Seven Ways We Lie

by Riley Redgate
Reviewed by SA

I was very excited to read this book, having heard nothing but good things about it so far. I was blown away by it: first of all, by how well the author juggled seven different perspectives, but also by the sense of realism and character depth Not only are there seven points of view, but the voices are unique and relatable. This takes immense skill and I found myself loving the read.

Summarycover77563-medium

The juniors at Paloma High School all have their secrets, whether it’s the thespian who hides her trust issues onstage, the closeted pansexual who only cares about his drug-dealing profits, or the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal. But it’s Juniper Kipling who has the furthest to fall. No one would argue that Juniper—obedient daughter, salutatorian, natural beauty, and loyal friend—is anything but perfect. Everyone knows she’s a saint, not a sinner; but when love is involved, who is Juniper to resist temptation? When she begins to crave more and more of the one person she can’t have, her charmed life starts to unravel.

Then rumors of a student–teacher affair hit the fan. After Juniper accidentally exposes her secret at a party, her fate falls into the hands of the other six sinners, bringing them into one another’s orbits. All seven are guilty of something. Together, they could save one another from their temptations—or be ruined by them.

I feel like the blurb doesn’t really capture the story. Let’s just say this: Seven different, flawed people, are brought together by one secret and the knowledge of a scandal that could ruin lives. But their lives aren’t so perfect either. How does that sound?

When it comes to YA, a lot of times the author who writes it makes assumptions about how high school life has changed since they were teenagers, which takes away a lot of realism. Not so in this case. Here, the students really feel like my peers.

When you look at the cover, you can see the seven deadly sins, but I’m having trouble putting a face to each one. It’s more subtle than that: just like how a person isn’t just made up of one trait, each character had so much more to them than their one problem. The depth makes it all the more real.

Each of the characters struggles with lies and secrets, with family issues and/or friend problems, as they move through Junior year of high school. They are all connected some way or another, by blood or through crushes, and there is a certain depth added to the narrative when we see each person through another’s eyes. Personally, I really liked that, especially when we see Claire’s world view, and her incessant judgement. Juniper’s parts are always in verse, which adds so much to her character.

The plot deals with a lot of issues: illicit relationships, divorce, pansexuality, asexuality, sex, drugs… the list goes on. This means it kind of gets, well, messy. Each could fill their own novel (and have) but dealing with them all at once is a real juggling game. I feel like a bit of depth was zapped from each issue (though I think Olivia’s ‘rant’ at one point really covers a whole lot) since there was only so much time for each of them.

It’s just so compelling to follow these people, even if they can really be unlikable at times (Claire, come on! Grow up!). There are a few one liners that really hit me, and I’m sure they’re going to be quoted in quite a lot of reviews. Surprisingly, I wasn’t bored with any one character, as I tend to get with multiple POV books. Though admittedly, I did have my favorites (Olivia FTW) and some of them I wanted to shout at, I wasn’t ever bored by their story. It was just that good.

The thing about this book was that it was just such an enjoyable read. I could not put it down, and devoured it in a two hour sitting. I got really caught up in these people’s lives, and thoroughly enjoyed the resolution. In other words – OHMYGOSH THIS BOOK WAS SO GOOD, READ IT ASAP.

The Casquette Girls

by Alys Arden

Reviewed by SA

Having read nothing but fast books these days, I wanted a novel I could really ‘sink my teeth into’ (as my grandmother says). I didn’t know what to expect from The Casquette Girls, as I was first drawn in by the gorgeous cover rather than the blurb, but I was amazingly surprised. This novel is a simmering pot of mystery and magic in a setting that will blow you away.

25917801Summary

Seven girls tied by time.
Five powers that bind.
One curse to lock the horror away.
One attic to keep the monsters at bay.

After the storm of the century rips apart New Orleans, sixteen-year-old Adele Le Moyne wants nothing more than her now silent city to return to normal. But with home resembling a war zone, a parish-wide curfew, and mysterious new faces lurking in the abandoned French Quarter, normal needs a new definition.

