Book Reviews

The Possible: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“What if life was all about letting go?”

Kaylee doesn’t remember much from when she was really young. She knows her biological mother is in jail but the details of her arrest for killing Kaylee’s brother and the trial are memories from another life.

Kaylee is happy now with her adoptive parents and her perfectly normal life. She’s a rising star on the school softball team and she is working on a plan to attract the attentions of her longtime crush. Simple.

Until a woman shows up at Kaylee’s house wanting to interview her for a podcast investigating Crystal.The Possible podcast is going to spend a season looking into the telekinesis claims that made Crystal a media sensation as a teen, her trial after her son’s death, and what she’s like now in prison.

Kaylee is desperate to be special. To be noticed. Being involved in the podcast seems like the perfect chance to see if maybe, just maybe, she might have some of Crystal’s powers. As the podcast starts to air Kaylee gets exactly what she wants. But she does’t count on the bitter taste of notoriety or the secrets that begin to surface when she looks into her own past in The Possible (2017) by Tara Altebrando.

Find it on Bookshop.

In her latest thriller Altebrando taps into the wide popularity of investigative podcasts as she and her characters ask a simple question: “What if?”

Kaylee is a totally reliable narrator but she’s also eager to be swept away and believe that some of the hype surrounding Crystal, and by extension herself, might be true. Kaylee is athletic, a little self-centered, and striving for that elusive better, more popular, and generally more appealing version of herself. In trying to embrace telekinetic powers and familial connections that may or may not exist Kaylee realizes that she has to let go of what she wants other people to see when they look at her and focus on being herself in whatever form that takes.

The Possible is a tense, fast-paced story focusing squarely on Kaylee and the podcast. Most of the novel is narrated by Kaylee with pieces of the story being told in newspaper articles, podcast excerpts, and interview transcripts. While Kaylee reaches some conclusions for herself by the end of the story, the narrative stops short of actual answers leaving readers to decide the truth for themselves in this gripping story. Perfect for fans of psychological thrillers, true crime, and anyone who’s ever asked themselves “what if . . . ” Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Breaker by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier,  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Be sure to check out my interview with Tara!

Book Reviews

The Raven King: A Review

“If you can’t be unafraid, be afraid and happy.”

The Raven King by Maggie StiefvaterGansey has been searching for his lost king for years. In the years after he died–and was brought back–Gansey is certain that finding Glendower is his destiny. Surely, such a quest is what he was saved to complete?

Along the way Gansey’s unlikely friends have joined him in the hunt: Ronan, a dreamer inextricably linked to the ley line and the magic of Cabeswater; Adam, who bargained away his autonomy to become Cabeswater’s magician; Noah, whose grip on his life is becoming more and more tenuous the longer he is dead; and Blue, the girl from a psychic family who is not psychic at all, the girl who is going to kill her true love with a kiss, the girl who loves Gansey.

For months now, Gansey and the rest have been creeping closer. Glendower is almost found. Dreams and nightmares are building. A storm is coming. Every quest has an end, but this time no one knows what they will find when it’s over in The Raven King (2016) by Maggie Stiefvater.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Raven King is the final book in Stiefvater’s widely acclaimed Raven Boys Cycle. It is preceded by The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. This book should definitely be read in order with the other books in the series and (obviously) has spoilers for the earlier books.

It’s always bittersweet to come to the end of a much-loved series. With characters like Blue and Gansey and Ronan and Adam, it’s especially hard to say goodbye. But The Raven King is the conclusion these characters deserve–possibly even the one they have earned–after everything they’ve survived and accomplished in the rest of the series.

Like the rest of this series, The Raven King is extremely well done with flawless writing and a tight plot. Although some rare readers might find the ending a bit too perfect, this book is also an excellent example of what you have to always trust the author.

