Tag Archive: romance


winners crime

The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski (InfoSoup)

This second book in The Winner’s Trilogy continues the story of Kestrel and Arin. In a strategic choice, Kestrel has given herself into an engagement to the prince of Valoria, never revealing to Arin that she did so to save him and his country from destruction. Now Kestrel is in Valoria, being treated like a princess, but her heart is still with Arin. The emperor is impressed with his son’s new fiancé, and works to hone her into his pawn. But Kestrel has her own political plans that include continuing to try to help Arin from her new position. At the same time, she works to keep Arin at a distance so that he never finds out the sacrifice she is making. But this fragile set up cannot be maintained forever, something must give, and it may end in complete destruction for them all.

Rutkoski’s second book keeps the political thrills of the first and continues to stir in romance and deception. As with the first, the reader and Kestrel really don’t know who they can trust or even if they can trust anyone at all. As with any second book in a series, this book is as much a bridge to a conclusion as anything. Rutkoski plays nicely with pacing throughout the book, allowing things to maddeningly slow for the reader as Kestrel is caught in a trap of her own making. She picks the pace up at the end as tension mounts, creating a book that is captivating to read.

Kestrel is one strong female protagonist. She works against the entire society she lives in to try to set her own course and to be in charge of her own destiny, even if her heart calls for her to do something else. Arin too is a finely drawn character, a romantic figure who is also thoughtful and while he may realize that Kestrel is not telling him the truth cannot force her to give up her game. It’s a dance of two people against an empire, embroidered in romance and dazzling with political intrigue.

This strong second book in this series will have readers desperate to read the third and final book to find out what happens next. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus and Giroux.

truth commission

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby (InfoSoup)

There are books you never want to end, and this is one of those. These characters are so fresh and new and real that I wanted to spend even more time with them. This novel is about three teenage friends who attend a private art high school together. There is Dusk, the stunningly beautiful girl who creates tiny tableaus for stuffed shrews. There is Neil, a boy stuck in the 1970s and who paints portraits of beautiful women like Dusk. And then there is the protagonist, Normandy, who does tiny needlepoint work and is best known for being the younger sister of the famous graphic novelist. The three start The Truth Commission, where they decide to start asking everyone the truth about things they may be keeping secret. Nothing is off limits from sexuality to love to angry ostrich-raising school secretaries. But Normandy’s family survives on secrets and the question becomes whether she can face the truth about herself and those she loves.

Juby has created a witty and dazzling read for teens. Done entirely in Normandy’s voice and writing as “narrative nonfiction” the book offers footnotes that are often asides between Normandy and her English teacher. This framework creates a real strength of the story, allowing for not only the story to be told but for Normandy to be writing about the past and offer some perspective on what happened. Filled with plenty of clever humor, this book is an impressive mix of tense mystery and gentle romance.

The characters are the heart of the book. Normandy reveals herself on the page and hides nothing. She shows through her own reactions to her sister’s graphic novels, which depict Normandy as entirely useless and ugly, as the only one who is thoughtful and credible in her family. As she hides from the wrath of her sister, making herself small and quiet, she also becomes her sister’s confidante. Her best friends too are intriguing mixes of truth and denial. Dusk is the artistic daughter in a family of doctors, and yet one can see her own ties to medicine through her art. Neil seems to be the son of a stereotypical middle-aged man who hits on teen girls, but both he and his father are far more lovely than that.

Strongly written with great characters and a dynamic mix of humor, romance and mystery, this teen novel is one of the best of the year so far. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

i was here

I Was Here by Gayle Forman (InfoSoup)

The author of the very popular If I Stay series returns with another winner of a read for teens. Cody is betrayed and shocked when her best friend commits suicide by drinking poison. Meg had always been the adventurous one, the smart one, the one that Cody relied on. When they graduated from high school, Meg headed off to a private school on a full scholarship. Cody was left behind in their small town and as time went by the two drifted apart. Now it is up to Cody to head to Meg’s college apartment and gather her things to bring back to Meg’s family, a family that was very much Cody’s too. While she is there, Cody discovers that there is a lot that Meg was keeping from everyone back home. There is a bunch of missing emails on Meg’s computer as well as an encrypted file that is in her computer’s trash. As Cody starts to piece Meg’s last months together and solve the mystery of what caused her death, she also grows closer to Meg’s roommates and to a boy who may have broken Meg’s heart. Cody has to figure out what caused Meg to take her own life and also how Cody can go on without her.

