The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Genre: Mystery/Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 374

Avery has been struggling since her mother died. She was taken in by her older sister, but she does not approve of her sister’s abusive boyfriend and has chosen to live in her run down car rather than look at him. Meanwhile, she works hard and tries to keep up with schoolwork, all while keeping an eye on the homeless man in the park. All of that changes when she learns that a multi-billionaire, Tobias Hawthorne, has died and requested she be present at the will reading. She does not know the man and cannot imagine why he would want her there, but everyone makes it very clear that her presence is required. Upon arrival, she learns that Tobias Hawthorne had two daughters and four grandsons and all of them are keen to find out exactly what the will stipulates. Everyone, including Avery, is shocked when they learn she has inherited the vast majority of Mr. Hawthorne’s assets including his charitable foundation and his mansion. She must live at the mansion for a year and cannot remove any of the family members unless there is cause. Each heir is given an envelope and when Avery opens hers all it says is “I’m sorry.”

Avery soon learns that Mr. Hawthorne enjoyed riddles and games and often had his grandsons compete just for the sake of competing. Is this all part of some elaborate game? Does this have something to do with her mother? Is it possible that the Hawthorne family will ever accept her and not see her as the one who stole their fortune? Could someone try to hurt her to get at the money?

This exciting story introduces the Hawthorne family and all of the quirkiness that implies. Everyone has their reasons for wanting to find out why their patriarch would leave his fortune to a stranger, but everyone must work together in order to solve all of the clues.The four grandsons in particular are fairly competitive and definitely want to know why they were overlooked after they were challenged daily by their grandfather. On top of everything else, the paparazzi now follows Avery everywhere since she’s a huge story. In some ways, this estate will open many opportunities for Avery that she might not have otherwise had, but in other ways her life just got a whole lot more complicated. Fans of Jennifer Lynn Barnes will enjoy this new title.

The Betrothed by Kiera Cass

Genre: Romance

# of Pages: 307

Hollis is a wealthy young lady who has suddenly caught the eye of the King at court and she is unsure how she feels about it. Her parents are thrilled at the prospect of their daughter becoming a Queen, but Hollis is not sure if this is the life she really wants. At the same time, she doesn’t have any other ideas for what she wants to do in life so she might as well be pampered and adored wherever she goes. In this kingdom, Queens have always been highly respected and revered, which pressures Hollis into thinking she has to be great if she were to become Queen. Suddenly, a family of refugees from a nearby kingdom arrives and with them, a young man whom she feels instant chemistry with. He is a talented metalsmith and has a mysterious past and Hollis can’t help but feel drawn to him. Could she really give up becoming Queen in order to chase someone she barely knows? Could she let down all of those around her who plan to benefit off of her impending nuptials?

As a fan of The Selection series I was so excited to read this new title by Kiera Cass, but unfortunately, most of the book lacked any real character development or plot movement. The ending was really exciting and definitely opens up the possibility for Hollis’s story to find some excitement, but up until then Hollis was a very difficult character to care about. She was unsure how she felt most of the time and extremely impressionable, but she was also unbelievably forgiving to those around her who might wish her harm. Most of the characters around her were very one-note as well which made it hard to feel one way or another about who Hollis ended up with. After the dramatic ending the next book could be really good, but I wish that the first one had taken the first 200 pages to better develop the characters and drive the plot.

Fractured Tide by Leslie Karen Lutz

Genre: Survival/Realistic Fiction

Fractured Tide is a unique book that follows Tasia and her family who operate a diving company and have been struggling to get by since Tasia’s dad went to prison. The entire format of the book is Tasia writing of the unexplainable adventure they have been having to her dad in prison in case she never sees him again. After trying a new location for a dive, tragedy strikes when a man mysteriously dies while submerged and everyone blames Tasia. She claims he was there one minute and gone the next and that she does not know what happened to him. She also believes there is something unnatural about this new dive site and cannot shake the feeling that something is terribly wrong here. The boat and electronics mysteriously stop working so they are stuck floating there until help comes looking for them which could take awhile. By morning, their boat is attacked by a phosphorescent sea creature unlike anything Tasia has seen before. She wakes up on a nearby island she never noticed when they were floating mere feet away and there are only three other survivors, one of whom is injured from the monster attack. Can they survive on an island by themselves long enough for help to find them? Even if help comes looking will they be able to see this mysterious island that all of them missed before they washed up on shore? Is that sea creature still out there hunting them?

