Deadly Little Lessons by Laurie Faria Stolarz
Camelia’s junior year of high school is finally over…but her troubles aren’t. After she discovers a painful truth about her family, she escapes to a summer arts program in Rhode Island, determined to put family – and boyfriend – dramas behind her.
At the arts school, she gets caught up in the case of Sasha Beckerman, a local girl who’s gone missing. Even though all signs suggest that the teen ran away, Camelia senses otherwise. Eager to help the girl, she launches her own investigation. While reviewing the details online, she stumbles across a blog by someone named Neal Moche, a fellow psychometric. With Ben away, Camelia feels as if she’s found a kindred spirit in Neal. That sense of connection also makes Camelia realize how much she misses Ben, despite being committed to Adam.
But time is running out for Sasha, and Camelia will have to trust her powers more than ever. Will the lessons she has learned give her the strength to save Sasha before it’s too late?
336 pages | Published: December 18, 2012 | Hyperion Books for Children
I never really thought this would happen – giving anything in the Touch series less than four stars. But, I digress.
If anything, read this for the romance. It’s worth it, I promise.
Buuuuuuut, if you’re looking for more from Camelia, forget about it. This installment begins with a VERY CRUCIAL plot twist, which immediately takes you to the edge of your seat, but just as quickly pushes you back for the long haul. Camelia doesn’t step up to the plate enough for me. Again, I was left wishing for more character growth. We’re given so many details and bits and pieces, but they don’t add up to anything. She’s like a blank slate. And with the series being this late in the game, my expectations only become higher. And, needless to say, they weren’t fulfilled.
The mystery aspect is, as usual, enticing and invigorating. It had me scouring each word for clues. But, again, it takes center stage, rather than Camelia. I went in hoping for a little bit more from our usual cast, and was sorely disappointed. A lot of it is repetition, of Camelia trying to make sense of her powers and feelings. While I understand that this is still a process for her, as the reader I needed more. Or some sort of change. A different angle.
Just when the story starts getting good and showing signs of progression, it ends. It’s as if the only real Camelia moments are saved for the beginning and ending. For me, this is frustrating. I needed to see the bigger picture, or the purpose of it all, throughout the story. When everything hit me at the end, I still had unanswered questions and knew the characters no better than I did from when I started.
If these were meant to be purely stand-alone mystery novels, I’d be better able to forgo the lack of character development and interaction. But they’re not. Yes, they deal with stand-alone mysteries, but the overall arching plot revolves around Camelia. And if she’s a dud, her story becomes a dud.
My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
“One thing my mother never knew, and would disapprove of most of all, was that I watched the Garretts. All the time.”
The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase’s family makes Samantha one of their own. Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?
304 pages | Published: June 14, 2012 | Penguin Group USA, Inc.
Can I just say that Sam and Jase may be my new favorite contemporary YA couple? Really. Jase is the fictional boyfriend I’ve been looking for all along.
Fitzpatrick makes these characters sing. They’re so real and dynamic, always working with each other. I’ve never before seen so many characters flow together.
That being said, I think this plot attempts to tackle a lot, and succeeds in tackling half of it. From politics, to drugs, to sex, to best friends, to boyfriends, to exes – there’s a lot to be said. And most of the time, Fitzpatrick gets the messages across. But the latter portion of the book nosedives so fiercely and suddenly, and doesn’t have enough time to recover. I just wanted more, more, more. It left me feeling like someone stomped on my heart and tried to put it back to normal…unsuccessfully. The resolution feels like a cop-out. When it says “the bottom drops out of her world,” Fitzpatrick wasn’t kidding. In the turn of a page the story goes from a super high to a super low. (Keep tissues handy. Just in case.)
Nevertheless, be prepared to be captivated very early on, even though it’s strange at first. The plot points (although whacky later), are spaced in a way that’s so seemingly seamless and fluid. You get from Point A to Point B to Point C without ever feeling as if something’s been done just to create this new niche in the story.
If anything, read it for the romance. Really. It’s too darn perfect. Everybody will want a Garrett.
I know I do.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
The day that Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London to start a new life at boarding school is also the day a series of brutal murders breaks out over the city, killings mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper spree of more than a century ago. Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him—the only one who can see him. And now Rory has become his next target.
384 pages | Published: September 29, 2011 | Penguin Group
For a story that revolves around Jack the Ripper, I expected there to be many more Ripper moments.
The first chunk of The Name of the Star consists of serious build-up and character building, specifically that of Rory and her new life at boarding school. It’s a typical fish-out-of-water scenario. That said, the characters are all memorable and realistic – especially the boys. For once, it was nice to not have boys banging down any doors, standing outside windows with boomboxes, or going out of their way to get the girl. Consequently, the romance took a back seat. And even when it was prevalent, it was spontaneous and … awkward. Really, all it did was get my hopes up very early on.