Forman’s writing is pure comfort reading. Her writing is solid and strong. Here she creates a small town girl longing for big city life, but it goes far beyond that. As Cody starts to understand Meg, she also starts to understand herself and the mother she has long dismissed. At the heart of the book is of course suicide, and Forman there too manages to make it about more than a tragedy. It is about the inevitable guilt and blame that surrounds a loss like this. The ways that you return again and again to the pain and the ways you manage to deny it for awhile. The story arc is wonderfully fractured, showing the starts and stops as Cody deals with different stages of grief.

Cody is a great protagonist, one who slowly begins to see who she is as the novel progresses. At first she is what she sees herself as, just a shadow of a person without Meg around. Yet as she starts to choose her own path and see her way forward, she shifts and grows. She is a person who is not desperate for a boyfriend, but desperate for the truth of what happened to her best friend. Unable to stop following the mystery, she is also clearly and wholly in denial, creating a tension that carries the entire book forward.

When great authors create more great works, it’s a beautiful thing and this is one beautiful read. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

Review: Wildlife by Fiona Wood

wildlife

Wildlife by Fiona Wood

Set in Australia, this teen novel features the first person voices of two sixteen-year-old girls experiencing a semester in a school wilderness camp.  Sib has been in this school for a long time, so it surprises everyone, including herself, when she is selected as a model for a billboard and modeling campaign.  Suddenly instead of ignoring her, everyone is paying attention to her.  That includes Ben Capaldi, the cutest and most popular boy in school.  Sib has no idea how to deal with this new interest, but her best friend is very willing to guide her, perhaps too willing.  Lou is a new girl in school and is recovering from the loss of her boyfriend in an accident a year ago.  She has no interest in joining into school life or making new friends.  Instead she wants to be left alone, connect with her old friends, grieve and try to figure a way out of her extra counseling sessions.  But even as she walls herself away from the others at school, she finds herself getting drawn into the drama and life happening around her.  This story of two very different and equally compelling young women dives deep into romance, sexuality and friendship.

Wood has made recent news through her frank depiction of teen female sexuality.  This book stands out clearly with its positive but also nuanced and honest look at one girl’s first sexual experience.  With moments of humor throughout, the sex is shown with lots of heat, tons of desire, and then reality as well.  In the end, the character decides what is right for her, not what is right for all teens, but there is no shaming, no despair, no regret, just decisions going forward.  This is sex as teen girls experience it, done with intelligence and care.

The reason the sex in the book works so well is that Wood has created two main characters who are themselves intelligent, caring and fascinating.  Sib is dealing with suddenly breaking the role that she had been cast in, and being thrust into popularity for something that she sees no value in, modeling.  It’s a deft combination of feminism and pop culture.  She also has a manipulative best friend, a character who is beautifully drawn and one that readers will adore to dislike.  Lou too is a complex character with her grief but also her growing interest in those around her.  Her internal voice is wonderfully wry and funny, showing a spirit and intensity well before she reveals it to the world around her. 

Set in a clever parent-free wilderness setting, this book is smart, funny and just what fans of Rainbow Rowell are looking for.  Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

love and other foreign words

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan

Josie attends both college and high school, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  So she has to be able to speak fluent High School and College.  There are people in her life who speak her own language, her best friend Stu, her parents, and her older sister Kate.  Josie also has to learn the way to talk to Kate about her dismal new boyfriend who doesn’t seem to be going away as quickly as Josie would like.  Even worse, it looks like they might be getting married, but not if Josie can stop it.  As Josie starts to date, she learns that there are Boyfriend languages that she has to learn as well.  But will anyone bother to learn to speak Josie?  And how in the world do you stop a crazy bride-to-be from ruining your life along with her own?

McCahan has written a smart female protagonist who is not afraid of being seen as intelligent and often shows off her knowledge in very humorous ways.  It’s great to have a super-smart girl in a book who relishes her own brains and also manages to have close friends.  Just as lovely is a book with a teen protagonist who enjoys her parents and gets along with her siblings too, most of the time.  Josie is entirely herself with her own sense of identity that often does not match the ones that people want to inflict upon her.  And that is celebrated in this wonderfully clever read.

