Tag Archives: young adult book review

Review: The Last Best Story by Maggie Lehrman

The Last Best Story

Defenders of high-school journalism, Rose and Grant were inseparable — until one fateful day a few months before the end of her senior year when Rose walked away from the paper and Grant. Now, it’s the night of prom and Rose is there with someone else while Grant continues to wonder why Rose walked away from the paper and the dream of becoming a journalist. When the school is put under lockdown, it’s up to Grant and Rose to get the real story of what’s going on at the big dance out to the world.

The Last Best Story wants to a hybrid of romantic-comedy, thriller, and ripped from the headlines social commentary. Unfortunately, these elements aren’t as well-blended as they could or should have been and the entire novel comes off feeling like it’s treading water for far longer than it should have.

Part of this is how entirely clueless Grant is about his role and influence over Rose. The obvious simmering attracting between the two occasionally bubbles over in flashback, but it feels a bit like watching Who’s the Boss where it felt like every sweeps period, we’d get something that might push our leads into a romantic relationship, only to see it backed off and the status quo reset by episode’s end. It was frustrating then and it’s frustrating here — especially given that the book is trying hard to give Rose a character arc. The question of whether Rose loves journalism or loves that Grant loves journalism and it’s rubbed off on her is an intriguing one that’s brought up, but never reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Add in an almost Scooby Doo level of “I’d have got away with it if not for these darn kids” level thriller plot and you’ve got a novel that just doesn’t quite add up in the final analysis.

One of the most disappointing novels I’ve read this year.

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Audiobook Review: Keeping You A Secret by Julie Anne Peters

Keeping You a Secret

Heading into the final semester of her senior year, Holland is trying to figure out her future. Where will she go to school? What are her goals in life? Will she stay with her perfect boyfriend Seth?

Instead of taking an extra study hall, Holland takes an art class. She also starts to notice and make friends with the new girl, CeCe, who has just transferred to her school.

Before the semester ends, Holland’s life will change completely in ways she couldn’t expect.

Julie Anne Peters’ Keeping You A Secret is a coming of age and coming out story for Holland. Over the course of the story, Holland begins to realize that the dreams her mother has for her (and seems to consistently force upon her) aren’t the dreams she has. Her mother dismisses her interest in art, continually belittles any school that isn’t Ivy-League-level, and even casts dispersions upon Holland’s growing friendship with CeCe, at one point telling Holland she needs to drop CeCe as a friend. (SPOILER alert — things get a lot worse when Holland comes out to herself and is then forced out by her vindictive ex-boyfriend, Seth). Continue reading

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Going Outside My Reading Comfort Zone

My wife loves romance novels. So, every once in a while I like to read (or listen to) one or two to understand and share that love with her.

And now, I’ve read three different books that are a bit outside of my usual reading comfort zone and I’ve got a few thoughts….

Beach ReadBeach Read by Emily Henry

January Andrews and August Everett have been rivals since their college days. But while January sees Gus on the best-seller list, she never quite expected to run him again.

That is, until, her world comes crashing down around her following the death of her father. Breaking up her long-term boyfriend, rocked by revelations about her dad’s fidelity (or lack thereof), and facing a looming deadline, January retreats to her father’s lakeside cottage to get it ready to sell and hopefully get some writing done. But she didn’t count on the fact that Gus Everett would live right next door. Continue reading

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Review: One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is LyingA quintet of stereotypes from a John Hughes movie walk into detention one fateful Monday afternoon, but only four make it out alive.

Each of the survivors — the athlete, the cheerleader, the academic, and the drug dealer — had good reason to want to see the victim silenced. Simon Kelleher runs Bayview High’s infamous gossip blog app and his next post contained juicy details that could cause grief and heartache to each of the survivors. But was that post enough of a motive to kill Simon? And if it was, which one of these four is guilty of the crime?

The central mystery of who killed Simon and why drives Karen M. McManus’ debut novel One of Us Is Lying. And the story starts with teenage stereotypes, each of the characters doesn’t remain a stereotype for long. One of the highlights of the story is watching McManus build each of the characters through shifting point of view segments while both validating and challenging our initial assumption of each character. Whether it’s the academic, Bronwyn who was presented with a chance to keep her collegiate dreams of going to Yale alive or Jake, the drug dealer who is trying to overcome his family’s dysfunctional history, McManus’ narrative weaves the lives of the so-called Murder Club into something more than just your standard murder mystery. Continue reading

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Review: Never Apart by Romily Bernard

Never ApartHe steps back, steps back again. He can’t believe what I’m saying. Once, I might not have believed it, either. But the lie is the closest to the truth we’re going to get. We’re never going home. We Fall again and again, and every time it’s a little different, but it’s never right.

Grace is trapped in a loop that resets itself every five days. Despite her best efforts, she can’t find a way to escape the seemingly inevitable death of her boyfriend Ander at the hands of Finn.

Heaven knows she’s tried forty plus times now.

But landing in the latest loop, things feel different. Her twin brother Jem has returned, Ander has no memory of their previous Falls (he did in the first forty or so) and her family seems to be more functional. As Grace contemplates embracing the current Fall and staying in this set of events, she can’t shake off the feeling that there’s something she’s overlooking in trying to break the never-ending cycle of tragedy and death. Continue reading

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Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of UnrequitedWhile Molly Pescan-Suso has experienced 26 crushes in her life, she’s rarely acted on them. Entering the summer before her senior year, Molly yearns to find the right person to share a first kiss with and possibly take things from being a crush to actually being her significant other.

