Book Review: If You Only Knew

If You Only Knew – Prerna Pickett – Swoon Reads – Published 11 February 2020

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Synopsis

Corey has just been released from jail, and all he wants is a new beginning. But when his former gang comes knocking, Corey agrees to vandalize the home of Kent Hopper, the prosecutor who put him away.

To erase the guilt she carries from getting away with a crime, Tessa spends most of her nights riding her motorcycle. When she catches Corey destroying her father’s car, she doesn’t see a criminal: She sees a way to finally right her own wrongs. So instead of turning Corey over to the police, she convinces her father to give Corey a second chance.

As Tessa and Corey spend more time with each other, it becomes difficult to ignore the pull between them. But they’re both keeping secrets, and when those secrets come to light, they’ll each have to face their demons in order to have a future together.

My thoughts

If You Only Knew is perfect for readers who enjoy the grit and gang-backdrop romances of Simone Elkeles. This second-chance, hidden-secrets romance will have readers anxiously awaiting the fates of these never-meant-to-be characters and the trauma-filled pasts they must face to find hope in their futures.

Corey would do anything to protect his family, even taking up with the gang his father worked for, even taking the fall and going to jail for his least-favourite gang member. Tessa has a privileged life, but she carries the scars from her mother’s abandonment and the shame of the night she crossed the line between right and wrong. When Corey, freshly released from jail, is trapped into vandalising the home of his prosecutor, he comes face-to-face with Tessa. Tessa convinces her father to give Corey another chance as a way to atone for her own sins, and agrees to watch him as he works to restore their vandalised home. But Corey and Tessa have more in common then they realised, starting with attraction and ending with a whole heap of danger.

Can I start by saying I hate this book’s cover. I hope it is changed before it hits the shelves. It just gives it the whole wrong vibe. This is a dark, edgy, gritty novel. It’s about crime, gangs and mistakes. I get that the image is meant to reflect Corey’s graffiti work, but it just doesn’t work for me. Okay, that aside, this is a pretty quick book to read. It has a straightforward plot that is easy to predict and follow. There were a few surprises, especially the leader of the gang – didn’t see that coming! – but the appeal of this book comes from the edgy attraction between Corey and Tessa. Both have made mistakes, both want to make a different path for their future and both feel trapped by their choices. Together, they start to have hope. Tessa has a supportive and slightly abrasive cousin who also fulfils the role of best friend.

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Book Review: Take The Shot

Take The Shot – Susan White – Affirm Press – Published 23 July 2019

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Synopsis

Bug has a secret. Actually, he has a lot of secrets.

1. He’s formed a basketball team at his new school based on a giant lie.
2. His parents don’t know he’s playing basketball again.
3. His new team-mates have no idea he isn’t allowed to play, and they definitely don’t know why.

Bug will do ANYTHING to keep his secrets, keep his new team and keep his life from falling apart. Because no one can know The Biggest Secret of All: Bug risks his life every time he steps out onto the basketball court.

My thoughts

I’m always on the lookout for YA sport novels. I love them, despite not liking sport myself, and we are always keen to add more titles to our library’s sport collection. Take The Shot has a great mix of sport action, complex family relationships and an authentic teen boy narrating the story. If stories about growing up and navigating your way through high school and new friendships, try Take The Shot.

Bug lives for basketball. It’s the only place he doesn’t feel freakishly tall or gangly, where he has friends and fits in. But when he and his father are diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, his mother bans him from playing, saying it’s too dangerous. When he has to move in with his Nan, the change of school gives him the opportunity to hide his syndrome and join a mixed basketball team without telling his parents. Hiding these two secrets takes its toll, but it’s worth it to play. But it may be more dangerous that he realises.

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Book Review: Be Not Far From Me

Be Not Far From Me – Mindy McGinnis – Katherine Tegen Books – Published 3 March 2020

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Synopsis

The world is not tame.

Ashley knows this truth deep in her bones, more at home with trees overhead than a roof. So when she goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying, the falling dark and creaking trees are second nature to her. But people are not tame either. And when Ashley catches her boyfriend with another girl, drunken rage sends her running into the night, stopped only by a nasty fall into a ravine. Morning brings the realization that she’s alone – and far off trail. Lost in undisturbed forest and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must figure out how to survive despite the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.

My thoughts

Mindy McGinnis has once again crafted a thrilling, edgy, and confrontational book that is as scary as it is compelling. When a girl is pushed to the very limits, what will she do to survive? Unlike many other survival adventure novels that I have read where the protagonist seems to have excellent luck and a natural ability to survive, Be Not Far From Me holds nothing back. Ashley faces everything from betrayal, to serious injuries, and the harsh realities of life and death. You need a strong stomach to read this book, but its brutal honesty is refreshing.