McCahan has a knack for comedic timing and witty comments.  She doesn’t take it too far or make Josie too very clever.  Instead the humor reads naturally and seems like the sort of things that a smart teen would say.  The use of foreign languages to look at how people communicate in different ways is a very clever take on it.  As Josie stumbles through relationships on different levels, she is acutely aware of when things go awry but also just as confused about how to fix them.

This is an outstanding novel with an unusual protagonist that will have you laughing along with Josie as she navigates the many languages of her world.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

we were liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Cady has been spending her summers on the family’s private island for her entire life.  She and her two cousins Johnny and Mirren were joined by Gat, a boy who became almost a cousin but also so much more for Cady.  The foursome call themselves The Liars, and during the summers were inseparable but barely contacted one another during the rest of the year.  But then one summer it all changed and now Cady can’t remember what happened.  She was found bedraggled and wet on the beach of the island, alone.  Now she suffers from amnesia and migraines, spending days in bed in severe pain.  But she is determined to find out what happened, even if the other three refuse to contact her any more, so she returns to the island.

Lockhart has created a mystery and thriller that is written like modern poetry.  She plays with construction in her novel, dancing between verse and prose masterfully.  This disjointed approach to construction also speaks to the way the entire novel is deconstructed and put back together again.  The book moves in time, flashing forward and backward, yet is never confusing.  Still, readers will be caught in this sparkling web, unable to piece together the mystery until Lockhart is ready for the reveal.  And she does it with great style and technique.

With such a character-driven book, the depiction of the characters is of paramount importance.  Lockhart excels in all of her books in creating characters who are real people, human and flawed.  She does the same here, creating in Cady a very complicated character that readers have to put together as a puzzle until it clicks together in the end.  The other supporting characters are equally well rendered.  Even the parental figures who seem stereotypical at first reveal surprising depth as the story continues.

Superbly crafted and brilliantly written, this book is one of the best of the year.  Get your hands on it now!  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Delacorte Press and Edelweiss.

five six seven nate

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

This sequel to the award-winning Better Nate Than Ever is one of the strongest second books in a series I have read.  After getting cast as ET in the upcoming ET: The Musical, Nate is now living in New York City with his aunt who is also an actress.  But Broadway isn’t everything that Nate has dreamed it would be.  There seems to be a feud between the video-game creator who is their director and the choreographer.  Nate is an understudy and a member of the chorus but he can’t tap dance and is put into extra classes to improve.  But there are also high points.  Nate has a secret admirer who leaves notes and gifts, and he certain he knows who it is.  Nate is also secretly helping another of the ET actors with her lines and they become close friends over manicures.  Like any great Broadway story there are twists and turns and some romance too.  It’s one hell of a second act.

Federle writes in a way that is so easy to read and creates books that are impossible to put down until the final curtain falls.  This ease of reading though is because he is really writing directly for children in a way that is open, honest and speaks to all children whether they are actors or not.  Add in Nate’s questioning his sexual identity and you have a book with plenty of depth.

What Federle does best is to create characters who surprise and delight.  Nate himself captures this.  Nate could come off as a stereotypical actor, but instead because the book is in first person, Nate reveals all of his inner dialogue.  Much of which is screamingly funny.  But Nate is not the only deep character here.  Even tertiary characters are interesting and offer glimpses of how unique they are.  Among the secondary characters, there are many who would make great books all on their own.  Federle is a master of creating characters and making us care for them.

Bravo!  This is a smash production filled with humor and delight.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

cruel beauty

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

A stunningly inventive retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this debut novel turns the entire tale around over and over again.  Born into a world captured under a paper sky, Nyx has been promised as a bride to their demon ruler since she was born.  Her father promised tribute when he made a deal with the demon, so Nyx is to be sacrificed.  But her sacrifice is not to be without results, so she has been trained to kill her demon husband.  On her seventeenth birthday, she is sent to live with her new husband whom she has never met in his incredible castle.  She is not expecting to be beguiled by her new husband or by his silent shadow that serves him.  But once in the realm of her husband things are different, answers are not as clear, and even the questions shift and change just like the rooms and doors in the castle.  Nyx must figure out how she can save not only her family and her world but whether her newfound love can be saved too.

