389 posts categorized "Young Adult" Feed

I Am the Traitor (The Unknown Assassin): Allen Zadoff

Book: I Am the Traitor (The Unknown Assassin Trilogy, Book 3)
Author: Allen Zadoff
Pages: 304
Age Range: 13 and up

I Am the Traitor is the conclusion to Allen Zadoff's The Unknown Assassin trilogy, following I Am the Weapon (originally published as Boy Nobody) and I Am the Mission. The Unknown Assassin is a teenage boy who works for / belongs to an organization called The Program. In the earlier books, the boy (who we now know is really named Zach) is sent out by The Program to assassinate certain individuals. His method involves using an assumed identify and befriending a teen close to the target, so that he can get close enough to do his work in subtle fashion.

As the series has progressed, however, Zach has come to have his doubts about The Program. He now believes that his father might be alive, a captive to The Program. He's also pretty sure that his only friend, Howard, has been captured. Zach finds himself in the position of being a traitor to the shadowy, powerful organization that trained him. But it's dangerous to put oneself in the crosshairs of an organization that trains assassins. Zach soon finds himself on the run, not sure who to trust, and in grave danger. 

I Am the Traitor, like the other books in the series, is a fast-paced read. Looking back, I find that only flagged one passage (in which Howard lends some mild humor to Zach's more somber outlook). The very definition of a page-turner, complete with twists and turns. I Am the Traitor is a bit like a lower-key a James Bond movie, complete with a sex scene and several murders (though largely committed in self-defense). Zadoff does give readers some opportunity to analyze Zach's character, particularly through his interactions with his nemesis, Mike. But his actions generally speak louder than his words. 

People who have enjoyed the previous two books will definitely want to read I Am the Traitor. Zadoff provides a satisfying ending to The Unknown Assassin trilogy, one that stays true to the darkness of the earlier books. (Don't expect hugs and roses.) For those who have not read the previous two books, you really must read them before reading I Am the Traitor - I don't think it will even make sense otherwise. I recommend this series to thriller fans who can handle a moderate body count, and find the idea of a teenage assassin intriguing (some, clearly, will find this idea disturbing instead). Personally, I enjoyed this series, and look forward to seeing what Zadoff will write next.  

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: June 9, 2015
Source of Book: Advance digital review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Edge of Forever: Melissa E. Hurst

Book: The Edge of Forever
Author: Melissa E. Hurst
Pages: 256
Age Range: 12 and up

The Edge of Forever by Melissa E. Hurst is a young adult novel told in the alternating viewpoints of a boy from 2146 "New Denver", Colorado and a girl from 2013 small town Georgia.

Bridger is a cadet for the Department of Temporal Affairs, an organization that uses time travel to visit and videotape historical events, creating immersion videos for the general population (only a select few are genetically able to perform the time travel). When Bridger receives a message left by his recently deceased father, he sets out on a quest to find a girl named Alora, from 2013.

Alora has lived in Georgia with her aunt since she was six, and has only a few fragmented memories of her parents. She's newly attending public high school, after being homeschooled, and is having difficulty adjusting, as well as difficulty with a stalker-ish boy. There are mysteries around Alora's parentage (which Alora and Bridger are both trying to solve) as well as suspense around the fact that Bridger, in the future, has seen Alora's July, 2013 obituary. 

I found the mysteries about Alora intriguing, and I also found her to be an engaging character. She ends up telling her aunt quite a few lies, but she regrets it every time. Her interpersonal struggles at school felt mainly realistic (though I found her nemesis, Trevor, to be a bit over the top). And I found her weakness for sweets charming.

I was a bit less taken with Bridger, who regularly has to take "Calmer" to keep himself from "wilding out", and who hates his admittedly not very nice mother. Here's a scene in which Bridger encounters some "Purists", people who don't approve of the genetic modifications that allow time travel (and other things):

"Like I said, the Purists are a bunch of idiots.

I stand in front of the museum for a few moments... A group of tourists are standing on the rear porch listening to a lecture given by a pudgy, balding man. I don't understand how they're staying awake."

