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Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Archive for the tag “Fiction”

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three ThingsJulie Buxbaum’s YA debut, Tell Me Three Things, may be one of the most popular young adult contemporary reads this year.  We all know what it’s like to have our world turned upside down; that’s exactly what happens to Jessie, our heroine, whose mother dies. Jessie’s father elopes with a woman he met online, leaving her with a step-monster (oh, I meant stepmother). And now Jessie has to attend a super-intimidating Los Angeles prep school, Wood Valley High School, on the other side of the country. Jessie’s new step-monster has a teenage son to top it off, who is not interested in helping her adjust to her new life in the least.

When Jessie is just about ready to give up and head back to Chicago, she gets help from an anonymous source who calls themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN). SN emails her and offers to be her lifeline at Wood Valley High School.  Is someone out to get Jessie, or can she truly rely on what seems to be her only ally in life?  Will Jessie ever be able to call Los Angeles home?

This is such a funny, relatable book, and a quick read.  Plenty of characters and a great storyline will keep you hooked to the end.  Tell Me Three Things is a definite addition to your shelf this spring.

– Becky

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The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent KingIt’s hard to find your way when your dad is a Pentecostal minister who insists you handle poisonous rattlesnakes. Dill Early struggles to survive his senior year in the Bible Belt, while grappling with his secret feelings for a fellow outcast. He and his two misfit friends have their own methods for surviving senior year.

But a sudden tragedy soon leaves Dill wondering if his love for music, as well as his secret feelings for Lydia, are enough to see him through these dark days. Dill soon find his own faith, leading to a final confrontation with his devout mother about his shifting beliefs on God and the future that is pulling him away from the home that has long stifled him.

This coming-of-age story shows how the pain of the past need not dictate the long path forward. Dill’s struggle to make it through the school year grows more difficult as his parents pressure him to live by the faith with which they face each day. Dill’s own brand of faith finally gives him the courage to move on.

The Serpent King will resonate with fans of Me, Earl, & the Dying Girl, as well as readers seeking a heartfelt story of overcoming life’s challenges to forge one’s own path.

– Travis

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This Way Home by Wes Moore

This way homeSeventeen-year-old Elijah Thomas is a sensation on the basketball court. His focus and determination have made him a standout player and his skills are getting some serious attention.  His high school team has just won the state championship which for most would be the culmination of a dream, but not for Elijah. He sees basketball and college as a stepping stone and a way out of his tough Baltimore neighborhood.

Dylan and Michael are Elijah’s best friends and together the trio is preparing for a summer 3-on-3 tournament where the teens will compete in the adult division. A win here would give Elijah important visibility in front of college scouts. Along with the positive notoriety, Elijah is also getting noticed by a dangerous group.

An up and coming street gang, known as Blood Street Nation, has given Michael expensive gifts of sneakers and uniforms for the team to wear in the tournament. Although tempted by the new gear, Elijah knows it’s wrong and has the team go back to their worn out clothes to finish the championship. There are major consequences because of this decision and they fear the gang’s elusive boss will retaliate against them, which he does.

Elijah will need the help of Mr. Banks, a gruff, ex-military man who has become a reluctant mentor to the boy. Elijah desperately needs someone like Mr. Banks in his life since he has no real memories of his birth father. Missing his father is a recurring theme for Elijah throughout the book and is a reminder of just how important parents are to our youth. This was a well written and ultimately tragic story with some startling plot twists.

– Mark
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These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

The Shallow GravesSet in 1890’s New York, this book revolves around a 17-year-old socialite named Josephine (Jo) Montfort. Being born into a well-to-do family, there are certain expectations for how Jo’s life should unfold.  Her sheltered life should consist of ritzy parties and soirées, graduating from an all-girl finishing school, and marrying a wealthy bachelor from a well-placed family. In fact, a likely suitor has already been picked out. That’s not quite how Jo sees things though as she is feisty and determined with aspirations of following in the footsteps of her idol; the trail-blazing journalist, Nellie Bly.

