The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

Cover image

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe (9780593353806)

Nora grew up with a con artist for a mother and quickly became an integral part of the cons she would pull, cheating wealthy men of their ill-gotten wealth. Nora became multiple girls to do this, one after another as each con ended, she would reinvent herself. She is now Nora, a girl who escaped her mother but not without having to make some terrible decisions along the way. Rescued by her older sister, she is trying to live a new life. Then she finds herself caught up in a bank robbery where the skills she built in her childhood may be the only thing that will save her. She knows how to read desperate people, how to get them what they want, and how to manipulate them. It might just be enough to keep the two people she loves alive too: her ex-boyfriend and her new girlfriend, who he just found out about.

Sharpe has created a feminist thriller that is a dynamite mix of survival, intelligence, bravery and pure nerve. She sets the thriller in a taut situation of its own, a bank robbery gone very wrong. Add in the character of Nora, already a survivor and not willing to ever be abused again, and you have a dangerous and explosive book that you won’t be able to put down. Nora is a unique protagonist, fascinating with her brilliant mind, unique approach to others, and what she learned in a lifetime of cons. Readers will love her throughout the book as she is alight with her newfound freedom and not ever going to lose.

Sharpe’s writing is stellar. She uses fabulous metaphors throughout, using fire, weaponry and explosions to express emotions, creating a ticking timebomb of a novel. She also writes real sparks between Nora and Iris while also demonstrating the deep feelings that Nora has for Wes. This is a book where readers can see Nora’s mind work, feel the evolving situation, but also laugh out loud with pure feminist joy at times.

A gripping, stunning thriller for teens, this one a sharp knife of a novel. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson


City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (9780399547584)

Tina has returned to the place where her mother was murdered to destroy the man she knows killed her. An experienced thief, she must break into one of the most highly guarded and defended homes in Sangui City, Kenya. But things do not go as planned and Tina is discovered by the son of the family, someone she had once been close childhood friends with. The two of them begin to work together to solve the mystery of her mother’s murder, Tina to prove the father guilty and his son to prove him innocent. Their search for the truth will take them back to Congo, the place that Tina and her mother fled as refugees. Soon Tina is learning more about her mother than she ever knew, pieces to the puzzle of her life and death. Danger is ever-present in their journey and in solving this mystery even more secrets need to be defended and exposed.

From the very first page, Anderson draws readers into this African murder mystery. Filled with tension and threat, this novel also shows the life of a refugee in Africa, the beauty of small village life in the dangerous Congo, the risks of traveling into a country at war, and the wealth that can be made by spilling blood. The setting is amazing, moving from Sangui City and its urban gangs to Congo village life, each is drawn with precision and both are filled with beauty and menace.

Tina is a fully drawn character in search of the truth. She knows who killed her mother and she is driven primarily by revenge. The book’s pacing is exactly right, allowing readers to experience the various settings and Tina’s changing situations fully as each clue and piece of information is revealed leading them onward. Tina is a great mix of intelligence, cunning and force. She is a criminal with a cause, a character that is compellingly written and understandable.

A thriller of a teen novel, this book has a unique setting and one dynamic female protagonist bent on revenge. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando (InfoSoup)

Six kindergarteners were taken and now eleven years later, five are returned. The six teens who had disappeared have no memories of their captivity or those that took them. Now they are sixteen and seem to be remarkably OK. They have vague memories of one another, but none of them have any memory of the six child who was taken with them. Avery, the younger sister of that still-missing boy, finds it difficult to deal with the others returning but her family being forgotten. Scarlett, one of the teens taken, returns home to find a sober mother with a serious boyfriend, a vast difference from her mother before. Scarlett though feels that she is not able to figure out the person she actually is. Lucas returns home to see his father die in front of him and is accused of being involved in his death. As all of them struggle to figure out what happened to them and what their future is bringing, there are more questions than answers.

This taut thriller of a book takes a daring look at memories, families and what makes us who we are. Readers will have to set aside their incredulity at the memory loss and go along for the ride here, allowing themselves to be part of the whiplash of the riveting plot and the horror of what happened to these children. There is real depth in this novel for teens, looking beyond the bleakness of the kidnapping and into the question of childhood trauma and what makes a normal teen and adult.

The three main characters are well developed and interesting, particularly Avery, who has a unique point of view and intact memories. Her skepticism at the teens’ story of memory loss will echo that of the reader. Her continued concern for her own brother demonstrates the additional victims of the crime, the family members. Scarlett and Lucas are strong characters as well, searching for any clues they can find to unravel what happened to them. The other teens who were returned are less well drawn, with one of them almost disappearing from the novel until much later in the story.

Told through specific points of view, this novel keeps its edge right up to the end. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.


