Reviews of Teen Books

Echo North
Meyer, Joanna Ruth
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Would you all like to know what kept me up, new years eve, until 1 am? It was
not the obvious fact that it was new year’s eve, and staying up until 12am
was what we are all supposed to do, right? No! It was the simple reason, that
I was spellbound and entranced, by this beautiful fairy tale of a book, and
could not get away until I knew what happened. This tale captivated me and
wouldn’t let go. This fable is a brilliant and magical retelling of a
Norwegian tale called East of the Sun West of the Moon with references to
other fairytales smattered throughout including Tam Lin and Psyche.

It’s basic premise is that one day after her father leaves town and
mysteriously disappears, Echo Alkaev goes to look for him. She finds him on
the brink of death. In order to save him she is sucked into a deal, by the
same talking white wolf which disfigured her face and whom, she saved years
before. A deal that will define and change the rest of her life. Live with me
for a year in my enchanted house under the mountain, and I will save your
father. There is only one rule, you cannot look upon me at night. Desperate
and scared, and propelled by the mystery surrounding him, she does as she is

She is soon launched into a magical world she never knew existed. With an
enchanted house; in each room a different magical wonder, woven together like
a tapestry; a magical library, with books explored through mirrors that one
could travel into and experience, the four winds, a witch, a goddess and, a
dreadful curse; Echo finds this world, on the edge of magic itself, dark,
mysterious, lonely, full of peril, and wonder, and fantastical beyond belief.
But more importantly, she finds a resiliency and strength in herself she
never knew she possessed, the capacity to love beyond belief, and the courage
to do what’s right even in the most dangerous of circumstances.

This book is filled with so many layers, it’s impossible to describe them
all here, but suffice it to say, that if you let it, this story will weave
itself into an incredible tapestry around you. It’s filled with so many
different worlds that I just wanted to dive into and stay there forever.
It’s filled with likable and relateable characters that felt like friends.
Hal, the love interest, the tortured and lonely white wolf, Echo, the
heroine, and so many lovable side characters, I can’t choose. It’s filled
with vivid prose and world building and just so much goodness, and magic, and
love, I just can’t even….

All I can say is pick up this book when it comes out. If you love fairy
tales, and magic and heart felt story telling that will get you lost in
worlds you don’t want to leave, and heart wrenching secrets that will make
you happy and sad all at the same time. Than do yourself a favor and pick up
this wonderful, fable! Total 5 star read for me all the way! Thank you to
Netgalley and Page Street Publishing for a Digital Review Copy for review.
This comes out January 15 but you can pre order it, or put it on hold at your
local library today!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Sanderson, Brandon
4 stars = Really Good

You know, it’s difficult to review a book that already highlights its flaws
in the text itself. Part of me wonders if the reviews from the second book in
the series were bad enough to warrant this kind of meta self-awareness. In
the end, while Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia does take the time
to address these weaknesses in its story and characters, it still doesn’t
excuse the fact that they’re in there in the first place. These winking
soliloquies seem to gloss over the fact that the book knows what’s wrong
with it, but instead decides to gloss over it with self-reference instead of
fixing the root of the problems themselves.

By this point in the series, I have come to terms with its middle-grade
silliness and occasional bathroom humor. I loved the rule-breaking first book
in the series, only to become annoyed by this constant fourth-wall breaking
that happened in book two. By book three—this book—I finally came to
terms with the fact that I’m not the target audience for this book, despite
how well-written it is and how intricately its fantasy world has been

Perhaps due to my acceptance of this series for what it is, I felt the plot
and character development were better in this part of the series—even if it
did seem to trend toward “after school special” territory more often than
not. Not only did we get to see more of Alcatraz’s parents (although, not
nearly enough in my opinion), there was a lot more world-building that helped
to flesh out this strange land introduced in previous volumes. Plus, the
character who was a former librarian was (and is) probably my favorite
character in the series right now.

More of the same self-aware silliness from Brandon Sanderson, I give Alcatraz
Versus the Knights of Crystallia 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Gilded Wolves cover
Chokshi, Roshani
4 stars = Really Good

Severin’s legacy has been stolen. And he wants it back. As the sole heir to the House of Vanth, leading it should be his birthright. But folks from two of the other three houses stopped him from assuming the mantle of head of House Vanth. So when a secret society, the Order of Babel, approaches him and promises him his true inheritance in exchange for an artifact, he agrees to find the artifact along with his crew.

I enjoyed this one, though it isn’t without its flaws. Normally I end a review with my complaints, but in this case my main issue is also a positive so we’ll just start there! This book is quite similar to Six of Crows. Arguably a bit too similar. I mean, there are character analogs (Severin is fairly close to Kaz, Laila is like a Inej/Nina hybrid), and aspects of the plot are pretty similar as well. It felt like I was reading really incredible fanfiction on occasion. The thing is, though, I loved Six of Crows, so I really ended up enjoying this book too. Where Six of Crows is gorgeously bleak, The Gilded Wolves is exuberantly lavish. Set in late 19th century Paris, the trappings of this book are dazzling. Each scene is more lush than the last, and our characters’ surroundings are brought to life in the most whimsical of ways. Magical extravagance abounds, and I had the best time imagining the various rooms, secret chambers and tunnels. The world building was cool, although it occasionally felt convoluted. Overall, though, the author manages to blend religion and science and math, which is really no easy feat. The other thing that I really liked about this book is that the cast is very diverse in race, ethnicity and sexuality and that the author makes commentary about important, relevant issues such as colonialism, racism, and immigration.

