Book Review: Mean Girls by Micol Ostow

Mean Girls
Micol Ostow
Based on the Screenplay by Tina Fey
Scholastic Inc., September 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-08756-7
Hardcover

I’m not pleased to admit that I picked up Mean Girls with preconceived notions and possibly an internal sigh.  Yes, girls can be despicable, particularly during the terrible teens; and sure, for so many students, high school certainly sucks.  Both truly important topics, but how many ways can that be covered?

Well.

This book is based on a screenplay, a unique concept for me; mostly certainly nothing I’ve read yet.  Oh, and said screenplay was written by Ms. Tina Fey.  I am a fan.

Turns out, this tantalizing twist of transition is not the only tweak on a traditional tale.  There is, indeed, a new facet of this oft admired gem.  Some may say high school is like a jungle, but Cady could quickly squash that simile. Born, raised and home-schooled in Africa by her scientist-parents; the jungle, she understands.   However violent and messy it may appear, there are absolute rules.  Law of the land, yes; but clearly defined with potential consequences equally easy to assess.

Nothing is apparent or effortlessly understood in this American high school.   Well, sure the “no green ink” and absurd requirement to obtain permission to use the restroom; but absolutely absent is any advice about interaction among the species. Cady realizes, of course, that if she wants to fit in, she will need to observe and mimic.

But first, does she want to fit in?  If so, with which group?  Unsolicited answers are offered up, different questions are asked, and in no time, Cady is in the thick of things.  With the support of two obvious outcasts, she attempts to take on typical teen traits and immerse herself in the adolescent atmosphere.   Much like a jungle kitten on a muddy, slippery, slope; Cady is soon over her head and seemingly all alone.

Because Mean Girls plays out from pivoting point-of-views, the whole picture emerges as if puzzle pieces are studied, sorted then clicked into place, perfectly.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2017.

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Book Reviews: Run by Kody Keplinger and Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

Run
Kody Keplinger
Scholastic Press, July 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-83113-0
Hardcover

To say that Agnes and Bo are polar opposites would be grossly overstating their similarities….at least at first glance.  It is difficult to imagine what the serene, docile blind girl would discuss with the most promiscuous wild-child in the small southern town.  It is initially inconceivable that the two would form a bond built on trust and whole-hearted acceptance.  Run isn’t a SnapChat view of two teenagers’ lives.  Ms. Keplinger uses a wide lens to clearly capture the vast and complicated contributing factors that affect not only how other people see the girls; but also their own perceptions of themselves.

That is not to say, however, that this is a dark and heavy tome.  Contrarily, I found this to be immediately irresistible and I ended up reading the book in one day.   It is so easy to become immersed, then invested in a story that is told from two points of view.  Ms. Keplinger spins the tale in that fashion, with a fantastic little tense twist.  True to her very core, Bo’s side of the story is happening right now, present tense, in your face—exactly the way she lives her life.  Agnes takes us back—remembering, yes….but also, considering and contemplating.

While I hesitate to use comparisons in reviews, I genuinely feel that I would be remiss if I did not say: this story, to me, feels important in an Eleanor and Park kind of way.  Although it is undeniably Bo and Agnes’ story; their parents do play a key role.  Just like the teens; adults can be guilty of making and sticking to snap judgments.  Also alongside adolescents; adults have plenty of room to grow.  I’ve no doubt Run will have mass appeal in the YA world and I’m pretty confident that there are plenty of Not-So-Young Adults that will dig it, too.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2016.

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Death in the Tunnel
A British Library Crime Classic
Miles Burton
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-4642-0581-1
Trade Paperback

First of all, a short synopsis: Sir Wilfred Saxonby dies as he takes the five o’clock train home. He’s in a locked compartment, shot through the heart by one bullet, the pistol that fired it under his own seat. His death seems straightforward enough, the only odd thing being the fact the train was traveling through a long tunnel at the time. A very noisy, very dark tunnel. And there were the mysterious lights the engineer and fireman saw on the tracks, changing from red, which slowed the train, to green again, when the train sped up.

Was Sir Wilfred’s death suicide, or was it murder?

That is the question posed to Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard. Terribly puzzled himself, Arnold calls in Desmond Merrion, an amateur expert on criminology. Together they set out to discover the truth in this convoluted plot.