The Raven King is a story where all of the characters are hurtling towards very specific goals and destinations only to realize that in the end the destination wasn’t the point at all–it was the journey, it was the people met along the way (particularly when it comes to the new characters introduced here). A completely satisfying conclusion to a stunning and evocative series.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*A copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Book Reviews

The Devil and Winnie Flynn: A Review

The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David OstowSeventeen-year-old Winnie Flynn doesn’t know why her mother killed herself. All she knows is that her dad said yes when Winnie’s estranged aunt Maggie proposed that Winnie spend the summer with her. Now Winnie is working as a production assistant on Fantastic Fearsome, the reality TV show Maggie produces and hosts.

This season the show has fresh, young talent (including one Devil Hunter named Seth who is as earnest as he is cute) and big plans to track down the famous Jersey Devil.

As much as she loves horror movies, Winnie doesn’t believe in ghosts–or the Devil. But as she gets to know the Hunters and learns more about the Devil’s strange history, Winnie begins to wonder if there might be some fact to the fantastic here.

Soon, Winnie realizes her family may have a stronger connection to the Devil than she could have imagined. But even Winnie’s firm skepticism and calm might not be enough to keep her safe in The Devil and Winnie Flynn (2015) by Micol Ostow with illustration by David Ostow.

The Devil and Winnie Flynn is the second collaboration from the Ostow siblings.

Written as a scrapbook-style letter for Winnie’s friend Lucia, The Devil and Winnie Flynn is a mixed media adventure filled with illustrations, shooting scripts, and other ephemera beyond the traditional narrative including appropriately eerie depictions of choice Jersey locations.

Winnie’s dry humor and skepticism throughout the narrative keeps this novel firmly grounded even as the story moves into decidedly “fantastic” territory complete with magical powers, mysterious guardians and other psychic phenomena.

A quick finish and unanswered questions about Winnie’s mother will leave readers hoping that The Devil and Winnie Flynn is the start to a series. The Devil and Winnie Flynn is a fun and campy horror novel filled with real details about the Devil and evocative New Jersey locations sure to have high appeal for horror fans.

Possible Pairings: Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Ghost Huntress by Marley Gibson, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan, Veronica Mars

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the 2015 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

Book Reviews

Blue Lily, Lily Blue: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie StiefvaterBlue hasn’t looked back since taking up the strange quest that has consumed four Raven Boys. Since then Gansey, Adam, Noah, and even Ronan, have amazingly become her best friends. What first seemed like disparate priorities and an absurd alliance has since blossomed into the strongest friendship Blue has ever known.

Their friendship isn’t the only thing to have changed since the search started.

Some bonds have strengthened while others have threatened to break. Dreams have offered as much wonder as terror.

And family, it turns out, can mean all kinds of things.

But as Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah come closer and closer to the end of their search all of them have to wonder what will come next. With so much to gain from finding what they are seeking, none of them–maybe especially Blue–has thought hard enough about how much there is to lose in Blue Lily, Lily Blue (2014) by Maggie Stiefvater.

Find it on Bookshop.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in Stiefvater’s widely acclaimed Raven Boys Cycle. It is preceded by The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves. Although this book is the third in a four book series it works surprisingly well on its own with references to key events in previous books and a larger focus on both old and new characters.

This story picks up about a month after the events of The Dream Thieves.

Stiefvater offers another atmospheric fantasy filled with wry humor and unforgettable characters ranging from the protagonists readers have come to love to antagonists who are indecently likable. Lyrical, spirited prose moves along this character-driven story as we learn more about all of the major (and even some of the minor) players in this tale.

New problems–and losses–ensure that Blue Lily, Lily Blue will stand on its own merit outside of the (many) strengths of the Raven Boys Cycle. This installment also continues to keep the ongoing plot of the series fresh and exciting as nothing in this story is quite what readers will expect.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue also reaffirms the ties between these unlikely friends and the strength that can be found in such powerful bonds. While all of the characters grapple with what they know and do not know, both about themselves and their search, this novel cleverly celebrates the hidden depths to be found in all of their relationships.