I’ve read a few other books by this author, one that I hated (Star Touched Queen) and one that I enjoyed (Aru Shah). This one was much closer to an Aru read for me, although I do find that the rich prose reads as purple on occasion. There will obviously be a sequel, and I’ll definitely give that a go when it comes out in something like two years. I think a this book may also improve upon a reread. Some of the characters were a bit hard to keep track of - when the villain was ultimately revealed, I was like…who was that again? The end also felt super rushed and disjointed, and I think several of the plot points and character developments introduced might have made more sense at the top of the next book.

TLDR: A lavish heist and adventure fantasy for readers of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Ryan Graudin’s Invictus or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I think most readers of YA fantasy will like this one – I did! 3.5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Gilded Wolves will be available for purchase on 15 January 2019, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: Dream Differently
Bertram, Vince M.
4 stars = Really Good

Written by the president and CEO of Project Lead the Way (PLTW), Dr. Vince M. Bertram, Dream Differently provides excellent advice. Directed at mainly high school students thinking about college and their future, Dream Differently provides insight about many confusing aspects of today's economy.

Dr. Bertram explains the best way to follow your dreams while still being practical. Topics such as what is your dream, what college to attend, what to major in, and what other classes to take besides required classes. While Dr. Bertram encourages STEM courses, he also explains how to pursue your dream in other areas. Overall, Dream Differently was very helpful advice on what to do to ensure your success in today's world.

Reviewer's Name: John B
King of the Wind
Henry, Marguerite McCallum
3 stars = Pretty Good

The book, King of the Wind, is a lovely story about a horse and his master. The connection between Sham, the horse, and Agba, a boy, is focused upon during the book, and the author certainly created something special.

The characters are decently developed, but the connections between characters are much better. The setting of the book is also quite unique and fits well with the story. It's more than just a classic horse story. Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone, as it's a pretty quick read and a great book.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L
Armstrong, William H.
4 stars = Really Good

The book, Sounder, is a great read. While it is a short read, it packs a powerful punch. The only reason I could really no like the book was that it does get to a be a cliche "dog story" at times. The characters are pretty well developed, and the story does get very dark. The multiple ongoing conflicts also captivate the reader. While its sort-of a children's book, the book also does have some cool underlying themes that the reader can pick out.

Overall, I recommend this book to anyone, as its quick and phenomenal read.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L
The Rules
Holder, Nancy
3 stars = Pretty Good

The Rules, by Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguie, is a great thriller but lacks much else. The focus of the book is on the plot, but it's just an average thriller plot. None of the characters are developed over the course of the book, and it doesn't have enough clues to be a mystery. I felt like the author could've expanded for on the theme of rules, but it was a good idea. The book just kinda lacks sustenance, although it does provide a pretty good thriller experience. I would recommend this book to an avid thriller fan, but not really anyone else.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L
The One and Only Ivan
Applegate, Katherine Castelao
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

"The One and Only Ivan" by Katherine Applegate is about a silverback gorilla named Ivan who lives at a mall and video arcade told from his perspective.
Ivan has other animal friends that include an old elephant named Stella who is sick and in pain. He goes through a lot of things with his friends but he still wants to go somewhere with other gorillas because he thinks he is the only gorilla he will ever know. The mall almost closes until a new baby elephant arrives. At the mall the elephants are mistreated and Ivan and Stella don't like that another elephant will be hurt. Time goes on until Stella becomes very sick. The mall downplays her illness until she can no longer do the tricks, so doctors come to help Stella get better. In the end all the animals including Ivan go to a zoo where they are treated better and are with other animals.

I would recommend this book. It is very heartwarming but at the same time sad. I cried multiple times while reading "The One and Only Ivan". I chose to read this book because I read it before in third grade and wanted to read it again. Obviously, I could not relate to the characters who were animals. The ending is surprising and the book isn't predictable.

Reviewer's Name: Oriana O.
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Orczy, Baroness
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Ever since I saw the inimitable Richard E. Grant in the "The Scarlet Pimpernel" TV series, I have been enamored by these tales from Baroness Orczy. As the cliche goes though, the book is far superior to any adaptation I've seen thus far. After the French Revolution, the new government of France established the "Reign of Terror", where the citizens of France took out their anger and vengeance on any of the old aristocracy that they could find - whether they were guilty of oppressing the people, or not. Enter The Scarlet Pimpernel(!), an elusive daredevil, whose secret league of Englishmen risk their lives to save the aristocratic victims of the people of France. When the government of France charges their agent, Citizen Chauvelin, with discovering the identity of their mysterious enemy, he blackmails Lady Blakeney, a pinnacle of London society, into aiding him in his treacherous task. Who will she turn to, to help save her only brother - her insipidly foppish husband, Sir Percy Blakeney? He may be rich, and the leader of fashion in London's high society, but he's certainly not a "man of action" for something so perilous and vital. Lady Blakeney must face her inner struggles to try to find the hero who she admires so much, only to betray him. Meanwhile, the infamous guillotine awaits her next victims...

