Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

Genre: Poetry/Memoir

Number of Pages: 325

Nikki Grimes retells the story of her childhood and the many hardships she endured in poetry form. Some of the challenges she faced included having a mentally ill alcoholic mother, being separated from her sister, having an abusive adult in her home, going into foster care, living in dangerous neighborhoods, and constantly feeling like no one appreciates her writing skills. The story itself is very powerful, but in the verse format the sheer feeling behind it really comes through and the reader can really feel how the author felt and how impressive it is for her to put this out in the world. This memoir really helps encourage students who might not otherwise want to read (or write) poetry to get interested and to see how powerful a medium it can really be. Highly Recommended.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 388

Emoni Santiago’s life has been difficult since she got pregnant as a freshmen in high school. Now, as a senior she is busy going to school, raising her two year old (with help from her grandmother whom she lives with), working, and honing her gift of cooking. She doesn’t know what the future will hold, but just wants to focus on getting through senior year. That is until she learns there is a new elective in culinary studies that includes a spring break trip to Spain to actually work with Spanish chefs. Even though Emoni has a lot on her plate she cannot resist the opportunity to work with a real chef. Unfortunately, she learns quickly that not everyone is as interested in her unique blend of spices that makes her food so special and she is penalized for not following recipes to the letter. She briefly even considers dropping the course, but something pulls her back and she learns that this could be a real career path for her if she works at it. Can she raise the money for her trip to Spain? Can she find a way to juggle school, parenthood, a job, and college applications? Or would it be better for her daughter if she just started working full time after high school?

Emoni’s story is so relatable to anyone who feels like they are being pulled in different directions by their obligations and their dreams. She often feels weighted down by the pressures on her and even though she is fortunate to have people who care for her and want to help her fulfill her dreams she knows a lot of these responsibilities fall on her. The focus on what it takes to become a chef is refreshing as well. This is not a topic you see in a lot of young adult books, but it is a great example of a very valid career path that many students do not think of. Recommended.

No Exit by Taylor Adams

Genre: Thriller Mystery

Number of Pages: 307

Darby is trying to get home to her sick mother before she goes in for emergency surgery, but is forced to stop at a rest stop in a blizzard with four strangers. They are resigned to the fact that they will be stuck there for the night, but when Darby tries to get a cell phone signal outside she inadvertently discovers that one of the cars parked outside the rest stop has a little girl trapped in a cage. She knows it is up to her to rescue this little girl from whichever of the strangers inside has her trapped. She has no idea who she can trust, however. With no cell service or any way to get help she must find a way to rescue the girl on her own. Can she save the girl and escape the blizzard without tipping off the person who took her? Can she get to her mother before it’s too late?

This thriller mystery packs several twists and turns as Darby tries to find out what the story behind the kidnapped little girl is. At first, she thinks it’s pretty straight forward, but nothing is ever as simple as it first appears and she must make some tough decisions if she wants to truly save the girl and hopefully herself. The ending is satisfying, but by no means tidy. Recommended for fans who like a little grit in their mysteries and aren’t afraid of a bit of violence.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Genre: Historical Fiction

Number of Pages: 451

The first in a series, Dread Nation follows Jane McKeene in an alternate post Civil War where a mysterious plague has swept the nation and the dead have begun to rise as zombies. Jane was taken from her home to study at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls where she has been training to take on zombies for over a year. Jane has not heard from her mother in almost a year and is worried their home has been overrun, but until she knows for sure she dutifully keeps writing to her. Meanwhile, Jane is struggling in her studies. She’s an excellent combat fighter, but her etiquette skills leave something to be desired and one teacher in particular has taken a dislike to her, which isn’t helping. If she can graduate from this institution she is hopeful she can get a good job where she can dedicate her time to fighting these zombies, but if she gets expelled before that she won’t be able to find work anywhere. When a local family vanishes overnight a local friend asks Jane to help find out what happened to them, but the more Jane investigates the more questions she has. Worst of all, as she begins to uncover inconsistencies all around her she realizes she does not know whom she can trust. Can Jane survive long enough to get out of this place and find out what happened to her family? Can Jane help her friend find out what happened to the missing neighbors?

