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: ♥♥♥

Solo aug1maybe

REVIEW: Solo by Kwame Alexander

Summary


Blade is a young man anticipating his future. Graduation is right around the corner, and college is approaching quickly. He has his music and the girl of his dreams. These should be his best days.

But he’s also

  • grieving the loss of his mother,
  • dodging paparazzi trying to catch a glimpse of the famous Morrison family going down in flames,
  • hiding from his girlfriend’s father who forbade her from dating him, and
  • disgusted by his father’s empty promises of staying sober “this time”

And when all of those things collide along with new challenges, Blade is off. Not to college, but to Ghanna Africa, in search of answers and in search of himself.

Review


Like other books by Alexander, this book is written in verse, along with song lyrics and other creative forms and references. I liked the unusual format. It’s amazing that he can tell terrific, effective stories with such sparse, carefully chosen words!

I had a hard time connecting with the characters in this one. I completely understood Blade’s emotional states, but I didn’t click with him like I had hoped to, or like I did with the twins in his book, The Crossover. Blade wasn’t the heart of the story for me. I did enjoy a couple other characters – like Joy and Sia, but not the others.

This book has been wildly popular with other early readers. If the story sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to give it a try. I usually enjoy Alexander’s work. I may just not be the right reader for this one.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher, Blink, for providing an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. [Some sources show this book releasing this week, and some say it will release on August 1.]

Rating: ♥♥♥

Words in Deep Blue

REVIEW: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Summary


Once upon a time, Rachel and Henry were best friends. And Rachel wondered if it might be more than just friendship. In a moment of great bravery, just before she moves away, Rachel writes Henry a note about how she feels. She asks him to call when he gets it. He never mentions the note or her declaration.

Years later, Rachel returns. A lot has changed. She barely responded to Henry’s letters and emails while she was away. Even in the midst of personal tragedy, she didn’t reach out to him. Now, not only are they in the same town, but she’s working at his family’s bookstore. She’ll see him every day. How’s that going to work?

Henry’s thrilled to have his best friend back. But Rachel has changed. She’s angry and private. She won’t explain why she stopped talking to him. As his divorced parents discuss selling their home and the bookstore, though, Henry will need Rachel, his old best friend, who understands the value of the store and the memories they’ve made there.

Review


Is it possible to both like and not like a book at the same time? While not a happy story per se, this is a beautiful look at grief and loss, friendship and love, and the value of words. The author does an excellent job of describing the losses experienced by the characters and their attempts to move forward in life and in their grief.

I liked the main characters, although I wanted to shake them at times. Henry’s infatuation with Amy was frustrating as Rachel’s assessment of her motives was always completely on target. And that assessment should have clued her into some things that happened in the story. Many of the characters felt stuck, repeating the same choices or feeling like they had no other choices. I liked characters like Martin and Cal who seemed healthy and optimistic about the future.

I struggle to describe this sort of book. I liked it in that it was well written and emotionally honest with characters I wanted to see succeed. At the same time, it’s emotionally heavy. I can’t say that I enjoyed the journey with these characters all the time. If you are looking for a happy-go-lucky sort of story, this is not what you are looking for. But if you want to read something that will hit you emotionally and make you think, give this a try. I would recommend this to older teens and young adults due to language and the emotional weight of the story.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Waste of Space

REVIEW: Waste of Space by Gina Damico

Summary


The premise: Ten kids on a reality TV show where they get sent into space, facing challenges until there’s one left standing. It’s supposed to be a typical reality show. They have all the character types – the orphan, the nerd, the addict, the hippie, the bad boy.

Except the TV station has no intention of actually sending anyone into space. No one has the tech to pull that off. They don’t even have the tech to make the kids still on earth float around like they are in space. So they tell everyone they have created an artificial gravity for use in space. And the lies don’t stop there.

The kids are told everything is real. They think they are truly on a space ship in orbit of Earth. The show fits reality TV mold completely and is wildly popular.  But not everyone is who they appear to be. And some of the kids start to pick up clues that maybe their mission to “space” isn’t what it appears to be either. And then, in one moment, everything changes.

Review


This is such a fun and quirky story!

The format is terrific. It’s transcripts of phone calls and video from the show and unaired footage as well as interviews and commentary from the intern who is putting all the pieces together. This allows the reader to get into everyone’s head and see the story from different perspectives – the viewers, the producer who put it all together, the kids on the show.

The characters exceed their stereotypes, which is great. Motives change. What you think is true keeps changing. The whole premise is terrific. The TV producer is sleazy, creative and cutthroat. You hate him but at the same time you can’t look away, wondering what he will throw at the kids or at his crew next.

There’s a twist in the story about 2/3 of the way through, and from there, I couldn’t put the book down. I had to know what was going on. The truth was less flashy than I imagined from the set up , but it was still a good ending. (Language, sexual innuendo, drugs/alcohol/firearms)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

I received an electronic review copy of this book. Thanks to Netgalley and HMH Books for Young Readers for the opportunity to read an early copy of Waste of Space in exchange for an honest review.

Dividing Eden

REVIEW: Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau

Summary


The kingdom of Eden is in the middle of a war. The king and crown prince are checking on the fighting before the prince’s wedding to the kingdom’s seer. The winter season will be starting soon which means the savage Xhelozi will be hunting the borders. It’s vital that Eden stay strong and keep the windmills collecting power for the kingdom.

But that strength is in danger when the king and crown prince are killed under mysterious circumstances. In the power vacuum, the Council of Elders starts maneuvering for power. Caught in the middle are the king and queen’s twins, Andreus and Carys. They have protected eachother’s secrets – and very lives – since they were born.  But now only one of them can rule. And only by winning a contest against the other.

Secrets and lies abound as the twins and other forces battle for control of Eden.

Review


Wow! This was great! This is a hard book to summarize. So many things are going on right from the outset. And the reader knows early on that most of the characters are hiding things and scheming for their own goals.

The twins at the center of the story are fascinating. On the surface, they are completely committed to one another. Carys sacrifices often to protect her brother’s big secret. And Andreus has her back when it comes to Carys’ secret too. But with the kingdom at stake and other voices whispering in their ears, their bond starts to fracture.

The scheming in this book is tremendous. Even at the end, I am not sure who is completely trustworthy. Secrets have secrets, and I’m confident I still only know maybe 40% of what’s truly going on. I was amazed to realize that while I was totally engrossed from start to finish, I had so many questions! That takes masterful plotting. Charbonneau has done a great job of crafting a page-turning story while still maintaining lots of mystery for the future.

I am looking forward to book 2!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