Review: Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn

Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn

Delicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn (InfoSoup)

Sadie has to return to her family home and public high school after being kicked out of her third boarding school in four years. Sadie can’t seem to keep out of trouble. It could be that she doesn’t care about anything much at all, and definitely not how other people feel. Though she is intrigued to see a boy she knew in her childhood again. Emerson has a deep crush on May, a girl that he lusts after longingly. When Sadie arrives back though, trouble follows and she witnesses Emerson do something that could ruin him entirely. Meanwhile Emerson’s younger brother Miles is struggling too. He has seizures and when he has one, he can see the future. He’s just had a vision of a dark future for himself and he shares that with Sadie. Now the three of them are entwined in a brutal future of their own making and possibly one they can’t escape, because Miles’ visions always come true.

Kuehn has written a very unique book here. First, she does not try to make any of these characters ones that you relate to easily or particularly like. In fact, they are all rather detestable. From the rich girl who doesn’t feel emotions about others to the two brothers who are filled with a powerful mix of self hatred and violence. The themes here are quite mature with sex scenes as well as violence. It is a book that is haunting and frightening and compulsively readable.

Kuehn has carefully set the scene for trouble with a mix of wealth and poverty that makes for sparks between characters but also destructive flames that will harm and hurt. She adds to that a vineyard where the three main characters spent a critical summer together and a series of reveals about the characters that are very disturbing. That slow peeling of the characters in front of the reader creates a blazing book that is a great read. The ending (which I will not spoil) will frustrate some readers and leave others very satisfied. For me, it was the perfect ending for a book like this.

A genre-bending read, this teen novel is part thriller, part mystery and entirely gripping. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from digital galley received from St. Martin’s Griffin and Edelweiss.

Review: Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin

girls of no return

The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin

Released February 1, 2012.

A tense, riveting tale told in flashbacks, this book hints from the beginning about terrible things that aren’t fully revealed to the reader until the very end.  The result is a book that is tinglingly tantalizing and has you jumping at shadows. 

Lida has been sent to the Alice Marshall school where troubled girls are sent to try to rehabilitate.  It’s located at the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area in northern Idaho, where the students are surrounded by nature and removed from the temptations of modern life.  They live in cabins with bunk beds.  Lida lives with several other girls, including Boone who is something of a legend as she terrorizes the new students.  There is also Jules, who is so sweet and friendly that Lida can’t guess what she could have done wrong to be there.  And finally the luminous Gia, whose friendship is addictive and elusive.  Lida refuses to talk at first, drawing more and more deeply inside herself, but slowly she starts to reveal herself to the other girls and to the reader.  As the tension in the story mounts and secrets are revealed, readers are caught in the web of truths, lies, and betrayals.

Saldin’s debut is a book that mixes juvenile detention with nature, combining it all with a swirl of illicit drugs and alcohol.  The characters are all complex, especially when the reader thinks they have that character pegged, they will reveal even more of themselves.  The setting is gorgeously described from the lake to the mountains.  It serves as an important plot device throughout the book with its isolation. 

Saldin does the near impossible here, not revealing the horrible truth of what happened until the very end of the book.  Twenty pages from the end, the tension was so thick that my eyes could not read the words quickly enough.  Yet at the same time, I didn’t want this exquisite read to end.  Even better, the ending really works, offering no easy solutions to the complexity of the storyline.

The writing is vibrant and creative, the plot inventive and revealing.  This book is a stellar read that would make a great book talk.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

Review: Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

au revoir crazy european chick

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

Released October 25, 2011.

Perry’s band has gotten their first big break, a gig in New York City.  Unfortunately, his parents are insisting that he take their foreign exchange student, Gobi, to prom that same night!  Perry thinks that if he manages to leave prom early, he can still make it to his gig on time.  Little does he know that his entire night is about to explode, literally.  Perry is caught up in an assassination attempt, taken hostage in his own father’s car, and forced to speed through the night in Manhattan.  This is one wild ride through a dark city that you won’t want to end!

Schreiber has written a book that reads like a movie.  The pace is fast even at the beginning of the book but becomes almost breakneck speed by the middle.  The ending is wild and blazing.  This book is not about character development, though there are moments of growth in Perry especially where he realizes the truth about his father and his own relationship with him.  In some respects it is a gun-filled story of a boy turning into a man in one amazing night.

This book comes in at 192 pages, which is sure to appeal to reluctant teen readers.  Add the appeal of guns, fast cars, explosions, assassins, and romance and you have a book that readers will race right through.

The movie rights to this book have already sold to Paramount, which makes perfect sense given a book that reads so much like it’s already on the screen.   Get this in the hands of reluctant readers who will enjoy the action and the humor of this thrilling read.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group.