I never expected this story to take the turn that it did. It kept me hooked, but dissolved into a letdown. I never felt the urgency or terror associated with the Ripper drama. Instead of increasing in action, it dwindles, becoming a long history lesson. Between long monologues and recounts of past events, I fought to finish. The latter half of The Name of the Star feels as if it’s a separate story, woven together out of thin air. I felt tricked, no longer understanding the story’s progression. Had there been more answers to Rory’s questions, maybe I’d be satisfied as well. But I’m just left wondering how the story gets from point A to point B.
This is a good one if you enjoy mysteries that pull you in multiple directions. It’s not entirely unpredictable, but more teasing than anything. Don’t expect to be scared. It’s rather tame. Ultimately, I’m unsure what The Name of the Star tries to achieve.
Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with “freaky” scars on her arms. Even Echo can’t remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal.
But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo’s world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.
Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she’ll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.
416 pages | Published: July 31, 2012 | Harlequin Teen
Pushing the Limits is YA romance at its best; it packs the heat, tension and kissing, then boils it down to some very steamy scenes.
I had my reservations about this one. Loner with a leather jacket? Popular girl-turned-freak? It seemed all too overdone. Then, to my surprise, this wasn’t the case at all! Looking past some of the soap opera plot points, Noah and Echo really stand out as main characters. I really enjoyed getting both of their perspectives, especially because they don’t rehash the same events over and over. The two of them, while entwined, also function separately and have their own stories to share. I feel that Noah’s story is more compelling, offers the most resolution and provides the most growth. Echo’s story, while compelling, is full of holes that aren’t really resolved or known.
Noah and Echo’s relationship is at the forefront through most of the novel, but it works. It’s not forced, it’s not love at first sight. And despite it being incredibly swoon-worthy and steamy, it’s not made out to be all about the sex. In fact, it’s the opposite. The physicality of their relationship, while highly prevalent, isn’t as important as the meaning and rationalization behind it. I like that they both think things through even though they know what they want. I like that they use their heads.
That being said, I did still have a few issues with their relationship – namely, that it’s taken to the Nth degree. It’s not just I love you or I want to be with you, it’s You are mine forever and ever. There’s a lot of talk about ownership. She’s his girl. He’s her guy. I didn’t think it was demonstrated enough how destructive this behavior of theirs is. It’s touched upon, but resolved too quickly.
But when you get past that, Pushing the Limits delivers heated romance and heartbreaking tales.
The Lost Prince by Julie Kagawa
Don’t look at Them. Never let Them know you can see Them.
That is Ethan Chase’s unbreakable rule. Until the fey he avoids at all costs—including his reputation—begin to disappear, and Ethan is attacked. Now he must change the rules to protect his family. To save a girl he never thought he’s dare to fall for.
Ethan thought he had protected himself from his older sister’s world—the land of Faery. His previous time in the Iron Realm left him with nothing but fear and disgust for the world Meghan Chase has made her home, a land of myths and talking cats, of magic and seductive enemies. But when destiny comes for Ethan, there is no escape from a danger long, long forgotten.
My name is Ethan Chase. And I may not live to see my eighteenth birthday.
400 pages | Publication date: October 23, 2012 | Harlequin Teen
Keirran! Ash! RAZOR! Grim! Ethan! Puck!
How can I possibly love so many of Kagawa’s characters? I’ll tell you how: they kick butt! There isn’t one main character that sits idly by, that doesn’t have a care in the world and shows no growth. There’s always someone looking for more, wanting to be more. And the male/female dynamics play out very well. There are much stronger female characters this time around, and they’re not afraid to show and use their strength; they complement the boys, which is refreshing because the boys like to play the Chivalry-Isn’t-Dead card a lot. It’s nice to have girls that can do something and be their own persons.
That being said, the story does have a very slow, repetitive buildup. But it’s worth the wait. And, after having finished the book, I realized that, while slow, some of the buildup is pivotal, although slightly misguided. Ethan runs into, and chooses to take, a lot of “detours” along the way, which sometimes had me wondering what, exactly, was crucial to the plot. I didn’t always like being tugged in several directions, getting sucked into new plot points, gripping the edge of my seat….only to be turned around. (It was like walking straight into big, yellow TEASER! signs. Face first.) There are still a lot of unanswered questions, most of which stem from the abrupt ending. It’s just enough to sink your teeth into, to keep you waiting on the next book.
But it wasn’t so much the journey that kept me around - it was the characters that had me cheering them on. They’re just so likeable – even with all of their quirks. They mesh well together. I like this “meshing” the most because it’s a clear mixture of new and old, old and young. And it works. (It did take some time getting used to Ethan’s older age now, though.)
