The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand

Genre:  Fantasy

Holly Chase was a wealthy, beautiful, egotistical daughter of a movie director who lived to judge others.  Therefore, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise when she was visited on Christmas Eve by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.  Yet, Holly chose not to take this experience seriously and laughed it off as a joke despite the ghosts’ warnings that she would die soon if she didn’t change her ways.  Shortly after her disastrous Scrooge experience she is hit by a car and dies.  She wakes up in the office of the company who choose the “Scrooge” each year and she is now required to work here to prepare for each Christmas Eve, but then must also act the role of Christmas past.  She thinks she’ll be stuck in this existence forever until one year her Scrooge is a teenager just like her, and unfortunately, she can see the similarities between herself and her new Scrooge and for the first time she begins to feel bad about the kind of person she really was when she was alive.  Can she save him from the same fate even if she has to break a few rules?

Anyone looking for a fun Christmas read should check this one out.  Holly is brash, bratty, insensitive, and sympathetic all at once.  She’s trying to do better, but doesn’t really know how.  The supporting characters are all fun and colorful, but the focus is definitely on Holly and most of the other characters are not as developed.  The story itself is fun and the reader wants to root for Holly despite her difficult personality.  Recommended.

Advertisements

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Genre:  Fantasy

# of Pages:  398

There is an island that is almost totally cut off from the rest of the world where a set of triplets are born every generation.  The queen immediately knows what power each of the girls will have and when they are a few years old they are separated so that they can hone their craft.  When they come of age they must compete in a bizarre set of rituals in which only the last one alive can become the next queen.  Katherine is a poisoner, but she while she has become adept at administering poisons she has not yet become immune to them herself.  Arsinoe, the naturalist, has not yet found her familiar, which is like her animal soul mate, but she has been very happy growing up alongside her best friend, Jules, who is a very talented naturalist.  Finally, Mirabella, the elementalist, is very gifted and can easily manipulate water and fire.  It is expected she will easily take the crown over her weaker sisters, but once the games begin everyone has a few surprises in store for the waiting spectators.  Who will end up with the crown?  Whom can the sisters really trust in this process?  Who will get hurt along the way?

This series has received a lot of attention from my students, but it did take me awhile to get into the story and the characters.  Once I did become immersed in the characters I not only wanted to finish the first one right away but wanted to read the second one as well.  It’s definitely a unique story that does not rely on plot details seen in other fantasy series.  There is still a lot that needs to be revealed about these characters, their motivations, and the ultimate outcome which will keep readers engaged for a long time to come.

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

Genre: Mystery

# of Pages:  421

On their very first day of school, six kindergartners are mysteriously abducted from school and do not surface for eleven years when they are all mysteriously dropped off with no memories and only their parents’ addresses clutched in their hands.  One of the original six, Max, does not return with the others and the realization that he hasn’t returned breaks his family even more.  His sister, Avery, decides to start investigating on her own to see if she can find out where Max is.  The others, meanwhile are struggling as well.  Scarlet comes home to a mother who has become obsessed with the idea that aliens stole her daughter and Caleb comes home in time to witness a tragedy.  They have been told repeatedly that it’s probably a good thing they can’t remember the last eleven years and the horrors they witnessed, but most of them still want to know where they have been especially since they are exhibiting knowledge in certain areas and they don’t know why.  They have missed most of their childhood and they each need to figure out how they fit into their own lives again.  Will they ever learn the truth behind their disappearance?  Where is Max?

Mystery readers will love this book because it is engaging, but also believable with many unusual facts they need to put together in order to get a general idea for what happened to them.  They know they may never know everything, but even learning the person responsible would be helpful when trying to move on.  The characters are all developed so that the reader can understand their feelings and motivations, while also understanding how hard it would be to go through something like this.  The ending is also very satisfying while not being too tidy or predictable.  Recommended.

The Possible by Tara Altebrando

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages:  292

Kaylee lives a fairly ordinary life for a teenage girl until she is approached by a woman doing a podcast on Kaylee’s birth mom.  Kaylee’s birth mom is famous for possibly having telekinetic powers based on a photo taken when she was a teen, although her powers were never proven. She’s also known for murdering her infant son and going to prison for it, which is why Kaylee has lived with her adoptive parents ever since and has no memory of her life with her mom at all.  Kaylee’s parents are against her interviewing for the podcast because they are afraid it will dredge up painful memories, but Kaylee feels like she needs to know the truth about her mom and agrees to help.  Once the podcast begins airing it becomes a local phenomenon and many of Kaylee’s classmates begin to wonder if she has telekinetic powers too since she is an excellent softball pitcher and a girl she doesn’t particularly like gets hit by a falling tree branch.  Suddenly, Kaylee isn’t sure what to believe anymore.  Is it possible her mother has special abilities and if so, could she?