Also reviewed by:

Check out the trailer:

Cryer’s Cross: Thrilling Fun


Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann

The tiny community of Cryer’s Cross has been witness to a tragedy when Tiffany disappears without a trace.  Because the town is so small, 16-year-old Kendall knew Tiffany though she was several years younger.  Returning to their one-room high school, Kendall needs to tidy the desks and room before a new school year begins thanks to her OCD.  Kendall returns to her areas of comfort, playing soccer, dreaming about leaving Cryer’s Cross for Juilliard, and her boyfriend Nico.  When Nico begins acting strange and then disappears, the community enforces a curfew.   After Nico disappears and soccer is cancelled, Kendall’s OCD becomes much worse.  She only finds relief when playing soccer with Jacian, a new boy in school who manages to both bother and intrigue Kendall.  When Kendall starts hearing Nico’s voice when she sits at his desk and receiving messages through the graffiti scratched into its surface, she is drawn into the horror that lives in her small town.

This thriller has great teen appeal.  It is creepy, frightening, but not fully horror.  Just right for teens who want a little scare but not too much.  The romance is nicely built in the book as well.  I liked that it was not instantaneous but rather built as they got to know one another better. 

The pacing is well done, drawing out the scary moments and allowing the story time to build.  I found it nearly impossible to put down, my mind kept working on unraveling the mystery even when I was not reading.   The conclusion was exciting, frightening and great fun to read.  It was also nicely foreshadowed in the book, making it very satisfying.

A thrilling, fun read that is sure to appeal to McMann’s fans.  The cover is eye-catching and will welcome additional readers too.  Get this in the hands of teens who want a jolt of terror in their reads.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon Pulse.

Also reviewed extensively throughout the blogosphere.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Across the Universe: Stellar Science Fiction


Across the Universe by Beth Revis

What a pleasure to read some great science fiction for teens!  At age 17, Amy joins her parents on the trip of a lifetime, or many lifetimes, as they are frozen for a voyage of 300 years to a colonize a new planet.   Flash ahead several hundred years and the ship Godspeed that carries the frozen bodies has created its own society over the centuries.  16-year-old Elder is the next leader of the ship, chosen from when he was an infant to lead.  He has been raised and taught by Eldest, the current leader.  But something is going wrong.  There are secrets everywhere he turns, and no one will give him the answers he needs to be the next Eldest.  To make things worse, someone has begun attacking the frozen people, and it just might be the people Elder trusts most.  This taut thriller of a novel marries mystery, science fiction and romance into a gripping read.

Revis has written a genre-bending novel that will attract many different types of readers.  Her building of the world inside the ship is amazing in its attention to detail.  The complexities of this small world flying through space are solid and fascinating.  Readers will slowly come to understand the secret horrors of life aboard the ship and are guaranteed feel claustrophobic as the metal walls seem to close in. 

Amy is a heroine with plenty of spunk and attitude.  Elder is a more subtle hero, filled with self-doubt and sometimes self-loathing, he is a complex character who has been living with lies entire life.  It is Elder that is the amazing creation in this novel.  A boy who is destined to lead but doesn’t see how. 

I do have one quibble with the book, but it comes so close to the end that I don’t want to ruin the novel for anyone.  It was one twist too many for me and a breaking of literary conventions.  I came away frustrated by the ending but blown away by the novel itself.

An enticing blend of genres, this book would be an ideal book talk choice for librarians looking for a title that will appeal to most teens.  It has an amazing opening chapter that makes it impossible to put down.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Penguin.

Blank Confession


Blank Confession by Pete Hautman

This book begins with Shayne Blank entering a police department to confess a murder.   The question for readers is how this kid who is new to school got into the situation.  Mikey is a kid whose mouth always gets him into trouble.  Though he thinks he wants to blend in and be invisible at times, he dresses in secondhand suits that make him stick out from the regular high school crowd.  When Shayne seems interested in being his friend, Mikey has just ticked off his sister’s boyfriend, drug dealer Jon by dumping a bag in order not to be caught in a sweep of the school.  Jon now says that Mikey owes him $500 and that he will pay it back.  As the tension grows throughout the novel and the damage done by Jon and others gets more intense, readers will be caught in flashbacks looking for the trigger to the murder.  A riveting and tense story about truth, friendship and what one is capable of, this slim novel will hook many readers.

Hautman has written a novel with a structure that creates tension all on its own.  Add in some evil drug dealing teens, a mouthy unusual teen who tells the bulk of the book in his voice, and the natural vibe of the police department, and this is one pulse-pounding book.  Additionally, Hautman puts the characters in situations where murder is not only possible but likely.  This adds to the taut nature of the book even further.  The characters are interesting, especially Shayne who is very bright, very tough and a complete mystery.  Mikey is a character who would be easily unlikeable but because much of the book is shown through his perspective becomes understood at least by the reader. 

That said, the book is not perfect.  The ending was brilliant, twisting away from the twist I had expected to my great delight.  But the book should have ended a chapter earlier than it does.  It should have left us hanging a bit, figuring it out for ourselves.  With the final chapter added in, the mystery of Shayne is revealed and it is all a bit too neatly resolved.  I’d have much preferred the mysteries and questions to remain.

A book that teens will relate to and be unable to put down, this is a tense and thrilling ride from confession to deed.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.