Ashley knows how to survive. Unlike her friends, she knows what it is like to go hungry, hunt for her food, and heal injuries without trips to the doctors. Walking through the woods gives her freedom. When Ashley and a group of her classmates hold a party in the woods, she has a bad feeling. But nothing could prepare her for seeing her boyfriend in the arms of another girl. Drunk and upset, she runs. Separated from the group, injured and outside of the area she is familiar with, Ashley knows it will take everything she has to survive.

Be Not Far From Me feels like it could be a true story. It has the sort of events that are so extreme and so brutal that it feels like it could only be real. Ashley faces some pretty touch decisions as she tries to make her way back to safety.

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New Book Releases February 2020 – Young Adult Fiction

New Book Releases for February 2020 – Young Adult Fiction

Here’s my list of top picks for February 2020 new releases. What’s on your reading list? Click on covers for more details.

Children’s Fiction

A Galaxy of Sea Stars – Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo – Farrar Straus and Giroux – Published 4 February 2020

At a time when everything in her small town of Seaside, Rhode Island, seems like it’s changing, eleven-year-old Izzy Vitale wants things to stay the same. She wants her dad to start acting like he did before he was deployed to Afghanistan, she wants her mom to move back to the marina where they live, but most of all, she wants best friends – Piper and Zelda (dubbed the Sea Star Posse by their kindergarten teacher) – to stay best friends as they begin sixth grade at the regional middle school.

Then, Izzy’s father invites his former Army interpreter from Afghanistan and his whole family – including eleven-year-old Sitara — to move into the upstairs apartment at the marina.

Children’s fiction – Contemporary

Young Adult Fiction

Yes No Maybe So – Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed – Balzer + Bray – Published 4 February 2020

YES: Jamie Goldberg is cool with volunteering for his local state senate candidate—as long as he’s behind the scenes. No: Maya Rehman’s having the worst Ramadan ever. Why her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing—with some awkward dude she hardly knows—is beyond her. MAYBE SO
Going door to door isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world.

Young adult fiction: Contemporary.


What I Want You To See – Catherine Linka – Disney-Hyperion – Published 4 February 2020

Winning a scholarship to California’s most prestigious art school seems like a fairy tale ending to Sabine Reye’s awful senior year. After losing both her mother and her home, Sabine longs for a place where she belongs.

But the cutthroat world of visual arts is nothing like what Sabine had imagined.

Young adult fiction: Contemporary

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Book Review: The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story – Sarah Dessen – Balzer
+Bray – Published 4 June 2019

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Synopsis

Emma Saylor doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when she was ten. But she does remember the stories her mom told her about the big lake that went on forever, with cold, clear water and mossy trees at the edges.

Now it’s just Emma and her dad, and life is good, if a little predictable…until Emma is unexpectedly sent to spend the summer with her mother’s family—her grandmother and cousins she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl.

When Emma arrives at North Lake, she realizes there are actually two very different communities there. Her mother grew up in working class North Lake, while her dad spent summers in the wealthier Lake North resort. The more time Emma spends there, the more it starts to feel like she is divided into two people as well. To her father, she is Emma. But to her new family, she is Saylor, the name her mother always called her.

Then there’s Roo, the boy who was her very best friend when she was little. Roo holds the key to her family’s history, and slowly, he helps her put the pieces together about her past. It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of North Lake—and Saylor finds herself falling under Roo’s spell as well.

My thoughts

The Rest of the Story is the perfect summer read. Or the perfect book to pick up in winter when you are craving summer days at the beach. I’ve always loved Sarah Dessen’s writing and The Rest of the Story was no different. It’s a great blend of summer romance with deeper themes around family, memories and loss. It’s also funny and has a few teen hijinks that will have you craving ice cream, secret parties, and impromptu proms with loads of fairy lights.

Emma Saylor has only a few memories of her mother. When her plans to stay at a friend’s place while her father honeymoons with his new (really nice) wife, Emma volunteers to go and stay with her mother’s family at North Lake. While she visited as a small child, Emma has no recollection of the lake or her maternal family. Her arrival at her grandmother’s house and family-run motel is bumpy. Emma is the city girl who doesn’t know any of the people she’s surrounded with or the lake traditions. But it isn’t long before she is swept up into the big, loud extended family, volunteering at the motel and sharing stories of the past with the intriguing Roo.

Put your feet up, grab your shades and sink into The Rest of the Story. It’s the perfect way to enjoy this sweet summer story. Emma Saylor—Emma to her dad and everyone, Saylor to her mother and now her mother’s family—is an easy character to like. She’s a good girl, a good daughter, a good friend, makes good decisions and tries not to rock the boat. She’s also genuinely nice, so it’s easy to become immersed in her world. Emma also has anxiety, so travelling to a new place surrounded by unfamiliar faces is a challenge. But she finds that she fits at North Lake, fits with the people there and the relaxed vibe, even if she is fighting with her cousin, dodging the wrath of her other cousin’s girlfriend, or trying to get on the good side of her another cousin (it’s a big family).