As the city murder rate soars, Adele finds herself tangled in a web of magic that weaves back to her own ancestors. Caught in a hurricane of myths and monsters, who can she trust when everyone has a secret and keeping them can mean life or death? Unless . . . you’re immortal.

Adele returns to New Orleans after its quasi-total destruction by a hurricane without equal. Nothing is the same: her city looks like something out of an apocalypse film, the people are almost all gone, her best friend moved away and seems to have no plans to ever return, and strange things are happening all around her. Is it possible that she can do… things?

This novel started slow, and yet I was captured all the same. The writing is beautiful and unique: the destroyed New Orleans setting gives it all an eerie, isolated feeling, and I was blown away by its depth. It’s a place of mystery and magic, but also of growing romance, which blossoms from its destruction. That juxtaposition really worked for me.

Adele herself isn’t just kind of sticker character: she’s got a depth that I rarely see in YA novels. She loves her father, her city; she’s smart and sophisticated in many ways, but also still learning, still trying, in others. She’s always caught between two worlds, the sophisticated french side of her mother, and of her new school,  and the down to earth, honest side of her, with comes from her father, and the city where she was raised. And that side is pretty badass.

The other characters are just as interesting. Admittedly, though, at first I had a bit of trouble keeping all their names straight. There definitely are  a whole slew of possible love interest characters.

When I first saw the word Vampires, though, I groaned and almost put the book down. I am not a fan. But I am more than glad I hung in there. The story that arrises is spooky, and takes you back in time to when the city was only just beginning, to the 18th century, and to ancestors with dark secrets.

Magic, mystery, and a twist on an amazing city. What else could you possibly want from a novel? I highly recommend picking it up!

The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever

By Jeff Strand

Reviewed by SA

Halloween may have come and gone, but it’s never not time to be talking about Zombies. Though, as the author will warn you before you start reading, this isn’t exactly a book about Zombies: it’s a book about a zombie movie, and the making of one of the worst movies of the genre. And it’s incredibly fun.

Summary

After producing three horror films that went mostly ignored on YouTube, Justin and his filmmaking buddies decide it’s time to make something epic. In fact, they’re going to make The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever. They may not have money or a script, but they have passion. And, after a rash text message, they also have the beautiful Alicia Howtz as the lead.

Hemmed in by a one-month timeline and a cast of uncooperative extras, but aching to fulfill Alicia’s dreams, Justin must face the sad, sad truth: he may, in actuality, be producing The Worst Zombie Movie Ever.

This may be The Greatest – book about the worst attempt to make a – Zombie Movie Ever. Anything that could go wrong does go wrong in this wholly hilarious book. From odd pastel clowns to shady grandmothers, along with a hoard of zombie problems, Justin’s plan to make the greatest zombie movie ever – not just a good movie, the greatest movie – seems like an uphill battle, an impossible feat. It’s enough to give up home, but he is determined to make it all work, no matter what obstacles come in his way.  Which means he’s in for the worst weeks of his life.

While the characters read a little younger than fifteen year olds, and some plot points were a little predictable, this novel still managed to make me laugh out loud and hold on for more. It was a fast read, and I devoured it in a mere two hours, but it was a fantastic two hours that were very well spent, and in good company, too.

Because for all their faults, these characters are so darn lovable. Justin with his dogged determination to get this movie done. Alicia’s wavering emotions about her hair. Spork’s obsession with filming every behind the scene detail. Weird Uncle Clyde’s problems with money, and vaping. Bobby and Gabe, the kind of friends you want by your side when the zombie apocalypse comes knocking, even if it is an apocalypse you put together yourself in an attempt to create a fantastic movie. And I’m still quite worried about Justin’s Grandma.

It hit me right in the nostalgia-gut: I was obsessed with film making when I was fifteen, and thought I could do anything on a budget of twenty bucks, so long as I had good friends and a reliable camera. Though I never faced the kinds of problems that Justin had to deal with! There was a moment – and I’m going to remain vague, so I won’t spoil anything here – when he has to face the absolute worst nightmare an amateur director can face, and it made me actually cringe in my seat. I related way too much with this character, and not only felt for him, but was really rooting for him to succeed.

