Review: Any Second by Kevin Emerson

Is it fate that brings Eli and Maya together? Or is it just luck? Either way, it’s life-changing for both of them. Each dealing with their own version of trauma, they’re thrown together under the most unlikely of circumstances.

Eli is truly a victim. Kidnapped at a young age, he’s currently on a mission from his abductor – walk into the mall with explosives strapped to his chest and get redemption from all who have done the world wrong.

Maya is a victim of another sort. She’s a victim of her own anxiety. Hair pulling, skin tearing, sinking deep within herself…this is how she deals. She’s also at the mall that day, keeping her dad company while he gets a new driver’s license to complement his new life.

When their paths cross, neither of their lives will ever be the same. You see, Maya’s the one who sees Eli. She’s the one who notices something amiss. And she’s the one who decides to save not only everyone around her but also Eli himself.

Fast forward several months…Eli is trying to get back to a normal life, whatever that is. And Maya is still dealing with her anxiety, made understandably worse with her close encounter with death. And they meet again, this time when Eli transfers to Maya’s school. They’re drawn to each other, understandably. Will Maya be able to save Eli a second time? And will Eli be able to save Maya as well?

This is a very intense book starting from the first page. Heartbreaking at times, uplifting and hopeful at others, it’s the story of what can happen when we open our doors and let others in.

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Any Second

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Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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For a long time, young adult novels pretty much ran the gamut from surviving a bully to falling in everlasting love.  Thankfully times have changed somewhat.  Today’s authors are giving us stories full of believable characters, not just those who fit into a stereotypical mold of the perfect teenager.

Libby has A LOT of things going against her.  She’s overweight, significantly so.  She’s never had a boyfriend.  Her mom is dead.  She’s been homeschooled for the past several years and is way out of touch with the high school scene. She has no friends and has been bullied in the past.  And, oh yeah, she achieved national notoriety when she had to be cut out of her house because of her weight.

But she also has a lot going for her.  She has a loving father.  She’s lost a ton of weight since that infamous incident.  She’s funny, kind, smart, and resilient as all get out.  And she’s back in school after so many years away.  Of course there are struggles, but Libby’s up for the challenge.

And then there’s Jack.  As one of the popular, cool kids he’s the exact opposite of Libby on the outside.  But he has his problems and insecurities, too.  His swagger and confidence comes from a place of insecurity and shame.  He’s covering up a secret that he’ll do anything to protect.

Although Jack and Libby seem to have nothing in common, they’re unwillingly thrown together as the result of a cruel prank.  They find friendship first, and then something more.  Is it possible that two such different people can actually be happy together?

This is kind of a sappy romance book, which I’m usually not a fan of.  But I loved Libby’s spunk and her spirit.  She’s strong and confident as she flies in the face of everyone’s idea of the perfect teenager.  I would only wish that all young girls could have such confidence.  It’s very good most of the time.  Granted, there are parts of the story that were highly unbelievable for me just because I know how society treats people who are different.   It’s certainly something to wish for, though.

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  Holding Up the Universe

 

Review: Meet Me at Willoughby Close by Kate Hewitt

A Cotswold Christmas introduced this series, but you can certainly read Willoughby Close as a standalone. Willoughby Close is a little collection of charming cottages on a large estate of a lovely royal-ish elderly lady. I have a feeling a collection of charming people will inhabit them all by the time the series is finished! 

For now, we meet Ellie and her daughter Abby. Ellie has a new job at the University, and Abby is looking forward to making a fresh start where friends are concerned. 

I so love how Hewitt wrote professor Oliver — the guy  Ellie works for. He’s nerdy and introverted and stays true to himself. Hewitt did a phenomenal job developing Ellie, as well. Ellie is a little nervous and quirky, and she’s quite unsure of herself most of the time. That could be annoying, but not here. Hewitt made her real and relatable. I like Ellie’s mom side and her romantic side – she appears to the reader as a whole fleshed out character with different facets – just like a pal in real life!  

I also really like how the new neighbors moved in and they’ll be the focus of the next book in the series. And how the Close’s superintendent is a flirt! This is a fun read that touches on some harrowing issues in just the right way. 

-calliope 

Buy MEET ME AT WILLOUGHBY CLOSE

Review: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

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I can’t remember the last time I read a book with such a fitting title.  I mean, when you’re talking about navigating the world of high school as a confused and misguided teenager,  it truly does become the most dangerous place on earth.

The story really begins a few years before.  Something very tragic happened in middle school.  And while certain people were definitely to blame, very few will admit it.  Fast forward to high school.  Same kids, different problems. Switching back and forth between several characters, we hear it all.  Bullying, both face to face and online.  Drug and alcohol use.  Hooking up.  Hooking up with teachers.  Being ignored by parents.  Just because your parents are loaded doesn’t make these problems, and a myriad of others, any less damaging. Some people are resilient and able to move on.  Some people pretend they’re okay but they aren’t really.  Who you are in high school and what you choose to do can determine the rest of your life.

