Debut author Kathrese McKee has delivered a genuinely original work of imaginative fiction in Mardan's Mark. The historical setting, a world with elemDebut author Kathrese McKee has delivered a genuinely original work of imaginative fiction in Mardan's Mark. The historical setting, a world with elements of our own world’s past, feels familiar, but McKee’s gifted touch creates enough distinction that readers get to view history objectively.
The plot of Mardan's Mark weaves together elements of mystery, political intrigue, supernatural insight, romance, and adventure, and transports readers to a place where greed and deception have created an imbalance so firmly established it will take an epic battle to right the wrongs.
Enter a band of warriors with as many weaknesses as strengths, made of two types of people who couldn’t be more different—the children of a royal family and young men who have lived the majority of their lives aboard a pirate ship. Thrown together by cruel captors acting on forces set in motion many years before, McKee’s heroes are my favorite kind—fully flawed with a great deal of heart. As quickly as Aldan frustrated me, he redeems himself by finding courage in a dark place. As bullheaded as Srilani could be, she also melted my heart with her loyalty.
The book stands out from similar works by virtue of McKee’s superbly developed characters. Even minor ones are wholly realized and developed to the point of living and breathing on the pages. Readers get to travel with Aldan and his two “brothers,” and Srilani and her three siblings as they realize the magnitude of their journey and purpose. Relational dynamics run the gamut.
Perhaps the most thrilling aspect of Mardan's Mark, though, is how deftly McKee treats the growth and maturation of Aldan and Srilani. Readers are treated to many pure moments of how heroes are made, broken, and made again. We get to take the baby steps along with her characters, giving valuable insight into our own potential for greatness and courage as we face difficulties in life.
The book will appeal to all ages, but most especially to middle grade and high school readers who love a great adventure story with plenty of detail to sink the teeth into. This is a clean read, full of weighty issues of the conscience to consider—the kind of issues that reinforce character. I’m looking forward book two in the series.
[I was given an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.] ...more
Laura Smith writes with precision and honesty in the third book of her popular Status Update series. College girls need to read this entire series. ItLaura Smith writes with precision and honesty in the third book of her popular Status Update series. College girls need to read this entire series. It’s Addicting, even more than the first two books, asks readers to consider their own lives and the blinders we all wear. The college roommates in this series, and especially in this book, struggle with the most authentic of issues—the sometimes subtle but often overwhelming addictions we all cling to. In the end, the answers aren’t easy or pretty, but Smith, with characteristic gentleness, pushes readers to see that clarity and hope come from one place—a God who seeks us as fiercely as we seek Him. ...more
In this follow-up to her debut, Rajdeep Paulus quickly pulls her readers back into a heartfelt story that challenges our notions of family loyalty. SeIn this follow-up to her debut, Rajdeep Paulus quickly pulls her readers back into a heartfelt story that challenges our notions of family loyalty. Seeing Through Stones continues Talia’s healing journey, but, even better, it gives readers the long-awaited story of her heroic brother, Jesse. There’s something here for everyone, and perhaps the best part is Paulus’s weaving of multicultural characters and traditions into a rhythm as unique as it is refreshing. ...more
Cotugno's style is beautiful...read the book for her poetic sensibility. I liked Reena and Sawyer ... most of the time. My frustration level with bothCotugno's style is beautiful...read the book for her poetic sensibility. I liked Reena and Sawyer ... most of the time. My frustration level with both of them reached critical mass at times. I do believe, though, that this is an important book about the reality of young relationships. It's the in-your-face answer to insta-love. Cotugno writes it real ... no polish. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Blue Valentine. Great look at what we are capable of doing to one another, and it makes readers ask a lot of questions about how much is too much and can love really conquer all. I think Cotugno would say, "Yes, if it's real." Favorite scene - when Reena loses it at the dinner table. Finally. Well done, Katie Cotugno!...more
I want to live in Rowell's worlds forever. Stick with this one. It moves over you slowly and steals your heart in unusual ways. Rowell's characters arI want to live in Rowell's worlds forever. Stick with this one. It moves over you slowly and steals your heart in unusual ways. Rowell's characters are always the most fully formed, beautifully flawed, sensitive people. Can't wait until she delivers the next book to us!...more
It takes a lot for a book to really surprise me and Whaley blew my mind with this one. I've been searching for something really different for a whileIt takes a lot for a book to really surprise me and Whaley blew my mind with this one. I've been searching for something really different for a while and Where Things Come Back was it for me.