Early in the story we learn that Jo’s father (Charles Montfort) has died and the authorities are claiming he accidentally shot himself while cleaning his pistol.  Jo isn’t buying this as she knows him to be far too experienced with firearms to make the mistake of cleaning a loaded gun. Charles was one of New York’s wealthiest men as he was owner of the city newspaper and partner in a very large shipping firm. Certainly with his wealth and power, he must have made enemies along the way.

Jo is determined to investigate her father’s death and teams up with an equally inquisitive junior reporter named Eddie Gallagher. Eddie and Jo come from different backgrounds but that doesn’t stop Jo from falling for him as he introduces her to parts of the city that she didn’t even know existed. Together they track down clues from the unlikeliest of places – the wharf, the slums, a brothel, and even from the grave. As she gets closer to discovering the truth, she begins to realize that it may shatter what she thought she knew about her family and father.

– Mark

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The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle

The Bubble Wrap BoyThis is the story of Charlie Han, a boy who is short in stature but big in heart. Charlie is more than a little clumsy, which combined with his diminutive frame, has made him an easy target for the bullies of the world. Now add in his mother who takes being overprotective to the next level and you have a recipe for trouble which seems to have no problem finding Charlie.

Charlie’s best friend is Sinus, a boy with a super-big nose and an equally low ranking in the pecking order of high school. Sinus seems resigned to his (lack of) social status, but Charlie wants to find a way to stand out and get noticed. He decides that if he could develop a skill, something he’s really good at, then people will finally see him as an equal.

While out on a delivery for his father’s Chinese restaurant, Charlie sees a boy on a skateboard sail by doing amazing tricks. He quickly starts to obsess about becoming a top-notch skateboarder and sees this as his big chance to finally fit in. This isn’t going to be easy with Charlie’s mom in the picture. Even when she gives in to allowing him to do the food deliveries (on a three-wheeled bike), she makes him wear so much protective gear that he’s quickly the butt of more jokes and taunts. She has her reasons for the way she is though and that becomes clear with a shocking revelation later in the book.

Don’t hesitate to pick up this book as it is a great story of friendship, family, and overcoming obstacles to become something more than you thought you could.

– Mark

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Drowning Is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley

Drowning is InevitableThis is the heartbreaking tale of a 17-year-old girl named Olivia. Her teenage mother (Lillian) committed suicide just three days after giving birth by walking into the Mississippi River in the middle of the night. Olivia’s grandmother, who she lives with, suffers with dementia and thinks that Olivia is actually Lillian. Many of the townspeople draw similar comparisons between daughter and mother and it feels like they’re just waiting to see if Olivia will suffer the same fate as her mom when she turns 18.

Fortunately for Olivia, she has a strong group of friends who are more like family than her own kin. We’re introduced to a boy named Jamie, who is Olivia’s closest friend along with Maggie and Max. Each friend has their own share of life problems. Max is Olivia’s on-again, off-again boyfriend who struggles with alcohol issues. Maggie is a bit of a wild child who just wants to have a relationship with her absentee mother. Jamie has major struggles with his father who is a violent alcoholic.

Jamie has had enough of his uncontrollable father and upon a violent confrontation, the father is killed. This leads to Jamie and Olivia fleeing their small Louisiana town with help from Max and Maggie. They escape to New Orleans, where they seek to find a way out of their problems while hoping that no one recognizes them as wanted fugitives.

The writing in this book is excellent and is an interesting look at the complexity and richness of the relationships we have with one another.

– Mark

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Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything by Nicola YoonEighteen-year-old Maddy Whittier lives her life in a bit of a bubble. This can be a cliché for some people, but for Maddy, it’s much more than that. SCID is the acronym for “Severe Combined Immune Deficiency” and victims of this dreadful disease must live in isolation from the outside world for fear of germs and contamination that can lead to death. This describes Maddy’s world where she lives at home with her mother, Pauline (who is also her doctor) and Carla, her long-time nurse and friend.