This story is engaging right from the beginning.  Kaylee’s need to meet her mother and bring closure to her past is all very understandable, but it plays out very realistically and that’s hard for her to handle.  As she navigates through the twists and turns in this story, Kaylee learns a lot about herself, her parents, her mom, and her friends.  The ending is satisfying, but it’s the realistic writing style that will really help readers to identify with and care about Kaylee and her story.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Genre:  Mystery

# of Pages:  360

Five students are mysteriously sent to detention after they are caught with cell phones in class that they claim aren’t theirs.  Once they get to detention they see that they are from completely different circles in the school.  Bronwyn is an honor’s student who hopes to go to Yale.  Cooper is a pitcher who is being courted by several universities.  Addy is dating a jock and one of the more popular girls in school.  Nate is the school rebel and is rumored to be on probation for dealing drugs.  Finally, Simon is a bit of an outcast due to a blog he writes in which he always manages to reveal everyone’s worst secrets.  Shortly after the five of them get to detention there is a fender bender in the parking lot and their teacher rushes out to help.  While he’s out of the room, Simon gets himself a cup of water from the science lab station sink and collapses shortly after.  Nate frantically digs through Simon’s bag for his epi-pen but can’t find it.  Cooper runs to the nurse’s office but comes up empty there as well.  Helplessly, they all watch as the paramedics arrive and aren’t able to revive Simon who dies shortly after from anaphylactic shock.  As horrible as this is, it gets even worse when these four become the prime suspects in the police investigation when it is revealed that Simon was about to post life changing secrets about all four of them the next day on his blog.  Could one of them really have done it?  How will they ever survive the suspicions and accusations being thrown at them?

This book contains quite a few language and sexual references, but the story itself is very powerful and will draw teen readers in.  The ending will be satisfying as well as unexpected, but before they get to that all four of the suspects will have quite a few difficult days ahead of them as they are chased by reporters, questioned by police, and realize for the first time who they’re real friends are.  The reality of the life teens live now with social media and everyone always looking to reveal everyone’s innermost secrets for their own entertainment is unfortunately all too real, but this book shows how no matter how advanced technology gets teens still need friends and family they can count on, especially when things get tough.

The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill

Genre:  Historical Fiction Mystery

# of pages:  349

Piper is living on the outskirts of 1920s Chicago.  As she nears the end of her senior year she is startled to learn that her best friend, Lydia, is suffering from seizures and her own family has not told her about them because they do not want to upset her.  Piper has witnessed two of these episodes and both have frightened her terribly.  She’s not that surprised when Lydia arrives on her doorstep one afternoon distraught because her parents want to send her to the Mayo Clinic mere weeks before graduation.  Piper is sad to see Lydia leave, but understands why her parents feel she needs medical attention.  She watches Lydia walk the short distance to her house and waves at her from her white picket fence and that’s the last Piper sees of her best friend before Lydia’s family notifies her that Lydia never came home.   As the police begin investigating Lydia’s murder Piper can’t help but begin investigating herself a bit by retracing Lydia’s last steps and finding that not everyone is telling her the truth about that night.  Many people around Piper believe she should leave the crime solving to the police and act more like a traditional lady, but Piper believes she may be the only one who can truly find out what happened to Lydia that fateful day.

This mystery is well written and engaging.  The 1920s backdrop is fun as Piper tries to become a more modern woman at a time when that earned you a ruler to the back of the hand in school.  When it counts, Piper’s family support her even if they don’t approve of her behavior all the time.  There are many intriguing characters which helps to keep the mystery more difficult for Piper to solve.  The mystery itself holds up as everything is properly explained in a plausible way, but it is still challenging for Piper to solve.  Highly recommended.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Genre:  Fantasy/Mystery

# of Pages:  465

Kaz Brekker has been through a lot in his young life and has grown tougher because of it.  He has worked his way up to running his own gang, the Dregs, and always seems to be one step ahead of his enemies.  One day he receives an interesting proposal from a government official: to break something out of an impenetrable prison for an absurd amount of money.  The truth is that Kaz does not think this job is possible, but that amount of money could allow him and his crew to truly start fresh which is a luxury none of them ever expected.  So, he builds his crew which includes a sharpshooter, a wrongfully convicted convict, a mysterious runaway, an escape artist, a spy, and a heartrender ( who can manipulate emotions).  The plan is full of danger and challenges, but none of these people have ever backed down from a challenge simply because they’ve had to do whatever it takes to survive.  Can they succeed where so many others would dare not even try?

A heist plot in such a unique setting makes this book a lot of fun.  The characters are well developed and intriguing all at the same time.  Despite their distrust for everyone and everything, this crew finds they can depend on each other when they need to and that’s something many of them have been looking their whole lives for.  The heist adventure itself is exciting and full of twists and narrow escapes.  Recommended for fantasy and mystery lovers.