Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Dark Energy, by Robison Wells

Friday, October 26th, 2018

Dark Energy

by Robison Wells

HarperTeen, 2016. 278 pages.
Starred Review

Dark Energy is set in the near future. Aliens have landed, well, crash landed, in Minnesota, after skidding through Iowa. Alice Goodwin’s Dad is director of special projects for NASA, so this news means that Alice is moving to Minnesota and enrolled in an elite private school there.

It’s actually a few weeks before the aliens emerge from their giant spaceship. When they do, they look like humans.

Naturally, there are protestors. Almost 20,000 people died when the ship crashed. The aliens don’t seem to be looking for conquest, but they also don’t seem to have special insight or knowledge capable of creating such amazing technology.

Most of the thousands of aliens are settled in a tent city, but Alice’s Dad arranges to have two of them attend her private school. Can Alice teach Coya and Suski human ways? And can she and her friends figure out what’s so fishy about their story?

This is an imaginative look at what would happen if aliens crash-landed, combined with a mystery as to what it is the aliens aren’t telling. Combined with a boarding school story and a road trip tale, with some life-or-death danger, this book is an entertaining read.

I enjoyed this paragraph, where the aliens first come out of the ship and are met by a delegation:

Still, it was apparent from the communication that the aliens were impressed with the dress uniforms of the military men, and the alien woman’s hands moved from a dangling award on one of their chests to the dangling tie around the vice president’s neck and back again. Then she noticed that the man in the back had the same kind of tie, only his was striped instead of silver, and that seemed to impress her even more. The alien man was the first to approach the woman in the business suit, and he pointed to the tiny flag pin on her lapel, and then at the many pins on the military uniforms, then the men’s ties, and he gave her an encouraging Try harder next time smile.

I liked Alice’s voice as the narrator describing all this. She’s got a sense of humor about it all and because of her Dad’s job, tends not to catastrophize one way or the other. When things take a dramatic turn for the worse, she’s level-headed and thinks through how to help her friends.

How would you feel if aliens landed?

robisonwells.com
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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

This Savage Song

by Victoria Schwab

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2016. 427 pages.

Kate Harker and August Flynn live in a divided city overrun by monsters. The monsters are created when violent acts are committed. In the north side of the city, people pay Kate’s father for protection. Those who wear one of his medallions will not be touched by the monsters (or the monsters will pay). In the south side of the city, August’s father’s forces patrol to control the monsters. But he uses three of the most powerful type of monster — which includes August himself.

But the truce between the two powerful men and the two halves of the city is growing shaky.

Kate has been sent away for her own protection. But after she gets kicked out of six boarding schools, her father has to take her back. She will attend Colton Academy on the north side of Verity. August is also going to attend Colton Academy. Because the truce may fail. And Kate Harker may be the one thing her father cares about.

Monsters are only capable of telling the truth. Which might make it hard for August to pose as human, but he manages. His type of monster, the Sunai, can steal the souls of sinners by making music. He can tell when someone has committed violence, the kind of violence that produces monsters — their shadows don’t hold still.

The Sunai bring about justice. They work for good, right? But when they get Hungry, they can lose control….

Kate wants to prove she’s strong enough to live in the city, that she is enough like her father to not fear the monsters and rule the city. She notices there’s something off about August.

When monsters attack her school and it looks like the Sunai are doing it — but August is the one who saves her — Kate realizes that someone is trying to make the truce fall apart. Both she and August are in danger, but can they trust each other?

This book has an imaginative premise and explores what makes a human and what makes a monster. There is gore and violence, but interesting thoughts about society and violence and family.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Shadow Bright and Burning, by Jessica Cluess, read by Fiona Hardingham

Monday, October 15th, 2018

A Shadow Bright and Burning

by Jessica Cluess

read by Fiona Hardingham

Listening Library, 2016. 12 hours, 49 minutes on 10 compact discs.

This is alternate history Victorian England, read with impeccable English accents, reflecting class differences in the accents (even though I wouldn’t know the difference if I hadn’t heard it.)

