Archive | contemporary

Review: THE FIXER by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick has spent her entire life on her grandfather’s ranch. But when her estranged sister Ivy uproots her to D.C., Tess is thrown into a world that revolves around politics and power. She also starts at Hardwicke Academy, the D.C. school for the children of the rich and powerful, where she unwittingly becomes a fixer for the high school set, fixing teens’ problems the way her sister fixes their parents’ problems.

And when a conspiracy surfaces that involves the family member of one of Tess’s classmates, love triangles and unbelievable family secrets come to light and life gets even more interesting—and complicated—for Tess.

Sometimes I can only describe reading books in food terms. When a book is good enough, I can feel my hunger to keep reading in the back of my throat like a gulp of hot chocolate. When a book is good enough, my inability to quit is like eating only one kernel of popcorn—impossible. That’s what this book was like. I read the entire thing, from beginning to end, in less than one work day, because I just couldn’t stop. Continue Reading →


Review: FLIRTY DANCING by Jenny McLachlan

Bea Hogg is shy but fiery inside. When national dance competition Starwars comes to her school looking for talent, she wants to sign up. It’s just a shame her best friend agreed to enter with school super-cow Pearl Harris. Bea will fight back! But when school hottie, Ollie Matthews, who also happens to be Pearl’s boyfriend, decides to enter the competition with Bea, she will have more than a fight on her hands.

This warm, nuanced, hilarious story about friendship, fortitude . . . and dancing is impossible not to fall in love with. Jenny’s voice is fresh and convincing, and she handles both darker and lighter elements of the story with equal panache.

Note: I read this book and wrote this review many months ago. I now work for Bloomsbury, but my opinions here were set in stone long before, and I stand by them.

Cute book alert! Gosh, I was hoping for cuteness when I requested this title from Bloomsbury, and my instincts were right on the money. This book is like if Disney Channel made an Original Movie out of a one of those Georgia Nicolson books, and the book happened to be about dancing. It’s quirky, British, hilarious, and just offbeat enough to keep me grooving along. Continue Reading →


Review: JOYRIDE by Anna Banks

A popular guy and a shy girl with a secret become unlikely accomplices for midnight pranking, and are soon in over their heads—with the law and with each other—in this sparkling standalone from NYT-bestselling author Anna Banks.

It’s been years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. She lives with her brother, studies hard, and works at a convenience store to contribute to getting her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He dated popular blondes and had fun with his older sister, Amber. But now Amber’s dead, and Arden blames his father, the town sheriff who wouldn’t acknowledge Amber’s mental illness. Arden refuses to fulfill whatever his conservative father expects.

All Carly wants is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to NOT do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts—and one another—is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh.

This book is like Rocky Road ice cream for me. I’m jammin’ out on the sweet, sweet chocolate, tolerating the marshmallows… and then along comes the almonds to throw me into a funk. Do I spit out the almonds but otherwise continue to enjoy the ice cream as a whole, or do I toss it all aside as a lost cause and seek out more chocolatey pastures?

Continue Reading →


Review: MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

Funny, provoking, and ultimately moving, this debut novel featuring the quintessential unreliable narrator will have readers turning the pages and trying to figure out what is real and what is made up.

What a book. What. A. Book. If you’ve paid attention at all online, you’ve seen that this book has gotten some pretty solid press, including an endorsement by John Green. WELL-EARNED, I SAY! Continue Reading →



Love is real in the town of Grimbaud, and Fallon Dupree has dreamed of attending high school there for years. After all, generations of Duprees have successfully followed the (100% accurate!) love fortunes from Zita’s famous Love Charms Shop to happily marry their high school sweethearts. It’s a tradition. So she is both stunned and devastated when her fortune states that she will NEVER find love.

Fortunately, Fallon isn’t the only student with a terrible love fortune, and a rebellion is brewing. Fallon is determined to take control of her own fate—even if it means working with a notorious heartbreaker like Sebastian.

Will Fallon and Sebastian be able to overthrow Zita’s tyranny and fall in love?

I had such high hopes for this book. The synopsis was cute and the cover was cuter. The story opened with Love herself, physically personified as a thirteen-year-old girl. Apparently, Love wanders the world, helping couples out, but can only be seen and remembered by brides on their wedding days. (You’d think they’d need her help before the actual wedding.) Love is completely fed up with people ignoring her help and getting themselves into messes, so she teams up with a fortune-teller so that she can speak directly to the populace, and that’s how Grimbaud’s reputation for 100% accurate love charms comes to be.

It’s a really interesting and fluffy idea in theory. The main character, Fallon, is told she will never fall in love, a horrific thing to learn in a town that is obsessed with love and marriage. I do mean obsessed. Fallon’s parents, knowing she went to get her fortune told, call her and literally start planning her wedding over the phone. Did I mention that Fallon is FIFTEEN?! Fallon and her best friend Martin join a secret club looking to overthrow Zita’s stranglehold on the charms market, and that’s how Fallon teams up with her playboy neighbor, Sebastian.

