THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER is one of the most interesting books that I have read in awhile. It blew my mind, kept me on my toes, crawled under my ski...moreTHE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER is one of the most interesting books that I have read in awhile. It blew my mind, kept me on my toes, crawled under my skin, tugged at my heart, and won't get out of my head. It is a multi-layered story: part psychological thriller, part epic teen romance, part high school story, part mystery, part family dynamics, and part suspense. Oh, and I can't forget the slight paranormal tendencies (in the mental sense not creatures) underlying the events of this book. It is a page-turning, hard to put down, want to know what will happen and how the main character will figure it all out kind of book. It starts with a note from Mara setting up the premise that she's going to be telling you her story (under a pseudonym) of why her life is not normal. It's definitely a book you have to read with an open mind so you can just go with it. At times I thought, "oh, this is like ___" only to find out I was wrong, but I could definitely see the influences of other YA books, but done with unique twists. There are lots of "what is going on?!" and "did that just happen?!" moments, but that's what made it so much more readable.
Michelle Hodkin (a debut author!) has an engaging writing style that is a nice balance of descriptive, exciting, humorous, suspenseful, sarcastic, and intelligent. It just draws you in without even realizing it and you find yourself negotiating "just one more chapter before I go to sleep" fifteen times in a row until you can't keep your eyes open anymore. Parts of this book (especially the dialogue) were so smile to myself entertaining I found myself rereading them just to soak them in more and deeply process the subtle references and entertaining quality.
And the main character Michelle has written in Mara? Not the most reliable, or most sane, but she's got an awesome sass to her that I love, and underneath her insecurity and unsureness has a strength and integrity that drew me to her even more. Mara doesn't remember what happened the night the building collapsed and her friends were killed. One of the best parts of this book is the way that Mara's memories of that night start to come back to her. We get flashbacks through her dreams as she gets them - leaving us feeling as unsure as Mara does about what's going on - but eventually we finally get the whole story of that night and the story comes together really well. It's written in the way that makes you feel like the character is feeling at that point in the book - you'll be scared, hopeful, worried, confused, happy, and freaked out when Mara is feeling that way as you go through the story with her.
Should we talk boys now? How about my newest (and quite possibly best ever) literary crush - Noah Shaw. Really, after reading it, I sigh just hearing his name. I love, love, love Noah's character. He's got a great way of talking (and lots of hidden secrets to come) and interacting and being that is just captivating. The parts I found myself rereading the most were the interactions between Mara and Noah. Now, I should warn you, at first I was a little skeptical because he seemed like the stereotypical bad boy, insta-crush, jerk to girls, love interest character, but there's much, much more than meets the eye (or rumor mill as the case may be) with Noah Shaw. Don't let his early interactions fool you - there is an epic sort of romance that develops between Mara and Noah that will have you swooning by the end.
Secondary characters deserve a mention too - maybe because I have two brothers myself and am the middle/only girl, I really enjoyed Mara's relationship with her brothers - especially her older brother Daniel. He's great. He watches out for her, covers for her, protects her, and pushes her to get out there. I want a big brother like him. We also see Mara at her new school after they move out of state and meet her new friend Jamie. He is awesomely sarcastic and witty and good comedic relief. He also serves as commentary to set the stage for what's going on in the new school's dynamics. I enjoyed reading both Daniel's and Jamie's characters; I would have liked a little more of Jamie though.
This book all leads up to an ending that is unexpected and left me wondering What?! How did that happen?! It made me want to go back and reread the whole book with that new perspective and see if it changed my thoughts on earlier parts of the story. It ends at a point that added a final cliffhanger of a twist and left me hoping that there would be more - and there will be a sequel (thank goodness because I need answers!) You may feel a little off balance at the end of this one, but I truly think that's part of the reason that it is so good. I want my stories to surprise me once in awhile and this one was definitely surprising. Be on the lookout for THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER in September!
THE LIAR SOCIETY is a fun, quick romp of a mystery story. Fifteen-year-old Kate is trying to get over her grief from her best friend's death the year before. She has always been convinced that it wasn't an accident, and when she gets an email from Grace's account hinting that she's right, Kate knows she needs to solve the mystery of who is responsible. Secrets abound at Pemberly-Brown Academy, the private school Kate attends, and even she doesn't know how far she'll have to go or where she'll have to search to find out the truth of what happened that night.
This was a quick read (I read it in one day) with great suspenseful pacing of discovering clues and new twists at exactly the right times while also seeing parts of Kate getting through her grief. Kate narrates the action, and she also flashes back to give us glimpses of what she was doing the night Grace died. By the end, we find out the whole story from multiple people's roles in it as Kate does, and it comes together in an intriguing way. It's a nice balance between the mystery and the plain reality of Kate's story.