I love Been-tone Sog and Rameel. I love what Benton's journey meant. I am beside myself with envy at Whaley's talent in creating characters like Cullen and Gabriel and Lucas and Fulton Dumas and Cabot.
The bizarre way the story fits together is complex and lovely and quiet and jarring all at once and I feel I'll probably have to start the book again tonight to see the things I missed the first time. Cullen's book titles alone are so wonderful.
The relationship between Cullen and Lucas MIGHT be my favorite thing about the book. I love when Cullen breaks into third-person narration as he mentally writes his great novel about himself in his head. I love the darn Lazarus bird thread (and how Whaley pulled ideas from "The Lord God Bird" and NPR).
The slow way Whaley moves us into the mystery of grief and the unexpected ways life goes on is magical. There are so many layers and undercurrents here that every page brings a surprise and calls us to reconsider what we've always thought about faith and love and family and destiny. It's a sneaky book, this one, that will stay with me for a long time.
Whaley is gifted. Astoundingly gifted. I can't wait to see where he goes next....more
This book unmasked me. Without leading readers to rote, memorized theology, Brown leads her readers to questions that have the power to change. We watThis book unmasked me. Without leading readers to rote, memorized theology, Brown leads her readers to questions that have the power to change. We watch her characters struggle to find the right questions to ask and we feel their profound relief when they begin to see the clear path--the one they were led to slowly, gently, and lovingly. Sensible Shoes is soaked through with the story of redemption. It's full and heavy with the message, but it's sweet and goes down easy. It's smooth.
What is so masterful about Brown's book is that she pulls her characters and her readers through murkiness to dawning awareness to poignant discovery. The four characters are carefully created to represent the things we know as truth about ourselves. I found my own frailties in the personalities and stories of each character. So often, while reading Sensible Shoes, I wanted to call friends and read them the tender lines that meant something to me. Brown's heart for people shines through and in reading her story it felt as if I was sitting at the feet of one much wiser than me who wanted me to be comforted, and to learn a better way.
Sensible Shoes blends fiction and allegory and comfortable familiarity with scripture and ancient truths to help us see the world around us in a new light. I highly recommend the book and hope Brown continues to write and share in this way....more
Debut author Bethany Jett has done an incredible job of creating a guide for girls whose hearts are telling them to slow down and wait on the right guDebut author Bethany Jett has done an incredible job of creating a guide for girls whose hearts are telling them to slow down and wait on the right guy to pursue them. They know there's beauty in hanging back and focusing on the interesting things in their own lives--the result is that they become interesting to guys with substance.
I think we've reached the point of utter fatigue with the models popular culture holds up for girls these days--most of them idealize the aggressive pursuer. What we find more often than not, is that girls who target a particular boy and use every means to attract his attention are suffering from a lack of confidence and a fuzzy road map. What The Cinderella Rule does best is that it encourages girls to see the big picture, and it especially encourages them to clearly see the end result they want. They don't really want a string of quick heartbreaks. They really want their hearts, souls, and minds to be engaged by guys who see that they are unlike any other woman on earth. They are special and they are worthy of pursuit.
Jett, in a beautifully transparent voice, shares her own times of feeling desperate for a boy's approval and attention. She's frank about where this desperation usually leads and she loves girls enough to tell them the truth. Be smart. Be creative. Be yourself. And be worthy of an honorable young man's focus. And she's clear, too, about what an honorable man looks like--he's of high character, he never cheats, he never reacts violently, he never takes you for granted. And, above all, he's 'right' for you.
