‘Wild Bird’ by Wendelin Van Draanen Is the Emotional Story of a Young Girl Out of Control

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Wendelin Van Draanen knows how to write a story that packs a punch. She did it in “Running Dream,” a story about a high school runner who tragically loses her leg in a crash, and how she learns not just how to walk with a prosthetic, but how to really see others in spite of physical differences. In “Wild Bird,” Van Drannen offers up the story of Wren, a girl who lost her way and ended up involved in drugs.

The story begins when Wren is awakened in the middle of the night and whisked off to a juvie camp in the Utah desert for wilderness therapy for 60 days. It’s a last-ditch effort to rehab Wren, who has proven resistant to therapists, counselors, and every other kind of help her parents tried to get for her.

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‘Warcross’ by Marie Lu Is a Fast-Paced Scifi Thriller

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“Warcross” by Marie Lu features a young girl who is a bounty hunter in a world where virtual reality has eclipsed real life. Hooked yet? Read the first chapter and you’ll be drawn into the life and struggle for survival along with Emika Chen, whose ability to hack into the virtual world and fight in the real world have helped her survive — barely — in New York.

Emika’s mother bailed on Em and her father when Em was young, and her father died before Em was a teenager. She’s a loner who has had to rely on herself and only herself. She hasn’t paid her rent for months, and the eviction notice is on the door. If she can just bring down one big bounty, she’ll be set. But things don’t work out, and Em doesn’t know what to do.

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‘A Poison Dark and Drowning’ by Jessica Cluess Is a Fabulous Sequel to ‘A Shadow Bright and Burning’

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Just like the first book in the series by Jessica Cluess, “A Shadow Bright and Burning,” the second book, “A Poison Dark and Drowning” grabs the reader from the first few pages. As in the first book, this middle book in the trilogy continues to showcase Cluess’s ability to combine just enough description, just the right dialogue, and plenty of plot to keep the pages turning quickly as the reader anxiously races to the end.

In many series, there are so many characters that when the second book is released a year later, readers must reread the first book to familiarize themselves again with who everyone is. That’s not the case here. The various sorcerers, the friends, the Ancient monsters — they all are mentioned with enough detail to enable readers to jump right into this book.

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‘Blood Rose Rebellion’ by Rosalyn Eves is the first in a YA fantasy series

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It’s difficult to create a fantasy series that is unique in light of the plethora of fantasy series aimed at young adult readers. Rosalyn Eves’ “Blood Rose Rebellion” will remind the reader of other fantasy series wherein the main character lives in a world where magic rules.

In this world, those who have magic and are allowed to use it, the Luminate, are limited to the upper class. Anna Arden was born into this class, but when she was eight years old, at her Confirmation (when children are tested and allowed the connection to be able to use magic), it was discovered that she was Barren. She did not have the ability to use magic. Because of that, her chances at finding a husband or even being accepted by polite society were slim.

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‘A Torch Against the Night’ by Sabaa Tahir: Sequel to NYT bestseller ‘An Ember in the Ashes’

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Sabaa Tahir, in “A Torch Against the Night,” the sequel to “An Ember in the Ashes,” manages to write a fabulous second book. The story of Elias, his best friend and now-enemy Helene, and Laia continues, laced with magic, adventure, and mystery.

This tale set in ancient Rome features soldiers with silver masks that become part of their faces, the silver melding with their skin. There are creatures who live for thousands of years, magical silver that is coveted by a jinn to avenge a past wrong, and characters willing to sacrifice all to defeat evil.

Tahir creates an antagonist who is pure evil. Marcus, one of Elias’ peers in the first book, becomes Emperor, and his cruelty knows no bounds. This is not a bad guy with shades of gray — he is evil through and through down to his coal-encrusted heart. Helene, Elias’ good friend, on the other hand, is out to kill Elias and Laia, but she is conflicted. She knows Elias is honorable and good, but Marcus is blackmailing Helene, threatening someone she loves. She has also promised to be true to “the Empire,” or Rome. And surely that means doing what the Emperor commands her to do — even if it is repugnant.

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‘Something in Between’ by Melissa de la Cruz: Young adult story about being American

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In “Something in Between,” bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz takes the subject of undocumented families and makes their stories real. This is specifically about a smart and driven girl who wins a national award for academics only to find out that her family is undocumented.

Her parents had been hiding the situation from Jasmine and her two brothers. De la Cruz allows the reader a glimpse into what thoughts and feelings would flood someone in this terrible spot. She creates an authentic character who was born in the Philippines, but who has lived in the United States for most of her life. She considers herself American, and she is stunned to learn that she is not.

Jasmine has spent her whole life working toward being the best — student, cheerleader, daughter — and getting admitted to a top college. She is determined to make the most of her life, and her parents, strict Filipino parents, help her. Jasmine meets Royce, the son of a Congressman, and they fall in love. But Royce’s father is against any immigration reform. Can the couple overcome that which threatens to separate them? It’s not just a matter of social inequality, it’s also about the stigma of being undocumented — an alien. Learning that she is not an American changes the way Jasmine thinks of herself until she learns what is important in life. She learns that “No one — not the law, not a college admissions officer, not your friends, not your teachers or parents or any other people, can define who you are.” Only she can do that.