He has better moments, of course, but I preferred Alora. Still, the alternating viewpoints add to the suspense of the story - we can leave one narrator at a cliffhanger, and return to the other. We know from Bridger that Alora is due to die soon, but Alora, of course, doesn't know that. Each chapter lists the narrator and the date at the top, to help readers keep things straight. I sometimes have trouble keeping track of who is speaking in books with alternating narrators, but I had no problem like that here. Bridger and Alora, and their voices, are quite distinct. 

Ultimately, it was figuring out what was going on with Alora that kept me reading, and will bring me back for what must be (at least) a Book 2. Hurst answers the main questions about Alora in The Edge of Forever, but opens up new ones in the book's final scenes. Although there are some scenes set in 2146, this first book, at least, takes place mainly in 2013, and is more about relationships than technology. Still, I think that fans of time travel stories will enjoy this one. Recommended for ages 12 and up. 

Publisher:  Sky Pony Press
Publication Date: June 2, 2015
Source of Book: Advanced digital review copy 

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Hold Me Like a Breath: Once Upon a Crime Family: Tiffany Schmidt

Book: Hold Me Like a Breath: Once Upon a Crime Family
Author: Tiffany Schmidt
Pages: 400
Age Range: 13 and up

Hold Me Like a Breath is the first book in Tiffany Schmidt's new Once Upon a Crime Family series. It's about a teenage girl who is a member of a mafia Family that has become wealthy by providing black market organs. And it is a fabulous book. I read it for National Readathon Day, and it easily kept my attention for all 400 pages. 

Hold Me Like a Breath is set in a kind of alternate reality in which federal regulation of organ donation has become so strict that most people die while awaiting transplants. This, naturally enough, opens up an opportunity for organizations that can provide organs, at least for those who can afford them. Penelope Landlow is kept largely out of her family's business, but believes that they are helping people who would otherwise die while on the transplant list. Her family, and the extended Family, worry about an act working its way through congress that might legalize people's selling of their organs, and thus change the Landlow family business forever. 

Penelope leads a highly sheltered life, even by mafia standards, because she has a rare platelet disorder that means that she bruises from the slightest touch. No one can hug her. Even a simple fall can land her in the Clinic on her family's estate. She requires regular platelet transfusions, and lives a victim to her "counts". Bored out of her mind, what she really wants is to go to school.

However, when danger invades Penny's sheltered estate, she gets more of the real world than she had bargained for. She has to figure out, rapidly, who she is and what she stands for, against a backdrop of extremely fragile health. (An afterword reveals that the seed for Penny's character came from the tale of The Princess and the Pea, someone who bruises so easily that it colors her life.) 

I quite like that Penny is NOT the (now) traditional "strong female." She can literally bruise from someone tickling her. When her counts are low, she can trace faces onto her skin, or pick up the pattern from a crocheted afghan. She spends her life privileged and sheltered, and when things go wrong, her anguish and indecision come across as real. But she's also the daughter of a crime lord, and she has absorbed important lessons about survival, too. She is unique and compelling.

I found the plot of Hold Me Like a Breath riveting. There were a couple of twists that I did see coming, but Schmidt's writing was so vivid that I read compulsively anyway. My only complaint was a coincidence that drove a major plot point, but even that did keep me guessing (in a "How can this be? Is this not what I think?" sort of way).

Hold Me Like a Breath also includes elements of love and longing, tricky things when you can't even be touched without bruising. I think that the darker elements of the book (secret organ transplant clinics and violent murders) will make Hold Me Like a Breath work even for those who might ordinarily shy away from romantic elements. There is a character with Downs Syndrome who plays a minor role, and who I hope we'll see again, in a more significant role, in the next book. 

Schmidt's writing is filled with suspense, and digs into all of the senses, like this:

"But in my daydreams, Garrett hadn't been wearing a gun.

And now we were parked somewhere made of shadows and secrets and fear that sat on my tongue like a bitter hard candy that wouldn't dissolve.