I was amazed when I discovered that this is a debut novel.  The writing has a polish and steadiness that would not lead one to believe that when reading.  Hodge has managed to take the foundation of the Beauty and the Beast storyline but then transform it, writing her own original world on top of it yet never quite leaving the original too far behind.  It is a critical balance in reworking familiar stories, and Hodge manages it admirably.  She turns it into something wilder, more frightening and just as beautiful.

Nyx is a wonderful protagonist.  I love how prickly she is, how feisty and fiery.  She can stand right up to a demon and match wits with him.  Yet she is also entirely human, torn by the fact her father chose to sacrifice her, awash with a mix of love and hate for her twin sister, and at times overcome with the situation she finds herself in.  Hodge allows these opposite forces to linger, building the tension and not resolving it until the end. 

Dramatic, romantic and completely beguiling, this retelling of Beauty and the Beast will get teen hearts racing even as the world twists and turns changing the story.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.

Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

defy

Defy by Sara B. Larson

This debut YA novel is a mix of romance and fantasy.  In a jungle kingdom with a cruel ruler, Alexa and her twin brother survive the murder of their parents.  Alexa has been raised by her father to fight, something very unusual for a girl in their society.  This lets her disguise herself as a boy and avoid being taken to a rape house and used by the king’s soldiers.  She becomes one of the best fighters in the prince’s guard.  But the prince is aloof and cold to everyone, never showing any interest in becoming a ruler.  Alexa finds herself guarding the prince personally after an attempt on his life.  Then she is taken hostage along with the prince and another of his guard.  She finds herself drawn to the man the prince is behind his cold exterior and also drawn to the other guard, a man she has known for years.  But how will they ever accept her as a girl when they have only known her as a man? 

Larson has created a very compelling world here.  The jungle setting is refreshing as is the kingdom ruled by fear and cruelty.  The pacing is fast, almost breakneck, making it a very riveting read.  Larson’s characters are complex as well.  In particular, the prince himself is very well drawn as a mysterious figure that is constantly revealing new aspects.  The ending is satisfying with a build up that adds to the tension.

At the same time, the book does suffer from some debut mistakes.  Alexa is constantly losing consciousness throughout the book.  She is tough as nails, except for her skull.  Then she seems to recover from long blackout periods with few ill effects.  The rape house aspect of the kingdom was not necessary for the story at all.  I hope that it becomes vital in the rest of the series, because otherwise it was a poor choice to be included.  When Alexa’s real sex is revealed, it is very anticlimactic.  For something that was seen to be life or death, the result is lukewarm at best.

While it does suffer from some plot issues, readers who enjoy fantasy mixed with romance will enjoy this new series.  Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Scholastic.

Review: Champion by Marie Lu

champion

Champion by Marie Lu

This is the third and final book in the Legend trilogy and it does not disappoint.  June and Day have almost entirely stopped communicating with one another now that Day has his brother Eden to care for and June is busy learning to be the next leader of the Senate.  Day also is keeping his deteriorating health secret from everyone, though he is finding it harder and harder to deal with the blindingly strong headaches.  Eden may be the key to stopping a plague that threatens an invasion of the Republic by the Colonies, so June asks Day to join her in Denver without mentioning his brother.  Reunited, the two feel their connection immediately, but both are holding secrets that they don’t want to reveal.  Yet they are also the only two people who have the ability to change the course of a war where winning could be the biggest loss of all. 

Lu has written her entire series with a grand feel of cinematography behind it.  In each of the scenes, they come to life as if shown on a mental screen.  Her writing is crisp and clear, yet it also delves into murky situations that are less than clear.  The question of loyalty to a government that has hurt your own family, killing some members, grapples with dark issues.  It is this wonderful mix of action and adventure but also thoughtful questions about larger issues that make this series compellingly readable. 

The characters of Day and June have grown throughout the entire series.  Both started at very different places than they ended up, and yet the growth has been natural, with distinct reasons for the changes.  Their romance, flawed and consistently stumbling, is gut wrenching and entirely beautiful.  They are a couple that are drawn together like moths to flames and then burned, retreat and then burn themselves again.  The romance just like their character development is honest, natural and glorious.

An action filled, taut ending to an incredible series, this book also has plenty of heart, romance and wisdom.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

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