This alternative historical fiction book delves into several pertinent issues such as pandemics, politics, and race and gender equality that could be applied to today’s world. Jane is a complicated character who never promises to be perfect or totally truthful with her secrets. Nevertheless, she is quick on her feet and loyal to those she wants to protect. She knows she has a hard lot in life and she does not waste time feeling sorry for herself, but instead tries to do the best she can with the opportunities she has. Readers will be drawn into this exciting, fast paced story as Jane deals with a variety of injustices around her, least of all the zombies trying to attack her all the time. Highly Recommended.

The Dreamsinger by Edward Myers

Genre: Fantasy

Number of Pages: 201

This unique fantasy story revolves around a world where music contains power and is therefore controlled by the Masters. Allu is musically talented, however, and is invited by the Masters to train on how to properly yield its power. Allu meets a young man named Ned and everything changes as she realizes just how unjust their society is and how little control most people have over their own lives. Together, they begin a dangerous adventure in order to try and free everyone from the confines the Masters have set for them. Can they succeed in freeing the power of Music from the Masters? Will they be able to flee the long grasp the Masters have on the region?

This story is fun and exciting right from the beginning and readers will enjoy the interesting take on music being the source of all power. Allu and Ned are properly fleshed out so that it is obvious to see what their motivations and weaknesses are as they embark on such a dangerous mission and readers will want to know what happens to them on this journey. Recommended for male and female readers as well as fans of fantasy, adventure, and reluctant readers.

The Gifted, the Talented, and Me by William Sutcliffe

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 323

Sam is shocked when he learns that his father sold his company and they are leaving the only town they’ve ever known to move to London where he and his siblings can attend some fancy Liberal Arts school. He seems to be the only one resisting this change, however. His younger sister loves to draw and is excited to attend more art classes and his older brother is a musician and is looking forward to possibly finding people he can start a band with. Sam’s mom is the most excited of all as she plans to turn their new shed into a creative workspace where she can find her passion. Sam was perfectly fine where he was, but reluctantly starts this new school. He quickly learns that he does not fit in anywhere in his new school and the drama kids in particular don’t let him forget it. When he finally decides he does not care what others think he lets his insecurities go and tries out for the school play. Can Sam really act in a play in front of everyone? Is it possible to find a way to fit in at this crazy new school that doesn’t even allow soccer? Will the rest of his family find happiness in this new place?

A lot of readers will identify with Sam because he just wants to fit in and to him it feels like everyone else is having such an easy time doing that while he feels left out. It is important for him to realize, however, that even though it seems like everyone else has it all figured out they all have their own issues to deal with as well. Even Jennifer, the seemingly perfect popular girl that Sam quickly falls for, has some unpleasant things to deal with regarding her boyfriend. At the same time, it isn’t until Sam starts trying to make the most of his new environment that he begins to actually feel like he could be happy here. The characters are all well developed and engaging, making Sam’s life seem believable and normal (including sibling rivalry and some schoolyard bullying). Recommended for readers who like sympathetic characters that they can identify with.

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Genre: Mystery

Number of Pages: 420

Ellingham Academy was founded in the 1930s by Albert Ellingham who wanted to created a school for talented young people. It was made famous in 1936 when Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and ransomed. After Ellingham paid the ransom, however, they still were not returned. The whereabouts in particular of little Alice Ellingham has been a mystery ever since. In present day, Stevie Bell has been admitted to Ellingham Academy and she cannot wait to try to solve this decades old case. She wants to be a detective when she grows up and she feels she has learned enough about the case and sleuthing techniques to be able to solve this case once she is able to get onto campus. Shortly, after the school year begins, a fellow student is found dead in a recently unearthed tunnel. Was it an accident or was it murder? Stevie begins to grow convinced that the present day mystery is connected to the 1936 mystery and is determined to prove it. If there is a murderer on campus, though, will she be next?