Fans of survival and unusual tales, such as the Miss Peregrine series, will enjoy this captivating book. Right from the beginning, readers will be enthralled with Tasia’s story, both the suspenseful parts and the adventure parts. The plot itself has many twists and turns that will keep readers guessing, but the ending delivers in a way that will satisfy everyone. There are so many details it can be easy for fast readers to miss something and need to go back to pick it up. The characters are developed and it’s easy to see how they all feel marooned on this island together under such stressful circumstances. Recommended for readers who need exciting stories to keep them interested.

Golden Arm by Carl Deuker

Genre: Sports Fiction

Lazarus earned his name when he almost died at birth and, in his mother’s eyes, came back to life. His father has never been in the picture and he was raised in a trailer with his mom and half brother. They have never had much money, but Laz was always happy to make due with whatever they could scrape together. Antonio, Laz’s little brother, has always wanted a better life than what they had. As they grew up, Laz begins working at a nearby golf range and watches helplessly as his brother begins hanging with a tough crowd. Laz has always had his pitching to keep him clear headed and focused, but when some members of his high school team were dismissed for possession of alcohol they were forced to forfeit the remainer of the season in Laz’s junior year. Now that he is a senior, he’s hoping to really show the area what he can do on the pitcher’s mound. Then, two things happen to change his senior plans. First, his coach leaves for another job and his high school principal declines to get a new one thereby cutting the baseball program. Second, they are notified that their trailer park is going to be demolished and they have six months to move, which would mean Laz would be moving in the middle of baseball season. Before he leaves, Laz’s coach contacts a nearby suburban school and convinces them to take a look at Laz. When they learn he could be in danger of moving one of the families offers to let him move in during second semester so that he can go to the new school and pitch on the team. For the first time, Laz is getting some real attention for his pitching, but he can’t help but feel guilty about leaving his brother behind. Can Laz pitch to a state championship? Can he help his brother stay out of trouble in his old neighborhood? Will he find a plan for himself once graduation is over now that his home is being destroyed?

Fans of baseball books will enjoy this new title by Carl Deuker. Laz is a likable character who has had a tough time up until now and at first it looks like his luck will really sink his future until his new school steps up and offers him a chance to go to school there. Laz does not let the opulence of his new home and school get to him, however. He knows they are only letting him into their world because of his pitching and he knows he does not belong there. Meanwhile, Antonio, who always had an easier time in the classroom appears to be going down a path that is difficult to come back from, but does not want to hear any advice from Laz. Laz is torn about whether or not to bring up his concerns with his mother because he does not want to betray Antonio. The baseball action is written in a well paced and exciting way to make the reader feel a part of the game. The ending is realistic, but optimistic at the same time. This is a great title for readers who like to read about sports, but want an interesting story alongside the sports action.

The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

Genre: Mystery

Arden was known around her hometown as a sleepwalker well before she was accidentally swept away in a storm one night. The town searched for her for three days before someone miraculously found her six year old fingers clutching a sewer grate. The media attention after her amazing rescue became so insane that she and her mother had to move to a new town. By the time she reached college, however, Arden was tired of being the girl who was rescued from Widow Hills and changed her name to Olivia. She lost touch with her mother and was therefore startled many years later when she was contacted because her mother had overdosed. Shortly after learning about her mother’s demise, Olivia starts sleepwalking again. She doesn’t want anyone to know about her past so she tries to keep this quiet too, but since she works as a hospital administrator everyone knows everyone else’s business. One night, Olivia is horrified when she wakes up injured, in her yard, next to a dead body. She feels pretty confident she did not kill this person, but she also doesn’t remember how she got outside either? Has her past caught up to her? What really happened all those years ago when she went missing at six years old? Can she trust anyone around her in this new life she has begun for herself?

