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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.

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron

# of Pages:  403

2019 Iowa High School Award Winner

Canaan is meant to be a perfect city in which people live in peace and harmony without the distraction of technology, money, or competition.  Every twelve years the town breaks into chaos and then their memories are erased.  The only way they know who they are is by reading the book that is tied to them at all times.  Nadia did not forget her memories during the last forgetting and therefore knows some of the things people chose not to include in their books, including people, they hoped to forget.  She has no idea why she didn’t forget her memories, but it definitely didn’t make her life any easier since her mother and sister treat her like she doesn’t belong in their family.  Meanwhile, Nadia has begun slipping over the walls of the town in search of food, answers, and adventure.  She is caught by the glassmaker’s son and he demands she take him with her.  As they explore outside the walls they learn there are many things about how their town was set up that no one ever passed down, despite her suspicions that not everyone is losing their memories every twelve years.  Will anyone ever believe them about their discoveries?  Will it be enough to save them from this terrible fate of forgetting who you are every twelve years?

This story has a dystopian feel similar to The Giver, The Testing, and Matched.  It takes awhile to fully invest in Nadia and her quest to find answers about her town.  Once she begins finding answers the book’s pace picks up and takes off while many obstacles rise up to try and stop her from sharing the truth of their existence with others.  The main characters are well developed and everyone’s motivations and actions are adequately explained by the end.  Readers who enjoy these dystopian books will be curious for more, but it isn’t quite as engaging as some of the other titles in this genre.

The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand

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Genre: Mystery

# of Pages:  471

When tragedy strikes at an upscale Nantucket wedding, everyone is shocked and horrified for the poor couple who will have to postpone their wedding.  The bride had discovered the body of her maid of honor in the early morning hours the day of the wedding and had become so upset that she had to be sent to the hospital.  When the police begin investigating, however, they find out that not only did the couple have a few secrets but so did the entire wedding party, including the maid of honor herself.  Is it possible this was not an accident?  Will they ever be able to recover from such a terrible event?

Fans of mysteries will love this fun, fast read.  Celeste is dealing with the breast cancer diagnosis of her mother when she meets the man of her dreams, Benji.  Benji comes from a very wealthy family who never has to worry about anything and Celeste is swept up in the excitement of his lifestyle, but is he really the right man for her?  Meanwhile, her best friend and maid of honor, Merritt, has been seeing an older married man and is also questioning her life choices.  Will she be haunted by her past choices forever?  Benji’s parents and Celeste’s parents have secrets of their own too that they are hoping won’t spill out before the wedding.  In all this craziness how are detectives supposed to find out what truly happened?

Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake

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Genre:  Fantasy

# of Pages:  447

In the third installment of the Three Dark Crowns series, Katherine is struggling to maintain her newly crowned kingdom because the mist has begun acting strangely and she doesn’t know what it means.  Meanwhile, Arsinoe and Mirabella are on the mainland trying to find their place in a new world.  Arsinoe begins having nightmares about a Blue queen from the past and she thinks they are a message that she needs to return to the island.  Jules has found a group of people who believe her to be the rightful queen due to her powers and agrees to go along with their mission as long as it means that Katherine is overthrown.  She is still afraid of her powers, but knows she cannot hide from them forever.  She also knows she needs to make peace with what she is and not feel guilt or anger about it anymore.

The characters continue to development and it’s easy to see all of their viewpoints, which can be challenging with so many main characters.  The flashbacks to the Blue Queen help show how the story came to this critical point.  This installment carries on where the second one left off and will engage fans of the series, but it is a little disappointing that very little is really resolved during this book and instead more problems arise.  Readers will be looking forward to what I’m sure will be a very dramatic conclusion.

Ash Princess by Lauren Sebastian

ash princessTheodosia was forced to witness her mother, the queen’s, brutal murder at the hands of the man forcibly taking over their kingdom.  For some reason, the Kaiser who now rules the kingdom has kept her alive all these years, but he has forced her to take on a new name (Thora) and endure countless beatings and ridicule in order to learn her place.  Whenever her people would rebel in any way he would order Theodosia to be publicly beaten so that she could pay for the sins of her people and he would force her to wear an ash crown in order to mock the fact that her mother was the fire queen.  By the time she is 16 he feels confident he has broken her spirit, but he still has three guards watch her 24/7 to make sure she doesn’t get any treasonous thoughts.  Her best friend, Cress, is the daughter of the Kaiser’s right hand man who actually murdered her mother.  She is very friendly, but Theodosia wonders if she can truly trust anyone in this terrible place that used to be her home.  Then, she is made aware of allies in her castle who are willing to give up everything for her and she realizes that she does have the desire to fight for her kingdom and take it back for what remains of her people.  The only question is can her and her meager supporters really defeat a man who has made it his mission in life to destroy kingdoms mercilessly? Can they outsmart a man who always seems to be two steps ahead?

This book captivates the reader right from the beginning and definitely depicts how hopeless Theodosia feels during this terrible ordeal.  Yet as bleak as life is for her she never stops plotting her revenge and jumps at the chance when it is presented to her even though she knows it is risky and dangerous. There are no easy paths for Theodosia and her conspirators, however, and she must live with the consequences.  Fans of the Red Queen and Red Rising will enjoy this title.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

woman in the windowAnna is a trained psychiatrist who hasn’t left her apartment in over a year due to acute agoraphobia.  She spends her days watching old Hitchcock movies, drinking wine, doing things online, and watching her neighbors.  Her ex-husband and young daughter do not see her much, but they talk often.  When she notices a new family move in with a teenage son she begins watching them as she does all the other neighbors, but one day she witnesses something terrible and reports it to the police.  Unfortunately, when they investigate Anna’s life begins to implode as she is forced to face everything in her life that is real and everything she has imagined since she has been trapped inside her house.  No one believes she saw anything sinister since she is a heavy drinker and has anxiety issues, but she is positive she witnessed something.  Did she really see something or is her mind playing tricks on her again?