The story is written beautifully, and it’s difficult to put the novel down. Jasmine and her struggle represent the very real threat that faces thousands of young people in our country. If telling the story helps bring empathy to those people, then this should be required high school reading. While this book is not entirely autobiographical, de la Cruz and her family did come to America from the Philippines when she was thirteen years old.

Jasmine may be from the Philippines, but those who share her struggle and her despair come from almost every continent. It’s easy to take citizenship for granted, but after reading “Something in Between,” readers might just think twice about it.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Harlequin Teen, for review purposes.

‘The Female of the Species’ by Mindy McGinnis: Riveting YA novel

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“The Female of the Species” by Mindy McGinnis is a commentary on justice, our society, small town life, and women’s mistreatment by ignorant — and at times savage — males. Her protagonists each tell the story in strong, individual voices that McGinnis does an excellent job of differentiating.

Alex is the meter-out-of-justice. When her sister was killed by a predator after being tortured, and the killer was not charged for the crime because of a lack of evidence, Alex decided to take justice into her own hands. The killer died a horrible death. Maybe not as horrible as the death that Anna, the sister, suffered, but it was not a quick end.

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‘Like a River Glorious’ by Rae Carson: Book 2 in the ‘Gold Seer’ trilogy

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In the first book of this series, “Walk on Earth a Stranger,” Rae Carson introduces readers to an alternate old west during the California Gold Rush era, where Leah Westfall has a special and certainly timely magical ability: she senses the presence of gold. Her family uses it judiciously, but her life changes suddenly and drastically when her greedy uncle kills her parents and takes control of Leah in his evil attempt to use her special ability.

In this sequel, Leah, her best friend/boyfriend Jefferson, and all their companions from the westward trip have found a place to settle and mine gold (thanks to Leah’s ability). But her uncle has not given up on his desire to use Leah’s ability to get rich.

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‘A Shadow Bright and Burning’ is YA fantasy that will hook the reader

a-shadowJessica Cluess manages to hook the reader on the very first page of “A Shadow Bright and Burning.” That’s not an easy feat — especially when the reader is weary of young adult fantasies with long titles. They all start to sound the same.

But after reading just the first few pages, “A Shadow Bright and Burning” was a difficult book to put down. It’s the story of Henrietta, an orphaned young girl in Victorian England (a magical, alternate Victorian England) who has a magical power — fire. She’s afraid that she’s a witch, and witches are killed in England, so she hides her power.

But she is “outed” when she uses her power to save the life of her best friend when one of the magical ancient monsters — who were unleashed by witches and magicians years before — tries to kill him. Her friend, Rook, is considered “unclean” because he bears the scars from being attacked by one of the monsters. He is one of the few who lived through the attack. The “unclean” are shunned by those untouched by monsters.

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‘Thieving Weasels’ by Billy Taylor: Young adult humorous con story

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Billy Taylor’s young adult novel, “Thieving Weasels” is filled with humor, action, and lots of lies. It’s about a seventeen year old who was raised by a family of con artists. What Cam (the main character) makes painfully clear in the story is that his family was a uniquely unsuccessful group of con artists. They were, in fact, rather pathetic.

He has grown up with no stability, no sense of honor, and no pride in anything. He has learned to lie and steal and cheat, and he has learned that those abilities have been of primary importance to his family. So when he runs away from his family at thirteen and lies his way into a fancy boarding school, he decides to be the opposite of everything his family was, everything he has been taught. He learns that he likes doing things the honest way and earning the rewards that come through hard work. Cam has a girlfriend who, in spite of her wealthy background, loves him. He works hard to pay for school and has been accepted into Princeton.

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‘Against All Silence: An SOS Thriller’ by E. C. Meyers

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“Against All Silence” by E. C. Meyers is the sequel to “The Silence of Six,” and both novels are young adult thrillers that will enthrall techie readers and non-techie readers alike.

In this sequel, main character Max Stein is just leaving Paris when he gets a message from his co-conspirator and sometimes-girlfriend Penny that he needs to go to Berlin. When he gets there, he becomes enmeshed in a global conspiracy that only he and Penny can bring down.

But when his ideals and Penny’s ideals part ways, what’s going to happen? Adaptive Books, the publisher, “…repurposes abandoned movie scripts into books” (according to Publisher’s Weekly) and in “Against All Silence,” as in “The Silence of Six,” one can visualize the non-stop action as if it were a movie. The action never ends, and Meyers includes several twists to make the story even more involving.  Continue reading

‘How to Hang a Witch’ by Adriana Mather: Young adult witchy fantasy

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“How to Hang a Witch” by Adriana Mather is a fantasy tale of modern-day witchcraft, Salem, Massachusetts, and the effect history has on all of us. Mather feels a special connection to Salem and the witch history as she is a descendant of Cotton Mather, the infamous instigator of the witch trials. In the story, teenage Samantha Mather moves with her stepmother to Salem, to live in the house her grandmother left to Samantha’s father. Samantha has a history of not fitting in, and nothing changes at her new school.

In fact, in Salem, the name Mather is anathema. There are some creepy students called the Descendants who are, unsurprisingly, descended from the families of the original girls accused of witchcraft. But when strange things start happening in town, it is Samantha who is blamed.

There are also two young men, one a neighbor and alive, the other a ghost who lived in her house over three hundred years ago. Both try to help Samantha break the curse that has haunted the families of the descendants of the original witches and those who persecuted the witches in Salem. Continue reading