See. No spoilers.

Death in the Tunnel was first published in 1936, the author contemporaneous with Agatha Christie. The plot plods, in my most humble opinion, although the premise is classically intriguing. The characters never really come alive, composed, for the most part, of talking heads. I never really see them. The action, what there is of it, seems constrained. Nobody, even the dead man’s children, seems to care all that much.

Writing styles come and go. Perhaps the British version of that day was more stilted, although Christie, Sayers, Creasey, among others, always struck me a writers of good stories. American author Mabel Seeley, from the same era, brought the reader into her characters’ world, always with a sense of danger involved.

As a puzzle concept, Death in the Tunnel, delivers. As a rousing good story, I can only say, “Not for me.”

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan and Longbow Girl by Linda Davies

Eden Summer
Liz Flanagan
David Fickling Books, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-12120-9
Hardcover

Words are influential, able to constructively and destructively affect both the speaker and the audience. Final words feel eerily efficacious; especially when there is absolutely no expectation that they are indeed, last words. Vicious, venomous verbalizations can compound an already catastrophic event. In and of itself, crippling in its cruel randomness; devastating and gut-wrenching when choked with guilt.

A cloud of culpability completely cloaked the sun inside of Eden just as its rays tentatively began to reach out again.  Regret remained whenever she recalled begging her bestie, Jess, to walk her to the bus stop in a dismal downpour months ago.  Of course, she did not commit the heinous hate-crime, nor could she have stopped it; but that knowledge isn’t enough to alleviate feeling at fault.

Being the best nurse-cheerleader-therapist-buddy that she could be, Eden was instrumental in Jess’s healing and found that she was also helping herself move forward and focus on the important matters.  After all, she is a normal teen girl and she did catch the eye of the admittedly adorable Liam that Jess was always talking about.

Liam and Jess, comfortable chums and coffee-shop coworkers, both love Eden with the all-encompassing, unconditional, wholly-heart-felt love of fierce friendship. The bond built from “…looking after Eden all summer.” seems strong enough to support Eden indefinitely, until she disappears.  Will their devotion, even when paired with resilient determination and dogged belief, be enough to find Eden?

“She’d gone inside herself, somewhere a long way down, and I didn’t know how to follow.”

Wonderfully woven with stunning, unique, yet complimentary, threads; Eden Summer is a familiar, but fresh fabric.  Ms. Flanagan’s finesse in tackling two terrifying topics results in a relatable, engaging read that is as enjoyable as it is significant. Fast-paced with flashbacks filling in details, the story quickly captivates and keeps hold, even after “the end”.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2017.

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Longbow Girl
Linda Davies
Chicken House, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85345-3
Hardcover

One of the coolest things about Longbow Girl is that while the events happen in present day, one character lives in an actual castle and another on a working farm; so it feels a bit like it is set in the past.  A pretty groovy way of lending an authentic feel to a story entrenched in history.

When an old tomb is inadvertently uncovered, Merry discovers an old book that appears to be one of the tomes from the Middle Welsh collection known as Mabinogion.  Although some folks believe whole-heartedly that the narratives are filled with truths, many others insist there are only myths.  Either way, there is no argument as to the value of the text.  Merry’s find may be the very thing to save the farm that has been the life and heart of her family for more than seven hundred years.

Of course there are challenges with having the artifact authenticated and obstacles in the way of proving it was found on her family’s land.  Weighing heavier than the legal red tape is the unshakable feeling that disturbing the grave will exact a higher price than the book could bring.  Nothing about this “solution” is sure or easy.

Fortunately, Merry is vibrant, fierce, cunning, and strong.  Often, a heroine struggles to come to terms; drum up courage to conquer that which seems insurmountable. Merry does not.  It’s not that she’s oblivious.   For her, doing the right thing is intuitive.  She is aware of the risks and possible loss, personally; but that is of small consequence when compared to the potential greater good for the masses.

Longbow Girl is a spectacular smash-up of Historical Fiction, Action and Adventure, Mystery and Suspense, with a shot of Science Fiction that features heroes, heroines and horses and touches on relatable social issues, family feuds and friendships.  And that’s just a few of the things that I dearly loved about it.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2016.

