

I liked that there were bigger issues addressed outside of the money. I liked the main characters and their families. The final money solution was great. It seemed reasonable for the situation. I’m not 100% sold on the romantic outcome. I liked Alice’s other option better. Overall this was a good story.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

The Hate You Give

REVIEW: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Summary


Starr feels like two different people at times. There’s the person she is at home and in her neighborhood. That’s the most genuine version. Then there’s the person she is at her mostly-white, suburban school. There she works to always speak in full sentences and complete words – no slang, always “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir.” She reigns in her feelings so she can’t be accused of ever being too angry or having too much attitude.

One night at a party in her neighborhood, shots ring out. Starr’s childhood friend, Khalil, gets her safely away from the violence and the party. But on their way home, they get pulled over by a police officer. The officer is belligerent about pulling them over; Khalil is indignant. After the officer pulls Khalil out of the car to pat him down (three times) and goes to run his license, Khalil comes back to the car to check on Starr. Three shots are fired. Khalil dies in the street in Starr’s arms.

Suddenly everything in Starr’s life changes. She questions her relationships and her two personalities. She watches as her two worlds respond to the shooting, and she wonders what, if anything, she can do for Khalil, for his family, and for her community.

Review


Wow, this was so good. It was challenging, too. It challenged me to examine my biases and assumptions. There were cultural pieces and slang that I didn’t understand (not enough to impact my understanding of the story as a whole). And the topic itself – white officer kills unarmed black teen – is timely and difficult. But so important to think about and talk about.

I loved Starr. She’s not perfect. Her friends and boyfriend challenge her choices in the midst of her double life at home and school as well as the situation with Khalil. But she’s honest. She’s 16 and wrestling with big questions about home and identity. She wonders what her responsibility is to herself, her family, and her neighborhood. And there are no easy answers.

This is terrific food for thought – and discussion. If you are looking to add some diversity to your reading life or your high school classroom library, try this book. (language, violence)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Best. Night. Ever.

REVIEW: Best. Night. Ever by Jen Malone (editor)

Summary


The middle school dance is a HUGE event for the seventh graders in this story:

  • Carmen is missing it – and the TV debut of her band, Heart Grenade – for a family wedding.
  • Genevieve is going to be the lead singer for Heart Grenade in Carmen’s place. And she’s terrified.
  • Ellie is going with a date.
  • Ellie’s soon-to-be step-sister, Ashlyn, is grounded, so she’s going to do Ellie’s babysitting gig so Ellie can go the the dance.
  • Ryan is there with his best friend, Mariah, but he wishes there was more between them. But she asked Leif to the dance instead.
  • Tess, the drummer for Heart Grenade and Mariah’s nemesis, also asked Leif to the dance. He said “whatever” to both girls which they took as “yes.”
  • Jade doesn’t even go to this school. But she thinks Heart Grenade stole her band’s chance at the Battle of the Bands. She’s at the dance for revenge.

Seven authors. Seven perspectives on one eventful night. All kinds of fun.

Review


So many of the authors for this book are MIX authors, and I have many of their books on my TBR. That made this a must-read for me, and I was not disappointed.

It’s not unusual any more to read books that tell one story from different perspectives. But this is different because 7 authors got to dig into one character each and tell that character’s version of this story.

There’s a lot going on in this story. There’s the band piece and the dating piece. Then there are the kids not at the dance and the things going on outside the school. And everything comes together so well!

I loved the characters. I think Ellie is my favorite. I would love more story from her perspective.

In general, I felt like the kids seemed like 15-year-olds more than 7th graders. At least. they didn’t “sound” or act like the seventh graders I know. But I think this story is a great bridge story that would work for upper elementary and middle school readers. The themes of friendship, family, and dating work for teens while also keeping things “clean” for younger readers.

Thanks to Netgalley and Aladdin for an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Project Pandora

REVIEW: Project Pandora by Aden Polydoros

Summary


Tyler is sitting in class when his phone rings. The next time he is aware of anything, he’s standing in a strange house holding a gun.

He’s drawn to Shannon the first time he meets her. She seems familiar. She understands him in ways no one else does.

Elizabeth meets Hades at a fundraiser she attends with her parents. He seems familiar. It’s like he knows her. Surely she would have remembered someone so gorgeous and mysterious.

Hades is an assassin. He knows who he is and how he was trained. He’s good at his job. He knows all three of the other teens, but they don’t know him.

What secrets link these four kids? And what is Project Pandora?

Review


Wow. This is a dark, violent story that is extremely well written. It is darker than than the books I usually read, but I was compelled to finish and find out what the heck was going on!

I found myself taking notes as I read, trying to puzzle out what was happening. And in the end, I felt like I only had the smallest bit of the big picture figured out.

I can’t say that I liked the characters, but I was completely engrossed in finding out what had happened to them. And I was stunned by the endig. I don’t know what to believe and will have to wait for book 2 to find out.

This is definitely for older teens in my opinion. There’s drug/alcohol use, mature language, abuse and violence. This is not my usual style of book, but I couldn’t put it down. If you love dark suspense with some science fiction thrown in, you should definitely check this out.

Thanks to Netgalley and Entangled: Teen for an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Genius The Con

REVIEW: Genius: The Con by Leopoldo Gout

Summary


After the events of Genius: The Game, Tunde, Rex and Painted Wolf are on the run with targets on their backs. They are some of the most wanted individuals in America. That makes travel difficult, especially since they need to get to Nigeria in Africa.

Tunde has created the GPS jammer for General Iyabo, and they hope to use it against him. If they can pull off the con they have planned, Tunde’s village will finally be free of the general and his soldiers.

But in the short time Tunde has been away, the general has turned the village into a mining operation. The villagers are essentially slaves. Now it is even more crucial to get the general out of Akika Village. The kids also have issues to resolve with tech billionaire Kiran from the game that brought the three together. And Painted Wolf’s father is mixed into all of this as well. Rex’s brother Teo, is still missing. The kids have to be on their game if this con is going to work and if they are going to get themselves to a place where they can deal with Kiran and Teo.

Review


I read book one almost a year ago, and the details are fuzzy, though I remember I enjoyed it. I had a harder time liking this one. There was little recap for readers who might have skipped book one or forgotten a lot of the details, like I did.

The action starts right away in that the kids are fleeing, but since I didn’t have a lot of context for their flight, I didn’t find the rhythm right away. Parts two and three were better for me. Some of the technical pieces went right over my head, but I could hang with the rest of the story without issue.

I like the main characters, and I care about what happens to them. I’m not sure that I buy that they are teens with all they are able to pull off. But I tried to push those questions out of my mind so I could enjoy the story.

I definitely recommend reading (or re-reading) book one before diving into this one. I think the momentum will help readers through part one. This is good for teens who love technology and adventure. Great diverse characters and clean teen content.

Thanks to the folks at Netgalley and Feiwel & Friends who provided an electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