The car still smelled like them. Their seats were still warm when I leaned forward and pressed my hands against the leather. But I couldn't see them. What if the dark decided never to spit them back out again?" (Chapter 3, ARC)

I think that Hold Me Like a Breath is a fabulous addition to suspenseful, action-packed young adult literature. Due to some of the details around the organ donation restrictions and technology, I think it falls under the banner of speculative fiction, but just barely. My only regret is that I read this one so early (nearly four months before the book's release date), because this means that it will be a long time until the next book is available. I may even want to read this one again at that time, though I do expect the details of Hold Me Like a Breath to stay with me. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@bwkids)
Publication Date: May 19, 2015
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Shadow Cabinet (The Shades of London): Maureen Johnson

Book: The Shadow Cabinet (The Shades of London series, Book 3)
Author: Maureen Johnson
Pages: 384
Age Range: 12 and up

For some reason, I thought that The Shadow Cabinet was the conclusion to Maureen Johnson's Shade of London series. Just so you know, it's not. Which is great in that there will be at least one more book in this intriguing, atmospheric series. There will be spoilers in this review for books 1 and 2. If you haven't read them, I'll just tell you that they are ghost stories with some historical references set in modern-day London, and featuring a teenage girl from Louisiana who becomes involves with an unusual investigative squad. They are both fun, suspenseful, and in parts, seriously creepy. 

Apart from a brief flashback scene, The Shadow Cabinet begins immediately following the events of Book 2, The Madness Underneath. Rory and the rest of the squad are searching for the ghost of Stephen, who died from injuries sustained rescuing Rory from a crazy woman named Jane. A fellow student of Rory's, Charlotte, is still missing, presumably in Jane's company. Rory is in hiding, guilty about and grieving for Stephen, but determined to help make things better. Adventures, with mortals and ghosts, follow. 

A new character is introduced in The Shadow Cabinet, a geeky girl named Freddie who loves to do research, and a past character, Rory's ex-boyfriend Jerome, makes a reappearance. The world building that Johnson demonstrates re: Rory's ghost-filled London is quite strong. The supernatural aspects are conveyed in almost a matter-of-fact way, such that one might almost believe that The Shades of London are real. But my favorite aspect of this series remains Rory's voice. She can be humorous, like this:

"England is strange in many ways, and one of those ways is that they leave things like Stonehenge sitting at the side of the road. I think I expected something more like Disneyland, with all kinds of buildings nearby, and maybe a waterslide called Druid Dunk! or something. Maybe I thought it would be larger, or behind a wall. No. It was just there, in the field." (Page 193)

But also raw and honest, like this:

"W wave hit me--an agony so profound it was exquisite. It stopped my heart and took my air and made the floor feel like it was falling away. Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Feelings denied. I had to be fine for him, and therefore I would be fine. This was an order." (Page 55)

Even the various little chatty bits in which Rory tells quirky stories about her Louisiana hometown didn't bother me, despite interrupting the flow of the plot a bit, because I just like hearing her talk. I listened to Book 2, actually, which helped me in "hearing" Book 3 in my head.

I hesitate to say more, because you should go into this without too much knowledge about the plot. I'll just say that fans of the series will definitely not want to miss The Shadow Cabinet. Though larger plot (and relationship) questions are left for the next book, enough things are resolved in this book to satisfy readers. But oh, how I am curious about what will happen next! Recommended for anyone who enjoys ghost stories, particularly if they like them with just a splash of humor. But read Books 1 and 2 first. 

Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons (@PenguinTeen) 
Publication Date: February 10, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Big Game: Dan Smith

Book: Big Game
Author: Dan Smith
Pages: 288
Age Range: 10-14

Big Game by Dan Smith is a novel based on the screenplay for a 2014 Finnish action-adventure movie. It has an action movie pace, a book that one rushes through to find out what will happen next. I couldn't put it down, and read it in about a day. The narrator is Oskari, a Finnish boy about to turn 13. Oskari is sent out alone into the wilderness near his home on an overnight hunt by his tribe, expected to come home with the head of an animal (the bigger the better). In the woods, Oskari encounters the U.S. President, whose plane has been shot down. Hunted themselves, Oskari and the President must fight for their lives. 

Much as with an action movie, some suspension of belief is necessary when reading Big Game. I won't ruin your suspense by giving specific examples, but it is nevertheless a fun ride. Big Game is also a bit of an unlikely buddy story, with banter between the young boy and the self-proclaimed leader of the free world. Like this:

"Thanks, kid."

"Oskari."

"What?"

"My name is Oskari."

"Oh, right. Oskari. Well, you can call me William. Or Bill."

