Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Winner Take All by Laurie Devore

Devore, Laurie. Winner Take All. Imprint, 2018. 978-1-250-08288-6. 336 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

From the Publisher: 

For Nell Becker, life is a competition she needs to win.
For Jackson Hart, everyone is a pawn in his own game.
They both have everything to lose.

Nell wants to succeed at everything—school, sports, life. And victory is sweeter when it means beating Jackson Hart, the rich, privileged, undisputed king of Cedar Woods Prep Academy. Yet no matter how hard she tries, Jackson is somehow one step ahead. They’re a match made in hell, but opposites do attract.

Drawn to each other by their rivalry, Nell and Jackson fall into a whirlwind romance that consumes everything in their lives. But when a devastating secret exposes their relationship as just another game, how far will Nell go to win?

Visceral and whip-smart, Laurie Devore’s Winner Take All paints an unflinching portrait of obsessive love, toxic competition, and the drive for perfection.

My Review: 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Nell is determined to be the best. Being a scholarship student, she's always felt like she has something to prove. She is at the top of her school, the top of her volleyball game, and she's going to be one of few "top girls" in her long standing, male dominated prep school. 

Jackson Hart epitomizes everything Nell hates. He's wealthy, has the teachers wrapped around his finger, and gets everything he wants, especially a rise out of annoying Nell. No matter how much he bothers her, Jackson Hart will not stand in Nell's way. 

Bitter rivalry brings them together, and Nell and Jackson's relationship is toxic in everyone else's eyes. Can two opposites make it work, or will winning be everything? 

THOUGHTS: Taking on societal stereotypes about male vs. female treatment, Devore gives readers two very unlikable characters. At times, though, readers will feel sorry for both Nell and Jackson. They will be compelled to read through the mess that becomes their lives and desperate to see if their situation resolves without catastrophic disaster. Mature relationships, underage drinking, and drug use make this suitable for older readers. 

The Last to Let Go by Amber Smith

Smith, Amber. The Last to Let Go. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018. 978-1-481-48073-4. 384 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

From the Publisher: 

A twisted tragedy leaves Brooke and her siblings on their own in this provocative new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Way I Used To Be.

How do you let go of something you’ve never had?

Junior year for Brooke Winters is supposed to be about change. She’s transferring schools, starting fresh, and making plans for college so she can finally leave her hometown, her family, and her past behind.

But all of her dreams are shattered one hot summer afternoon when her mother is arrested for killing Brooke’s abusive father. No one really knows what happened that day, if it was premeditated or self-defense, whether it was right or wrong. And now Brooke and her siblings are on their own.

In a year of firsts—the first year without parents, first love, first heartbreak, and her first taste of freedom—Brooke must confront the shadow of her family’s violence and dysfunction, as she struggles to embrace her identity, finds her true place in the world, and learns how to let go.

My Review: 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. 

Brooke does not live the idyllic life she portrays on the outside. At home, her family has been plagued by an abusive husband/father. Brooke's older brother Aaron couldn't take it and moved out. While Brooke does her best to shield her younger sister Callie, she's also planning her own way out by transferring schools. Brooke doesn't count on her mom being on trial for killing Brooke's father. Of course it was self defense, right? 

Brooke's plan to transfer schools gives her the opportunity to take more advanced placement classes, thus getting a jump start on college. On the outside Brooke seems to have figured things out, but on the inside her shell is cracking, and Brooke isn't holding things together as well as she used to. As Brooke struggles to keep her siblings and life together, her demanding course schedule is catching up with her, and Brooke can only keep her secrets for so long.

THOUGHTS: Right from the beginning, readers know that Brooke's dad is dead, and her mom is responsible. Readers will root for Brooke as she bravely navigates this year without her parents, experiences her first love, and struggles to hold everything together. A must read for those who like intense, character-driven novels. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

All We Can Do Is Wait by Richard Lawson

Lawson, Richard. All We Can Do Is Wait. Razorbill, 2018. 978-0-448-49411-1. 288 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

From the Publisher: 

In the hours after a bridge collapse rocks their city, a group of Boston teenagers meet in the waiting room of Massachusetts General Hospital:

Siblings Jason and Alexa have already experienced enough grief for a lifetime, so in this moment of confusion and despair, Alexa hopes that she can look to her brother for support. But a secret Jason has been keeping from his sister threatens to tear the siblings apart...right when they need each other most. 

