Heartwood Box by Ann Aguirre #bookreview #YA #mystery #TuesdayBookBlog

A dark, romantic YA suspense novel with an SF edge and plenty of drama, layering the secrets we keep and how appearances can deceive, from the New York Times bestselling author.

In this tiny, terrifying town, the lost are never found. When Araceli Flores Harper is sent to live with her great-aunt Ottilie in her ramshackle Victorian home, the plan is simple. She’ll buckle down and get ready for college. Life won’t be exciting, but she’ll cope, right?

Wrong. From the start, things are very, very wrong. Her great-aunt still leaves food for the husband who went missing twenty years ago, and local businesses are plastered with MISSING posters. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city limits that the locals don’t talk about. Ever. When she starts receiving mysterious letters that seem to be coming from the past, she suspects someone of pranking her or trying to drive her out of her mind. To solve these riddles and bring the lost home again, Araceli must delve into a truly diabolical conspiracy, but some secrets fight to stay buried… 

I’ve never read this author before, but when the book description mentioned a small town with secrets, and suspense with a sci-fi edge, I knew it was time to become acquainted with her work.

This book grabbed me right away.  Araceli feels a presence in the attic, and actually sees the string attached to a light bulb turn on by itself – I was all in.  Mysterious lights in the forest, loads of people missing, a box that transports letters to a recipient decades earlier – it just got better.  A lot goes on in this novel, and that’s something I enjoyed about it.  It’s also an usual blend of contemporary, romance, suspense, and sci-fi, something that should attract readers of several genres.

Traveling with her journalist parents for most of her life, Araceli has experienced things most teens can’t imagine, so it’s understandable that she dives into these mysteries head first.  While I admire her bravery and determination, she also comes across as selfish and headstrong, since she doesn’t always consider the consequences of her actions – especially when they involve the lives of other people.  Then again, these are the actions of a teenager.

I don’t generally read YA contemporary, but with sci-fi, suspense, and time travel tossed into the mix, I plowed through this book in a couple of days.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

 

 

The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin #bookreview #YA #contemporary

Mean Girls meets The Tudors in Hannah Capin’s The Dead Queens Club, a clever contemporary YA retelling of Henry VIII and his wives (or, in this case, his high school girlfriends). Told from the perspective of Annie Marck (“Cleves”), a 17-year-old aspiring journalist from Cleveland who meets Henry at summer camp, The Dead Queens Club is a fun, snarky read that provides great historical detail in an accessible way for teens while giving the infamous tale of Henry VIII its own unique spin.

What do a future ambassador, an overly ambitious Francophile, a hospital-volunteering Girl Scout, the new girl from Cleveland, the junior cheer captain, and the vice president of the debate club have in common? It sounds like the ridiculously long lead-up to an astoundingly absurd punchline, right? Except it’s not. Well, unless my life is the joke, which is kind of starting to look like a possibility given how beyond soap opera it’s been since I moved to Lancaster. But anyway, here’s your answer: we’ve all had the questionable privilege of going out with Lancaster High School’s de facto king. Otherwise known as my best friend. Otherwise known as the reason I’ve already helped steal a car, a jet ski, and one hundred spray-painted water bottles when it’s not even Christmas break yet. Otherwise known as Henry. Jersey number 8.

Meet Cleves. Girlfriend number four and the narrator of The Dead Queens Club, a young adult retelling of Henry VIII and his six wives. Cleves is the only girlfriend to come out of her relationship with Henry unscathed—but most breakups are messy, right? And sometimes tragic accidents happen…twice…

I’m not a big history buff, but I watched The Tudors series on Netflix several years ago and was hooked.  Given, it was highly dramatized, but you can’t tell me there weren’t clandestine meetings, backstabbings, political maneuverings, and power plays during that time.  And then, of course, there was Henry and his wives.  When I saw this book, I was instantly curious about a modern day retelling – in high school, no less.

The author is very clever in how she created her characters based on the historical figures, bringing the queens, Henry, and some of their acquaintances into modern day.  Cleves, based on Anne of Cleves, who was queen for a few short months, is Henry’s best friend.  Like Henry VIII, this Henry has a wandering eye and a long string of girlfriends.  Loosely paralleling their historical relationship, Cleves and Henry date for an awkward couple of weeks, but decide they’re better as friends.  Cleves is blindly loyal, awkward, and her snark had me chuckling several times.

Make no mistake – this high school is just as socially treacherous as Henry the VIII’s court, with suspicious deaths and characters falling out of favor.  Scheming, plotting, and gossip abound, making up a large portion of the book, but occasionally don’t do much to advance the story.  All the back and forth is difficult to follow at times, but once the book hits the 75% mark, things move along quickly.