First, I thought the concept of the club was interesting and I’m sad I couldn’t stick around to see how the plot fought the idea of romantic relationships being the be-all-to-end-all. On Fallon’s first day of school, she’s slipped a brochure to a home for spinsters. Again, SHE’S FIFTEEN. I was really looking forward to seeing how the club dismantled the town’s assumption that single people are somehow broken or lacking.

I also really wanted the romance to work out. Sebastian is an awful, heartbreaking cad, but he’s so awful that you can tell it ties in to his own (secret) fortune somehow. He’s also a bit like a poor man’s Bellamy Blake—handsome, charming, arrogant, calls the main character “Princess” a lot. Since Fallon, as his neighbor, is privy to all of his exploits, I kept my fingers crossed for a bit of a Pillow Talk arc between the two of them.

Unfortunately, there was too much I didn’t like to stick around for the stuff that I did. The writing is… not the best. I was fairly drowning in unnecessary physical description. For the love of poptarts, don’t stop the story to describe every single person from head to toe. Work in physical descriptions as necessitated by the plot or not at all. I also don’t need to know what outfit the main character is wearing every single time. And oh boy, was Fallon a drag. She’s an uptight, colorless little priss, and not in a way that made me root for her to change, either. She was just… boring. And annoying. And bland. If I had to hear one more time about how her perfect hair parted perfectly down her perfect scalp, I was going to barf.

Also, so much just did not make sense. Fallon keeps talking about how she doesn’t want to stay in the spinsters’ home, but she also doesn’t want to leave Grimbaud because it’s soooo wonderful. Why? What’s so wonderful about it? FLEE, CHILD! LIVE YOUR LIFE! At one point, Sebastian crunches a leaf… and expects it to scare her? I… what? Fallon has zero grasp of figurative language, because these are her literal thoughts after Sebastian accuses her of being a princess:

Nothing about her was princesslike. Nothing at all. Fallon lacked classic beauty, an affinity for animals, and was not, as Sebastian had insisted, delicate, no matter how well she cared for herself.

No, dear. He’s saying you’re a snooty priss. Whyyyyy are you being so literal? It’s not funny. Of course, this is the same girl who also thinks things like:

The plastic-covered library books at Grimbaud High had wrinkled pages and were tattooed with illegible margin notes. They smelled like sadness and temptation, drenched in dust motes that drifted like tiny stars.

Mmmm, because there’s nothing more tempting that plastic, sadness, and tiny floating flecks made out of other people’s dandruff, nosiree.

And Sebastian, my Bellamy/Rock Hudson mashup, turned out to be (surprise) a good-hearted soul whose big secret is that he… likes to record silence. (And don’t suggest that he just listen to blank tapes, because that’s “too artificial.”) That has to be the most pretentious thing I’ve ever heard, especially since he actually “records” the silence ON TAPES.

I… just… can’t.



Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison is a completely average twelve-year-old: average height, average weight, average brown hair of average length, average brown skin and average hazel eyes. The only things about her that aren’t average are her name (too long and princess themed), her ability to draw animals (useful for her future career as a wildlife illustrator), and the fact that she is a half-orphan who has never met her father and is forced to live with her aunt and uncle (who treat her almost like their own kids, so she doesn’t want to complain).

Then one completely average day, everything goes wrong: the most popular girl in school, Annabelle Jenkins, threatens to beat her up, the principal gives her a demerit, and she’s knocked down at the bus stop . . .

Until a limo containing Princess Mia Thermopolis of Genovia pulls up to invite her to New York to finally meet her father, who promptly invites her to come live with him, Mia, Grandmère and her two fabulous poodles . . . .

Maybe Olivia Grace Clarisse Mignonette Harrison isn’t so average after all!

After six years away, we’re finally back in Mia’s world! Except, of course, this time it isn’t Mia running the show but her half-sister, Olivia. Per her dead mother’s instructions, Olivia has been raised by relatives and never told that her father (whom she’s never met) is actually royalty, until one day Princess Mia herself rolls up to school in her limo and opens up a whole new world. Continue Reading →



One hundred years after falling asleep, Princess Aurora wakes up to the kiss of a handsome prince and a broken kingdom that has been dreaming of her return. All the books say that she should be living happily ever after. But as Aurora understands all too well, the truth is nothing like the fairy tale.

Her family is long dead. Her “true love” is a kind stranger. And her whole life has been planned out by political foes while she slept.

As Aurora struggles to make sense of her new world, she begins to fear that the curse has left its mark on her, a fiery and dangerous thing that might be as wicked as the witch who once ensnared her. With her wedding day drawing near, Aurora must make the ultimate decision on how to save her kingdom: marry the prince or run.