Book Review: Riding Chance by Christine Kendall

Riding Chance
Christine Kendall
Scholastic Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-92404-7
Hardcover

Troy is adrift and in danger of falling into that trap created when grief is compounded by lack of a caring parent to turn things around. His mom died not long ago and his father is still too wrapped up in his own loss and sorrow to intervene. When Troy gets the blame for a cellphone theft that should have been dropped on Lay-Lay, the crime-spree-in-the-making on his Philadelphia street, he’s less than thrilled at the community service assigned to him and his best friend Foster.

As often happens, what initially seems like a punishment and a total downer, becomes a whole new way of looking at life with some amazing skills attached. The boys are assigned to an equestrian program in the large city park not far from their homes. Troy’s initial impression is that horses are uncomfortable and smelly. However, he’s interested right off by Alisha, a very pretty girl who is his age and is already quite comfortable with the horses.

It turns out they have something in common-grief and loss. Winston, a former professional polo player who runs the program, is Alisha’s uncle and took her in after her parents died. Despite his initial unease around horses, Troy soon realizes that when he’s with them, especially Chance, the horse he’s assigned to ride and care for, he feels more alive and at peace. In fact, there are times when he’s grooming her or riding when he feels almost like he did before his mother died.

Despite his growing comfort with Chance and a realization by almost everyone involved that he’s a natural around horses and has great potential as a budding polo player, Troy can’t lose his hard edge. That’s sharpened by an encounter outside his house with police that goes badly, as well as his inability to be open with anyone about how he really feels. This increased mistrust and alienation threaten his newfound love of horses and excitement about becoming a member of the polo team. It takes the adults around him and Alisha, as well as his best friend confronting him, coupled with a very frightening incident at a polo exhibition for Troy to realize that he’s not much different than those around him.

The dialect takes a chapter or so to get comfortable with, but after that, the story becomes a seamless and engrossing read. I finished it in less than two hours. Both adults and teens/tweens will really identify with the way Troy feels, how he’s his own worst enemy and the way he comes through a better person. A great book for inner city schools and libraries, but a really good one for any library where diversity in the collection is important.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Book Review: In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman

in-case-you-missed-itIn Case You Missed It
Sarah Darer Littman
Scholastic Press, October 2016
ISBN: 978-0-545-90437-7
Hardcover

What teen doesn’t privately criticize their friends? After all, they’re going through major changes that are accompanied by mood swings, major insecurity and self-doubt. In other words, mental squirrel-cage territory. What they don’t expect is every single one of their thoughts, crushes, annoyances and feelings to be hijacked and posted online where everyone affected can see and react, not to mention receiving a barrage of Twitter and Facebook snark from people they’ve never met.

Welcome to Sammy Wallach’s new reality. She’s psyched about the end of her junior year, doing things with her besties, getting her driver’s license and hoping to go to prom with Jamie Moss, the boy she’s drooled over for ages. Unfortunately, the bank her father manages has been picketed by some pretty aggressive protesters, who have now started camping next to the building. When Dad and the board call in police to remove them, someone hacks the bank’s computer system. What does this have to do with Sammy? She kept a diary on her laptop that was backed up on the family server. The hackers hit that as well and now everything she wrote about friends, her fantasies and even rules she broke when she and her two friends went to a club to see a band, something her parents had expressly forbidden, is now online for the world to read.

Add to that her realization, courtesy of some of her father’s emails now exposed, that her parents, who have been extremely strict, are far from perfect, and she’s not only humiliated, but very angry.

This is the point where the story could have turned totally cliché. Instead, the author pulls you alongside Sammy as she guts it out. In the process, she finds new and pretty cool friends, a boy much better than her crush, strength to deal with an unexpected family tragedy, a stronger and mutually respectful relationship with her younger brother and a realization that she survived what, at first, seemed unthinkable.

This is a great read for teens who like a quirky, but relatable story of teen disaster and family chaos. I’d suggest it to all libraries as an acquisition.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2016.

Book Review: This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

This Raging LightThis Raging Light
Estelle Laure
HMH Books for Young Readers, December 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-53429-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Lucille Bennett is pushed into adulthood after her mom decides to “take a break”…from parenting, from responsibility, from Lucille and her little sister, Wren.  Left to cover for her absentee parents, Lucille thinks, “Wren and Lucille. Lucille and Wren. I will do whatever I have to. No one will pull us apart.”