Fans of mysteries will enjoy this title, which is by the same author as The Safest Lies. There are many red herrings to keep the reader guessing, but the clues are all there to figure out what is really happening with Olivia. She had such a troubled childhood where many people wanted to take advantage of her that she has trouble trusting others as an adult. Many of her friends seem very hurt they didn’t know about her past when it comes out, but she doesn’t talk about it with anyone, and that keeps her feeling even more alone as she feels the past catching up to her. The ending is very satisfying and exciting with surprises all the way until the end.

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

Genre: Fantasy

# of Pages: 286

Tavia has known she is a siren for awhile, but in a world where it is not safe to admit being a siren she must keep her voice quiet at all times.  She’s even gone so far as to explain her silence with a rare medical condition and learn sign language so she can communicate even when she knows it isn’t safe to speak.  In this world, all sirens are black girls which makes Tavia’s plight even more difficult because she is already facing sexism and racism on a daily basis.  Effie has lived with Tavia for awhile and they have come to think of themselves as sisters.  Effie’s mother died and her grandparents thought it would be better if she lived with Tavia’s family, but did not disclose the reason(s) why.  Effie is not a siren, but she knows there is something strange going on because recently she has faced many unusual physical changes, including extremely dry  and flaky skin, exhaustion, and sometimes even blackouts. It scares her that she doesn’t know what is happening, but she’s hopeful that maybe it will get better with time.  They know they always have each other to lean on, but they are both shaken when a murder trial becomes national news only because the murder victim is accused of being a siren.  Does simply being a siren mean someone can kill you and get away with it? What would happen if anyone were to find out Tavia is a siren?  Can they protect each other from the terrible things destined to come for both of them?

There are not a lot of fantasy novels that feature two black teenagers as the main characters and the author does a nice job of showing why life would be even more difficult as a supernatural being if you were already dealing with people not granting you basic rights due to physical features beyond your control.  Both of these girls know the adults in their life are trying to protect them, but in the end it just feels like they are withholding important information.  The fantasy details of the story is unique, inspiring, and revealed in a satisfying way.  Fans looking for a very thought provoking, modern fantasy story will enjoy.

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

Genre: Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 360 p.

Jasmine and Chelsea are best friends who attend a very liberal arts minded school where every student must join an after school club.  Jasmine is in the theater club, but quickly realizes that she will only be considered for certain parts due to her race and body type.  Chelsea, meanwhile, is in the poetry club but quits after it becomes clear that the teacher moderator is only interested in the classics, which in her opinion are old white men.  They end up deciding to create their own club called Write Like a Girl, which begins with a blog where they can write poems, post artwork, and feature women artists of all backgrounds.  There are some who object to the content early on and believe they are being too sensitive, but they push on to get their point across that they are at a daily disadvantage due to gender, race, body type, age, etc.  As they continue to find projects to express themselves they realize that there are plenty of women out there who also want their voices to be heard.  Unfortunately, the school administration does not want there to be any “incidents” that “instigate” trouble at school and threaten to ban their club.  How will Jasmine and Chelsea react to yet another group trying to silence their voices?  How do their families feel about their activist (or artivist) movements?  How do they balance all of these feelings and actions with the very real struggles that face them in their day to day lives?

This story is inspiring from the very beginning.  The way it is written the reader can easily see why the best friends would be so frustrated in their situation while at the same time the people who have all the power in their lives believe they are overreacting.  This book is very timely as there are many events that have happened this year that have really shown us all how certain people do not have the same voice in society due to race, gender, socioeconomic status, age, and so on.  Many people have been operating under the assumption that everyone in society has equal rights and that those rights have come a long way from where we were 50 years ago, but it’s apparent now that we still have a long way to go.  I also really liked how the characters stressed the importance of art in a variety of formats for truly making change and for helping them cope with their feelings and life events.  So often, writing, poetry, theater, and art are overlooked in schools and these forms of expression can be invaluable to students who need ways to share their voices and experiences.  There’s a lot to absorb in this story and many readers will find that it is wroth a second or third read. Highly recommended.