This is the first in a three part mystery series and each one provides clues and shocking twists to the eventual reveal of both the 1936 mystery and the present day events. The cast of characters that Stevie meets at Ellingham Academy are interesting and colorful, but most importantly they are all supportive of each other’s interests and strengths. The story flips between Stevie in the present tense and then events and news clippings from the 1930s to help the reader piece together the mystery at the same time as Stevie. Fans of mystery stories will enjoy this series because since it take place over three books and therefore has the ability to truly develop at a natural pace while also fleshing out the unique culture of Ellingham Academy.

How to Pack for the End of the World by Michelle Falkhoff

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 310

Amina has struggled since her Jewish mosque was attacked several months before. Her anxiety has grown to the point that she has nightmares and her parents have decided a change of scenery might be helpful. So, she is going to the prestigious Gardner Academy on scholarship. Amina is a little annoyed her family is sending her away, but she quickly meets a group of friends who all share anxieties of their own and they form their own club where they prepare for different survival skills and scenarios. Along the way, Amina realizes that there have been bad things that have happened to all of the members of the group, except one. Everyone thought they were pranks or unfortunate occurrences, but Amina is starting to wonder if there is a more sinister plan at hand and wonders if their survival group is a target. Could it be Jo, the only member who hasn’t been harassed? Could it be someone else who is trying to hurt their circle of friends and if so, then why? Can Amina find a way to keep them all together so that they can face their anxieties together without turning on each other?

There is a fair amount of discussion on different forms of survival skills and possible hardships that could happen at any time from natural disasters to global warming to terrorist attacks. The focus of the book, however, is definitely the relationships between the characters. They are all totally different and yet they are able to form a cohesive club and each of them has unique relationships between them as well. The struggles Amina faces with her new friends, her family, and even her roommate will resonate with any teenager because everyone can identify with the challenges of maintaining several different relationships at once. At the same time, if you don’t put in the work, then the relationships are much less valuable as well. Recommended for students looking for a thought provoking novel that will resonate with them long after they have finished.

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer

Genre: Romance/Realistic Fiction

Number of pages: 390

Prudence always tries her best in everything she does, which is why she has no tolerance for those around her that she sees as lazy or unmotivated. The worst offender of this is her lab partner: Quint. He is always late, frequently does not do things he is supposed to, and never follows her instructions. One day, Prudence slips and falls hitting her head. When she wakes up she appears to have the ability to instantly reward or punish people for bad behavior. She calls this her ability to give instant karma, however, it does not seem to work on Quint. After a disastrous final presentation they are given the chance to redo it if they are willing to work together over the summer. Prudence desperately wants to improve her grade, but Quint has had enough of her condescending comments and eye rolls and is fine taking the grade as it stands. In order to try and convince Quint she goes to the local wildlife refuge where he works and finds herself getting pulled in to volunteering for the summer. She can’t help but notice how special this place is and the work they do for injured sea animals so she tries to help with fundraising efforts, but it’s hard for her to convince Quint her intentions are pure when her reasons for volunteering were to get him to redo the project. Can Prudence convince Quint to redo the project? Can Prudence figure out a way to improve the fundraising efforts of the refuge in order to help them succeed long term? Will Prudence and Quint ever see past their differences and possibly find something more?

This engaging story discusses many interesting topics including conservation, environmental issues, and even the economy and it’s effect on fundraising and small businesses. The characters are all very interesting and just memorable enough that the reader cannot help getting pulled in when Prudence’s integrity is questioned. Despite the title, instant karma is not the focus of the story, but readers who choose this title because of the karma premise will enjoy the dynamic between the characters and the overall story enough to keep reading.

