The Deceivers

by Kristen Simmons
First sentence: “Some parents tell their kids they can be anything.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: February 5, 2019
Content: There’s some pretty intense kissing scenes, and some drug use and drinking by teenagers. There’s also a bit of mild swearing. It will probably be in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to 7th graders who were interested.

Brynn wants nothing more than to get out of her crappy Devon Park neighborhood, out under the thumb of her mom’s drug-running boyfriend, out of her crime-ridden neighborhoods, and into a better life. She knows that college is the key, but money is an issue. She doesn’t want to peddle drugs for Pete (that’s the boyfriend) so she takes to something … better: conning rich people out of their money. She’s saved up a hefty chunk when two things converge:  Pete finds the stash, and she follows a good-looking boy to an “audition” to get into the prestigious (and little-known) Vale Hall. Get into Vale, he tells Brynn, and your future is set.

What that good-looking boy neglected to mention was that Vale Hall is a school for con artists. Their job is primarily to discover (and divulge) secrets of the rich and powerful in their Chicago-like city (it’s not called Chicago, but it might as well be Chicago…). And soon Brynn finds out that the cost of having everything is, well, Everything.

Oh. My. Gosh. I couldn’t put this one down. Yes, I am a sucker for heist books (The Great Green Heist or Heist Society anyone?)  but this was a particularly good con book. Seriously good. There were long cons and short cons and cons that I didn’t see coming (though the clues were there). There were characters to root for (Brynn and Caleb) and love (more Henry!) and villains to root against. It was engrossing and readable and dang if I didn’t just love every moment spent at Vale Hall.

So, yeah, watch out for this one. And I would not mind spending more time with these characters at all!

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Bloom

bloomby Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: February 12, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some teenage drinking. It’s talking about after high school, though, so I’m not sure younger kids will be interested. It will be in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Ari has grown up in his family’s bakery, supposedly to take it over when his father retires. Except that’s NOT what Ari wants. He wants to go to the city, get an apartment with his friends, and try to make a living playing music. He’s just out of high school, and super conflicted about everything in his life.

Enter Hector. He’s coming off of a breakup with one of his best friends, Andrew, and has moved into his grandmother’s house (she recently passed) to try and sort things out. And when Ari puts up a help wanted sign, Hector answers it, because he loves to bake.

And so begins a sweet little story as Ari and Hector bond over baked goods, as Ari (who is definitely much less mature than Hector) tries to figure out what, exactly, he wants out of life.  Drawn in shades of blue, Panetta and artist Gancheau capture both the uncertainty of life after high school as well as the blush of first love.

It’s charming and sweet and lovely.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

cursesodarkby Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “There is blood under my fingernails.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: January 29, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some inferences to sex and lots of violence. It’ll be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I bet a 7/8th grader who wants to tackle this might really enjoy it.

Rhen is the crown prince of Everfall, but 5 years ago he made the worst decision of his life: he slept with, and then rejected, an enchantress. She (because she can) put a curse on him: at the end of every season (spring, summer, etc.) he will turn into a monster for a length of time. He has to find True Love to break the curse.

(If this sounds like Beauty and the Beast, you’re right.)

Harper lives in DC, and her family has fallen up on hard times. Her mother’s terminal illness has sucked the family finances dry, and so her father turned to loan sharks and other shady characters for money. And then he split, leaving Harper and her older brother Jake to clean up the mess. That is, until she’s inadvertently kidnapped (she wasn’t the intended target; in fact, she tried to stop the original kidnapping) by Rhen’s captain of the guard, Grey. And then she finds herself in Everfall.

There was so much to love in this book. The nods to the original fairy tale. The banter between Rhen and Harper. Harper’s fierceness (she’s not a warrior, but she cares about people and she’s willing to defend them). Rhen has a painful backstory, and Grey is an amazing foil. And the enchantress? Is wonderfully, justifiably awful.

It pulled me in on page one, and didn’t let me go until I finished. The only complaint I have? That it wasn’t a stand-alone (it could have been), but instead left a thread open for a sequel (which I will probably read).

Still. It was excellent.

 

The Wicked Deep

by Shea Ernshaw
First sentence: “Three sisters arrived in Sparrow, Oregon, in 1822 aboard a fur trading ship named the Lady Astor, which sank later that year in the harbor just beyond the cape.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are instances of teenage drinking and lots of talk about sex. There is also swearing, including several f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore. 

This one a hard one to summarize: it’s a slowly unfolding tale of three sisters who were accused of being witches and drowned, of a town that’s paid for their deaths for nearly 200 years through drownings of boys each summer. It’s the story of forgiveness and sacrifice and of falling in love. It’s the story of judgement and the price paid for not being open and accepting. 