This book goes in unexpected directions and circles back to events from the first book in a seamless manner that highlights how carefully this cycle is plotted. While Blue Lily, Lily Blue necessarily leaves unanswered questions it is a satisfying novel that strikes just the right chord between forward plot development and closure for this installment.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher*

Book Reviews

The Raven Boys: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Raven Boys by Maggie StiefvaterBlue’s family trades in predictions that range from the non-specific to, for Blue, the very explicit warning that she will kill her first love.

That’s never been a problem since Blue doesn’t believe in love or much care for boys, particularly the so-called raven boys from the Anglionby school who walk around her small town like they own it.

As the only non-clairvoyant in her family, every year Blue takes down the names of souls she cannot see on the corpse road while her family watches them pass. Every year is the same.

Except this year Blue does see something.

There are only two reasons Blue would see a boy clearly enough on the corpse road to make out the Anglionby crest on his sweater; only two reasons he would tell her his name is Gansey: Blue is either his true love. Or she is going to kill him.

Gansey wears his raven boy persona easily, using his wealth and prestige to get what he wants–and needs–to search for something even his closest friends sometimes doubt is real.

Charming and determined, it’s as easy for Blue to become caught up in his world as it was for Gansey’s other friends: Adam, a scholarship student struggling to navigate Anglionby on his own terms; Ronan, sharp, bitter and determined to keep the world at arm’s length; and Noah, the quiet observer who sees a great many things but shares very little.

As Blue and these improbable raven boys find each other things start changing for them and their small town. Together they could unearth untold magic and power, as long as they can find it first–and control it–in The Raven Boys (2012) by Maggie Stiefvater.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Raven Boys is the first book in the four book Raven Cycle.

With such varied characters and a sweeping story, it’s hard to summarize or review a book like The Raven Boys. As she did in her Printz honor title The Scorpio Races, Stiefvater once again presents a new world with a fascinating take on mythology that is all its own.

Stiefvater creates a varied cast with characters ranging from calculating to naive, from prickly to endearing–often at the same time. With so many brilliantly dimensional characters it’s hard to pick a favorite, or even a star*, in The Raven Boys as Stiefvater expertly allows each character their chance in the spotlight.

Being the first book in a series there are, of course, unanswered questions at the end of The Raven Boys along with some tantalizing hints of things to come later in the series. While the lack of resolution is frustrating at times, Stiefvater’s characters and intricate writing guarantee readers will want to come back for the next installment in her Raven Cycle.

*That’s a lie. Blue and Gansey are definitely my favorites of all time–I want to be Blue and befriend Gansey. Though in all fairness I really do mean it when I say all of the characters have their moments in this fantastic ensemble cast.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Pivot Point by Kasie West, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

Exclusive Bonus Content: In case you had any lingering doubts that Maggie is brilliant, be sure to check out the trailer she made for The Raven Boys. And by “made” I mean she did the art, animated it, wrote and performed the music and put the whole thing together.

Book Reviews

Perception: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Perception by Kim HarringtonClarity “Clare” Fern thought things would go back to normal for her once summer ended. Except it’s not so easy for people to forget the psychic girl who helped solve a murder and clear her brother’s name during the tourist season in their Cape Cod town.

Back at school Clare is getting a lot of unwelcome attention from the student body. Not to mention more attention than she can handle from ex-boyfriend Justin and new guy Gabriel Toscano. Both want to be more than friends. Too bad Clare isn’t as certain of her own feelings yet.

As Clare tries to navigate her new-found celebrity, she also starts getting unexpected notes from an unidentified sender. Could it be someone Clare knows? A shy secret admirer? Or is it something much more sinister in Perception (2012) by Kim Harrington?

Perception is Harrington’s sequel to her debut novel Clarity.

Set during Cape Cod’s off season, Perception  lacks some of the excitement found in Clarity even as Harrington shines a light on Clare’s more typical day-to-day life. Though the narrative often refers back to the first book, Perception explains enough to be able to stand on its own without much difficulty.