"Bill? Why not Alan?"

"I guess my mother preferred 'Bill'."

"Bill." I said the name again, testing the sound of it, but somehow it didn't feel right. "No. I'll call you President. It's more interesting." (Page 96, ARC)

There's inherent entertainment in the contrast between Oskari, raised to be a woodsman, though far from the best of his tribe, and the powerful world leader who is unaccustomed to physical deprivation. Oskari becomes downright arrogant about the fact that he's the one who knows what to do, not President. 

Here's an example of Smith's narrative writing:

"A surge of panic welled up inside me and snapped me out of the trance. It was like being suddenly woken from a nightmare and I scrambled backward as fast as I could, breathless and desperate to get away. I pushed through the ferns until I was deep enough into the forest to risk getting to my feet, then I turned and ran for my life. My muscles were stiff from lying down for so long, but there was more than enough fear in me to get them moving." (Page 49)

Big Game is definitely 13-year-old boy friendly, though I think that anyone who likes fast-paced adventure or survival stories will like Big Game. Amazon lists Big Game as being for ages 10-14, but to me it has more of a young adult than middle grade vibe. Perhaps because the body count is fairly high, with no fantasy elements to soften the impact. Big Game is one that I'm putting on my relatively short "pass on to my husband" stack. It's a quick, suspenseful read that will leave readers breathless. The movie will be released later this year. Recommended!

Publisher: Chicken House (@Scholastic
Publication Date: February 24, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Children's and YA Books I Have Shared with My Husband

In my review of The Living by Matt de la Peña, I mentioned this:

"as soon as I closed the book I said to my husband "You have GOT to read this" (something I reserve for only a select few titles each year)."

My husband doesn't read nearly as many books as I do, so I reserve the cream of the crop (and the more exciting/action-packed titles) for him.

My longtime blogging friend Susan Stephenson from The Book Chook said that she would be interested to know what other books I had passed on. She suggested that this might make a good blog post. So I discussed this with said spouse. We couldn't remember every book that I had recommended, but we did come up with a list of the titles that I had passed on that he particularly enjoyed. Here they are:

The Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling. This is admittedly an obvious one, but I distinctly recall telling him after reading the very first book that I thought he was going to like them. We ordered the second book from the UK, because it was published there earlier. And I recall my husband getting one of the later books out of the library, even though I had bought a copy, because he didn't want to wait for me to finish.

The Underland Chronicles (Gregor the Overlander) by Suzanne Collins. This middle grade series didn't get nearly the attention that Collins' YA series received later, but my husband devoured them. I had read them as library copies, but then I bought a full paperback set for him for Christmas one year. Here are links to my reviews of Books 1 and 2, Book 4, and Book 5

The first Diary of a Wimpy Kid book by Jeff Kinney. I handed this one to my husband at some point, and he enjoyed it, but never read the others. Recently, after we watched the first movie with our daughter, he decided that he would like to go back and read the other books in this series. Luckily there are quite a few now. I've reviewed Book 3, Book 6, and Book 7

The Hunger Games series, also by Suzanne Collins. Again, this recommendation seems obvious now after all the hype, but this may have been the first time my husband read an ARC, because I gave him the first book as soon as I had finished it and said something like: "Yes!" Incidentally credit goes to Liz Burns, who was the one who told me that I needed to get hold of that ARC at a conference one year. Here are my reviews of Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor. I wasn't actually sure about this recommendation, because the books in this series have a bit more romance than my husband is normally looking for. But we had met Laini at KidLitCon, and he decided to give it a try. He enjoyed these books, and thinks that Laini is a fabulous writer. 

The Living by Matt de la Peña, as mentioned above. I read this book in pretty much a single sitting, deaf to everything going on around me, which made it an easy recommendation. We are both looking forward to the sequel. 

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey. I read this one on Kindle, which I later regretted, because I wasn't able to pass along my copy (I'm the only e-reader in our household right now). I waited for it come out in paperback, but finally gave up and bought him the hardcover for this past Christmas. He is reading it now. Here are my reviews of Book 1 and Book 2

I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones that stood out for the two of us. I know it looks like I've just shared the really popular titles with him. But in fact, it's more true that I only share books with him that truly stand out for me (and that I think he will enjoy). This has proven to be highly correlated with books that end up doing well. So, the next time I hand my spouse the first book of a new series I will let you know, and you'll know that it is likely to be successful. 