The book deals with secret societies and power, perseverance in the face of fear, relying on those who you trust, social status in the elite prep school world, and friendship changes and secrets. There is a large cast of characters around the school that all play a role in unraveling the mystery of what happened. All led by pink-haired Kate with her pearls and notebook forging the way to finding out the truth. The Roecker sisters have created a fantastic and engaging teen voice with Kate's character. She's sassy, determined, and real - she's a modern day Nancy Drew with Veronica Mars spunk (and if you don't know that TV reference, you should!). I enjoyed reading Kate's character and her interactions with those around her - although her parents seemed to be pretty MIA for the majority of the novel - especially Liam. There is a boy subplot of course, and it's fun, but really this book is about Kate finding her way, finding answers, finding out the truth and finding herself again after the devastation she went through the year before. You'll enjoy reading Kate's story and rooting for her throughout.
This book kind of reminded me a little bit of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by e. Lockhart in it's secret society, kick-butt girl character, and trying to find answers aspects. If you like one, I think you'll like the other. There is a sequel to THE LIAR SOCIETY coming (thank goodness), and based on the ending, Kate is going to rock the next story too. I'll definitely be reading book #2, THE LIES THAT BIND in 2012.(less)
I had heard so many positive reviews of this book that I was eagerly anticipating reading it, and it didn't let me down. Once I looked at the first page to see how it sounded - I was gone for the next two days reading it every chance I got. "You don't want to kill me," I said. "Of course I don't, Clare. But I have to." And a paragraph later, "...On my right was the crumpled body of a guy I hadn't fully realized the depths of my feelings for until I saw a bullet rip into him." OK - I was hooked - there was no chance I was putting this book down.
Clarity (Clare) Fern is a psychic from a family of psychics, and not the kind you normally think of as the scammers, but the real kind. She, her mother, and her older brother all have different psychic abilities, and they use them to entertain the tourists in their Cape Cod town. I loved Clare - she is full of snark and sass and wit in a Veronica Mars type way - and I totally want to be her friend. She doesn't take any crap from anyone, and is fiercely loyal to her family. She's been hurt, but she still has hope for finding a good guy (and there are a few to go around apparently!) Plus, she's just really likeable the way she's written. This book, and her character, reminded me of other favorite mystery books THE LIAR SOCIETY and DEATH BY BIKINI, all with kick butt, tell-it-like-it-is girls who are smart, but vulnerable and whose mysteries are sometimes usurped by their teen relationships with family and boys.
The secondary cast of characters in this book was fun, as many small town novels tend to be, and I enjoyed seeing Clarity struggle with the boys she was surrounded with. Although it was a little predicatble in the end (as I did guess earlier on who might be the culprit), it still kept me guessing throughout and I was never quite sure if my guess would turn out to be right or not. The mystery kept me on my toes, and Clare's realtionships kept me turning pages to find out what would happen next.
CLARITY was a fun, light read, even though there were some serious elements with the mystery, the murder, and the people trying to figure everything out, and I would definitely recommend it to students who are looking for a mystery, and even to students who maybe need to be exposed to a mystery book. It's got a great main character, an interesting mystery, and lots of snark and sass and laugh out loud comebacks, with a touch of vulnerability. I also appreciated the underlying story of not judging people before you know them and know the truth, and Clare's battles to stand up for herself and be confident even when others are doubting her.
I'll be eagerly waiting on the sequel, PERCEPTION, coming March 1st, to find out what Clare decides to do and what happens to her next. (less)
I really enjoyed Kim Harrington's young adult debut book, CLARITY, also a mystery book, so when I saw that she had a middle grades mystery series also, I made sure to get it right away. Part of the reason is that so many of my students liked CLARITY also, so it's always nice to have a favorite author in the classroom, but also because some of my students aren't ready for the maturity of the young adult book yet, so I was hopeful that the SLEUTH OR DARE series would be a good fit for my other readers, and I'm sure it will be.
PARTNERS IN CRIME is a perfectly middle grades book. The writing level and complexity of the subplots and main mystery are all right in that sweet spot. The mystery was a bit obvious to me, but again, I'm not the age or ability level of the intended audience. It didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book at all though. One thing that is really nice is that the mystery is such that it's a great fit for younger middle grades students who want to try mystery but aren't ready yet for more complex novels.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the characters in this book. There was quite a bit about their relationships with their families, and the arc the characters take to accepting and appreciating their own families is a nice message. In addition, the two main characters are not the popular girls, but instead each have their own interests aligned with their intelligence and abilities. It's nice to see a story with these characters who are into astronomy and technology being the strong leaders of the book, and even though they're not popular, they still have good relationships and confidence in themselves. There are some subplots relating to bullying and typical middle school dynamics that are handled well also.