While the ending is a little predictable, it’s the fun finish this novel deserves. I came out of this read feeling excited and content, wishing that this could get made into a movie itself. A fantastic, hilarious novel well worth the read.

Release Date: March 1, 2016 by SourceBooks Fire 

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About Jeff Strand:

Jeff Strand has written more than twenty books, and is a four-time nominee (and four-time non-winner) of the Bram Stoker Award. Two of his young adult novels, A Bad Day For Voodoo and I Have A Bad Feeling About This, were Junior Library Guild picks. Publishers Weekly called his work “wickedly funny.” He lives in Tampa, Florida.

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@JeffStrand

Excerpt from The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever:

The vampire, whose fangs were too big for his mouth, turned to the camera and hissed.

“Don’t look at the camera,” said Justin Hollow, the director.

“I keep poking my lip on these things,” said Harold, spitting the plastic fangs out onto the ground. He hadn’t been a very frightening example of the undead before, and he was even less scary with no fangs and a thick line of drool running down his chin.

“Cut!” shouted Justin, loud enough to be sure that the command was heard by his production crew of two. “C’mon, Harold. Stay in character. We’re three hours behind schedule.”

“I don’t care. I hate this. You promised that I’d get all the girls I wanted. So where are all of the girls I want?”

Justin let out his thirty-ninth exasperated sigh of the night. “The movie has to come out first.”

“It’s not even a real movie.”

Justin bristled. It was a full body bristle, head to toe, which he hadn’t even realized was physically possible. Bobby, who handled sound recording, and Gabe, who handled everything else, both stepped back a couple of feet. Neither of them truly believed that they were about to witness a murder, but they wanted to get out of the splash zone, just in case.

Had this been one of Justin’s movies, he would have very slowly lowered his camera, stared directly into Harold’s eyes with a steel gaze, and then after an extremely dramatic pause asked “What…did…you…just…say?”

His actual response, delivered in a squeakier voice than he would have allowed from his actors, was: “Huh?”

“I said it’s not a real movie.” Harold started to wipe the fake blood off his mouth. It didn’t come off, and probably wouldn’t for several days. Justin had planned to feel guilty about this later, but now he wouldn’t bother. “Nobody’s ever going to see it. You probably won’t even finish it.”

“I finished my last three movies!” Justin insisted. “I got hundreds of hits on YouTube!”

That statement was technically accurate, though it was the lowest possible number of hits you could get and still use “hundred” in its plural form. The only comment anybody posted about his latest film had been “This twelve year-old filmmaker sort of shows promise,” which really frustrated Justin since he was fifteen.

Harold shrugged. “This is a waste of time. I’ve got better things to do on a Friday night.”

“Nobody ever said this was going to be easy,” said Justin, who had indeed said that it was going to be easy when luring Harold into the role. “You can quit now, but what are you going to think about your decision ten years from now?”

“I’m going to think, wow, it sure is nice to be such a well-paid dentist.”

Harold walked off the set. It wasn’t an actual set, but rather a small park near Justin’s home, where they were filming without a permit. Justin knew he should shout something after his ex-actor. Something vicious. Something devastating. He thought about shouting “You’ll never work in this town again!” but, no, it had to be something that Harold would consider a bad thing.

“Fine!” Justin shouted. “But when we record the audio commentary track for the Blu-Ray, I’m going to talk about how you abandoned us, and how much happier everybody was with the new actor who took your role, and how we all agreed that he should have been cast in the first place, and how he had so many girlfriends that he couldn’t even keep track of them, and how they all found out about each other and had a great big awesome catfight in his front yard! And I’ll pronounce your name wrong!”

Harold continued walking, apparently not heartbroken.

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Dumplin’

by Julie Murphy

Reviewed by SA

Dumplin‘ has been a book I’ve been wanting to read for ages. Friends have been recommending it to me since before it even came out. I finally caved and bought myself a copy – taking a risk (if you can call it that!) and getting a nice, lovely hardcover copy. I think I kind of had a designer crush on the cover. After finishing the book, there are a few things I can be certain of:

  1. This was not at all what I expected;
  2. It was way better, amazing, and unforgettable;
  3. I am so glad I have a gorgeous hardcover!

Summary

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.
Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

I’m always slightly wary of books that deal with body image: they can sway one way, and end up telling you that as soon as you start feeling better for yourself, you’ll start loosing weight and turning ‘hot’, or they can swing to the other side of the spectrum, and bring on a landslide of skinny shaming. Dumplin’ does none of those things. While at first, Willowdean points out the imperfections in those around her, she grows over the course of the novel.  Will stops herself from skinny shaming others, loves her body even if she is insecure in it sometimes. I found it to be the perfect book dealing with teenagers and body image issues.

What really impressed me was how secondary the pageant seemed. What took center stage was Willowdean’s own life, her own crushes and friendships, her worries and loves, her own life. And her life is so much more than the pageant, even if we only get this small glimpse into it. Yes, there is a love triangle, and yes, there is some friendship drama: but all of these seem to be part of the fabric which makes up her life, instead of being barriers. They give depth and dimension to the story, and to her character, which made me really get pulled into the book.

Will is a fantastic protagonist. And I mean fantastic. She’s flawed, she’s self conscious, but she’s also brave and outspoken and incredibly insightful. There were some quotes of hers that I want to write on my wall so I can never stop thinking about them. She’s someone you can really relate to, that you can really understand.

But my favorite aspect of this novel was the relationships. The friendship between Will and Ellen is the real story, in my opinion. The pageant just offers framework. It’s a love story, in a way. The more I think about it, the more I’m sure of it. It’s the love between two best friends who hit a rough patch and have to deal with growing up and growing apart. It’s so rare to see friends actually tell each other that they do love each other, and really mean it. I loved their story.

If you haven’t read Dumplin’ yet, then I strongly suggest you do. It’s a book I 100% recommend with all my heart. It’s got everything you want in a book – including some Dolly Parton adoration – and I want to lend it to everyone I know.

Fair warning – I’ve had Jolene stuck in my head for days now!

How to Be Brave

by E. Katherine Kottaras

Reviewed by SA

This book is the actual definition of heartwarming. It left me feeling all warm inside, feeling so good about what I had just read. It’s a book about bullying, about insecurities, about experimenting, and loss: it brought back a whole mountains of feelings I hadn’t felt since high school, and had me more emotional than i could have ever anticipated.

Summary

Reeling from her mother’s death, Georgia has a choice: become lost in her own pain, or enjoy life right now, while she still can. She decides to start really living for the first time and makes a list of fifteen ways to be brave – all the things she’s wanted to do but never had the courage to try. As she begins doing the things she’s always been afraid to do – including pursuing her secret crush, she discovers that life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes friendships fall apart and love breaks your heart. But once in a while, the right person shows up just when you need them most – and you learn that you’re stronger and braver than you ever imagined.

Georgia, our main protagonist, is one of the most down to earth, relatable characters I have ever read in contemporary YA. She’s slightly overweight, self conscious, she struggles in chemistry, she’s got a crush on a boy in her art class, and she has no idea what she wants to do after high school. Not to mention that she has just lost her mother, her best friend, her strongest support. I can’t imagine going through what she goes through.

This leads her to write a bucket-list-but-not-really: she writes down 15 things she has always wanted to do, but never had the courage to. To honor her mom, she wants to be brave and try new things. Some of them seem a little daunting: like sky diving, or trapeze… while others, well, they’re a little more down to earth, but terrifying as well: try tribal dancing, or learnt to draw, ditch school or even ask out her crush. Spurred on by her friend Liss, she decides to go for it. From here on, it’s a story of growth: it’s a story of a young woman who throws herself into life, and pushes herself to be the person she has always wanted to be.

I loved the growth of her character in this novel. She thinks positive thoughts through the day, and slowly begins to really believe them.  The last few chapters are amazing: Georgia stands up for herself, revealing some rather heartbreaking truths, she becomes more honest, for self assured. She slowly finds direction and allows herself to be her own person. It’s a fantastic story, one I think teens need to hear. Being brave isn’t just about doing dangerous things: here, being brave is about being honest and true to yourself, and the ones you love.