Scott is waiting to hear about his girlfriend, Aimee, who was on a bus with her theatre group when the bridge went down. Their relationship has been rocky, but Scott knows that if he can just see Aimee one more time if she can just make it through this ordeal and he can tell her he loves her, everything will be all right.

And then there's Skyler, whose sister Kate—the sister who is more like a mother, the sister who is basically Skyler's everything—was crossing the bridge when it collapsed. As the minutes tick by without a word from the hospital staff, Skyler is left to wonder how she can possibly move through life without the one person who makes her feel strong when she's at her weakest.

My Review: 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Following a fatal bridge collapse in Boston, five teens meet in a hospital waiting room while anticipating news of their loved one(s). Jason and Alexxa are siblings waiting to hear about their parents. With the exception of last summer when they were able to put their differences aside, this brother and sister haven't had the best relationship and they need each other now more than they realize. Scott is waiting to hear about his girlfriend Aimee. He is desperate to hold on, even as Aimee is looking towards her future. Scott knows if given the chance, he can show Aimee that theirs is a love that will last. Skyler's sister Kate has always been her rock, and Skyler needs the chance to repay Kate for always being there. 

While desperate for news, each teen relives his or her recent interactions with loved one(s), and readers are given a glimpse into what their lives are like. Each has some reason, some regret, or something to tell his or her loved one(s), and one at a time each is given news that will change his or her life forever. 

THOUGHTS: Readers will devour the story, desperate to know the outcome for each character. The pacing of this novel was fantastic, and the alternating perspectives will keep the pages turning. Many issues and insecurities are addressed, but to name them would give away the surprise. Mature readers will devour this story of regrets and desperate wishes for one more conversation. 

This Is Not a Love Letter by Kim Purcell

Purcell, Kim. This Is Not a Love Letter. Disney-Hyperion, 2018. 978-1-484-79834-8. 368 p. $17.99. Gr. 10 and up.

From the Publisher: 

One week. That's all Jessie said. A one-week break to get some perspective before graduation, before she and her boyfriend, Chris, would have to make all the big, scary decisions about their future--decisions they had been fighting about for weeks.

Then, Chris vanishes. The police think he's run away, but Jessie doesn't believe it. Chris is popular and good-looking, about to head off to college on a full-ride baseball scholarship. And he disappeared while going for a run along the river--the same place where some boys from the rival high school beat him up just three weeks ago. Chris is one of the only black kids in a depressed paper mill town, and Jessie is terrified of what might have happened.

As the police are spurred to reluctant action, Jessie speaks up about the harassment Chris kept quiet about and the danger he could be in. But there are people in Jessie's town who don't like the story she tells, who are infuriated by the idea that a boy like Chris would be a target of violence. They smear Chris’s character and Jessie begins receiving frightening threats.

Every Friday since they started dating, Chris has written Jessie a love letter. Now Jessie is writing Chris a letter of her own to tell him everything that’s happening while he’s gone. As Jessie searches for answers, she must face her fears, her guilt, and a past more complicated than she would like to admit.

My Review: 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

All Jesse wanted was a one week break to figure out where her life is going. Chris is pressuring her to follow him and his ticket out with a baseball full-scholarship, but Jesse knows Chris is too good for her. After all, it's why they've been fighting so much recently. 

After Chris goes missing while out for a run, Jesse desperately tries to prove something is amiss. Being one of the only black kids in their prejudice-filled small town, Jesse fears someone was out to get Chris. When she makes these claims publicly, Jesse becomes a target herself. The police seem to think Chris ran away or worse, but Jesse knows Chris, and knows that's not possible. 

While the search seems to give few clues, Jesse faces many of her own demons and her guilt over how she treated Chris. His love for her was always obvious through the weekly notes he wrote and his small gestures, but maybe Chris doesn't know how much Jesse loves him. Determined to tell him, Jesse writes Chris letters, updating him on what he's been missing, and begging for her love to be enough to bring him home safely. 

THOUGHTS: This love story/mystery dragged a bit in the middle, but readers who stick with it will be rewarded with the truth about Chris and Jesse's love story. Things aren't always as they seem, and Jesse didn't know everything she thought she did about Chris. Family dynamics, personal/relationship insecurities, and mature teen relationships are all issues approached in this novel. 

If There's No Tomorrow by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Armentrout, Jennifer L. If There's No Tomorrow. Harlequin Teen, 2017. 978-0-373-21222-4. 384 p. $18.99. Gr. 9 and up.

From the Publisher: 

Lena Wise is always looking forward to tomorrow, especially at the start of her senior year. She’s ready to pack in as much friend time as possible, to finish college applications, and to maybe let her childhood best friend Sebastian know how she really feels about him. For Lena, the upcoming year is going to be epic—one of opportunities and chances.

Until one choice, one moment, destroys everything.

Now Lena isn’t looking forward to tomorrow. Not when friend time may never be the same. Not when college applications feel all but impossible. Not when Sebastian might never forgive her for what happened.

For what she let happen.

With the guilt growing each day, Lena knows that her only hope is to move on. But how can she move on when she and her friends’ entire existences have been redefined? How can she move on when tomorrow isn’t even guaranteed?

My Review: 

One decision, one split second choice changes Lena's life forever. Before she was carefree. She was looking forward to volleyball season, applying to college, and enjoying her senior year. Now, Lena hides from everyone, herself included, and she can't forgive herself for what happened. Unable to move on, Lena withdraws from everyone who cares about her - from everyone trying to help. 

THOUGHTS: Readers will be haunted by Lena's isolation, but they will root for her as she tries to find herself in her new reality. It is difficult to describe too much without giving the story away, but this is a book every teen should read. It covers so many weighty issues and insecurities that many teens manage and does so beautifully as the narrator struggles to accept her choices. This book will stay with readers long after they read it and will (hopefully) make them think twice before making the same choice as Lena. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017 Year in Review

Of course, by year in review I'm referring to my reading over the past year. 2017 was another successful year for me (and my 7 year old). On goodreads, it appears like I surpassed my reading goal by quite a bit. However, I track our reading together, since we share chapters each night, and I like for her to set and see her own reading goals achieved. Combined we read 100 books; 54 of them were mine, so I still met my goal of reading 52 books. Thank you OverDrive for enabling me to multi-task with audiobooks and to NetGalley and Edelweiss+ and all of the publishers who granted me ARCs this year! I've had so much fun reviewing books I think will be successful in the BSHS library and sharing them with other readers. 

With so many great reads, it was definitely hard to select my favorites! This is my first "best of" list. I am a librarian, so titles are listed alphabetically by the author's last name, and all are available at BSHS (or will be once published). 


See my full reviews of each title here: 
Tell Me Three ThingsWords in Deep BlueTruly DeviousWarcrossOne of Us Is Lying
The Hate U Give, and Goodbye Days.

There are so many more amazing books from my reading list in 2017, but these are the books that I have been most moved by, the ones I devoured, the ones that inspired me to read others on similar topics or in similar genres, or the ones that I could not wait to get my hands on!

I hope you'll follow along on my reading journey as we begin 2018!  

Monday, January 1, 2018

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Johnson, Maureen. Truly Devious. Katherine Tegen Books, 2018. 978-0-062-33805-1. 320 p. $17.99. Gr. 8 and up.

From the Publisher: 

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder. 

The two interwoven mysteries of this first book in the Truly Devious series dovetail brilliantly, and Stevie Bell will continue her relentless quest for the murderers in books two and three.

My Review: 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review. 

Private school Ellingham Academy is tucked into a remote Vermont mountainside. The school is known for encouraging some of the greatest minds - both academic and creative. Founded in the mid-1930s by wealthy philanthropist Albert Ellingham, a man fond of riddles and games, the school is free for those who attend, and the resources available to them are endless. Ellingham, his wife, and their young daughter live in the main house at the center of the school's campus. When Mrs. Ellingham and Alice go out on a drive and  disappear, the only clue is a gruesome letter signed Truly Devious. Ransom calls come in, and Ellingham desperately does everything he can to rescue them to. 

Nearly a century later, true-crime fan Stevie Bell is moving into Ellingham Academy, determined to succeed where all others have failed. Stevie feels like she has something to prove, though. While everyone else at school seems to have some incredible talent or skill, Stevie's fascination with crime-solving, specifically her obsession over the unsolved Ellingham case, is what she was admitted on. When past and present collide, it seems Truly Devious may be closer than Stevie thinks. 

THOUGHTS: Mystery fiction fans will love the blending of two stories, and be desperate to puzzle the clues together. While Stevie deals with being away from home; the pressures of a new, competitive school; and her anxiety, readers will watch her grow and come into her own. Underage drinking takes place, but consequences are also discussed. Initially, I was disappointed not to have all of the answers in book one, but I will anxiously await them in books two and three!