Henrietta Howel has always hidden her ability to set things on fire and burst into flame without burning. So when a sorcerer comes to the school where she grew up and now teaches, she works hard to keep from flaming out. It turns out the sorcerer is looking for a girl with power over flame not to execute her as a witch, but to fulfill a prophecy about a woman from sorcerer stock who will save the country.

When the Ancients attack that night — seven great horrific spirits from another dimension who have been attacking England for years — Henrietta’s powers are revealed. But she is brought back to London to train as a sorcerer. She discovers a different world than the one where she grew up.

Henrietta’s one requirement is that she must bring Rook with her — a boy who is “Unclean,” marked by scars from an attack by one of the Ancients, Korazoth. Rook and Henrietta have always looked after each other. The sorcerer is willing to take him on as a stable boy — anything to get Henrietta to train with the sorcerers.

She’s up against a lot in London. She’s out of her depth with society. And she’s training in a house full of boys. She must master her powers in order to be commended by Queen Victoria and become an official sorcerer. And then she meets someone who says he knew her father. And she has grave doubts as to whether she really is the prophesied one. But if she isn’t, she’ll lose everything.

There are layers within layers in this book, but it never gets too complex to follow. I am delighted that there is more to come — the back of the book says it’s Book One of The Kingdom on Fire. The author develops a complicated world here with sorcerers, magicians, and witches — and powerful beings besieging England who destroy humankind and take people as their familiars. And in the middle of all that, you’ve got Victorian England trying to keep women in their place and a girl trying to figure out what that place is for her.

This book is imaginative, suspenseful, and gripping. The narrator’s voice and delightful British accent ensured that my commute was enchanting as long as I was listening to this book.

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randomhouseteens.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Assassin’s Heart, by Sarah Ahiers

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

Assassin’s Heart

by Sarah Ahiers

HarperTeen, 2016. 420 pages.
Starred Review

I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Come on, it’s about a girl assassin, from a family of assassins. The plot of the book is about finding vengeance.

Not long after the book opens, Lea’s entire family is murdered, burned to death in their sleep, because of a betrayal. I read the start of the book before going to sleep — and woke up the next morning to some pretty depressing thoughts!

But I wasn’t ever tempted to stop reading the book. Despite its dark subject matter, this is good writing and compelling characters.

The world of the book is innovative and unexpected. The nine Families of clippers (assassins) in Lovero serve the goddess Safraella by accepting contracts to kill people. That is also how they keep order in Lovero. If someone pays for someone else to be killed without a good reason, they can be sure their own death will be next. The kingdom accepts this service and doesn’t interfere in matters between the Families.

As part of the service, clippers place a gold coin in the mouth of those they kill.

The coin would act as a balm and prevent the man from becoming an angry ghost, because it signaled that the person deserved a quick rebirth. Instead of wandering the dead plains, Safraella, goddess of death, murder, and resurrection, patron of Lovero, would see the offering and grant him a faster return to a new life. A better life.

Ever since the king of Lovero devoted himself and the kingdom to Safraella, angry ghosts stay out on the plains outside the kingdom. Now Loverans can go out of their homes at night without fearing their souls will be pulled out of their bodies.

But because the Families are outside the law, Lea Saldana has nowhere to turn when her whole family is killed in the fire. She knows the Family that did this will try to hunt her down once they learn she survived. She needs to find her one living relative, an uncle who was banished from the Family years ago. Of course, that will mean crossing the dead plains, filled with angry ghosts. And then somehow finding her uncle, who has gone deep into hiding.

Besides being a compelling story (even if it did had a lot of death and gore), this book also had some twists and turns I didn’t see coming. There’s also romance — and I always have a soft spot for a romance that shows true character in the beloved, someone who’s more than a handsome face.

sarahahiers.com
epicreads.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Titans, by Victoria Scott

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

Titans

Victoria Scott

Scholastic Press, 2016. 313 pages.

I’ve loved horse racing novels since I was a kid collecting The Black Stallion books. This book is in that tradition — except the horses are “Titans” — sophisticated robots with artificial intelligence.