American Royals by Katharine McGee

Genre: Realistic Fiction/Romance

# of Pages: 440

In an alternate history, George Washington became the first King of the United States, not the first President. Today the United States is operating under King George Washington’s descendents which include Princess Beatrice, who will be the first woman to rule the U.S. when her father dies due to a change in the law.  As such, Beatrice has been trained and groomed her whole life for the day she becomes Queen while her twin siblings, Samantha and Jefferson, have not had such pressures and have been able to behave more like regular teenagers (within reason).  Sam, especially, sees herself as the spare and believes no one really expects much out of her.  As Beatrice gets older it’s become a media fascination to wonder who she will eventually marry and have beside her on her throne and her parents are starting to think it’s time to think of that as well.  Beatrice is not ready to settle down yet as she realizes that the one she might actually care for is off limits to a future queen.  Meanwhile, Jeff has broken up with his longtime girlfriend, Daphne, who is adored by the public and she is determined to get him back at all costs. the person Jeff decides to start dating next, however, will surprise everyone.  Samantha has also met someone, but it quickly becomes apparent hers isn’t the best choice for her position either.  Can any of them find happiness as the royal family of the United States or will it always be “duty first?”  Will the media ruin every good relationship any of them ever have?  Will they find people to surround themselves with that they can actually trust who don’t just want to get close to them because of who they are?

Fans of the Selection series will enjoy this series as well.  It captures the sense of duty and excellent character development that made the Selection such a hit.  The author does a nice job of making sure that nothing appears to have an easy solution which makes it difficult to predict how it will end.  The end does have a dramatic conclusion, but there is a second one available, Majesty, to continue the story with these characters.

The Princess Trials by Cordelia K. Castel

Genre: Futuristic

# of Pages: 493 p.

Zea-Mays Calico was born into the Harvester Echelon, the lowest echelon in the Phangloria Kingdom.  She has felt unrest in her station since she was nine and witnessed a guard attacking a harvester woman working in a field. When the harvester supervisor tried to intervene he was killed.  Zea never saw the guard’s face and has felt guilt ever since for the family who lost their father.  As she’s grown older life as a harvester hasn’t gotten any easier and Zea and her family constantly deal with thirst, hunger, and exhaustion as more and more is asked of them.  When it’s announced that Prince Kevon will begin looking for his bride through the Princess Trials, Zea’s mom thinks it would be great if she would try to become one of the elusive 30 ladies who vie for Kevon’s attention.  Zea would rather join the underground rebel group, the Red Runners, in order to help bring down the monarchy and begin to allocate resources equally for all echelons.  When the leader of the Red Rebels asks her to join the princess trials to become an inside spy she has no idea what she is getting into.  The trials are incredibly difficult and oftentimes violent as these women will do anything to get ahead in the competition.  Zea’s impression of the prince changes as she gets to know him as well, but she quickly learns that in this world she truly does not know who she can trust.  She just desperately hopes she doesn’t do the one thing rebels asked her not to: fall in love with the prince.  Can Zea infiltrate the palace and find a way to share what she learns with the rebels?  Can she protect her family from those who want to hurt her?  Can she find the truth in a place where everyone has more secrets than they can count?

This thrilling series is a mix between the Selection series and the Hunger Games series.  Although the story requires a bit of setup at the beginning, readers will enjoy entering Zea’s world to find out what happens during the princess trials.  Everyone has an agenda and isn’t afraid to break rules in order to get what they want.  Despite the fact that Zea enters the trials under false pretenses, she is constantly amazed by how quickly those around her will sacrifice others in order to get what they want.  This story gets better as it goes along, and that continues into the second installment, The Princess Games.