Now is not the time for level-headed Lucille to fall in love. But love—messy, inconvenient love—is what she’s about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend’s brother. With blazing longing that builds to a fever pitch, Estelle Laure’s soulful debut will keep readers hooked and hoping until the very last page.

Having coffee (a smoothie in my case) with a friend last week, I told her about this book I’d just finished reading for the second time. I’m not talking about the usual kind of re-read that you might do months or years after the first time; this was immediately following my first read and that’s unheard of for me. I only very rarely re-read and never immediately but I guess I can’t claim that anymore.

So, why did I have a need to re-read right away? It’s because I was so consumed by outrage that I had to find out if it was just because of the initial shock or if my outrage was real. It was indeed real and still roiling in my innards, so to speak. I’m appalled that any parent could walk away from her own children without any concern for what would happen to them and my feelings about this mother are even stronger because I know this happens in real life.

The story opens on Day 14 since Lu’s mother left, supposedly on a brief “break” and Lu is becoming more and more panicked as she begins to realize that the woman—hard to call her a mother—is probably not coming back. That compounds the devastation of losing her father to a mental breakdown and the level of narcissism both of these parents display is amazing. They prove the point that some people should never have children.

This is also a story of the deep bonds between siblings, in particular Lu and Wren but also Lu’s best friend, Eden, and her twin brother, Digby, and the four of them pretty much save the day, with a little help from….who? Certainly Lu’s boss and her co-worker and friend, Shane, go above and beyond but someone else is really helping behind the scenes.

A troubled romance plays a part in Lu’s story but it doesn’t overwhelm the core of the tale, the ability of a girl to overcome great adversity and heartache with a little help from those who really do care. In the end, I’m still outraged but I also am left with a feeling of hope and belief in the goodness of most people.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2016.

Book Review: The Society by Jodie Andrefski

The Society Tour Banner

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Title: The Society
Author: Jodie Andrefski
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Genres: General Fiction, Young Adult

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The SocietyThe Society
Jodie Andrefski
Entangled Teen, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-63375-318-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Welcome to Trinity Academy’s best-kept secret.

The Society.

You’ve been handpicked by the elite of the elite to become a member. But first you’ll have to prove your worth by making it through Hell Week.

Do you have what it takes?

It’s time to find out.

Samantha Evans knows she’d never get an invite to rush the Society―not after her dad went to jail for insider trading. But after years of relentless bullying at the hands of the Society’s queen bee, Jessica, she’s ready to take down Jessica and the Society one peg at a time from the inside out.

All it’ll take is a bit of computer hacking, a few fake invitations, some eager rushees…and Sam will get her revenge.

Let the games begin.

Teen bullying has become more widely talked about in the last few years than ever before, rightfully so, and many young adult novels have focused on the topic. This is a good thing because it helps shine a light on a serious problem but making such novels fresh and different has come to be more difficult as time goes by. It’s similar to some other book themes that seem to lose their punch as too many authors and publishers jump on the bandwagon,

Sam has suffered at the hands of a former friend, Jessica, and Jessica’s treatment of Sam can’t be justified in any way even though the reason behind it is understandable. Sam’s eventual decision to take revenge, on Jessica and on the school’s higher society, is at the core of the problem for me because, to my mind, Sam becomes every bit as mean-spirited and unlikeable as Jessica.

The Society is well-written, don’t get me wrong, but I had trouble empathizing with Sam once she set out on this path to get even although I fully understand the realities of human nature and the desire to get back at the people who’ve hurt us. Although I think this is a good book, I just didn’t quite connect with Sam or her story but I think many other readers will.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2016.

About the Author

Jodie AndrefskiJodie Andrefski lives in a tiny town in PA that no one has ever heard of with her teenage daughter. She received her BS in Secondary English Education from Penn State, then taught a few years before changing focus and going back to school for her Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling.

Andrefski always loved both reading and writing, and wrote for several websites and magazines before deciding to write novels. She writes YA Contemporary, most of which involves at least some kissing. The Society is her second novel with Entangled Teen.

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