Astrid has loved watching the Titans race since she was thirteen — which was also when she first saw a man die in a race.

The horses are a mixture of the real things and race cars. That’s why I’ve studied both. There isn’t much to do in the suburbs of Detroit, especially when where you live is less suburb and more slum. As working conditions at my father’s plant worsened, and my parents began to argue, the horses were transported from the heart of the forest that nuzzled my house. A glittering promise of hope in the form of iron bolts and smooth steel….

They run and the world trembles beneath my feet. Steam puffs from their nostrils and their eyes cut a crimson path and their bodies clash against one another, steel on steel. As the Titans rumble past, a smile sweeps across my face. Watching them is like kissing a speeding train. Like dancing with a hurricane. The horses are terrifying and beautiful at once. They are mindless beasts, but under the stadium lights, their bodies moving down the track like ghosts, they are glorious.

Racing the Titans is a rich person’s sport, with huge entry fees and a high price for the Titans, but betting on the Titans entertains the masses. It also ruined Astrid’s family’s financial situation. Of course her father didn’t know he was about to get laid off when he gambled so much money on a Titan.

But Astrid meets a grumpy old man who reminds her of her grandfather. And it turns out he has a Titan 1.0 he’d like to race. And she can do the riding.

This book has all the tension of a classic racing novel. Teen gets a chance to race in the big leagues. The stakes are high — both her family and her best friend’s family are about to lose their homes. I stayed up to finish the book because I enjoyed the characters and the tension kept me turning pages.

But I do have some quibbles with the story. I’m afraid I didn’t believe in the “EvoBox” that was only in the Titan 1.0 model and gave the creature emotions. Artificial intelligence, sure, I can believe in, but it was a machine. Astrid felt that way at first and was won over — but I’m afraid I really wasn’t. And when her Titan’s life was in danger, I’m afraid I was unmoved. Just build the machine again, okay?

Another thing played on my little pet peeve. Astrid is a prodigiously gifted mathematician, so that means she’s able to calculate angles in her head and see patterns and use that to take turns more efficiently. I’ve seen this idea in another book. The character was an exceptionally good pool player because they were good at math.

I’m sorry, but having the physical skill to put your body or other things at the right angle is a very different thing from being good at math. As a kid, I was exceptionally good at math. I was, however, terrible at sports. This is not at all uncommon in people who are good at math. Even though, yes, there are math concepts behind pool shots, it doesn’t necessarily translate into being good at pool. And it was hard for me to believe that being good at math would make Astrid good at racing robot horses. Does being good at math make people good at video games using joysticks?

However, it was a good story, and I especially liked Astrid’s friendship with Magnolia, who is especially talented at making hair accessories. Besides running in races, Astrid has to go to social events, like the ball where she needs to find a sponsor. Magnolia by her side keeps good humor in the story and adds warm light-hearted moments to what otherwise could have been a grim book.

VictoriaScottYA.com
thisisteen.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Steep and Thorny Way, by Cat Winters

Monday, September 10th, 2018

The Steep and Thorny Way

by Cat Winters

Amulet Books, 2016. 335 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 2016

The Steep and Thorny Way is a reimagining of Hamlet in 1920s Oregon.

Hanalee Denny has white mother and an African American father, so she’s not very welcome in their town, where it’s illegal even for her parents to be married. But her father died two years ago, hit by a teenage drunk driver, and her mother has remarried to the doctor who comforted her after her husband’s death.

Now Joe, the teen who hit her father, is out of jail for good behavior, but he’s hiding out, because some people are after him. But Hanalee talks to him. He tells her that her father only had a broken leg after being hit by the car, and the doctor who’s now her stepfather must have killed him. What’s more, Hanalee learns that her father’s ghost has been seen on the highway at the crossroads where he was hit. Perhaps she can talk to his spirit and find out what really happened.