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


There Will Be Lies: Nick Lake

Book: There Will Be Lies
Author: Nick Lake
Pages: 464
Age Range: 12 and up

I think that There Will be Lies by Nick Lake is brilliant and suspenseful, though in the end I found it not quite my sort of thing. The title and bold cover alone are hard to resist. Here's the beginning of the book:

"I'm going to be hit by a car in about four hours, but I don't know that yet.

The weird thing is, it's not the car that's going to kill me, that's going to erase me from the world.

It's something totally different. Something that happens eight days from now and threatens to end the world.

My name is Shelby Jane Cooper--is, was, whatever.

I'm seventeen years old when the car crash happens.

This is my story. (Page 1, ARC)

I found Shelby's "real" story compelling. There's an Afterschool Special sort of vibe to one thread of the book (in a good way), as Shelby is lied to by, and ends up on the run with, her mother. It's clear from the beginning that things aren't quite normal in Shelby's world, but her first person perspective and limited experience mask the details. I was reminded a bit of Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff.

But there's also a parallel story in There Will Be Lies, in which Shelby intermittently finds herself in another world, one dominated by a character from Native American folklore (Coyote). There, Shelby has to help Coyote to save a child. There's a dreamy quality to these scenes (which occur, at first, only when Shelby is asleep). Lake ratchets up the suspense by switching between the real and magical worlds at cliffhangers. 

Personally, the juxtaposition of the two storylines - the two realities - didn't work well for me. I've never cared much for magical realism, and this had a similar feel to me. But I think that people who enjoy stories with alternate realities and/or about myths and legends will like it. 

I also liked that Shelby is differently abled, though I don't want to share the details, as this is one of the many things that the reader is left to figure out.

Shelby has a sarcastic, snarky voice, which take a bit of getting used to, but which I think teens will appreciate. Like this:

"She just grabs her bag and motions for me to follow. I sigh and shake my head, giving up. I have told her about those horrible pants so many times now, and she just doesn't listen. It's almost like she WANTS to look like a loser, so you know, shrug.

No, I take back the shrug. It does bother me.

Because it's just... it's just, she looks like a loser RIGHT NEXT TO ME." (Chapter 1, ARC)

But she has her profound moments, too. Like this:

"I look.

There, on the reddish wall of the rock, are little drawings scratched into the stone: deer, some kind of stag, geometric patterns. 

Despite myself, I feel something resonate inside me, a plucked string. More than a thousand years ago, someone scraped these pictures into being. A man with a spear. A gun." (Chapter 12, ARC)

She is, without question, a memorable character. 

There Will Be Lies is a great book for people who enjoy figuring out what's going on from obscure clues. I flagged quite a number of passages, things that I thought contained hints about the lies involving Shelby (and which I won't share here, because I don't want to give away any secrets). Just realize that it's not all straight-up mystery/thriller, but also involves a quest, a witch, and talking animals. There's a lot gong on in There Will Be Lies. And even though I didn't personally love it, I am confident that fans of Nick Lake's work (he won the Printz Award for In Darkness), as well as high school and public library purchasers, will not want to miss There Will Be Lies

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Soulprint: Megan Miranda

Book: Soulprint
Author: Megan Miranda
Pages: 368
Age Range: 12 and up

Soulprint by Megan Miranda is a compelling young adult thriller with a thought-provoking premise. Soulprint features an alternate reality in which scientists have discovered a way to uniquely identify souls. When someone dies, their soul is reborn in a new baby that day. This can be, and is, tracked, even though people do not retain memorize of the former lives of their souls. 17-year-old Alina Chase has spent her entire life as a prisoner, held captive by the sins of her soul's prior lifetime. When mysterious benefactors help her to escape, Alina must uncover a number of mysteries before she will have any chance to actually be free. 