This thrilling mystery will keep mystery lovers intrigued all the way until the end.  There are many twists and turns in the plot and even seasoned mystery readers will struggle to put all the pieces together.  The main character has many similarities to the Woman on the Train and the Woman in Cabin 10, but each mystery is very different and will satisfy readers independently.  Highly recommended for mystery lovers.

Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey

suitorsImogene Chively has been raised to find a wealthy husband in 1917 England and her family believes they have done just that when she attracts the interest of Ernest, but unfortunately, Imogene is much more intrigued by his younger brother, Benjamin.  Ernest is perfectly friendly and accommodating but she feels they have very little in common while Benjamin is an architect’s apprentice and desperately needs her help in improving his drawing skills so that he can bring his architectural visions to life.  As the two work together they begin to get closer and closer which makes Imogene wonder if she is brave enough to go against her family’s wishes and reject the heir for the younger working class brother.  Meanwhile, a series of unfortunate accidents leads Imogene to believe that someone is trying to do Benjamin harm and no one believes her.  She grows more frustrated as the incidents escalate and everyone dismisses her warnings since she is a young woman.  Is there someone trying to harm Benjamin and if so why?  Will she find the strength to be with the man of her dreams versus the one who can give her a comfortable life?

This Junior Library Guild selection mixes light romance with a little intrigue in a historical setting.  Imogene is very modern in her thinking for this time, but she is still contained by the expectations of a young lady of her class in 1917.  Her growing aspirations as an artist are also an issue for her and she faces the repercussions when she tries to break free from the constraints set upon her by the times and her family.  Fans of historical fiction romance will enjoy this lighter title.

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

grace and furySerina and her sister, Nomi, live in Veridia where women have no rights and are not allowed to learn how to read.  Serina has been trained her entire life to be beautiful, graceful, and alluring in the hopes of attracting the heir to the throne so that he chooses her to be one of his graces.  Each year the ruler gets to pick three women or “graces” who live with him in the castle and produce heirs, among other things. This year the heir gets to begin choosing graces and Serina’s family is desperately hoping he will choose her and shower them with favor.  Nomi does not believe in this tradition or the fact that women are not allowed an education and has learned how to read secretly.  When Serina is sent to the castle to catch the heir’s attention, it is actually Nomi (who had gone along as a handmaiden) who gets chosen.  Shortly thereafter Serina is accused of a crime she did not commit and is sent to a prison on a volcanic island where women literally have to fight each other to survive.  Each sister must fight for her rights and her voice in their own way.  Can they survive to somehow find their way back together again?

This book seems very timely in an age of the #metoomovement and women trying to take their voices back. Both sisters have a big struggle ahead of them in very different ways and neither knows who, if anyone, she can trust.  The book definitely focuses on female relationships, dynamics, and empowerment but in very different situations between the two sisters.  Fans of futuristic books such as The Hunger Games, The Selection, and The Testing will enjoy this title and look forward to the sequel.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Genre:  Futuristic

# of Pages: 433

2018-19 Iowa Teen Award Winner

Citra and Rowan live in a world where all human problems have been eradicated including hunger, disease, and poverty.  Science has even made it possible to revive those who have died in accidents so that they can continue living without any complications or injuries.  Therefore, in order to curb population growth the governing entity has created scythes whose entire job is to glean, or kill, those they see fit.  Scythes are supposed to take their job very seriously and act with honor and compassion to those they glean, but there have been some rising up who seem to enjoy killing people and this has the traditional scythes very concerned.  Citra and Rowan are both chosen to be Scythe Faraday’s apprentices which means they will train with him for an entire year, but then only one will be ordained a scythe and the other will return to their regular lives.  At the first scythe conclave they go to, however, one of the more progressive scythes challenges Faraday’s choice to take two apprentices and proposes that the one who wins must glean the one who loses and the scythe rulers agree.  This puts Citra and Rowan in a tough spot because as they train together they become closer and closer and neither is sure if they could glean the other.  Is there a way for them both to exist in this “perfect” world?

Shusterman has done it again with this unique and engaging story.  The premise seems far fetched and yet the reader is pulled in almost immediately when Scythe Faraday is introduced.  All of the characters are well developed and make the reader want to know more about their intentions and motivations, while also watching them react to various plot twists.  Recommended for anyone from reluctant reader teens to adults who want something fresh and new.

Flashfall by Jenny Moyer

Genre:  Futuristic Fiction

# of Pages:  342

Iowa High School Award Winner 2018-19

Orion works digging in the treacherous mines of Outpost Five.  They are mining for cirium, which is the only thing that protects humans from the radiation poisoning due to the flash curtain that has sent most humans under the protection of the cirium protected city.  If Orion and her partner, Dram, can mine 400 grams of cirium they will earn their freedom into the protected city, but so far no one has ever lived long enough to do that.  Orion is special in that she can hear the cirium calling to her and she ends up finding a huge deposit that she knows will ensure her freedom, but there are forces trying to keep her from succeeding.  Then, newcomers come to Outpost Five and many of the things they tell Orion make her question everything she has ever known.  Who can she really trust and who, in fact, is out to make sure she fails in everything she tries?

Fans of Red Rising will like this title because it has an unusual setting and plenty of action.  The author does not shy away from killing off characters so it’s hard to predict who will live and who will die.  The struggles of Outpost Five are terrible and neverending, but without Orion none of the Outpost community would stand a chance at survival.  There are many surprise twists in the plot as they try to find out what the government is really up to and how they can go about changing the terrible fate they have been dealt.  Readers who want action/survival should definitely check this series out.

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.


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