Book review: Heartless, Marissa Meyer

Meyer, Marissa. Heartless. Feiwel and Friends, 2016. $19.99. ISBN 9781250044655. 453 pgs. Ages 12 and up.  P9 Q9

In a world where talking rabbits and ravens are commonplace, Caroline’s baking has touched the king’s sweet tooth, and he has decided he wants her to marry him. But, Caroline wants to open a bakery with her maid – a plan she knows her parents will not agree to. When the king hires a new joker – Jest– Caroline falls instantly in love with him and loves sneaking out to hang out with his motley crew of dormice, caterpillars, and a particularly talented haberdasher named Hatta. Caroline’s and Jest’s love can only happen if they are able to escape the kingdom, but no king, no matter how short, foolish, and insipid, is going to allow himself to be cuckolded.

Verdict: This original backstory of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland is a richly written love story in a fantasy world with relatable characters. The reader sinks into the story, enjoying the rich tapestry of characters, setting, and adventure.

March 2019 review by Sudi Stodola.

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Book review: Afterward, by Jennifer Mathieu

Mathieu, Jennifer. Afterward. Roaring Brook, 2016. $17.99. ISBN 9781626722385. 314 pgs. Ages 14 and up. P7 Q8

Ethan is a fifteen-year-old boy who was kidnapped four years ago by a stranger. When the man takes another child, Dylan, police capture the kidnapper and find Ethan. Because Dylan is autistic, he is unable to clearly relate his experience to his family, so Dylan’s older sister, Caroline, finds herself seeking out Ethan in an attempt to understand what her younger brother has been through. Ethan is trying to adjust to being back with family; he is working through complex feelings of guilt, shame, and trauma from the abuse he suffered at the hands of his kidnapper and is not ready to talk about his experience, but he and Caroline are able to bond over music and start their own band while trying to handle what happened to Ethan and Caroline’s brother.

Verdict: This book is not a fast-paced read, but it delves deeply into the confusion and pain that one goes through after suffering abuse and trauma. It will hold the readers’ interest because of its honest depiction of PTSD. Teens will find this to be a book that is hard to forget and are likely to recommend to others.

March 2019 review by Sudi Stodola.

Book review: After the Woods, by Kim Savage

Savage, Kim. After the Woods. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. $17.99. ISBN 9780374300555. 294 pgs. Ages 14 and up. P7 Q8

While out running together, Julia’s best friend Liv was attacked by a predator. Julia attacked him in order to save her friend, but was caught herself. With a bit of luck, she was able to escape after being held 48 hours, but now it’s a year later and the fallout is still happening. Liv seems to be bent on self-destruction, while Julia is dealing with the memories that keep surfacing as the news stations relentlessly cover the story of the body of another young girl found in the woods not far from where she was grabbed. As Julia tries to face her ordeal head-on, she soon learns that there are many dark twists and nobody, not even her best friend, is who or what they claim to be.

Verdict: This is a well-paced mystery with an exciting plot. While the background characters seem underdeveloped, the action compels the reader to keep turning the pages.

March 2019 review by Sudi Stodola.

Book review: The Cemetery Boys, by Heather Brewer

Brewer, Heather. The Cemetery Boys. Harper Collins, 2015. $17.99. ISBN 9780062307880. 273 pgs. Ages 14 and up. P6 Q6

Stephen’s mother has been institutionalized and the mounting costs mean that he and his father not only have to move away, but that they must move in with his stoic and judgmental grandmother in his father’s tiny hometown. Soon, Stephen finds some kids his age to hang out with and they are not the kind of kids of whom his father would approve. He finds himself hanging out at the cemetery at night, drinking and smoking with his new clan of weirdos. As they hang out more, the kids tell stories about the demonic creatures that haunt the town and claim that a sacrifice is the only way to appease the creatures and bring prosperity back to the town.

Verdict: This book brought up hints of “The Lost Boys” with it’s mysterious characters who drink in the graveyard, but it fell just short. While the creepy factor stayed consistent, the characters were not well-developed  and the pacing was somewhat slow. Overall, a satisfactory read, but not her best.

March 2019 review by Sudi Stodola.

Book review: Gifted, by H.A. Swain

Swain, H.A. Gifted. Feiwel and Friends, 2016. $17.99. ISBN 9781250028303. 327 pgs. Ages 14 and up. P7 Q7

In a world where genetic modification creates artistic prodigies among the rich and privileged, Orpheus Chanson, son of elite “Plute” Harold Hanson, who holds the copyright for Acquired Savant Abilities (ASA) surgery, has no interest in being modified, so he runs away. Orpheus finds himself outside the city, where the “plebes” scratch out a living working for the delivery factories that supply everything to the cities. Just order online and it arrives at your door. He meets Zimri, a plebe with an amazing voice. With his connections and her talents, they could just change the world!

Verdict:This sci-fi tale is the classic “star-crossed lovers from across the tracks” theme with a dystopian twist. Told in alternating first-person narrative, the stories of each character unfold smoothly. The pacing is good, and the depiction of an all-too-possible future will capture the interest of teen readers.

March 2019 review by Sudi Stodola.

Book review: Ash Princess, by Laura Sebastian

Sebastian, Laura.  Ash Princess. (Ash Princess trilogy, book 1) “Advanced Reader’s Copy.” Delacorte Press, 2018.  ISBN 978-1-5247-6706-8.  $18.99.  432 pages.  Ages 12+. Q6P8

A typical story of a princess whose country is taken over, and family killed, by a terrible conqueror.  The story itself is not a new one, but Ms. Sebastian does a good job creating a fantasy setting with a medieval feel.  What I didn’t like about this story is how much of the book it took for the heroine to become a “heroine”.  Ms. Sebastian made the heroine, Thora, defenseless and naïve for roughly two thirds of the book.  I considered not finishing the book, but thankfully Thora finally figures out it takes intelligence, perseverance, and strength of will, instead of petty manipulation games, to win back her country.

This book has a grammatical error (page 9 “…the Kaiser’s has…) and content errors (Page 12 states both airgems and earthgems are worn for strength when it’s obvious they should have different powers.  Page 42 “…the Kaiser’s milky, distant eyes…” should read Kaiserin) that I have hopes will be corrected before final publication.

Verdict:  A nice spin on a typical story.  Far too much time developing the heroine which detracts from the main character.

March 2018 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Brave New Girl, by Rachel Vincent

Vincent, Rachel.  Brave New Girl.  (Brave New Girl series, book 1) Delacorte Press, 2017.  ISBN 978-0-399-55245-8.  $17.99.  254 pages.  Ages 12+.   Q8P8.

Dahlia is a clone and her whole belief system is based off of the idea that everyone on Earth is a clone.  Dahlia’s life is very carefully planned out for her based on her genetic makeup that was designed to do one job.  But wait, who made the rules?  Come to find out Clones are made for only one reason and that is to serve natural born humans.  The author does a great job of creating a believable, first person, world of clones with lives and purpose, not so unlike our own, if a little sheltered.  She also does a great job of making Dahlia’s reactions believable when she’s introduced to “reality”.

Verdict:  This first book in a series is a great start and makes me wish the next books were available now.

March 2018 review by Terri Lippert.