Once again Harrington has struck just the right voice. The book is written with a strong female lead and in such a way that it sounds like she's talking right to the reader. This allows us to get insights into what's happening, but also stay fully engaged in the story. Overall PARTNERS IN CRIME is a fun, quick mystery with heart. I look forward to reading the next two books in the series: SLEEPOVER STAKEOUT and FRAMED & DANGEROUS and handing these off to my students.(less)
I really, really enjoyed reading this book. It was not exactly what I was expecting, and that's good because this psychological thriller was more than...moreI really, really enjoyed reading this book. It was not exactly what I was expecting, and that's good because this psychological thriller was more than I thought it would be. Suspenseful, intense, creepy, engaging...it was a page-turner for sure. I can see my students getting into this one. In fact, they're already wanting to read it after seeing my reaction to the big reveal at the end in class today. They all wanted to know what book made me gasp out loud with a "No way!" I would recommend this intriguing look at serial killers to fans of I Hunt Killers as a read alike.(less)
That was crazy-there were moments when I gasped out loud at what was happening in this story. Different than what I thought it would be, but an enjoya...moreThat was crazy-there were moments when I gasped out loud at what was happening in this story. Different than what I thought it would be, but an enjoyable space/sci-fi/romance/survival story. One of the best parts was the dual POVs with interstitials of an interview after the fact that helped put it all in perspective. I liked the characters very much and think that my students will enjoy this one, too. I will definitely be reading the next book.(less)
I really enjoyed reading this book! Take a suspenseful medical mystery type of story, the stress of SATs, high school friendships, and throw in some r...moreI really enjoyed reading this book! Take a suspenseful medical mystery type of story, the stress of SATs, high school friendships, and throw in some romance and you get a page-turning read. I liked the characters a lot, was creeped out when I should be, was surprised at some of the twists, and was rooting for them to figure it all out. And the writing is beautifully descriptive in a realistic high school voice. The plotting is well-paced to increase suspense and slowly reveal memories that screech toward an ending that shows the importance of relationships. I know my students are going to love this one.(less)
An exciting and satisfying conclusion to Kate Messner's Silver Jaguar Society trilogy. Once again, the cast of characters makes you feel for them, the...moreAn exciting and satisfying conclusion to Kate Messner's Silver Jaguar Society trilogy. Once again, the cast of characters makes you feel for them, the action creates tension, the mystery heightens curiosity, the setting comes to life (catacombs in Paris!), and the plot keeps you turning pages - all tied together with intelligent writing. Manhunt is a perfect mystery/secret society story for the middle grades set.(less)
This book is tough for me to review. I thought I liked it, but then I started to get irritated by it. I was hooked into this story of a girl who can o...moreThis book is tough for me to review. I thought I liked it, but then I started to get irritated by it. I was hooked into this story of a girl who can only tell the truth and must answer any question asked of her because she is an "oracle." There is a murder mystery and high school stuff and I liked the character. The writing is basic, straight-forward, just telling the story. However, I was frustrated because I figured out "whodunit" pretty early on, and I got really annoyed that the main character wasn't picking up on it. She seemed pretty smart, so I felt like she should've been picking up on more of the clues than she was. I also felt like the aspect of her going from being the school "freak" to all of a sudden having two of the most sought after guys in school vying for her seemed a little hard to believe (as far as why she wouldn't question it), and as a reader, it seemed so obvious to me which guy was the one who was more honest and better for her. And,ultimately, when I got to the end, I felt letdown. Not only because I knew who it had been all along, but when the suspense had been built this whole time, and the climactic moment comes, we only got another page and a half to wrap everything up. I felt cheated out of a full conclusion to the story. Most of that I could overlook (and imagine my students will), but my bigger issue was when it came to a scene where one of the boys was going to kiss Aria and she didn't exactly want it, but he kept pushing it. The concern I have is the message it sends, especially in light of all of the discussion lately on consent in relationships and any physical encounters, I hesitate because I didn't feel like there was enough of a repercussion or aftermath of her saying she wasn't sure and then him moving forward with it anyway in that particular scene. So because of that, I was made even more uncomfortable with the overall story. I can say though, when I was reading it in class and frustrated, I told a few of my 8th grade girls what I was frustrated with, and they all requested to be the first to read it when I was done.
*ARC received from publisher in exchange for an honest review.(less)