Intellectually, I like the concept of this book. The premise of the original Sleeping Beauty story is creepy. A girl gets cursed so hundreds of men KISS HER WHILE HE SLEEPS?!!? Augh, yuck. And then, once she wakes up, she has to live with that and the knowledge that everyone she has ever known is dead. What a sucky thing to wake up to.

Oh but I was SO BORED. Aurora doesn’t DO anything. She wanders around feeling dazed and lets everyone bully her into being their doll. And while the story may be trying to Say Things about those decisions, the intent doesn’t make it any more pleasant to read.

Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.

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Blackstone was once a thriving metropolis. But that was before the Dark Summer—a wave of violence and crime that swept through the city eight years ago, orchestrated by the fearsome Spinning Man. Now the Spinning Man is on the move again, and a boy named Caw is about to be caught in his web.

Caw has never questioned his ability to communicate with crows. But as the threat of a new Dark Summer looms, Caw discovers the underground world of Blackstone’s ferals—those with the power to speak to and control animals. Caw is one of them. And to save his city, he must quickly master abilities he never knew he had . . . and prepare to defeat a darkness he never could have imagined.

Here’s another example of a book that falls into the category of “Life’s too short.” There was nothing I could pinpoint as wrong or bad, precisely. I just wasn’t grabbed. The story may have gotten interesting further on, but nothing about the prose (perfectly adequate) or the characters (nothing spectacular) invited me to find out. Life is too short and I have too many books waiting for me.

Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.

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Review: OMEGA CITY by Diana Peterfreund

Gillian Seagret doesn’t listen to people who say her father’s a crackpot. His conspiracy theories about the lost technology of Cold War–era rocket scientist Dr. Aloysius Underberg may have cost him his job and forced them to move to the middle of nowhere, but Gillian knows he’s right and plans to prove it.

When she discovers a missing page from Dr. Underberg’s diary in her father’s mess of an office, she thinks she’s found a big piece of the puzzle—a space-themed riddle promising to lead to Dr. Underberg’s greatest invention. Enlisting the help of her skeptical younger brother, Eric, her best friend, Savannah, and Howard, their NASA-obsessed schoolmate, Gillian sets off on a journey into the ruins of Omega City, a vast doomsday bunker deep inside the earth.

But they aren’t alone inside its dark and flooded halls. For while Gillian wants to save her dad’s reputation by bringing Dr. Underberg’s secrets to light, there are others who will stop at nothing to make sure they stay buried . . . forever.

It’s a scary thing when authors switch age categories. Success in one area doesn’t automatically translate to success in another, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But guys, Ms. Peterfreund stepped out of YA (where she’s greatly pleased me) to try MG, and she knocked it out of the park. OUT. OF. THE. PARK. Continue Reading →


Review: HOW TO WIN AT HIGH SCHOOL by Owen Matthews

Using Scarface as his guide to life, Adam Higgs is going from zero to high school hero.

Adam Higgs is a loser, and he’s not okay with it.

But starting as a junior in a new high school seems like exactly the right time to change things. He brainstorms with his best friend, Brian: What will it take for him to take over Nixon Collegiate?

Adam searches for the A-listers’ weak spot and strikes gold when he gets queen bee Sara Bryant to pay him for doing her physics homework. One part nerd, two parts badass, Adam ditches his legit job and turns to full-time cheating. His clients? All the Nixon Collegiate gods and goddesses.

But soon his homework business becomes a booze business, which becomes a fake ID business. Adam’s popularity soars as he unlocks high school achievements left and right, from his first kiss to his first rebound hookup. But something else is haunting him—a dark memory from his past, driving him to keep climbing. What is it? And will he go too far?

Whew, this book. What a ride. HTWaHS is the character study of a loser junior who uses Al Pacino mob film Scarface to go from the high school junk pile to the top of the heap. It’s… not my usual fare, to say the least. Continue Reading →


Review: LIES I TOLD by Michelle Zink

What if, after spending a lifetime deceiving everyone around you, you discovered the biggest lies were the ones you’ve told yourself?

Grace Fontaine has everything: beauty, money, confidence, and the perfect family.

But it’s all a lie.

Grace has been adopted into a family of thieves who con affluent people out of money, jewelry, art, and anything else of value. Grace has never had any difficulty pulling off a job, but when things start to go wrong on the Fontaines’ biggest heist yet, Grace finds herself breaking more and more of the rules designed to keep her from getting caught…including the most important one of all: never fall for your mark.

Something went wrong. We don’t know what or how, but from the beginning of this book, we know that something went wrong with Grace’s last job. Something that put her in danger. Something that shattered her family. I’m usually not one for prologues, but this one sets the tone fantastically. As great as the rest of the book is, it wouldn’t have been the same without the underlying suspense. Continue Reading →


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