Deepfake by Sarah Darer Littman

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 336

Dara and Will are best friends, fighting for valedictorian at their high school, and secretly dating. There is a mysterious website at their school called “Rumor Has It” that reveals all the secrets and gossip of their high school. They are a bit thrown when the site reveals their secret relationship and Will in particular is worried his best friend MJ will be upset that he didn’t tell her. Shortly after the gossip site revealed their secret relationship, a video is posted to the site in which Dara accuses Will of paying someone to take the SATs for him. Will is really hurt she would say something like that about him knowing how hard he prepared for the SATs, but the video appears irrefutable. Dara swears she did not say those things and does not know how that video could possibly exist if it didn’t happen. To make matters worse, Will has been accepted to Stanford and now his entire future is in jeopardy. Who is behind the “Rumor Has It” website and where did they get the video? Can Dara and Will’s relationship remain strong throughout the scandal or will it tear them apart?

This book reminds us all that we have to be careful with things we post because those things could be used against us later. Several lives are disrupted with the release of this video, not to mention friendships destroyed. It is very difficult to always tell what is true and what isn’t, but as a society we need to try a little harder to find truth instead of reveling in the gossip. Recommended for readers who like current topics.

Cousins by Karen M. McManus

Genre: Mystery

Number of Pages: 321

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah are the only three grandchildren to the wealthy and influential Mildred Story. They have never met her, though, because before they were born their parents all received a letter from their mother saying she was cutting off all contact with them because “they knew what they did.” They all claim that don’t know what they did and they tried for years to reconcile, but to no avail. Then, all three cousins receive a letter from their grandmother inviting them to come to her vacation island to work for the summer at her resort. They all have their reservations about this, but their parents are so eager to mend fences and get back in the will that they all agree to go. When they arrive it becomes very clear that their grandmother did not invite them and has no interest in getting to know them, which disappoints their parents. The three cousins are enjoying getting to know each other, though, and refuse to leave the island when Mildred’s business manager tries to get rid of them. Can they find out what happened between their grandmother and their parents? Can they get to know their grandmother at all while they are here?

This exciting story follows a wealthy family who has a lot of secrets they do not want to get out. As Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah try to find out what went wrong between their parents and their grandmother all those years ago they find that some of the facts just simply do not add up. Can they uncover the truth before they are forced off the island? Will secrets of their own be revealed along the process? Fans of We Were Liars and other suspenseful mysteries will struggle to put this one down for even a second! Highly recommended.

Otherworld by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

Genre: Futuristic/Sci Fi

Number of Pages: 355

The first in a series, Otherworld follows Simon, a wealthy teenage troublemaker as he tries to find out why his childhood best friend no longer wants to have anything to do with him. There is a new virtual reality videogame coming out called Otherworld, which he has been chosen to beta test. The equipment is expensive so he sends some to Kat, his best friend, in the hopes that she joins him in the game. They do meet up in the game, but in real life she is still very distant and he starts to worry that she could be in some kind of trouble because it seems like the trouble started after her mom remarried. He follows her to a party in order to try and find out what is going on, but before he can talk to her there is a terrible accident that leaves Kat in a coma with a condition called “locked in symdrome.” That basically means that her brain is intact, but incapable of interacting with her body. The tech company behind Otherworld comes forward with some new technology that they claim can help her to interact in the virtual reality world they have created called the White City. They say it will allow her to live, while she cannot in the real world. Simon is suspicious of this company from the beginning because they seem to be doing things without Kat’s mom’s consent and in the dead of night when no one can see them. When he raises objections to this technology being forced onto Kat he is removed from the hospital. After he gets home he receives a package with the equipment he needs to join “the white city” with a note that instructs him to go save her. Without any knowledge of what he is truly getting into he goes into the game without knowing how to find Kat or if he can find his way out again.