Now, Molly has two possible new crushes on her radar — the popular guy Wil and the fantasy t-shirt wearing, Reed. Which one, if either, will Molly chose makes up most of the drama and teen angst of The Upside of Unrequited.

Becky Albertalli caught my attention last year with the funny, entertaining and thought-provoking Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And while Simon has an Easter egg cameo in this book, overall Upside ranks as one of the more disappointing stories I’ve read lately. Much of my frustration with the novel comes from its first-person narrator, Molly. Albertalli tries her best to make Molly self-deprecating about her lack of romantic experience, chalking a lot of it up to a lack of confidence because of her body type. Molly’s own self-image isn’t necessarily the most positive as she repeatedly refuses to believe that anyone else would find her attractive, despite there being signs from that two potential crushes might be interested in more than just being an unrequited object of her affection.

I get what Albertalli is trying to do with Molly and giving us the perspective of someone who is an outsider, looking in at what the “popular” kids (including her own twin sister) are doing. But it felt like Unrequited was getting a bit redundant and hitting all the expected romantic comedy touchstones for Molly instead of giving us an authentic journey for her. In the end, it feels only like Molly comes out of her shell because a boy likes her and not because she realizes that she has inherent worth as a person regardless of her external appearance.

Albertalli fills Upside with a diverse group of characters, many of whom feel one-dimensional. Too many of them feel like they’re summed up by one or two characteristics instead of being fully realized characters.

It all adds up to a disappointing sophomore effort by Albertalli. Maybe my expectations were too high for this one. But I can’t help but feel like this one had potential that it never quite lived up to.

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Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittay Cavallaro

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes, #1)A Study in Charlotte?

I see what you did there.

Clever title aside, this Sherlock Holmes homage is an interesting and entertaining story that features the great-great-great-great grandchildren of the original Holmes and Watson. Being a young adult novel and requiring the requisite romantic angst, this time around it’s Holmes’ descendent Charlotte and Watson’s descent, Jamie.

Brought together at a private school in Connecticut, the duo soon finds themselves at the center of a series of murders that take a page from some of Holmes and Watston’s most stories chaos. As the prime suspects in each of the cases, Holmes and Watson must join forces to try and figure out what’s going on and who the real culprit it.

As a way to introduce a new generation to the Holmes universe, A Study in Charlotte works extremely well. Both Holmes and Watson have some of the traits of their famous literary descendants and the connections between the two families and their shared history are just some of the interesting aspects of the story. The fact that a Holmes has moved from using cocaine to crystal meth is an interesting development in the story and the fact that Watson has a temper that sometimes get the better of him is another.

Brittany Cavallaro knows her Holmes-lore and sprinkles it judiciously. As the first novel in a trilogy, I’m intrigued enough by some of the larger plot threads and the characters to want to pick up another volume and continue to read more about the modern Holmes and Watson.

The book also makes me eager to dust off my original copies of the Holmes story and visit them again as well.

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Review: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zetner

Goodbye DaysCarter Briggs knows about the power of the written word. Not only can he entertain and touch his three best friends with his stories and jokes but a simple text message to them could have been a factor in the auto collision that took their lives.

Wracked with guilt and hurting from the loss of the fellow members of the Sauce Crew, Carver faces the difficult task of trying to move forward with his life. It doesn’t help that the twin sister of his one his friends and a high-powered judge and father to another friend hold Carver responsible for the death of his friends. And both want to see Carver “pay” for his actions.

Jeff Zetner’s Goodbye Days chronicles Carver’s journey to come to terms with the death of his friends and the impact it has not only on him but those around him. Carter’s witty, self-aware narration is honest, authentic and, at times, utterly raw. Zetner ably captures the conflicting emotions Carver experiences, including several panic attacks that send Carver looking for help beyond what his family and friends can offer. Continue reading

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Review: Girl Defective by Simone Howell

Girl Defective

As I read Girl Defective, I kept finding myself wanting to love it but instead I found myself only liking it.

Like most teenagers, Skylark Martin is trying to find herself and her place in the world. She’s confused about the status of various relationships, including the one between herself and her record-store running father, the one with her estranged rock-star mother (Sky continually uses the “Ask Me Anything” link on her mother’s web site to ask pointed questions to which she receives little or no acknowledgement), the one with her ten-year-old boy-detective brother and the one with her older friend Nancy, who Sky may or may not have a crush on.

Enter into the world of her record shop, Luke, the older brother of a girl who mysteriously disappeared (the case is one of several that obsess her younger brother) and you’ve got a novel that could be a coming-of-age story. Or it could be the sarcastic observations of that girl who doesn’t exactly fit in and is having some confusing feelings as she grows up. Or it could be a mystery as we try to solve the mystery surrounding not only the missing girl, but also a series of (apparently) random vandalism crimes in the neighborhood.

What it all adds up to is a book that has an intriguing narrator, some fascinating characters and a frustrating lack of focus. There are portions of Simonne Howell’s Girl Defective that I absolutely loved and there were others where I just wanted to skim past them to get back to the more interesting stuff. I feel like there’s a great novel lurking in here, if there had been a bit more focus.

Overall, I liked the book but didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped or expected to based on the first few chapters. I’ve heard good things about Howell’s other books and this one makes me a curious to pick those up and see what else she has to offer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for an honest review.

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