We don't need more "rules" on dating. We sure don't need more lessons on the "games" that we can play to land a man. We need honesty. Refreshing, real, clear-eyed honesty. The Cinderella Rule accomplishes this neatly, plus reading it feels a lot like sitting with the author in your favorite coffee shop. This is a comfortable read that allows you to absorb solid truth free from judgment and criticism....more
Debut YA author Hall has struck a perfect balance in Purple Moon between showing role models and being realistic. This story shows a gentleness and grDebut YA author Hall has struck a perfect balance in Purple Moon between showing role models and being realistic. This story shows a gentleness and gracefulness rarely found in contemporary YA these days--offering a behind the scenes look at the heart of a girl who has lived life believing one thing about her family only to find out nothing is as it seems. Teens who are looking for answers will find protagonist Selena's honesty relatable and refreshing, and the eternal truths sprinkled throughout the story will provide an anchor in their lives.
Fans of Nicole O'Dell, Stephanie Morrill, and Melody Carlson will love Hall's subject matter and style....more
Debut young adult author Rajdeep Paulus has crafted a story riddled with pain and terrifying uncertainty. Readers, most of whom will have never experiDebut young adult author Rajdeep Paulus has crafted a story riddled with pain and terrifying uncertainty. Readers, most of whom will have never experienced anything remotely similar to protagonist Talia’s nightmare, will emerge from this story with more compassion for children and teens who are forced to live life with a contrived duality. There are many masks these children must wear depending upon where they are and who can see them.
Talia and her younger brother, Jesse, aren’t just dealing with a father whose moods and whims make their lives tough. They are literally living in danger every day of their lives. The dark sickness of their father is reminiscent of the twisted nature of Dwight, the stepfather in Tobias Wolff’s memoir This Boy’s Life—including forced, inappropriate chores, horrific abuse, and public humiliation. But, while Wolff dreamed constantly of running away and even attempted to leave several times by reaching out to others around him, Paulus’s characters only try once, and the memory of that failure haunts them. They never breathe a word of the atrocious way they live at home—not to teachers, school counselors, neighbors, or law enforcement. Paulus leaves it to us to figure out why, and the reasons are psychological, but not based in a reality that we understand.
Enter a tenacious, stubborn boy named Lagan Desai, who sees Talia at school and for some reason decides his mission will be to pull the new girl out of her self-imposed silence. He does this in the only way possible—through small, unobtrusive gestures of kindness that slowly gain Talia’s trust. As readers might imagine, Talia is not a girl who trusts easily—especially not males. But Lagan sees a spark in her that he wants to nourish, and he does, very sweetly. He’s a character who is able to step around his own popularity and busy-ness and invest a great deal of time in this odd girl who shields her face with hair and every inch of skin with clothes.
This is not a bubble-gum, high school sweetheart kind of story. Lagan shows a maturity rarely seen in high school kids, and, although Paulus never says it outright, she intimates that Lagan’s nature has been honed through a deep faith and a spirituality that has been nurtured. Our nation and our world have experienced such devastation in recent years that the only thing I look for now in people is kindness. I don’t care who you are, who you have been, or who you will be, if you are kind to others, I love you. This is Lagan. He sees in Talia a girl who is suffering in monstrously large ways—inexplicable ways—and his only response is kindness.
It is here that we find the redemption in Paulus’s story, because for so much of the book, we wonder if there will ever be hope for Talia and Jesse. Lagan gives Talia so much through a book about a gardener who whispers hope into her soul and lights a spark that becomes movement. It becomes lightning. It becomes escape. No, we don’t all experience abuse like this, but we all experience hopelessness and paralysis that rob us of abundant life. When someone steps into our mess and holds out a seed, a sliver, of kindness, we feel hope flutter. This, readers, is the message of Swimming Through Clouds.