All I can say is The Lost Prince officially swept me off my feet. Despite an excruciatingly slow start-up, once the ball got rolling it was just like old times.
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Teen beauty queens. A “Lost”-like island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to emall. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.
400 pages | Published: May 24, 2011 | Scholastic, Inc.
Satire meets pageant girls meets tropical island.
Beauty Queens, while hilarious at its beginning, tapers off as the story progresses. I couldn’t handle the repetitive snark, sass and mocking; it came across very pushy. It’s overall very witty though, and at times the hilarity I’d enjoyed reappeared to keep me satisfied to keep pushing forward. But it ultimately wasn’t enough to leave me feeling like I’d read something great.
While I love the diversity of the characters, I never felt too attached to any. It got to the point that I’d either forgotten one of the contestants were still around, or I’d forgotten their name(s). And the ones I’d started to care for didn’t stay true to their initial personalities. (I’m mainly looking at you, Adina.) And some simply had/found no resolution. (Case and point: Taylor.) It was as if just as Bray got me to become invested in some of their stories, it all fumbled.
The second half of Beauty Queens, to me, pushed its wit to the limit. It wasn’t funny anymore – it was ridiculous. More ridiculous than its first half, I mean. I just wasn’t buying it anymore. I was no longer invested.
Even though this is one clever, funny story, I expected more from it – more sustenance, progression, and resolution. I wanted more of a cohesive story, and because of this, Beauty Queens felt like it was lacking that magical something.
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing — not even a smear of blood — to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?
This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know….
512 pages | Published: October 15, 2011 | Margaret K. McElderry Books
Talk about attention-grabbing! City of Bones begins as if it were a contemporary read, then quickly derails into exciting territory. It doesn’t allow you to warm up to the characters or the action – you’re either with it or without it, because the tension isn’t about to dissipate and wait for you to catch up.
Part of this tension stems from the love triangle that sets itself up early on. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. Simon’s intentions are easy to see, but I was actually rooting against him. For me, he pales in comparison to Jace. But this opens up another can of worms: Clary is only fifteen. After so much buildup of romantic tension, Clary’s age is mentioned in passing again and that’s when it felt like a slap in the face. She’s FIFTEEN! That’s really young. (Or maybe I’m just old?) Either way, the romance stopped working for me. I wished for her to age quickly.
Also, the vampire/werewolf standoff seems a bit too…staged? It doesn’t fit well enough into the overall plot, in my opinion; it’s a distraction. I ended up forgetting what their Big Purpose was, and what they were supposed to be accomplishing. But I like that the fight/action scenes are detailed. It’s not simply a case of “he punched” and “he fell.” The details really amped up the suspense and my investment in the story, even if it seemed to be getting off track.
I’m warning you, though. Nothing will prepare you for its ending. Nothing. Even if you guess part of it. Your brain will still explode and leave you no choice but to move on to book two, City of Ashes. If you want surprise, Clare brings surprise – with a punch!
The Future of Us by Jay Asher
Josh and Emma are about to discover themselves—fifteen years in the future
It’s 1996, and Josh and Emma have been neighbors their whole lives. They’ve been best friends almost as long—at least, up until last November, when everything changed. Things have been awkward ever since, but when Josh’s family gets a free AOL CD-ROM in the mail, his mom makes him bring it over so that Emma can install it on her new computer. When they sign on, they’re automatically logged onto Facebook . . . but Facebook hasn’t been invented yet. Josh and Emma are looking at themselves fifteen years in the future.
Their spouses, careers, homes, and status updates—it’s all there. And every time they refresh their pages, their futures change. As they grapple with the ups and downs of what their lives hold, they’re forced to confront what they’re doing right—and wrong—in the present.
320 pages | Published: November 21, 2011 | Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
The plot of The Future of Us is initially captivating (especially to me because I generally like futuristic/historical genres), but turns out to be a letdown. I figured there would be a greater focus on the kids’ futures and how Facebook changed social networking and communication so greatly from the 1990s. However, the whole plot revolves around their (Josh’s and Emma’s) individual lives. Nothing really happens to contribute to the premise. Josh and Emma only care about how their love lives turn out and how that affects the other aspects of their lives (occupation, number of children, mood, location, etc.). Emma is almost always complaining and comes across as being very self-centered – she’ll do anything to alter her future in a way that’s better for her, not even considering the harm it does to Josh and everyone she’s met (or will meet). It is because of her negative personality that I couldn’t empathize with her. Josh is the more personable character.
The story itself moves smoothly, its pace steady. And even though you get to see both Emma’s and Josh’s viewpoints, the thoughts aren’t repetitive. When one of them discusses something, the other doesn’t rehash the same events. This keeps the plot moving, rather than straggling.