I didn’t enjoy this read as much as I’d hoped, but that’s more me than the book.  I’m not a big fan of Mean Girls and erratic high school drama, but judging by other reviews, many readers thought The Dead Queens Club was fabulous.  This book is scheduled for publication January 29th, 2019.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

 

Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky #bookreview #YA #contemporary #TuesdayBookBlog

The summer before her junior year, paleontology geek Natalie Page lands a coveted internship at an Ice Age dig site near Austin. Natalie, who’s also a plus-size fashion blogger, depends on the retro style she developed to shield herself from her former bullies, but vintage dresses and perfect lipstick aren’t compatible with prospecting for fossils in the Texas heat. But nothing is going to dampen Natalie’s spirit — she’s exactly where she wants to be, and she gets to work with her hero, a rock-star paleontologist who hosts the most popular paleo podcast in the world. And then there’s Chase the intern, who’s seriously cute, and Cody, a local boy who’d be even cuter if he were less of a grouch.

It’s a summer that promises to be about more than just mammoths.

Until it isn’t.

When Natalie’s hero turns out to be anything but, and steals the credit for one of her accomplishments, Nat has to unearth the confidence she needs to stand out in a field dominated by dudes. To do this, she’ll have to let her true self shine, even if that means defying all the rules for the sake of a major discovery.

Although I’m not usually a big reader of YA contemporary, after reading the blurb for Mammoth, there’s no way I could pass it up.  I’m kind of a dino nerd – given, there aren’t dinosaurs in this book, but it was close enough for me.

Let me say up front – if you have daughters or know girls who are interested in STEM, steer them toward this book.  It strongly encourages girls to display their intelligence front and center, pursue their goals, and be themselves.  After they read it, encourage them to make better choices than Natalie.  She makes one bad decision after another and frustrated me – but she’s such a relatable, personable protagonist that I forgave her.  In her defense, she has good intentions, and also owns up to everything.  Nat’s character arc is incredible, and she’ll charm you from the first page.

Mammoth also contains some standard tropes that are difficult to get away from in YA – a love triangle, a rich, mean girl, and an awesome guy who maybe really isn’t, but all the supporting characters are well-written.

If you’re looking for a fresh, highly enjoyable read that also tackles some very relevant issues, Mammoth easily fills those requirements.

Thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for the ARC.

Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong #bookreview #YA #contemporary

Three years after losing her brother Luka in a school shooting, Skye Gilchrist is moving home. But there’s no sympathy for Skye and her family because Luka wasn’t a victim; he was a shooter.

Jesse Mandal knows all too well that the scars of the past don’t heal easily. The shooting cost Jesse his brother and his best friend–Skye.

Ripped apart by tragedy, Jesse and Skye can’t resist reopening the mysteries of their past. But old wounds hide darker secrets. And the closer Skye and Jesse get to the truth of what happened that day, the closer they get to a new killer.

With school shootings becoming all too heart-breakingly common, this novel may not be for everyone.  I will say the content is more about the aftermath (hence, the title), and focuses more on the grieving loved ones left behind.

With hints that the details of the shooting may not be entirely truthful, this book kept me turning the pages – and also because of Jesse and Skye.  Both are well-developed characters who struggle to reconnect and revive their friendship years after a horrendous tragedy.  Their relationship depicts what a strong friendship should be built on – support, humor, common interests, shared experiences, and steadfast loyalty.

Although the author offers several suspects, I guessed who the ‘villain’ was before the halfway point, but never really bought into this person’s motives and actions. Things still seemed a little unclear when all was said and done.  The behavior and actions, or lack of action, of a couple of adult characters also required me to suspend my disbelief a bit.

Aftermath deals with sensitive subject matter and handles it respectfully, but don’t look for commentary on the politics surrounding gun control.  This is a straightforward YA thriller with an intriguing mystery.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

When The Beat Drops by Anna Hecker #bookreview #YA

Seventeen-year-old Mira has always danced to her own beat. A music prodigy in a family of athletes, she’d rather play trumpet than party—and with her audition to a prestigious jazz conservatory just around the corner (and her two best friends at music camp without her), she plans to spend the summer focused on jazz and nothing else.

She only goes to the warehouse party in a last-ditch effort to bond with her older sister. Instead, she falls in love with dance music, DJing…and Derek, a gorgeous promoter who thinks he can make her a star. Suddenly trumpet practice and old friendships are taking a backseat to packed dance floors, sun-soaked music festivals, outsized personalities, and endless beats.