All of the characters readers loved from the first book are back. Unfortunately so is Clare’s unfortunate love triangle. While Justin and Gabriel both remain likable, Clare’s vacillation throughout the novel grew tiresome–particularly when to some readers her choice will be obvious from early chapters.*

Much like the love triangle, the mystery aspect of Perception felt a bit obvious as well. While some parts of the story will keep readers on their toes other twists will be guessed early on.

Clare and her family develop a lot over the course of Perception leading to a novel whose strength lies in its characterizations. That said, Perception continues the story of a spunky, clever heroine in a fun mystery sure to leave readers smiling.

*Happily, the love triangle is resolved to some extent at the end of the story so hopefully Clare, Justin and Gabriel can all move on to other things when Harrington writes another Clarity novel.

Possible Pairings: The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Slide by Jill Hathaway, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Book Reviews

After Obsession: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

After Obsession by Carrie Jones & Steven E. WedelAs soon as Alan arrives in town, he knows something isn’t right even if he can’t quite place what. He knows from his dreams with his spirit animal that it involves a dark force. And a girl with bright red hair.

Aimee’s friends call her Red because of her hair. She notices Alan right away, even with her boyfriend, it’s hard not to when he’s so tall and good looking. And he’s also the guy she’s been seeing in her creepy vision-dreams for the past few weeks.

Their connection is immediate, but Alan and Aimee have a lot to do before they can think about anything as simple as a relationship. Courtney–Alan’s cousin and Aimee’s best friend–has been acting strangely. Like, something else is controlling her strange.

There are four stages to any possession: Invitation. Infestation. Obsession. You can probably guess what comes after. Aimee and Alan have to save Courtney before that, and together they might just manage it. They kind of have to, because after obsession there is no turning back. For anyone in After Obsession (2011) by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel.

After Obsession was written in collaboration with alternation chapters where Jones wrote Aimee’s narration while Wedel wrote Alan’s.

Aside from a catchy title, After Obsession has a clever premise that is straightforward and wastes no time getting to the crux of the story. Aimee and Alan are clever narrators with their chemistry and unique abilities.

Jones and Wedel play fast and loose with supernatural elements here generally to good effect. Aimee has visions and can heal people (which no one at all seems to find odd). Alan is half Navajo and has a spirit guide and is a spirit warrior (and also apparently completely embraces a culture he knows little about outside of Internet research because his father was Navajo even though he never met his father and doesn’t even know his father’s name for certain).

If you can get past those issues, After Obsession is a fun, breezy read with suspense, excitement and romance.

After Obsession is currently a standalone novel, which is fine except for the end of the book when things start happening really fast and a lot of plot threads are not fully explained or resolved. With so much left up in the air After Obsession felt more like a first installment than a complete novel albeit an entertaining read either way.

Possible Pairings: Swoon by Nina Malkin, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, The Game of Triumphs by Laura Powell, Misfit by Jon Skovron, Between by Jessica Warman

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2011

Book Reviews

Clarity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Clarity by Kim HarringtonSixteen-year-old Clarity “Clare” Fern is used to getting weird looks from neighbors, being teased and even downright bullied by the other kids in town. It’s all part and parcel with being “gifted.”

Clare’s a psychic, her brother Periwinkle “Perry” Fern is a medium. Their mother is a telepath. In the small town Eastport on Cape Cod the Ferns ply their trade with readings to entertain visitors. Tourists love them. Townies, not so much.

Clare is expecting a typical summer in Eastport tied to the family house helping her mother with readings during the busy tourist season. Things get a bit more complicated when a girl is found murdered at the local motel.

Clare doesn’t want to get involved, especially not when her ex-boyfriend asks her to. Unfortunately when her brother becomes the prime suspect, saying no isn’t an option.

Working with Gabriel, the new detective’s hot son, Clare delves into the secrets and fears of the dead girl’s past. But the more Clare learns about the dead girl, the more evidence starts pointing to Perry in Clarity (2011) by Kim Harrington.

Clarity is Harrington’s first novel.