I recommend this book to older teen readers due to the mature thematic issues and intense scenes of abuse....more
YA author Stephanie Morrill (author of Me, Just Different) captured the true voice of the American teenage girl again in The Revised Life of Ellie SweYA author Stephanie Morrill (author of Me, Just Different) captured the true voice of the American teenage girl again in The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet. From the first line, I knew Ellie was a girl I wanted to know yesterday. She's made of stubborn, sprinkled with wryness, and wrapped with heart.
Using the classic literary device of a story within a story, Morrill keeps readers turning pages. We get to live in the contemporary lives of Morrill's high school characters while also traveling back in time to medieval Italy where Ellie's friends have become players in a courtly scene. The story within the story reveals so much about how Ellie's mind works and how she has absorbed and interpreted the drama in her life. Plus there's the "can't look away from the train wreck" aspect because we know that if Ellie's friends get hold of her manuscript, they'll be furious about how she has depicted them.
I loved so much about this book--the solid advice it gives for writers of any age who dream of publication, the presentation of a teenage girl who isn't afraid to be an intellectual, and the characters (male and female) who sound real enough to be in any high school hall.
But what tugged at me most was the lesson Ellie learns (one I learned over and over) about how to balance speaking truth with protecting the feelings of others, and why it's not always the best decision to keep secrets from everyone.
Morrill understands the delicate social lives of teen girls better than most writers these days. I highly recommend this book for girls looking for honesty about the awkward situations we find ourselves in so often in high school. Morrill doesn't pull punches about things like deceiving parents and friends or keeping secrets, but she's also gentle with Ellie and allows her to come to an awareness that's uncommonly mature by the book's end.
I can't wait for the sequel to find out how Ellie's writing life takes off and what happens to the characters she plucked from real life!...more
In It's Over, Laura L. Smith (author of Hot, Skinny, and Angry) continues the contemporary university stories of the four girls from It's Complicated.In It's Over, Laura L. Smith (author of Hot, Skinny, and Angry) continues the contemporary university stories of the four girls from It's Complicated. The girls, who have solidified their solid relationships on campus, must travel between home and school dealing with the worst parts of life--the death of a sibling, the aging of a grandparent, disloyal boyfriends, and the loss of a home. Through their trials, they continue to lean on one another and God, and find ways to be thankful even in the lean times. Smith crafts a story that will appeal to all girls.
Smith tackles incredibly difficult issues in this book--death, aging, depression, drug use, and jealousy and confusion. She folds story lines together so elegantly that readers will relate. It's a great reminder to all of us that all people have difficulties, no one is immune, and it is our job as caring individuals to sympathize and reach out.
My favorite part of this book, and this series, is that Smith writes about a time of life during which we have a tendency to be self-absorbed and turns that on its head. She shows the strain that comes from self-absorption and the beauty that comes from reaching out to others and to God. As in It's Complicated, Smith again teaches her characters to look away from mirrors and toward the people God has placed in their paths.
This is a fantastic read, one that will resonate with teens and college-aged girls and their mothers! I also recommend it for youth group use and situational studies. Fans of authors like Nicole O'Dell, Stephanie Morrill, Nancy Rue, and Melody Carlson will love Smith's style, voice, and subject matter....more
First, this won't be a book for everyone. It's a slow-burn kind of book that you have to hang in there with like you're getting to know a new friend oFirst, this won't be a book for everyone. It's a slow-burn kind of book that you have to hang in there with like you're getting to know a new friend or family member. If you're not in love with character-driven stories, you might not give this one the chance it deserves.
But it does . . . deserve a chance.
I'm a huge fan of Zarr from the beginning. She's smart, real, and has a heart roughly the size of Texas. Her characters are incredibly layered and none of them can be summed up neatly. Same way with Lucy and her family. They're incredibly complicated, by design. Zarr did a brilliant job with building the interplay between family members who, because they're all whip smart and talented, have demons they fight and will always fight. The demons get in the way, often, but they also cause readers to notice their own issues.
We're all alike - whether you're from a privileged family like the Beck-Moreaus or a large family living in a rural community. We are all different versions of ourselves depending upon who we're interacting with, and our goal is to find people with whom we can be the best versions of ourselves.
There were these soaring moments in Lucy that stopped my heart - like the first time Lucy returns to the keyboard and her father can hardly take the emotion. He tells her she has broken his heart. Guys, that moment is so gorgeous. That's only one of many, many moments that have to be read more than once.
I've been recommending Lucy far and wide to all ages, but I really, really want high school kids who know or ARE the one who has lived a life marked by high expectations to read this book. It will resonate. It will change your mind about kids who are pushed to perform, and it will soften your heart toward families who are trying to make the best use of gifts.
I loved this book. I could live in Rowell's world for a long, long time. Funny, intelligent, sweet, and well-crafted. There's been mention of the e-coI loved this book. I could live in Rowell's world for a long, long time. Funny, intelligent, sweet, and well-crafted. There's been mention of the e-correspondence style not being effective. I disagree completely. It worked incredibly well because Rowell kept things consistent. I can't get enough of her books. And her character development ranks with the best. She's John Green-like in her brilliant characterization. Looking forward to Fangirl. Eleanor and Park is a favorite of mine, too. Her dialogue makes me want to be a better writer.......more
This is a love story played out within a cruel game. Murgia pulls her readers into the minds of Chase and Evie slowly, making both narrators irresistiThis is a love story played out within a cruel game. Murgia pulls her readers into the minds of Chase and Evie slowly, making both narrators irresistible and highly relatable. Chase—the tortured, reserved boy, and Evie—the new girl who was quickly claimed by the “in” crowd, have watched each other from afar for months. Chase longs for Evie’s sincerity and kindness to heal places in him that no one can touch, and Evie is hungry for Chase’s honesty, intelligence and character. What may seem like a simple story taking place in the halls of a prep school, is actually a high-stakes, dangerous game where a few kids control the boards. These are smart, wealthy, entitled teens whose greatest joy comes from watching others suffer, and Murgia’s masterful storytelling will grip you from page one when your loyalty to the underdogs is set.
Readers will be impressed with Evie and Chase. He’s not the typical dark and dangerous brooder—he’s got the soul of a poet. He’s my kind of hero. And Evie never apologizes for being intelligent, a quality I admire in female main characters. She’s smart, talented, and beautiful, but also flawed and hurt by her messed-up family. All is not as it seems with Miss Evie, and readers will learn a lot about handling tough issues from her.
I’d recommend this book for teens who enjoy suspense with their love stories. Fans of Simone Elkeles and Tammara Webber will adore Murgia, who understands that first love is heady and complicated and full of surprises. ...more
This is a story for every girl—in fact, Smith ensures that by using four highly relatable narrators. Claire, Palmer, Kat and Hannah begin the story wiThis is a story for every girl—in fact, Smith ensures that by using four highly relatable narrators. Claire, Palmer, Kat and Hannah begin the story with one thing in common—their choice of college. All four recent high school graduates meet on their new campus and decide to live together in a suite, a decision that forges strong bonds and forms the heart of the story. If you’ve ever wondered how important female friendships are, this book settles it. They are monumentally important—especially to four girls who’ve left home for the first time and are dealing with above average crises.
Smith depicts female friendships masterfully. I became so absorbed with the details of the lives exposed in this book, that I felt like I was back in my dorm room, talking to my own roommates. She brings a level of comfort and honesty to the story that is rare in YA fiction these days. There’s no biting sarcasm or irony here—just good, clear-eyed discussion of the parts of life that are most meaningful.
High school girls will adore these characters and find themselves in one or more of them. College girls will appreciate knowing there are fictional examples of what they’re living through right now. Life is tough—even on carefree university campuses—and Smith seems to get that better than most. ...more