This story is recommended for fans of videogame books like The Eye of Minds and Warcross. Simon is by no means perfect, but readers will be able to identify with him because he is so flawed and yet his motives toward his friend are pure. The action both inside and outside the videogame is compelling as Simon faces dangers in both realities. In the end, there are a few people who try to help him but the majority of the risk is on him. Reluctant readers will find themselves pulled in by this story where it’s often difficult to find the true reality.

One by One by Ruth Ware

Genre: Mystery

Number of pages: 372

When a small tech company brings it’s shareholders to a fancy French ski chalet they are expecting to have a relaxing, fun vacation where they discuss the future of the company. Erin is one of the two employees who are supposed to make the retreat a dream for their guests and Liz is the outcast of the group since she is a shareholder, but she no longer works at the company. Shortly after the group arrives one of the CEO’s mysteriously goes missing, but before they can start a search party there is a terrible avalanche that traps them and knocks out the power. As they wait for help mysterious things start to happen to the guests one by one. Told in alternating chapters between Erin and Liz it becomes obvious that there is something sinister going on, but it isn’t clear who is doing this and why. Can they get help before it’s too late?

This mystery is engaging and draws the reader in right from the beginning. It’s made clear that everyone has something to hide and no one really knows who they can trust. The climax is exciting and worth the build up as it is revealed what is really going on at this ski chalet. Fans of books like And Then There Were None will enjoy this thrilling tale set in a fun setting.

The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings

Genre: Historical Fiction

Number of pages: 258

In 1851, identical twins Sophie and Mariah Carter are struggling to get out of the difficult situation they found themselves in when their adoptive family cast them aside after 8 loving years and sent them to live with a family who treated them as slave labor. Despite many years of loyal work, they are not treated well and any money they earn outside the home is kept by the wife or spent at the local pub by the husband. Sophie has never understood why their mother’s sister refused to take them in when their mom died in childbirth. She has become quite fond of science and technology from working in a clock shop and she desperately wants to go to London where she hopes to become an inventor. Sophie writes to her aunt and her aunt replies that she can take one of them for one season in the hopes of helping her find a husband, but Sophie cannot leave Mariah behind so they go to London together and pretend to both be Sophie. Mariah’s interests are literature and art, which takes her in a different direction in London and both sisters end up meeting men who like them as individuals. Can they keep up the charade of both being Sophie? Will the men they like forgive them for not telling them the truth up front? Will their aunt ever find any affection for her only nieces?

This historical fiction story is full of adventure and romance. Both Sophie and Mariah desperately want to make their way in this exciting city, but they have grown up realizing they really only have each other they can depend on which makes them a little slow to trust people they meet. They are fortunate to meet many kind, generous people in their London adventures, but they always have the fear that it will be discovered they are both posing as Sophie and be cast out. The romances are both realistically built up over time and the two men are sufficiently different for two such different sisters. Recommended for historical fiction and romance fans.

Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd

Genre: Fantasy

Number of Pages: 376 p.

Anouk was created by a witch who uses her as a maid and refuses to let her outside the house they live in. She calls her a “beastie” because Anouk was originally an animal. She is not the only “beastie”, however, as the witch has also created several others who perform other functions around the house. Anouk has always been relatively happy, even though she is severely punished whenever she makes the witch mad, but she knows her fellow beasties are not so happy. When Anouk discovers the witch murdered in her bedroom she knows she and the others will be blamed so they go on a quest to try and find another spell to keep them human, but they only have three days before the original spell fades and they become animals once again. Can they find a way to stay human? Can they find out who killed their master?

This fantasy story is full of suspense and adventure as Anouk and her siblings strive to clear their names and stay human. Along the way they meet several interesting creatures, but not all of their intentions are pure and it’s difficult for them to know who they can trust. The author does a nice job of introducing the reader to this fantasy world and it’s easy to see this is only the beginning. The first in a series, this is recommended for fans of the Cassandra Clare novels.


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