Okay, so far I thought we were going to get a straight retelling of Hamlet, so I thought I knew what was going to happen. But there are many twists and turns in this story. Things get sinister when we learn that the Ku Klux Klan is active in their town. They’re recruiting young people, and even Hanalee’s childhood friend is turning against her. And they have reasons for wanting Joe out of the picture as well.

So you’ve got a mystery – how did her father actually die? You’ve also got peril unfolding as Hanalee tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. And there are plenty of historical details about Oregon in that time period.

Reading about someone who’s made to feel “other” is a good antidote to bigotry. I hope this book isn’t as timely as it seems.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of I Woke Up Dead at the Mall, by Judy Sheehan

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

I Woke Up Dead at the Mall

by Judy Sheehan

Delacorte Press, 2016. 278 pages.

Here’s how this book begins:

I woke up dead. At the mall. Still dressed in the (hideous) mango chiffon bridesmaid gown I was wearing when I died. My hair was still pulled back in an elaborate ponytail that was meant to look windswept, but trust me, it would have survived a tsunami. This proves that if you use enough product, your hair can endure things the rest of you can’t. My shoes sparkled in the light. My French manicure was unchipped. I was surrounded by waves and waves of mango chiffon.

Isn’t this perfect? I had actually kept my mouth shut, opting not to tell the bride that I’d never be caught dead in mango. Now here I was. Dead. In mango.

It turns out that the place where Sarah woke up dead is the Mall of America in Minnesota. She was from New York City. Most of the people can’t see her, but then she meets Bertha, her Death Coach. Bertha informs Sarah that she was murdered. (How can this be? Sarah didn’t know enough people to have enemies.) Bertha puts Sarah into a support group with other murdered teens from New York who need to move on. If they don’t move on, they’ll become mall walkers, walking through the mall reliving their deaths.

The teens in the group, one of whom is amazingly attractive, get to visit their own funerals and one day out of their past lives. All with the hope that this will help them let go and move on.

But when Sarah learns who killed her and that her father is in danger, she doesn’t want to move on without helping her father first. That little problem of falling in love isn’t going to help her move on, either.

Do I have to mention that I don’t think for a moment any of this will happen after anyone dies? Do I have to mention I don’t agree with the theology here? But this is a tremendously fun novel. I binge-read it in one sitting and enjoyed myself greatly. There’s mystery – who killed Sarah? There are fun characters and creative world-building. (How does this whole death thing work?) The characters are great, and they all have interesting back stories (which ended up getting them killed).

This is a fun read that leaves you smiling – about death. Sure, maybe you’ll think a little harder about how you live your life. But mostly you’ll enjoy watching a good kid named Sarah navigate a difficult and unfamiliar situation by not necessarily following the rules, but doing the best she can.

judysheehan.com
randomhouseteens.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Metaltown, by Kristen Simmons

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Metaltown

by Kristen Simmons

Tom Doherty Associates, TOR Teen, 2016. 380 pages.

Metaltown is a gritty novel about a fight for justice in a futuristic factory town where kids are exploited.

We’ve got three narrators in the book. The first is Ty, a tough-as-nails, doesn’t-let-anybody-close girl who works in Small Parts, making the delicate parts of weapons.

Ty is the one who helped the second narrator, Colin, survive when his family came to Metaltown. Now Colin’s mother’s partner is sick with the dreaded corn flu, and as the book opens, he runs an errand for Jed, the boss of the Brotherhood. Ty doesn’t like it. Jed can’t be trusted.

The third narrator is from a whole different world. Lena is the daughter of the man who owns the factories. She lives in luxury while her brother pretends to be interested in the business. Lena wants to be involved in management. She wants to find out what’s going on. When she takes steps to do so, she finds more than she bargained for.

We’ve got kids struggling to survive here, and the code of the streets. When Lena stumbles among them, they’re already starting to hope for change. But the kids are up against very powerful forces.

This is a novel of good versus evil, of little folks versus big power, and of doing what’s right versus corruption. The story will keep you turning pages, rooting that somehow our protagonists can come through despite everything stacked against them.

The setting is some sort of bleak future world dominated by war, disease, and hunger. But people’s hearts are still the same.