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Book Review: Tweet Cute

Tweet Cute – Emma Lord – Wednesday Books- Published 21 January 2020

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Synopsis

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

My thoughts

Tweet Cute is seriously cute. But not in a cringey, saccharine way. It is one of the most genuine, adorable but realistic and heartfelt and, yes, cute books I’ve read in ages-maybe ever. It’s a story about social media, a story about family and the ways in which we fight for them. A story about growing up and trying to decide what to do with your life. It’s a story about the most incredible baking and comfort food. Seriously. Pack snacks. And it’s a story about falling in love, and YA contemporary readers are sure to fall in love with this delightful book.

Pepper is in control of her life. Swim team captain, top grades, and a place amongst the genius students of her fancy New York high school. So what if she feels like she doesn’t really belong, would rather have her family whole again and be living in Nashville, and maybe even have some genuine friends. When her mother insists that she take over their company’s Twitter feed as they launch new stores around the country, Pepper doesn’t expect to have one of her tweets directly challenge a local family-owned deli or for her to have to go head to head with a fellow classmate as he seeks to defend his family’s deli. As Pepper and Jack wage war on Twitter, their paths keep crossing in real life.

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Book Review: Rogue Princess

Rogue Princess – B.R. Myers – Swoon Reads – Published 21 January 2020

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Synopsis

Princess Delia knows her duty: She must choose a prince to marry in order to secure an alliance and save her failing planet. Yet she secretly dreams of true love, and feels there must be a better way. Determined to chart her own course, she steals a spaceship to avoid the marriage, only to discover a handsome stowaway.

All Aidan wanted was to “borrow” a few palace trinkets to help him get off the planet. Okay, so maybe escaping on a royal ship wasn’t the smartest plan, but he never expected to be kidnapped by a runaway princess!

Sparks fly as this headstrong princess and clever thief battle wits, but everything changes when they inadvertently uncover a rebel conspiracy that could destroy their planet forever.

My thoughts

I love fairytale retelling and Rogue Princess was such a wonderful surprise. It’s fresh, clever, unique, romantic and has such a fantastic cast of strong, diverse characters.

Princess Delia knows her duty. Choose a husband that will benefit the kingdom. That doesn’t mean her heart doesn’t long for a love match. Determined to find another way to secure the energy source her planet needs, she attempts to steal a space ship and broker a deal. Aidan wants to find a better life away from the control of his stepfather and step brothers. Stealing items while working at the palace has enabled him to secure a new future for himself. But when he steals a valuable item from a prince he must run, and finds himself on Delia’s spaceship. The two don’t make it far, intercepted by pirates. Delia must return to the palace and face the wrath of the queen, Aidan to his stepfather. But the two have a connection and together begin to uncover a plot to over throw the monarchy.

Rogue Princess is a sci-fi romantic adventure, with themes of sustainability issues and equality. Advanced technology means there are servant androids and mini personal flying craft, spaceships and mentions of other planets, but the story remains firmly grounded on Delia’s home planet.

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Book Review: The Finder

The Finder – Kate Hendrick – Text Publishing – Published 1 August 2018

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Synopsis

When Lindsay meets Elias the signs aren’t promising. She’s a grungy introvert who doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He’s a teen fashionista who can’t shut the hell up.

But since Lindsay tracked down a runaway kid, word’s got around that she knows how to find people. And Elias is looking for his birth mother. And he has money, and Lindsay’s perpetually broke… So that’s how this oddest of odd couples teams up.

But the thing is, Lindsay wasn’t actually trying to find the runaway. It’s just how she looks at the world. Not idly, like most people, but really looking. Scanning every house, every face, every car. That’s because someone is missing in Lindsay’s life: her identical twin Frankie, who disappeared when they were eight. Since then, her parents have kept themselves busy. And angry. And Lindsay has been…looking.

My thoughts

The Finder is a light mystery with plenty of heart. I recently read and loved Lost and Found by Orson Scott Card, so I was delighted when I discovered The Finder has a similar tone, with a very Aussie setting. Family, friendship and mystery combine in this book to provide a remarkably uplifting story about loss and the people left behind.

Lindsay has spent her life looking. It’s how she survived since her twin sister went missing when they were kids. Now with a family full of younger siblings, a busy mother and an absent father, Lindsay craves silence. She’s not surprised when she accidentally finds teen runaway, but she is surprised when it brings teen fashionista, Elias to her door asking for her help in locating his birth mother. She agrees, just as an excuse to get out of her crowded house. But even though Elias drives her crazy with his overly styled hair and non-stop chatter, Lindsay finds it comforting to finally have someone to look with.