This book really does have it all including humor, suspense and a surprise ending (not to mention an opening for more books about Clare–yay!). Mysteries are not the hot thing in young adult literature right now so it was exciting to find this one. Yes, conclusions were drawn prematurely but the plot still finished with a shocking twist.

Harrington strikes a good balance here between mystery conventions and character development, not to mention her beautiful descriptions of Eastport that will make readers eager to plan their own Cape Cod vacation. Clarity truly is a delectable read combining a traditional mystery plot with just a pinch of romance and a strong dose of the supernatural to make a refreshing, totally unexpected story.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Book Reviews

Vibes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vibes by Amy Kathleen RyanKristi Carmichael thinks she has all the answers, which is part of why she stopped caring about just about everything two years ago. She knows all about her workaholic mother, absent father, and why the incredibly cute Gusty Peterson would never want to have anything to do with her. She can even understand the romantic thoughts and strange fantasies her friends Mallory and Jacob have for her. Of course, being psychic can have that effect on a person.

Part of having all the answers is being chronically unimpressed (definitely how Kristi feels about her free-spirited high school) and always playing by her own rules (that’s covered by the padlock on her bedroom door and the cat she hides inside it, not to mention the found wardrobe).

But as the school year progresses, Kristi finds a lot of things happening that she didn’t see coming–even with all the answers. The sudden return of her father, attentions from not one but two boy at school, and other surprises leave Kristi in a tailspin as she wonders if, maybe, the vibes she’s been getting were more bogus than psychic all along.

Such is the premise of Vibes (2008), Amy Kathleen Ryan‘s second novel (and the subject of a rumored movie adaptation according to Cinema Blend–although the fundamental inaccuracies of the basic summary there do leave me wondering about the accuracy of the rumor).

I really liked this book. The fact that Kristi is psychic is treated as a normal event–not a big deal, no worrying about why she can read minds–which I enjoyed since mind reading usually supersedes plot when it crops up in non-fantasy books.

At 249 pages, the book goes by fast but the story is still deep. A strong point of Ryan’s writing are the characters she has created. In the beginning of the novel Kristi and also the new boy at school, Mallory, are deeply troubled, something both teens try to deal with through anger. Kristi doesn’t mince words when she tells readers all of the reasons she has to be angry (there are a few). However, as the story moves forward and Kristi realizes that reading minds isn’t the same as understanding what people are thinking, she also learns that there is more to life (both good and bad) than she had first thought.

Because of her anger at, well, everything Kristi is initially not a sympathetic character. She is mean to her friends, her mom, and even strangers. Fortunately, because of the character development Kristi realizes this about herself and tries to do better.

One theme that the novel deals with well is self-esteem in that Kristi does have much at the start of the novel. Seeing herself as fat and ugly, Kristi doesn’t find herself very surprised when she hears the word “sick” in Gusty Peterson’s head whenever he thinks of her. Kristi’s low opinion of herself is hard to shake even in the face of positive attentions from Mallory and, of course, her family. To some readers it could seem over the top, but the truth is I was right there with Kristi and when those things came up in the novel, it felt like Ryan was quoting a page from my own life.

The other theme that was handled really well in Vibes is the absent father issue. There was a point in time where books about single mothers would always idolize the absent father (“Dad is so much cooler than Mom. It’s Mom’s fault he left. If Dad came back everything would be better . . .”) and that would be it.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed a trend where children of divorce or the like begin to see their family situation in a more realistic way (A Thousand Splendid Suns and Absolutely Maybe are just two books in this trend). Kristi misses her father terribly, and in many ways does idolize him, but only until he shows up again. Then it becomes apparent that there was more to her father’s leaving that even a psychic could have guessed.

In summary, Ryan blends a lot of different themes and genres to create a new kind of story that readers (teen and otherwise) are sure to enjoy.

Possible Pairings: Waiting for You by Susane Colasanti, Paper Towns by John Green, Slide by Jill Hathaway, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin