Our Latest News and Reviews:

Mafia Girl - YA Review by Perrin S


Reader: Perrin S.
Age: 16
Title: Mafia Girl
Author: Deborah Blumenthal
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Pub Date: 03/01/14
Galley: Yes
Top 25: No
Convince us to read the book: The characters in this book fell flat and weren't emotionally deep or interesting. The plot was hardly ever backed up by good reasons and most things seemed to happen because "the plot Demands it." The love story was painful - two characters with no chemistry were pushed together in such an awkward way that I cringed when they were together. Also the author has an annoying tendency to explain things way too much, and never lets the story tell them.
Memorable or Forgettable: This book lacked interesting plots or ideas. A large part of the story had no action or emotionally interesting scenes. Although the concept of the book is intriguing, it needed more work before it should have been published.
Cover: No. It didn't tempt me. What tempted me was the title and the cover didn't really have anything else to offer. Though it does look well done and reflects the story well, it really had no impact on whether I read the book or not.
Age Range: 14 through 17
Quality: 2Q Needs more work
Popularity: 3P Some teen appeal


tags:  coming of age / high school drama / mafia / ya lit



Tabula Rasa - YA Review by Aiden J


Reader: Aiden J.
Age: 14
Title: Tabula Rasa
Author: Kristen Lippert-Martin
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Pub Date: 09/23/14
Galley: Yes
Top 25: No
Convince us to read the book: Overall, this book was very entertaining and has a good plot line. Once I started the book I couldn't put it down. The imagery in the book was very well done.
Memorable or Forgettable: The book was memorable because it has an amazing mix of action, mystery, and adventure.
Cover: The cover of the book made me want to pick it up, but it doesn't reflect the contents.
Age Range: 12 through 17
Quality: 4Q Better than most
Popularity: 4P Broad general teen appeal


tags:  science fiction / dystopian / action / suspense / ya lit



Barbarian Lord - YA Review by Veronica K


Reader: Veronica K.
Age: 13
Title: Barbarian Lord
Author: Matt Smith
Publisher: Clarion Books
Pub Date: 07/01/14
Galley: Yes
Top 25: No
Convince us to read the book: The characters were not relatable. They seemed to just exist, not really have a life and personality. The plot was very good at not existing in any way. The dialogue did not work. Not very well done.
Memorable or Forgettable: This was really just stupid. There was no real life to this book. It really went in one eye and out the other.
Cover: It was there. Yeah.
Age Range: Under 12
Quality: 2Q Needs more work
Popularity: 3P Some teen appeal
Additional CommentsThis, if published, will probably earn a few points because it is by Matt Smith.


tags:  graphic novel / sword and sorcery / Vikings / Nordic lore / ya lit



The Whispering Skull - YA Review by Rayna Grace C


Reader: Rayna Grace C.
Age: 15
Title: Lockwood & Co., Book 2 The Whispering Skull
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Pub Date: 09/16/14
Galley: Yes
Top 25: Yes
Convince us to read the book: “WELL [JONATHAN STROUD] SURE KNOWS HOW TO MAKE AN IRRITATINGLY PERFECT CLIFFHANGER, NOW DOESN’T HE? UGH. I AM SO DISGUSTED RIGHT NOW.”      - Me, said to an empty room at 3:00 AM after finishing The Whispering Skull

     I am not sure if I have been living under a rock or accidentally joined some sort of cult that banned British authors, but I had never heard of Jonathan Stroud until about a month ago. After reading the first two installments of the Lockwood & Co. series, I am definitely adding all his works onto my "To Read" list.
     Now, my only disclaimer for potential readers is this: If you like ghost stories that make you so afraid that you keep the lights on at night for three weeks straight, these are not really the books for that. I would compare this series more to a mystery/crime novel, where ghosts just so happen to be both the victims and perpetrators of crimes, rather than the nail-biting campfire tale you might expect.
     I admire this series because it is not just about this crime-solving trio and their slowly changing relationships with one another, or the impossible situations awaiting for these unsuspecting heroes once they walk into each haunted house, or even about the strangeness of each ghost and the story surrounding their death; this series combines all of those elements and builds a multi-faceted story with them. I cannot stress enough how important it is for any sort of book, YA or otherwise, to combine and emphasize all literary elements equally.
     Also, I really dig the fact that Lucy is more protective of George in this book than in the first, describing him more like an actual human being and less like a pile of spoiled sausage. Even though every time Lucy made a rude comment about her comrade in The Screaming Staircase I laughed really hard, I always silently pitied George because I relate to his awkwardness, mismatched clothes, unfortunate face and all. Furthermore, this character development proves that even though Lucy is quick to judge and slow to trust, once she decides to befriend an individual she is completely loyal to them. In other words, this tells the reader that a) George is not, in fact, a pile of spoiled sausage and b) Lucy is a kind person, despite the aggressive way she describes herself.
     I really am not sure where I should end this since I have no cons to list in this review, so I will just say I will be happily waiting for the third book in this series (hopefully I will see it in the collection room..?) and in the meantime I will be trying to find other novels like it.
Memorable or Forgettable: This book was memorable for me personally because it was the first book in a series I have found in the collection room that I have wholeheartedly enjoyed. This book had very detailed descriptions and realistic characters, yet was surprisingly laid-back in the delivery of the plot development (I mean this in the most endearing, lovable way possible).  This meant the reader could feel engaged and intrigued while reading the book, but if they were forced to set the book down for dinner it would throw them into a white-hot rage (do not think this is a ridiculous occurrence in my household, I have gotten myself into more than one argument because I was interrupted while reading). The Whispering Skull was one of the only books I have liked where I did not feel as if I was being held hostage by suspense, which was one of the most uniquely relaxing book experiences ever.  Overall, this series is just really solid from every angle and I respect that. Keep doing what you’re doing, guys.
Cover: I like the cover for this book generally speaking, considering it was the main reason I checked the book out in the first place (skulls and green smoke are definitely promising when looking for a creepy fantasy/mystery novel.) However, I want the cover of this book to be created by the same artist (or someone with a similar style, if they are too busy or something) as the first novel because as strange as it sounds, three days before I checked out The Whispering Skull from the collection room in the Metropolitan State Library, I had ordered The Screaming Staircase from my local library after hearing about it on Tumblr (I had to repeat the title and author in my head as I was walking to the library since I could not find a pen, so I had the facts ingrained in my mind) and yet when I checked out The Whispering Skull, I had no idea that it was the sequel to the book I had just ordered. Now, I like to think that I am not a complete blubbering idiot when it comes to making everyday connections like this, but the cover threw me off so much I did not even consider the brother novels to be related. If anything, they looked like second cousins. This needs to be fixed, soon, because this seemingly small change can greatly impact this book’s return audience and overall earnings.
     Also, artist-drawn covers will always scream quality to me as a reader, since almost every successful YA Fantasy novel I have personally come to adore (ex. The Fablehaven series, Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus series, 13 Treasures Trilogy,, etc;) has an amazingly intricate artist-drawn cover.
     So, in short, all publishers need to give all their most promising YA Fantasy books artist-drawn covers because that decision shows that someone actually took the time to read a scene in the book, care enough about it to scrape up the motivation to create their own detailed and accurate rendition of said scene, and put their heart and soul into something that other people will see.
     I am sorry this section became so lengthy, I just cannot advocate enough for artist-drawn book covers and this novel gave me the proper opportunity to so.
Age Range: Under 12 through 17
Quality: 5Q Hard to imagine a better book
Popularity: 4P Broad general teen appeal
Additional CommentsAlso, just want to throw this out there: kudos to making a female protagonist that is not gorgeous. Thank you for not making Lucy’s beauty (or lack thereof) necessary for her to be accepted by her peers or respected by her superiors. Thanks for creating a character that does not fret about her physical features day in and day out, even if society thinks she should. This is important. Thanks.
Annotation: Anthony, George, and Lucy are back in the daily grind, fighting ghosts/solving crimes for the city of London. However, life for Lockwood & Co. becomes a little less ho-hum when the ominous skull in a jar at the crew's home speaks after months of silence, and better yet, he seems to have a personal connection to the group's newest case.

tags:  ghost story / mystery / action / Lockwood & Co. series / ya lit



Playing for the Commandant - YA Review by Veronica R


Reader: Veronica R.
Age: 15
Title: Playing for the Commandant
Author: Suzy Zail
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pub Date: 10/14/14
Galley: Yes
Top 25: Yes
Convince us to read the book:  I liked the romance, it was cute.
Memorable or Forgettable: I thought it was interesting how the Commandant's son was upset that everything was happening the way it was, while all the people in the camp were actually suffering.
Cover: The cover did not tempt me to pick up the book, but the cover was a good visual of the storyline.
Age Range: 14 through 17
Quality: 4Q Better than most
Popularity: 2P Only for special interest
Annotation: Playing for the Commandant by Suzy Zail is about Hanna Mendel and her family being taken to concentration camps. Hanna, because she plays the piano, was chosen to be in the Commandant's orchestra. She didn't expect to fall in love with the Commandant's son.

tags:  historical fiction / Holocaust / ya lit



Dorothy Must Die - YA Review by Ella O


Reader: Ella O.
Age: 13
Title: Dorothy Must Die
Author: Danielle Paige
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Pub Date: 04/01/14
Galley: Yes
Top 25: Yes
Convince us to read the book:  I like the character development of the main character Amy and how she uses her past to help her. I also like the dialogue because it works with the story and the characters, and it's not to a point where it's too vulgar for some readers.
Memorable or Forgettable: Well the ending FOR SURE made it memorable for me and the storyline was well written so that made it memorable as well.
Cover: The cover did tempt me and it does reflect the contents perhaps even by giving people the false security of the old Dorothy and not the monster she has become.
Age Range: 14 through 15
Quality: 4Q Better than most
Popularity: 4P Broad general teen appeal
Additional Comments: I look forward to the next book and hope it can be as good as the first.
Annotation: The story of Oz after Dorothy and when she comes back. There's a new girl in Oz.. from Kansas! Amy is a nobody in Kansas but in Oz, she's a hero.