I read Soulprint in just a couple of days, finding it a fast-paced and intriguing story. For the most part, I was reading quickly, to find out what would happen next to Alina (who spends much of the book in one form or peril or another). But I would sometimes stop and ponder the underlying questions posed by Miranda's world. If you could learn of the past lives that your soul had lived, would you want to? Would you leave anything behind for your future selves? How much of who we are is nature (inherent) vs. nurture? Would your soul recognize, and fall for, your true love, in a future life? Here's Alina:

"But I know that's impossible. Souls have no memory. But I wonder, for the first time, if they can still be drawn to each other. If we wander restlessly until we find one another again. If some of us are full of a yearning, driving us to keep moving, searching for something we can't quite name."  (Chapter 7, ARC)

I found Alina a plausible character. Living as a (relatively pampered) prisoner, with no close social ties, leaves her with a certain lack of social skills. She constantly scours her environment, looking for things that can be converted into weapons. But she is achingly vulnerable, too, wondering about her absent mother, and missing the one caretaker who was ever truly kind to her.

I also liked that Alina has an affinity for math and seeing patterns, while another female character is a top-notch hacker. These are young women who use their brains to solve complex, technical problems. Good stuff!

Beyond that, I will say no more. Soulprint is a story to experience without knowing too much about the details. Recommended for fans of speculative fiction and/or thrillers, particular books in which someone goes on the run. There is some violence, and also some romance, but the real story is Alina's figuring out things about herself. Soulprint is well worth a look!

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids) 
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


When: Victoria Laurie

Book: When
Author: Victoria Laurie
Pages: 336
Age Range: 13 and up

I resisted reading Victoria Laurie's When because the premise seemed to similar to that of another book I had already read (Numbers by Rachel Ward). In both books, a teenage girl has spent her life seeing a set of numbers whenever she looks at people. At some point in her childhood she has figured out that the numbers are the dates that people will die. This knowledge eventually gets her into unwitting trouble with the law, even though she is just trying to help people. Yeah, same premise.

But Leila Roy (who had also read Numbers) called When "entirely entertaining" anyway, and I decided to give it a go. And I'm glad I did. I found When to be the most fast-paced, engaging book that I've read in several months. I did NOT fall asleep when reading it in bed (as I do with almost everything lately), and I read the whole thing in 2 days. I was also irritated when people tried to talk to me when I was reading - always a sign that a book has my full attention. 

When features 16-year-old Maddie Fynn, daughter of a barely functioning alcoholic mother and a deceased cop father. Maddie is bright and hard-working, but also a bit of an outcast, bullied at school, and with only one friend, a geeky boy nicknamed Stubby. To keep her mother in vodka, she runs a little business telling people about their death dates. When she warns a woman that he son is expected to die next week, the woman responds badly. When the son disappears on his way home from school, on the appointed day, Maddie becomes a suspect, and is grilled by the FBI. Things rapidly spiral worse from there.

I'm not normally a fan of what I call the "hapless suspect" books - where someone ends up being investigated by the police for something that they clearly didn't do. But I was willing to give When a pass on this, because Maddie remained a strong character, and because the action was so suspenseful. There are one or two aspects of the book that I might quibble over, but I found the characterization in When strong, and the pacing excellent. I wasn't sure who the bad guy was until the end. There were a number of possibilities, and Laurie had me second-guessing all sorts of people's motives. She made me care about Maddie, and I had to keep reading to find out what happened to her.

I would recommend When more for high schoolers and adults than for middle schoolers. There are torture murders (though these occur offscreen), and the portrait of life with an alcoholic parent is fairly grim. The bullying to which Maddie is subjected is also pretty harsh (though probably not unrealistic). While generally a fast-paced thriller, I do think that When offers some food for discussion for parents and teens who co-read the book (Should you intervene when someone is being bullied? Is one's fate pre-determined?). 

I recommend When for anyone (teen or adult) looking for a fast-paced, intriguing mystery. If you haven't read Numbers, so much the better, but even if you have, When is a very different book, and well worth a look. I especially enjoyed the ending. 