Speaking of the ones you love, there are some amazing characters in this novel. Liss is one of those friends you need to have in your life. Evelyn is one of those people who just doesn’t seem to fit in, and yet she needs friendship more than anyone can imagine. Daniel, her crush, isn’t some paper-cut-out love interest: he’s got depth, struggles, and shortcomings. I loved how this romance wasn’t the main focus of the novel at all, and instead it was Georgia’s growth that takes center stage.

This book is unique int he way it ties prose to verse. The poems are generally about her mother, focusing on what she was like when she was alive, as well as her days suffering in a hospital. It’s a beautiful way to remember her mother, while it might be a way to dissociate from the pain of those last days. I loved how these poems become a part of the narrative, without once saying ‘hey, I wrote a poem, read it.’ They were simply there, showing us more about Georgia’s perception of the world than we could learn from prose.

You know you really loved a book when you don’t know where to stop with the review. I want to talk about Georgia’s mother; I want to talk about her relationship with her father, or with her art teacher; I want to talk with someone on whether they thought Georgia was body positive or skinny shaming; or on whether weight loss was the result or the cause of a confidence boost; I want to talk about Evelyn, about when the signs started to appear.

This book has some very important, difficult themes, such as loss, depression, drug use, bullying, which is surprising seeing as how light hearted it seemed at first. This book somehow managed to be both fun, and deep, and is a definite must read for any high school student, or anyone who wants to learn how to really be brave.

The novel comes out on November 3rd, from St Martin’s press.

Biggie

By Derek E. Sulivan
Reviewed by SA

Biggie“A teen story? A coming of age novel? Sports? Meh, we’ve seen those,” you say.  And so have I! I have read my fair share of high school books, and usually, I find myself quickly bored. To top that off, sports novels have never peaked my interest. Not so with Derek E. Sullivan’s “Biggie”, a novel that gripped my attention and held me until the very end.

Biggie is an overweight teenage boy, who has pushed himself to 300 pounds in an attempt to remain invisible at school. He spends his time studying, striving for perfect grades, while managing a slew of online friends. Biggie also happens to be the son of one of the biggest athletes of Iowa, and step-son to the close second. With a lineage like that, everyone expects Biggie to be some kind of big sports hero… that is, everyone except him.

When Biggie pitches a perfect game of whiffle ball during PE, the girl of his dreams suggests he should play ball… and he finds himself suddenly obsessed with the idea of pitching a perfect game of actual baseball, on the school’s actual team. Biggie finds himself challenged in every possible way on his quest, making radical changes to his lifestyle, changing his perception about himself, and everyone around him.

There are so many things about this novel that make it so compelling. For starters, Biggie, our protagonist and narrator, is smart, insightful, and imperfect. Many of the decisions he makes tend to be the worst possible ones, and though he feels justified in doing them, he is held accountable for his actions. And while his reasoning for wanting to keep his weight over the 300 pound mark seems justified to him, we as a reader are quick to see how unsound it really is. You might find it odd how quickly he throws his entire being into this insane idea of a perfect game, but we are completely aware of avery motivation behind it. Biggie may come off as a coward and a creep at first, but he slowly grows and evolves into someone I wouldn’t mind being friends with.

Biggie is a character with depth, but so are the people around him. The ‘bully’ turns out to be much more. The ‘girl’ turns out to be much less. Everyone else who is a part of Biggie’s life is more than just a placeholder or plot device. I loved the growth that they all went through, and how their own growth affected Biggie’s. The evolving relationship between Biggie and his step-father is something quite impressive, but it is really Biggie’s relationship with his peers, in particular with the women in his life, that is the most incredible change. The change in his obsession with Annabel is probably the best mile marker for his maturity.

With characters like those, it’s easy to root for them to reach their goals, even if those are *shiver* sports. As I said before, I don’t tend to find novels about sports compelling, but, to my surprise, I actually enjoyed reading about Biggie’s games. As baseball becomes increasingly important to him, it becomes important to us. Which is why I liked the resolution so much; I won’t spoil anything, though, you’ll have to read it yourself.

Biggie (Derek E. Sullivan) comes out on March 1st, 2015.