The Similars by Rebecca Hanover

Genre: Science Fiction

# of Pages: 399

Emma is still shaken from her best friend, Oliver’s, sudden suicide when she has to return for a new term at her elite boarding school.  Her school has been all over the news recently because it has been revealed that a mad scientist created six clones from stolen cord blood sixteen years ago and has raised them secretly on a private island.  The clones have said they prefer to be called similars rather than clones.  The identities of the similars have not been released yet, but everyone knows they are cloned from students at Emma’s school.  In a surprising move, the headmaster has offered for the similars to come go to school with the very students they were cloned after.  It isn’t until the welcome assembly when Emma comes face to face with Oliver’s clone, Levi, that she even entertains the thought that he could have a clone.  She struggles to look at Oliver’s face on another person, but at the same time feels clones should be offered basic human rights and fights for them as debates arise.  The highest honor at Emma’s school is to be a member of the “ten” which includes the top five seniors and top five juniors in the class who form a committee for advising the student body.  Emma is shocked when she captures an elusive spot in the ten, but so do three of the similars which enrages students who have gone to that school for two years already. To make matters worse, Emma’s roommate is viciously attacked and left comatose shortly after school begins and no one has any ideas who it could be, which of course leads some to believe it was a similar.  Can Emma begin to accept Levi even as she still grieves for Oliver?  Is there something sinister behind the headmaster inviting the similars to join the student body?   Who could have attacked Emma’s roommate and why?

The first installment in this series offers a lot of drama as the issue of clones is discussed from a variety of angles.  The main character does a nice job of trying to separate out her own feelings about Oliver having a clone and her feelings about how clones should be treated in general. She knows that it’s irrational to feel one way about a group of people but so differently when considered for a single person in that group, but acknowledges that sometimes you have to just work through your feelings whatever they may be.  There are many roadblocks that keep Emma and the similars from having an event free year, but they keep trying to make the best of their senior year. The end is exciting and satisfying, but leaves many questions unanswered that will keep readers wanting to read the sequel, The Pretenders.

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Genre: Science Fiction/Historical

# of Pages: 486

Etta Spencer has been working her whole life to become an amazing concert violinist, but just as she’s about to make her big debut she is grabbed  by a mysterious young woman and zapped into another year.  She soon meets Nicholas, a sailor who has faced racism his entire life due completely to the color of his skin and the time period in which he lives.   Etta learns that she has been summoned from the past for a mysterious and dangerous task that will save her mother’s life.  She is still getting her head around the idea that time travel is possible and truly has no idea who she can trust in her impossible quest, but she knows she must try if she wants to see her mother alive again.  Can she bounce through time in order to retrieve a long lost relic in the short amount of days she has been given?  Who will betray her along the way?

Fans of the Ruby Red series will enjoy the first in this series.  The setup and character buildup take a little while, which might discourage some reluctant readers, but the payoff is there with the rich storyline that develops.  This first installment does leave a lot of questions unanswered but not in a way that is too frustrating for readers.  Recommend to students who enjoy historical fiction or sci fi titles.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Genre: Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 340

Edward, a 12 year old boy, was the sole survivor of a plan crash that killed 191 people.  He is taken in by his aunt and uncle, who are still reeling from the fact that they will never have a baby of their own. Several people reach out to Edward to help him cope with this terrible tragedy, but the only one who seems to bring him any peace is his new next door neighbor, Shay.  He even sleeps on her floor every night because he can’t settle in his new house.  The story alternates between Edward’s life after the crash and the interactions of people on board before the crash.  There was a young woman heading to meet her soon to be fiance with some big news, a wall street tycoon traveling with his nurse, and an outgoing flight attendant determined to make everyone on board feel safe and happy.  As time goes on, Edward learns something that opens up a world of possibilities for how he can move forward and truly cope with everything he’s been through while also trying to do some good in the world.