This story is dark. It’s depressing.  And it leaves little hope for the state of the American teenager in today’s world. But it’s also very realistic as much as parents and other adults might want to think otherwise.  The issues presented are happening.  Maybe not all at the same time and in the same school but still.

I must also caution that, although this is described as a young adult book, I would leave it for older and more mature teens only.

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Review: Edge the Bare Garden by Roseanne Cheng

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So this book completely flew under my radar.  None of my friends have read it, it hasn’t been seen on any high profile lists…but for some reason it caught my eye.  The cover’s beautiful, without a doubt.  But the blurb is haunting and full of promise.

Agnes is an “Out.”  Not only does she not belong to any group at school, she often finds herself the object of everyone’s ridicule.  Some of the teasing is blatant, but most of it is subtle.  She doesn’t make things any easier with her reactions, though.  Rather than try to get along with the other kids, she seems to go out of her way to incite them.  Sure, she’s an easy target with her messy hair and weird clothes and strange mom and rundown house and all that.  But it does bother her.  And when the opportunity for revenge presents itself, she seizes it.  Suddenly everyone’s attention is focused on an anonymous blog. Every day they log on to see just which one of them is next to have their deepest darkest secrets revealed.  What will it take to stop Agnes, and just who can do it?

I loved this book for many reasons.  The subject matter is relevant and hugely important in today’s world.  The author deftly shows that everyone has something to hide, even those who are “Ins”.  And mostly, I loved that the story was told by a nameless somebody.  Just another student waiting to fall victim to Agnes’ wrath.  That nameless person could be anybody, and that’s the point of the story to me.

How far is too far when teasing is concerned?  What role does each person play?  Where does personal responsibility enter the picture?  And how easily could it be stopped if you just took the time to talk to someone?  These are all questions raised in this outstanding little sleeper novel.  Read it, give it to a teenager you love, and then talk about it.

~Thalia

Buy It Now:  Edge the Bare Garden

Review: How to Keep Rolling After a Fall by Karole Cozz0

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When I read Karole Cozzo’s debut novel, How to Say I Love You Out Loud, I knew I was on to something good.  So it was with great anticipation I began her new release.   And I just love when I can pass along five-star gems to other readers…

Nikki messed up big time, and she knows it.  After a party (unauthorized) at her house, pictures of a classmate end up on social media. And let’s just say these aren’t your average selfies.  Does it matter that she didn’t actually take and post the pictures?  Not really.  It was, after all, her house and her Facebook account.  Her punishment wouldn’t have been as hard to take if her friends hadn’t thrown her under the bus and left her to take all the blame.

A disappointment to her family and herself, she finds herself an outcast at her old school as well as at her new school.  She resigns herself to just getting by, not calling anymore attention to herself and making do until the end of the year.  But friendships do happen, and love interests do come along.  Nikki’s finding it harder and harder to forgive herself and to move on.  Will she be able to make amends and move forward?

This story takes a very real, very tough look at a topic very much in the headlines these days.  Where does personal responsibility begin and end?  Are you just as much to blame if you just stand by and watch? And how long does it take to earn back the trust of those you’ve disappointed the most?  Another outstanding story from this author!

~Thalia

~Buy It Now:  How to Keep Rolling After a Fall

 

Review: Stained by Cheryl Rainfield

20140725-085358-32038195.jpgI’m a sucker for young adult books,especially those with a strong female protagonist. And when a book comes highly recommended from a friend, it’s a must read for me.

Sarah has had a hard life. Although she comes from a solid and loving family, a large port wine stain on her face has made her the subject of stares, giggles, rejection, and teasing for as long as she can remember. She’s created her own little world with a couple of select friends and her passion for reading and writing comic books. Still, she longs for a somewhat normal life where people will look past her appearance. Then everything changes when she becomes the victim of an abduction. As she tries to escape her captor, she finds herself examining her beliefs and drawing upon inner strength she didn’t know that she had.

This is a book about many things. It’s about teasing and bullying, going far beyond the normal teenage stuff. It’s about being strong at heart while still being vulnerable to both words and actions. And it’s about standing up for yourself and others, even when the world around you makes it hard.

This one was a tough read. It doesn’t sugarcoat the horrors that Sarah went through, and the descriptions are pretty graphic. However, it’s not meant to be a rose-colored glasses kind of story. In order to appreciate Sarah’s strength and resilience, you really have to feel her experiences. Still, use caution if choosing this book for younger readers. Although it was a book that I couldn’t put down, it was highly disturbing at times.

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Stained