The Future of Us is a cute and easy read, but more on the lovey-dovey side, rather than the mysterious side, and doesn’t tackle the complications of the future I hoped it would.
*Deanna is a close friend and new co-reviewer at TGR. As a lover of historical, mystery and fantasy reads, she’ll be helping expand TGR’s reading tastes!
Dante’s Girl by Courtney Cole
I have spent every summer since I was ten years old with my father in London. Every summer, since I was ten years old, has been uneventful and boring.
Until this year.
And this year, after a freak volcanic eruption strands me far from home, I have learned these things:
1. I can make do with one outfit for three days before I buy new clothes.
2. If I hear the phrase, “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” even one more time, I might become a homicidal maniac.
3. I am horribly and embarrassingly allergic to jellyfish.
4. I am in love with Dante Giliberti, who just happens to be the beautiful, sophisticated son of the Prime Minister of a Mediterranean paradise.
5. See number four above. Because it brings with it a whole slew of problems and I’ve learned something from every one of them.
Let’s start with the fact that Dante’s world is five light-years away from mine. He goes to black-tie functions and knows the Prime Minister of England on a first name basis. I was born and raised on a farm in Kansas and wear cut-off jeans paired with cowboy boots. See the difference?
But hearts don’t care about differences. Hearts want what they want. And mine just wants to be Dante’s girl.
My heart just might be crazy.
365 pages | Published: June 21, 2012 | Lakehouse Press
Dante’s Girl is a surprising read that kept catching me off guard, right from the beginning.
Cole wastes no time in getting you right into the heart of the story. But even though I was lost as to what was happening, immediately both Reece and Dante were personable characters that I wanted to get to know. And, as crazy as it sounds, they “clicked” right from the get-go. Normally the love-at-first-sight notion comes off stale or rigid to me, but it feels right for these two. What spoils their romance, for me, is the unbelievability factors. Reece ends up being taken care of by Dante, his family and his friends. And they’re not in London. And she’s allowed to stay with them. And intern. It’s all a little too convenient, and because of this, certain plot points feel forced and unnatural.
But the descriptions of Dante’s “Mediterranean paradise” of a home are enough to fawn over. Cole paints a very alluring picture of the swank and old world charm of Caberra. (You’ll be wanting to visit a paradise of your own, that’s for sure!) It’s nice to see both sides to the country, to see it from both a visitor’s and indigenous person’s perspectives.
A mixture of puppy love, beautiful scenery, good luck (and a touch of political unrest) make Dante’s Girl a cutesy, breezy read lacking the “glue,” or sustenance to carry out its story.
Black Heart by Holly Black
Cassel Sharpe knows he’s been used as an assassin, but he’s trying to put all that behind him. He’s trying to be good, even though he grew up in a family of con artists and cheating comes as easily as breathing to him. He’s trying to do the right thing, even though the girl he loves is inextricably connected with crime. And he’s trying to convince himself that working for the Feds is smart, even though he’s been raised to believe the government is the enemy.
But with a mother on the lam, the girl he loves about to take her place in the Mob, and new secrets coming to light, the line between what’s right and what’s wrong becomes increasingly blurred. When the Feds ask Cassel to do the one thing he said he would never do again, he needs to sort out what’s a con and what’s truth. In a dangerous game and with his life on the line, Cassel may have to make his biggest gamble yet—this time on love.
296 pages | Published: April 3, 2012 | Margaret K. McElderry Books
I need this series to not be over. Partly because it’s so good, and partly because I still need answers. At the same time I understand that there could never be enough answers to Cassel’s life. Black could keep writing this series and it would result in me craving more, more, more.
Point blank: Black Heart – and, generally speaking, the Curse Workers series – is addictive.
This book was the one that had me on the edge of my seat the most. I really, really feared for Cassel and wanted everything to work out for him. He took hold of my feelings like no male character has been able to do in a while. He’s not the nicest or brightest kid. I mean, let’s just say it: he’s done many illegal things. And yet I still wanted things to work in his favor. He proved he could change; he proved it to me and himself. And the greatest thing is that his growth is taken yet another step further than seen in Red Glove. I won’t spoil anything, but he shares quite a touching moment with Sam. (I went and re-read it. It’s that cute.)
I think the only disappointment with Black Heart is its predictability, which I’d learned to spot in the past two books. The denouement is thrilling and gripping, but it didn’t leave me in the dark. I think, this time, Cassel’s story is missing that extra oomph, that extra con magic. (I say con “magic” because this time the cons seem sloppy.) If the cons matched the personal elements, it would’ve been absolutely perfect.
But this doesn’t change the fact that Cassel Sharpe stole my heart. (Or that I’m letting him keep it.)