This story about life after death focuses on a young boy and how difficult it is to go on after losing his entire family in an instant.  He even feels some guilt as to why he should survive and no one else.  His new best friend, Shay, seems to understand how difficult this is for him and tries her best to help him through this process.  His aunt and uncle are trying to be supportive too, but many times they aren’t sure what is best for Edward.  In the end, Edward finds a powerful way to help himself move on, but also those of others left behind.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

# of Pages: 466

Leigh is devastated when her mother commits suicide, but she believes she reincarnated as a beautiful red bird who visits her sometimes.  On one such occasion, she believes her mother brought her a box of keepsakes from her grandparents, whom she’s never met due to a falling out that occurred before she was born.  Leigh convinces her dad to take her to Taiwan because she believes her mother wants her to finally meet them.  When she arrives there is a little issue with the language barrier, but Leigh is determined to try and communicate with her grandparents for her mother’s sake.  She even sees that her mother has left her with a way to see old family memories in order to better understand how they had all become so distant.  As Leigh struggles with a newly uncertain future, she must also begin to grieve and let her mother go.

An Iowa High School Award winner for next year, this story battles culture, identity, family, betrayal, trust, and even a little magic.  This is a powerful story about a young girl struggling with her mother’s death, but also trying to plan a future she knows her father won’t approve of.  She’s also navigating a complicated relationship with her long time best friend and recent crush, Axel.  This story will linger with readers long after they have finished.  Highly Recommended.

Jane Anonymous by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

306 p.

This story alternates between “then” and “now” and tells the story of how “Jane Anonymous” was abducted, held captive for seven months, and then returned to her family.  Jane was taken from her place of work very suddenly one day and although she was able to call her mother from the abductor’s car, they were unable to find her before she was taken away.  Jane finds herself in a tiny room that is filled with her favorite snacks, clothing, and toiletries.  She is told to perform certain tasks in order to earn gold stars that will get her rewards that she would like, such as books.  At first, she refuses to do anything, including shower, and is punished for her behavior.  It’s only when she begins speaking to someone through the wall that she learns her captor has others in this place and the best way to survive is to follow the rules.  She begins looking forward to hearing the voice of the teenage boy being held captive down the hall from her whenever he can sneak away through the vents to visit.  When she manages to find a way to escape she is unable to find anyone else to release before she has to flee.  She feels immense guilt as she returns to her very grateful family knowing that she left others behind.  As details of her captor are revealed, however, it becomes obvious that there was a lot she didn’t know about her situation.  Can she trust the police’s version even if it’s difference from the one in her own mind?

This powerful story tells how a teenage girl could be stalked and abducted without anyone being able to do anything about it.  In the end, she rescues herself and then must deal with the aftermath of returning to her home.  She has many strong people around her who want to help her adjust back to her life, but she isn’t sure she can after what happened to her.  Recommended for fans who like intense stories such as Pretend She’s Here or Ruthless.

Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash

Genre:  Romance

356 p.

College freshmen Mariam is still reeling from her breakup from Caleb, her high school boyfriend and she believes the love of her life.  She has a great relationship with her roommate, but otherwise she hasn’t gotten out much since she’s started college.  One day she decides she’s done feeling sorry for herself and she goes to the local virtual dating experience in order to see if she has any more “matches” out there.  To her surprise, the matchmaking program uses artificial intelligence in order to assess all of her qualities and match her up with three top choices.  They tell her that her top choice is one of the highest percentages they’ve ever had, but she can’t help but notice that her third choice is none other than Caleb.  Can she really ignore this incredible coincidence?  No, she can’t, so she invites Caleb’s avatar on a virtual date without him knowing it’s really her.  It goes really well and pretty soon they are going on other virtual dates, but the longer this goes on the more she knows that she must tell him the truth and she’s not sure she’s read to lose Caleb all over again.  Meanwhile, is it possible she’s already had contact with her #1 match?

This romance story puts a very modern twist on dating with the virtual experience, but it’s still fun and filled with engaging characters.  The story feels genuine and believable despite the use of very advanced matchmaking technology and the reader really wants Mariam to find happiness.  Mariam’s difficulty adjusting to college life is very relatable to many students and they will want to see how she copes with her parents, siblings, and making new friends during this transitional time.  Recommended for romance fans.

 


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