Maddy seems resigned to a lifetime of books, movies, and board games in her sterile but safe home. Her over-protective mom dotes on her and there’s no denying the deep love they share. With the death of Maddy’s brother and father many years before (in a horrible car accident), they are understandably each other’s whole world. That is until a new family moves in next door and Maddy’s curiosity is piqued by a teenage boy she watches from her window. His name is Olly and his family life is a mess, mainly due to an abusive father who torments the family with ugly fits of drunken rage.

Maddy and Olly’s window to window communication leads to online chatting and they quickly develop romantic feelings for each other. These feelings are brand new for Maddy and now the illness she had learned to tolerate becomes a bitter torment that’s keeping her from a life she now wants to experience more completely. There’s plenty of conflict for Maddy as she risks her health and safety trying to break free from her fearful mom and find the courage to face the outside world. Be ready for a significant plot twist that will have a large impact on all the characters in this well-written YA novel.

– Mark

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Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye StrangerThis book begins against the backdrop of middle school; the primary focus of which is three girls who are best of friends. The main character, Bridget, lives with her musician mother and coffee shop owner father in New York City.  The story actually starts several years earlier, when Bridget miraculously survives being struck by a car as she skates through an intersection. The incident affected her significantly, as she then begins to view herself differently and wonders if there was a special reason why she survived.

Fast forward several years and Bridge (as she wanted to be called after the accident) along with her best friends, Tabitha and Emily, are trying to navigate the changes and challenges that come with seventh grade and their teen years. With the introduction of new friends (especially boys), the trio finds it’s not so easy to honor the friendship pact they made years earlier.

This book accurately portrays a lot of issues that face youth today, especially those walking the fine line between being a kid and a teenager. A variety of relevant topics are introduced such as friendship, peer pressure, sexting, shaming, bullying, and forgiveness. Many characters are intertwined and the descriptive nature of the writing is intricate and rich.

Although the majority of the book takes place in the third person, there are chapters written in second person that are set at a time that’s slightly ahead of the rest of the book. Eventually the two narratives do catch up with each other however this was initially confusing and took some getting used to. Ultimately though, this isn’t a major distraction from what was an interesting and believable read.

– Mark

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The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

The Witch Hunter

The Witch Hunter is a fantastic story following the chaotic life of Elizabeth Gray. She is orphaned at a young age because of a plague believed to have been started by witches and wizards unknown. The direct result is the immediate eradication of witchcraft. Anyone found reading books associated with witchcraft, using herbs or practicing magic of any form will be sentenced to death.

Alone and starving, Elizabeth is saved by Caleb, who is also an orphan, and together they survive by becoming servants at the palace. Unhappy as a servant, Caleb aspires to be more, so he asks Elizabeth to join the elite team of witch hunters with him. Afraid to be left alone, but unsure this is the right choice for her, she blindly follows him.

They become the most fierce witch hunters the land has ever seen, bringing countless witches and wizards to justice. She is soon betrayed, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. With little hope, Elizabeth is rescued by a wizard and is forced to reevaluate everything she has ever believed. She finds friends and allies in the most unlikely places.

This is a fast paced book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I genuinely look forward to reading the sequel.

– Renee

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The Disappearance of Emily H. by Barrie Summy

The Disappearance of Emily HHaving just moved from Detroit to New York, we meet Raine as she is preparing to register for 8th grade.  Raine has a special gift; she collects people’s sparkles, which is a glimpse of a person’s memory.

Growing up, Raine lived with her grandmother, but after she died, Raine’s mother began taking care of her.  Raine’s grandmother also had the ability to read sparkles.

Raine is quick to learn who the mean girls in the school are, but unfortunately two of them are in cross-country with her.  While walking her dog, Raine sees a missing sign for Emily Huvar.  Emily is a 13-year-old girl who disappeared a few months ago.  Raine learns that she and her mother moved into Emily’s house.

As Raine delves into people’s memories, she learns enough to make her want to solve the case of Emily’s disappearance.  Will she get to the bottom of the mystery or is there more to this case than just a missing girl?

I highly recommend this book.  I was immediately drawn in and was enthralled until the end.  This was a great mystery with plenty of twists and turns.  The bullying throughout broke my heart a little, but unfortunately, it’s a harsh reality of what people go through in today’s society.

– Amanda

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