It was atmospheric, as it slowly unfolded the historical tale of the Swan sisters and the contemporary tale of Penny and Bo. I was interested enough to keep reading to the end, but once there I was left with a shrug. I think I was supposed to care about the sacrifices made, about the love story. But mostly, it was all just a big meh. I guessed the twist fairly early on, and once I got to the Big Reveal, I was left kind of shrugging: yeah, so? 

I suppose I just wanted to like this one a lot more than I actually did. 

Mirage

by Somaiya Daud
First sentence: “He is the only one of his family without the daan.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some violence, and a few mild swear words. It was in the teen section (grades 9+) but I moved it to the YA, partially because there was nothing really “offensive” in it, and partially because I think 6-8th graders might be a better target audience. 

I’ve been thinking of this one as Star Wars with a Persian flair. Let me explain: in this universe, there is a cruel imperial overlord, the Vath, who conquer lesser systems, including the home world of our main character, Amani. The cruel overlords (and their droids) have wiped out the native language and customs, though they do keep some. 

The daughter of the emperor is about to come of age, and it turns out that she is very disliked on Andala, the world she is set to rule. So, Amani is kidnapped — because she looks exactly like the princess — and made to serve as a body double, something she resents, until she discovers (you guessed it: the resistance). See? Star Wars. 

The Persian flair is what made this book stand out to me: Daud infuses the world with a rich mythology, religion, and history, sewn together with poetry and family. I liked the developing relationship between Amani and the princess’s fiance, Idris. And I even really liked where the story went, though it took a long time to get to the climax. My only complaint is the usual one: I do wish it had been a stand-alone. 

Even so, it was a unique and interesting tale. 

What If It’s Us

whatifitsusby Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera
First sentence: “I am not a New Yorker, and I want to go home.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Loads and loads of f-bombs, some mild drinking, as well as some off-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

It’s the summer before senior year, and Arthur Seuss is in New York City from Atlanta with is parents for the summer. His mom is a lawyer working on a big case, and he’s got an internship. But mostly, he’s there to see the city and hopefully a few Broadway shows. Love is definitely NOT on the radar.

And then he bumps into an attractive boy at the post office and he’s smitten. The problem? He didn’t get the boy’s name.

Ben is trying to just make it through the summer. He’s come off a bad breakup with his boyfriend, Hudson, and he’s stuck in summer school because he failed chemistry. He just wants to pass the class. Love is definitely NOT on the radar.

That is, until Arthur (and the universe) conspires to get them together.

So this is very rom-com-y: a meet-cute, they have to work to get together, ups and downs in a relationship… it hits all the tropes. But, it was still a lot of fun. Especially if you (like me) really like romcoms. I adored Arthur and his extra-ness, and Ben and his great Puerto Rican family. I loved the side characters (especially Dylan; he was so great) and it’s nice to have a couple sets of decent parents in a YA book.

So, while it’s not really breaking any new ground (maybe in that it’s a gay romcom?) it’s still an incredibly fun read.

West

by Edith Pattou
First sentence: “I had placed the box, the one etched with the runes that contained the story of Rose and her white bear, in a quiet corner of my library.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: East
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 23, 2018
Content: There are some intense moments, and the main character is married with a baby, so it may not interest younger readers much. It will be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

When I finished this — and don’t get me wrong: I loved it — I thought, “Well, that’s the best unnecessary sequel I’ve ever read.”  See: East (which I also loved) ended satisfyingly. Rose and the White Bear (spoilers, if you haven’t read it or don’t know the fairy tale) got their happily ever after. There was, really, no need for there to ever be a sequel.

And yet, here we are.

It’s two years after the end of East, and Rose and Charles are happy. They have an adopted daughter, Estelle, and a baby, temporarily named Winn. They have a good life in Fransk. Then they decide to go visit Rose’s parents, traveling separately, and Charles never makes it. Word comes that he died in a huge storm. But Rose determines that, no, he’s still alive, and her old arch-enemies, the Trolls, are behind it. So she takes off — leaving Estelle and Winn in the care of her family — to rescue her White Bear. Again.

It really was an enjoyable read, but I just couldn’t shake the whole unnecessary side of it. Why did Rose need to go again? I understand wanting to revisit this world that Pattou created, but I really didn’t need a rehashing of Rose’s story. It it, instead, had followed Neddy (which it did, for a bit, and I really liked those parts) or Estelle (and made it a really young adult book, rather than this weird feels-like-a-young-adult-but-the-main-character-is-an-adult book) I might have liked it more. Pattou couldn’t have even come up with a new antagonist; she had to resurrect the Troll Queen again. So, yeah, while Pattou’s writing is lovely, and the story is nice enough, it’s really all… unnecessary.

Though I suppose there will be fans who are grateful for it.