tags:  dystopian fantasy / Wizard of Oz / revisionist writing / ya lit



Firstborn: A Novel - YA Review by Jarod D


Reader: Jarod D.
Age: 15
Title: Firstborn: A Novel
Author: Lorie Ann Grover
Publisher: Blink
Pub Date: 01/28/14
Galley: No
Top 25: No
Convince us to read the book: This book highlights racism and prejudices within a society,and how they affect interaction. It showed how conquered civilizations survived. Overall,the book best represented the effects of differing religions within a society. Based off of this, the characters in the story were realistic and believable, but there was very little character development throughout the story.
Memorable or Forgettable:  I found the rejection the main character, Tiadone, received for being different in race,gender,and religion the most memorable part of the book.
Cover: The cover is appealing, and very well matches the content in the book. It successfully reflects the story's tone.
Age Range: 14 through 17
Quality: 4Q Better than most
Popularity: 4P Broad general teen appeal

tags:  fantasy / ya lit



The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender - YA Review by Guanani


Reader: Guanani
Age: 18
Title: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Author: Leslye Walton
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pub Date: 03/25/14
Galley: Yes
Top 25: No
Convince us to read the book: The title says it all. This is a generational tragedy about a very odd family plagued with bizarre deaths, lost loves, and one sibling who gets turned into a parakeet. The use of magical realism and very lyrical prose drew me in, but I only got about halfway through. I kept waiting for the story to get to Ava Lavender herself, a girl born with wings, but a majority of the book is about her tragic and magical lineage. At the point where I stopped, the story of Ava’s mother had gotten too soap-opera-y for my taste, so I put the book down and never came back to it. It would have been nice to have other plot points besides death, abandonment, and wallowing, which became repetitive.
Memorable or Forgettable: Even though I couldn’t get to the end, this book is still memorable because of its unusual style. It had several main characters, all women, with interesting tales about immigration, inherited weirdness, and isolation. It’s the first YA book I’ve read that covers a whole family instead of a single main character, and the prose was indeed beautiful.
Cover: This cover is lovely. The contrast between the thatched blue background and golden lines of the feather looks great and got my attention. I always prefer covers that aren’t photoshopped pictures, and having an original graphic works really well. I guess the feather is there because Ava has wings.
Age Range: 14 through 17
Quality: 3Q Readable
Popularity: 3P Some teen appeal

tags:  fantasy / magical realism / ya lit



Love Letters to the Dead - YA Review by Guanani


Reader: Guanani
Age: 18
Title: Love Letters to the Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Pub Date: 04/01/14
Galley: Yes
Top 25: No
Convince us to read the book: I wish I had been able to read this book the summer before going into high school. The basic story has been told before: a lonely girl arrives in a bewildering new place and learns to navigate it. What makes this book stand out is the use of Laurel’s letters to various dead people she admires (especially Kurt Cobain) to tell the story of her grief and explorations of high school life. Laurel makes good and bad decisions, struggles with a family gone cold and distant since the death of her sister, and eventually finds solace. The prose is beautiful, believable, and doesn’t shy away from intense emotion.
Memorable or Forgettable: This book was memorable for me mostly because of the main character’s voice and the sense of longing you get from reading her letters. I especially liked the idea of a teenager reaching out to dead people as a way to feel connected. The only thing I didn’t like was that this book came a little late for me, since I’ve already finished high school. I think it would be much more powerful and meaningful for younger teens (so go forth and pick this up, high schoolers to be!).
Cover: The cover does a wonderful job of reflecting the overall feel of the book. Laurel is precariously balanced on the word “DEAD”, a little writing speck in a huge purple sky. The cover is aesthetically pleasing while already giving you a taste of the story and the main character.
Age Range: 12 through 15
Quality: 4Q Better than most
Popularity: 4P Broad general teen appeal

tags:  contemporary / realistic fiction / ya lit



Midnight Thief - YA Review by Simon D-S


Reader: Simon D-S
Age: 14
Title: Midnight Thief
Author: Livia Blackburne
Publisher: Disney- Hyperion
Pub Date: 07/08/14
Galley: Yes
Top 25: No
Convince us to read the book: Overall, the book was a good fantasy read. It's plot was fast moving and there seemed to be an endless amount of twists. As soon as you think you know where the book is going, it changes. This was good at some points in the book, but I felt like it was too much sometimes. The imagery was very good, I wouldn't be surprised if this was made into a movie. I could see the main character scaling roofs and could hear the sword fighting. The characters were average, in not being quite real, but not entirely fictional either. The main character had a recurring theme of doing something stupid and unadvised then apologizing to her friends that she had done it.
Memorable or Forgettable: I will always remember this book for the heists and assassins guild. I love the idea of there being an assassins guild. It's just so COOL!
Cover: I liked the cover, it really matched the genre and title.
Age Range: 12 through 17
Quality: 4Q Better than most
Popularity: 3P Some teen appeal

tags:  fantasy / action / adventure / ya lit