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.

Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Genre: Romance

Number of Pages: 307

Dylan is a typical high school student in Alabama, except for the fact that her sister, Dusty, is a former Miss Alabama and recently found love with a Scottish Laird on a reality tv show called Prince in Disguise. Now, she has to give up her Christmas vacation to go to Scotland for her sister’s wedding, which will be filmed for an upcoming television event as a follow-up to the original show. Dylan feels like the reality film crew is setting her up to look bad as the comic relief in their show when no one comes to get her from the train station, she never receives an itinerary but it still chastized for being late to events, and even when they force her to attend a formal dinner in muddy running clothes. What she does not count on, however, is that there will be a funny, sweet young man there to make her feel visible at all times in a world where she thought everyone only saw her sister. As soon as she meets Jamie, she is instantly intrigued by him as he seems to truly like her just the way she is. As they spend more time together she thinks she could actually find her first boyfriend in a Scottish castle. Can she find a way to spend more time with Jamie without the cameras following her every move? Can she handle all the planned twists and turns the reality show producers throw at her? Could she find her first love in the last place she would have looked for it?

This delightful Christmas romance is fun for anyone looking to escape for a bit or for fans of Holiday TV movies. Dylan’s initial awkwardness fits with the build up of a southern girl in Scotland for the first time and readers will want to see what happens as she becomes more confident with Jamie. Many readers will pick up on some of the big reveals long before Dylan does, but that doesn’t take away from the charming nature of the story at all. Even Dylan’s relationship with her sister, Dusty, feels developed and real instead of the generic backdrop to Dylan and Jamie’s story. Recommended for romance fans looking for a Christmas story.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Genre: Futuristic

Number of Pages: 517

In this prequel to the Hunger Games series, Coriolanus Snow is a young student preparing to mentor a candidate from District 12 in the 10th annual Hunger Games. He needs for this to go well so that he can get a scholarship to the school of his choice because his family was hit hard in the war and he cannot afford to pay the taxes on his family apartment, let alone tuition. His tribute, Lucy Gray, is from a group of singers in District 12 and there is some debate as to whether she was fairly chosen as the tribute. She is a true performer, though, and her and Coriolanus begin spinning the media coverage to get her some sympathy. He even has a hand in making changes to the Hunger Games so that spectators can feel more involved, including being able to make wagers and send gifts to tributes. As the games go on, he begins to feel a connection with Lucy Gray and begins to wonder if there could be a future with her, especially since his in the capitol is so uncertain. Can he lead her to victory and what would that mean for him personally? Can he save his family from getting turned out of their family home?

This book has a lot of twists and turns in it as you see what Coriolanus had to overcome in his youth in order to become the President Snow we meet later on. The reader can easily see how Coriolanus had a hand in evolving the Hunger Games to what it eventually becomes. The Hunger Games themselves do not take hold of the entire story as it really isn’t as exciting as the Hunger Games featured later with Katniss. Instead, the focus is more on Coriolanus and the choices he makes to determine what his future will be like and who he can count on to stand beside him. The suspense doesn’t seem to build like it does in the original trilogy simply because to some extent the reader knows where this is all going, but it is interesting to get a glimpse into how the Hunger Games became the phenomenon it eventually turns into. Recommended for fans of the series.

Come Find Me by Megan Miranda

Genre: Mystery/Suspense

Number of Pages: 326

Kennedy Jones survived a horrible family tragedy, but desperately wants to keep her brother’s science equipment functioning now that he’s gone since it was so important to him. Then, one day his radio telescope starts recording some unusual activity. Meanwhile, in a neighboring county Nolan is struggling to find out what really happened when his older brother and family dog went on a dog and never returned. After an eerie dream, he picks up some ghost tracking equipment to see if his brother is trying to contact him in any way and he ends up picking up some odd signals coming from his brother’s room. Kennedy and Nolan eventually meet up to compare notes on these crazy signals they are finding, but the more they dig the more it feels like the two tragedies are somehow connected. Can they find out what really happened to both of their families that has left them both feeling utterly helpless and alone?

This mystery has a bit of a science fiction feel to it since they are following radio signals, but the heart of what really happened lies with the people who were there when both tragedies occurred. Both Kennedy and Nolan have struggled to deal with their lives in the last few months and haven’t always been the easiest to get along with, even to those people trying to help them. Nolan must even face the hardship that the police think he may have been involved in his brother’s disappearance. It really does show just how complicated family tragedy can be, unlike many procedural mystery shows. Mystery fans will enjoy this title, but the setup takes a little longer than some.

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.


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