Publisher: Disney Hyperion 
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin Trilogy): Robin LaFevers

Book: Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Book 3)
Author: Robin LaFevers
Pages: 464
Age Range: 13 and up

Mortal Heart is the final book in Robin LaFevers' fabulous His Fair Assassin trilogy. This installment is told from the viewpoint of Annith, fellow handmaiden to Death with prior protagonists Ismae and Sybella. As Mortal Hearts begins, Annith, who has spent her whole life preparing to serve the god Mortain, chafes at being kept at the convent, instead of being sent out on a mission as an assassin. When she learns that the Abbess intends to keep her at the convent forever, trained to be the Seeress who sends others out on missions, Annith rebels and escapes (though she still seeks to serve Mortain). Various adventures and revelations follow, as LaFevers brings the series to a conclusion.  

I found Mortal Heart to have a nice balance of action and introspection. Annith is insecure in many ways, consumed with understanding her own place in the world, but she's also strong and capable. Like this:

"Keeping the knife clenched in my hand, I look up at her and allow every bit of anger and frustration I am feeling to show in my eyes. She blinks and leans imperceptibly back. Good, I think, then smile, a movement so brittle it is a wonder my cheeks do not shatter." (Page 57)

"And there it is. The threat I have lived with my entire life. I I am not good enough, kind enough, thoughtful enough, obedient enough, I will be cast from my home like a stunted fish from a fisherman's net." (Page 61)

"It is a terrifying thing to cross the sea at night, but I tell myself it is exhilarating. There is nothing but the glimmer of moonlight to steer by, and the sharp salt-scented breeze from the sea whistles past my ears, bringing a faint spray to my face." (Page 83)

I was pulled slightly out of the story by a reference that Annith makes to being asked to "run interference", which seems to me to be a more modern term than would have been used in 1489.But aside from this minor quibble, I thought that LaFevers continued her excellent job overlaying a real historical world and characters with a fantasy involving gods and special powers. 

Mortal Heart has strong characters, a suspenseful, secret-filled plot, and an intriguing setting and premise. I found it to be a satisfying conclusion to a top-notch series. I highly recommend Mortal Heart for fans of the series. And, since the series is now complete, this would be a great time for new readers to immerse themselves in LaFevers' tale. 

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHBooks
Publication Date: November 4, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon and iBooks affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Infinite Sea: The Second Book of the 5th Wave: Rick Yancey

Book: The Infinite Sea: The Second Book of the 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey
Pages: 320
Age Range: 12 and up

The Infinite Sea is the second book in Rick Yancey's Fifth Wave series. The Infinite Sea begins a few days after the events of The Fifth Wave (STOP here if you have not read The Fifth Wave), as Cassie, Ben, and the remaining survivors from Ben's unit wait in a crumbling hotel to see if Evan Walker (human/alien hybrid) has survived the destruction of Camp Haven. Tough girl Ringer sets out on her own to assess some caves, where the team hopes to be able to hide and stay warm for winter. Given the bleak world of the Fifth Wave, it should come as no surprise to readers when danger and destruction find both parties.

The Infinite Sea is fast-paced and action-packed, set against a cold midwestern winter. A shocking prologue gives new insight into the depths to which the enemy will go to destroy the remaining humans. Answers to some of the questions left dangling at the end of the first book are gradually revealed, while others surface. A dangerous new enemy appears, as well as a potential love interest for Ringer. There are deaths, and there is one sexual interlude (though the details are decidedly vague, in a good way). The deaths are not as painful for readers as they might be, because Yancey's characterization is the tiniest bit thin, particularly for non-viewpoint characters. 

The Infinite Sea does suffer a little bit from middle book syndrome (is that a formal thing?). The premise isn't as exciting as it was in the first book, yet things also are not fully wrapped up. This is, to some extent, inevitable. I think that Yancey managed the pitfalls pretty well, including dropping one significant bombshell near the end of the book. and leaving readers with one happy surprise. 

I don't tend to flag as many passages when I read on Kindle as when I read in print, but here are a couple of highlights:

"It was simple. It was complex. It was savage; it was elegant. It was a dance; it was a war. It was finite and eternal. It was life." (Chapter 8, Ringer musing on chess)

"It's all connected. The Others understood that, understood it better than most of us. No hope without faith, no faith without hope, no love without trust, no trust without love. Remove one and the entire human house of cards collapses." (Chapter 12, Cassie)

"He abandoned any attempt at stealth and hit the highway, loping down the center of the road, a solitary figure under the immensity of a leaden sky. A murder of crows a thousand strong whipped an wheeled over him, heading north." (Chapter 27)

As these passages show, The Infinite Sea isn't all action. It's also a book that asks (though it doesn't always answer) profound questions. The questions are why I have been eager for Book 2 ever since finishing Book 1. I was not disappointed. 