Personally, I didn’t like the idea that this was set on future earth and humans would go back to child labor like this. But if you accept the setting — this is a powerful story, and kept me turning pages, rooting for the characters.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson

Monday, August 20th, 2018

We Are the Ants

by Shaun David Hutchinson

Simon Pulse, 2016. 451 pages.
Starred Review

Henry Denton has been repeatedly abducted by aliens for years. They usually deposit him somewhere in his hometown of Calypso, Florida without his clothes. It was soon after the first time that his father left them. Who could handle having a kid who claimed he’d been abducted by aliens?

Now, as high school student, the aliens are giving him a choice. They showed him a button. If he doesn’t push the button, the world will blow up. If he pushes the button, he’ll save the world. And he knows when it will happen — in 144 days from when he was given the choice, on January 29, 2016. (I was wishing they set the book in the near future, to give a little more suspense. But that date is around the publication date of the book.)

Henry can’t figure out if the world is worth saving.

Henry is bullied relentlessly. The word got out that he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. In fact, his own older brother Charlie was the one who let that out.

The bullying didn’t matter when his boyfriend Jesse was alive. But Jesse committed suicide a year ago.

What’s wrong with Henry that people leave him like this? Even their good friend Audrey disappeared for months after Jesse’s death, when Henry needed her.

Since then, Henry’s been secretly hooking up with Marcus, who is one of the bullies in public. Maybe with Marcus, Henry can forget Jesse’s death.

But then a new kid comes to town. He seems to think the world is worth saving. But he’s got secrets in his past, and Henry isn’t good for people anyway.

There are a lot of reasons the world might as well end. Henry’s Mom is struggling. His grandma’s losing her memory. His brother’s girlfriend is pregnant. And the bullying has gotten much worse.

It’s hard to decide how to categorize this book. There’s the one science fiction element as Henry tells about what the aliens do to him. But the majority of the book is about coping with life and bullying and friendships and family and romance. And whether life is worth it.

I like the slightly morbid chapters sprinkled throughout the book that each relate a way that life on earth could end.

I also like that this is a book about romance with a gay boy as the main character, but the book isn’t about the fact that he’s gay. It’s about everything else he’s up against.

I didn’t expect to love a book where the first sentence is “Life is bullshit.” and the first chapter hammers home the absurdity of life. But I did love it. I want Henry to push the button. And I want him to want to push the button.

shaundavidhutchinson.com
simonandschuster.com/teens

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Devil and the Bluebird, by Jennifer Mason-Black

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Devil and the Bluebird

by Jennifer Mason-Black

Amulet Books (Abrams), 2016. 327 pages.

Blue Riley goes to a crossroads at midnight to make a deal with the devil.

She wants to find her sister, who walked out two years ago. She’s pretty sure her sister made her own deal.

She meets there a lady in a red dress, who does make a deal.

Blue tries to trade her soul for her sister’s. But instead the lady offers her a game.

“You win, your sister comes home, safe and sound. I win, two souls for the price of one.”

The lady gives Blue six months to find Cass, and she even gives her a homing device — enchants her boots to tell her the right direction.

But after Blue accepts the deal, the lady changes the terms. Did Blue think it would be easy? The lady takes her voice, so she can’t make a sound. “You win the game, you get your sister and your voice back.”

And the terms get harder as she goes on the road. If someone she meets learns her name, then Blue can only stay with them for three days — or it will be bad for them. If they don’t know her name, Blue can stay with them for three weeks.

Blue sets out with $900, her guitar, and a notebook and pencil for trying to communicate.

Magic realism is not my thing, so this story isn’t something I’m naturally drawn to. It ends up partly as a catalog of the dangers that homeless people face. Not that it comes across as dry like a catalog — you care deeply about each one.

But it’s also an exploration of family and music and success — and what people are willing to give up to find success. Or fake success. And what it means to be who you truly are.

jennifermasonblack.com
driftwoodgal.tumblr.com
amuletbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a book sent to me by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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