The Finder brings such a delightful mix of humour and light-hearted joy combined with sorrow and grief. The themes touched upon in the story are quite deep. Lindsay’s discovery of Vogue and being asked to join in Elias’ search bring to the forefront the continued grief and guilt she carries from her twin sister’s disappearance. The trauma tore her family apart. Now her mother is busy with all Lindsay’s new siblings, her father is constantly at work and angry in those rare times he is home and Lindsay is forbidden from even mentioning her sister. This grief has been bottled up and Lindsay is ready to explode. The book captures the raw emotions Lindsay and her family are experiencing. There is also some mystery surrounding what transpired in Lindsay’s sister’s disappearance.

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Book Review: Echoes Between Us

Echoes Between Us – Katie McGarry – Tor Teen – Published 14 January 2020

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Synopsis

Veronica sees ghosts. More specifically, her mother’s ghost. The afterimages of blinding migraines caused by the brain tumor that keeps her on the fringes and consumes her whole life haunt her, even as she wonders if it’s something more…

Golden boy Sawyer is handsome and popular, a state champion swimmer, but his adrenaline addiction draws him to Veronica.

A girl with nothing to live for and a boy with everything to lose–can they conquer their demons together?

My thoughts

As a devoted Katie McGarry fan I was a little worried when this book was marketed as a breakout novel and a move into a new genre. I shouldn’t have worried. Echoes Between Us is everything a Katie McGarry novel always is – heartbreaking, emotional, addictive, thrilling and romantic- with ghosts. It’s actually not much different from its companion novel Only A Breath Apart, which introduced a touch of the supernatural to the main story of family complexity and romance. Echoes Between Us encapsulates so many emotions and such important topics around grief, learning difficulties, illness and addiction.

Veronica can see her mother’s ghost. It, along with crippling migraines, is a constant reminder that she has a brain tumour, like the tumour that killed her mother. But she’s not afraid to die. Veronica is curious about the footsteps and rumbles in her own home, the rumours of ghosts that haunt the abandoned TB hospital, the stories of a girl who walks along the stretch of road where she died. When Sawyer moves into the rooms above Veronica’s house, he is sceptical of the warnings he receives about it being haunted. Even more sceptical of Veronica and her band of friends. He’s got bigger troubles, like taking care of his mother and sister, and resisting to urge to get adrenaline highs from cliff jumping. But Sawyer and Veronica are drawn together, and in order to hide a secret, Sawyer agrees to partner with Veronica on her ghost hunting senior project.

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Book Review: Keystone

Keystone – Katie Delahanty – Entangled: Teen – Published 7 January 2020

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Synopsis

When Ella Karman debuts on the Social Stock Exchange, she finds out life as a high-profile “Influencer” isn’t what she expected. Everyone around her is consumed by their rankings, in creating the smoke and mirrors that make them the envy of the world.

But then Ella’s best friend betrays her, her rankings tank, and she loses—everything.

Leaving her old life behind, she joins Keystone, a secret school for thieves, where students are being trained to steal everything analog and original because something—or someone—is changing history to suit their needs.

Partnered with the annoyingly hot—and utterly impossible—Garrett Alexander, who has plenty of his own secrets, Ella is forced to return to the Influencer world, while unraveling a conspiracy that began decades ago.

One wrong move and she could lose everything—again.

My thoughts

I went through a whole range of reactions while reading Keystone. I couldn’t have hated the beginning more. I was disconnected, confused and ready to put the book down and never pick it back up. However, I reasoned I was very busy at work and was only reading the book in short fits and I really should give it a better chance to capture my attention. I’m glad I did. One week into my holiday, I picked it up again. There were sections in the middle that made me cringe, but the story comes together and I was intrigued by the mix of social commentary, dystopian story and heist novel. By the end, I was hooked. What a fabulous turn around. The end reads like a thrilling action movie. I’m intrigued about where the series is going to go next.

Keystone dumps the reader right into the middle of the plot and action. So much so, that I actually stopped reading and went to check if this was a second book in a series. The story starts in the middle of big events for Elisha, the main character, and readers must just go along for the ride, picking up details about who she is, why she’s just jumped off an exploding yacht, who and what the Disconnects are, the slightly futuristic world, and what on earth is going on, along the way. This sudden start makes it hard to connect or care about Elisha’s trauma (because we are not sure what really happened anyway) or grief (how can we mourn characters we never met?). It only gets more confusing from there, as she somehow joins (or has already joined??) a group of spies. After reading on a bit and some backstory is provided via journaled flashbacks, it made a lot of sense for the book to start after Elisha (or Ella) has left her Influencer life as she is rather unlikeable before and that is more palatable as she reflects on her mistakes and how she wants to change. I would have liked a few more details about what she knew of the Disconnects and Keystone as she started there, but I did eventually figure out the essential details.

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