The Infinite Sea is a book that you shouldn't start unless you have a clear chunk of time in which to utterly immerse yourself. And you certainly shouldn't start it unless you have read The Fifth Wave first. In fact, I listened to The Fifth Wave immediately prior to reading The Infinite Sea, so that all of the details would be fresh for me. I have no doubt that this contributed to my enjoyment of The Infinite Sea. I look forward to the final book. 

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (@PenguinTeen) 
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon and iBooks affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Blue Lily, Lily Blue: Maggie Stiefvater

Book: Blue Lily, Lily Blue
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Pages: 400
Age Range: 12 and up

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle Quartet. Although I am a huge fan of Stiefvater's novels, I had a bit of a mixed reaction to this book. I adore Stiefvater's writing - her ability to come up with just the right turn of phrase. I flagged many passages of Blue Lily, Lily Blue

And yet... It took me three weeks to read this book, which is a very long time for me. Part of this was because I didn't take it with me when I went away for KidLitCon. But most of this was because I would fall asleep every night after reading just a few pages. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is a lovely character study, but the plotting is a bit slow-paced. Usually when this happens - when I am falling asleep repeatedly over a book, and thus not getting any reading done - I will abandon the book. I never considered abandoning Blue Lily, Lily Blue, because I did enjoy the characters and the writing quality, but I was, at least in part, relieved when I finally finished it. 

Anyway, Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the latest installment of Stiefvater's Raven Cycle, after The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves. (Spoilers here for books 1 and 2.) School is about to begin for Blue Sargent as well as for her friends from the nearby Aglionby private school. Blue's mother is missing, her mother's hit man boyfriend Mr. Gray is under threat from his former employer, and the chemistry between Blue and Richard Gansey III (aka Gansey) is building. Their friends Adam, Ronan and (ghost) Noah are fighting their own demons, literal and metaphorical.

The teens, with some assistance from Blue's relatives, Mr. Gray, and a Welsh professor with anxiety issues, seek to find Blue's mother, now tied to their quest to find the Welsh King, Glendower (whom they believe has been sleeping somewhere nearby for 600 years). Adam is channeling Cabeswater (a magical forest), and Ronan is bringing things from Cabeswater to life via his dreams, and struggling to better understand his gift. Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Ronan are closer than they've ever been, despite some romantic and interpersonal conflicts. 

There is a lot going on in Blue Lily, Lily Blue. And yet, Stiefvater takes her time, delving in detail into actions and motivations. She has constructed a odd world, the mystical overlapping and intertwining with the real, peopled with characters who are each extraordinary. I flagged many passages - here are a couple of favorites:

"The students kept coming in. Adam kept watching. He was good at this part, the observing of others. It was himself that he couldn't seem to study or understand. How he despised them, how he wanted to be them. How pointless to summer in Maine, how much he wanted to do it. How affected he found their speech, how he coveted their lazy monotones. He couldn't tell how all of these things could be equally true." (Page 80)

"She tossed the knife into the sink, where it would remain until it died. Piper was not much for housework. She had a very narrow skill set. She drifted toward the bedroom, on her way to have a bath or take a nap or start a war." (Page 87)

"Then she smiled as if the woman had already helped her. If there was one thing Blue had learned while being a waitress and dog walker and Maura Sargent's daughter, it was that people generally became the kind of person you expected them to be." (Page 107)

Despite the pacing being, for me, a bit slow, I do think that fans of Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle will enjoy Blue Lily, Lily Blue. There are some intriguing revelations as Blue and her raven boys continue their quest to find Glendower. Every character (including those not quite human for one reason or another) stands out, crisply drawn against a dream-filled world. If you haven't read any of the books in the series yet, my advice would be to wait until all four books are available, and immerse yourself in the world of Aglionby and Glendower. But if, like me, you can't resist pulling Blue Lily, Lily Blue onto your lap the moment it arrives, well, enjoy!

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: October 21, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon and iBooks affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).