But when a devastating tragedy plunges her golden summer into darkness, Mira discovers just how little she knows about her new boyfriend, her old friends, and even her own sister. Music is what brought them together…but will it also tear them apart? – Goodreads.com

As a music lover and former band geek, I was immediately drawn to this book.  Mira’s obsession with music, ambitious goals, and close relationship with her family make her instantly likable.  Despite that close relationship, she feels as if her parents always put her sister’s needs and interests ahead of her own, and Mira’s very accommodating and understanding for her age.  I admired her determination to work on her goals, try new experiences, and meet new people instead of sitting around sulking after missing music camp.  The dynamics between Mira and her best friends are genuine and relatable, and getting an insider’s view of DJ-ing made this tech-lover very happy.

The first 70% of this book was enjoyable read for me, but soon after, things seem to go off the rails.  I’ll try to put this in general terms to avoid spoilers.  I found it difficult to believe that parents would be oblivious to such a profound change in their child’s appearance and actions.  Mira and her family are dealing with, as well as avoiding, several problems, but the blame comes across as misplaced.  By eliminating a certain aspect from their lives, everything is resolved, which is an unrealistic expectation.  Questions are left unanswered, I was ultimately disappointed at certain choices that didn’t ring true for the character, and the ending felt rushed.

My issues are personal, and I’d still recommend this book to music lovers, because it’s rare to find books exploring that world – they’re few and far between, and I’d love to see more.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the digital ARC.

 

The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith #bookreviews #TuesdayBookBlog #YAbooks

Teenager Leila’s life is full of challenges. From bouncing around the foster care system to living with seasonal affective disorder, she’s never had an easy road. Leila keeps herself busy with her passion for environmental advocacy, monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board and joining a local environmental club with her best friend Sarika. And now that Leila has finally been adopted, she dares to hope her life will improve.

But the voices in Leila’s head are growing louder by the day. Ignoring them isn’t working anymore. Something calls out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park. – Goodreads.com

This charming tale is an interesting blend of contemporary and fantasy, with a main character I just wanted to hug throughout the entire book.  Leila is a mature young woman with strong convictions who struggles with questions about her past, while also learning to trust her new family and find a sense of belonging.  And everyone should have a best friend like Sarika – that person who always supports you and has your back no matter what – who is also a snarky, talented coffee barista with a loyal Twitter following.  Leila’s dad, Jon, is the perfect concoction of worried, overprotective father, with an endearing, dorky sense of humor.

I loved the emphasis on environmental awareness and the interactions between the group on the message board.  Raising awareness in any way can only have a positive effect.

Although the romantic relationships felt somewhat rushed, hovering near the ‘insta-love’ airspace, I appreciated the way Leila realized early on that some relationships are just incompatible, but that doesn’t mean the friendship has to end.  It caught me off guard when Shawn’s character seemed to change abruptly from one scene to the next, and I was also hoping for a little more information about Leila’s biological father.

The Girl and the Grove is an entrancing story with strong themes of family, friendship, and trust.  This book is scheduled for release May 8th, 2018.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau #bookreviews #TuesdayBookBlog #YA

A congressman’s daughter who has to be perfect. A star quarterback with a secret. A guy who’s tired of being ignored. A clarinet player who’s done trying to fit in. An orphaned rebel who wants to teach someone a lesson. A guy who wants people to see him, not his religion.

They couldn’t be more different, but before the morning’s over, they’ll all be trapped in a school that’s been rocked by a bombing. When they hear that someone inside is the bomber, they’ll also be looking to one another for answers. – Goodreads.com

More than anything, this book challenges the reader to avoid stereotypes and assumptions about the situations of others.  It’s timely, thought-provoking, and will stay with you long after finishing.

At first glance, this group of high school teens appear to be a Breakfast Club assortment.  Or are they?  As the story progresses, it’s revealed each is dealing with their own issues to include racism, homosexuality, religious discrimination, bullying, and suicide.  The interactions between Rashid and Tad are especially compelling.  With the exception of Frankie and Kaitlyn, the character development is incredible – the teens are real, relatable, and flawed.  For me, Frankie comes across as a little too stereotypical, and very little information about Kaitlyn is given.

All have motivations for planting the bombs, and determining the identity of the bomber may force the reader to face their own stereotypes and prejudices.  You may surprise yourself.  These teens experience a horrific situation, and I appreciated that the author didn’t create a tidy ending solving all their problems.

A quick, action-packed, and stimulating read, Time Bomb is so much more than teenagers fighting for their lives.  This is easily a cross-over and something I’d highly recommend for book clubs.  Time Bomb is scheduled for publication March 13th, 2018.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.