Published in 1905, "The Scarlet Pimpernel" established many of the hero tropes that are familiar today, such as having a secret identity, and using disguises and intelligence to outwit one's enemies. This is truly one of my favorite series. If you like this book, there are follow-up chapters, such as "I Will Repay", and "The Elusive Pimpernel", that are worth your attention as well!

Reviewer's Name: Chris W.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Rowling, J.K.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is a classic for today's generation. It tells the story of a boy named Harry Potter who finds out he is a wizard and proceeds to attend a wizarding school and encounter the dark wizard who killed his parents. This story was a large part of my childhood and one of the reasons I enjoy reading so much. Although it is a very easy read and truly a children's story, the Harry Potter books are magical for all ages and I would suggest everyone read them.

Reviewer's Name: Maddie K.
Irena's Children
Mazzeo, Tilar
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

This book tells the true story of Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who saved 2,500 children during the purging of Jewish people from Warsaw during World War II. This book details the trials and tribulations faced not only by Irena but the people and children of Warsaw. The underground network formed by Irena and her many friends allowed thousands of children to be placed with different families and continue living rather than being sent to German camps. I was truly awed by the courage described in this book and the measures taken by the people of Warsaw to save the lives of children who weren't even theirs or their friends. The horrors of World War II are indescribable but the necessity of remembering it is imperative, especially when stories like this are nearly unheard of

Reviewer's Name: Maddie K.
Vassa in the Night
Porter, Sarah
4 stars = Really Good

In this wildly imaginative and wacky story, the main character Vassa and her trusty living doll Erg must survive the dangers of a magical Brooklyn, convenience store, and the possibility of beheading. This story takes a modern and dark take on the Russian folktale "Vassilissa the Beautiful" as Vassa struggles with who she is and what she wants from the world. I found this book very interesting because it is much different from many of the other books I have read. This story is odd, quirky, and disconcerting to a degree as for a while you have no idea what is going on. The whole book almost seems to be an odd delusion or hallucination. I enjoyed reading this book because I am so used to flat or normal stories that have a clear indication of whats going on and it was fun to have to think and question what was going on.

Reviewer's Name: Maddie K.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before
Han, Jenny
3 stars = Pretty Good

Over the summer, I, like many teens, watched and loved the Netflix original movie, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. After watching the movie, I knew I had to read Jenny Han’s book which the movie was based upon. Although I discovered this book because of the movie, I will try and focus on the book alone for this review.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a teen romance novel about young Lara Jean, a high school daydreamer who writes love letters to the boys she has crushes on. She never sends out the letters though, they’re just for her to write so she can let out her feelings and move on from her crush. Lara Jean writes 5 letters and the story begins when they mysteriously get sent out to each of the boys. Lara Jean then has to deal with the stress and drama of it all.

The book was a fun read. It was very easy to get through, and the story was fun and not the most predictable. Lara Jean is a great character and you can’t help but love her. In fact, all of the characters are great and they really do bring the book together. However, if cheesy romantic books are not for you, then neither is this book. Although the book is not your classic love story, it is still pretty mushy, for lack of a better word. Also, it is pretty unrealistic. If you want a love story you can relate to, I doubt this one will do. Another aspect is that the book is not deep or though-provoking in the slightest. This book is only for those who want an easy, light read that they don’t have to think much about; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. Overall, the characters were great and the story was enjoyable.

It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t much more than an entertaining story.

Reviewer's Name: Ashlyn P


Korman, Gordon
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

Pop is about a boy named Marcus. In his second year of high school, he moves to a new city and a new school. In his old town, he was a Junior Varsity football player and he wants to try out for varsity this year. After he trains all summer, he shows up to tryouts to discover that he is unwanted on the team. The last season, they went 11-0 and won the championship, so they don’t want to risk losing another perfect season. He barely makes the cut but knows he will be sitting on the bench a lot.

One day while he is practicing, a strange middle aged man appears. Besides being able to catch, throw, and hit like a truck, he has an impeccable sense of balance. While Marcus is getting better at football, he wonders who the mysterious guy he practices with is and his oddities. Meanwhile, the team is headed for its second perfect season and, with Marcus’s monster blocking, they are unstoppable. Marcus finds out that the guy who has been helping him is really a ex-NFL player, but doesn’t remember because he has Alzheimer’s Disease. The family is hard at work keeping the disease a secret but it is getting Marcus in trouble. Will Marcus be able to get himself and Charlie out of trouble without spilling the big secret?

I loved this book! While I enjoy Gordon Korman’s books, I don’t usually enjoy books about sports, but this one was really great. It touched me how Alzheimer’s Disease affects not just people’s everyday lives, but how it affects the person themselves. I don’t know how you keep living when the truth is revealed to you and you are so confused.

Reviewer's Name: Ben D.
Fire & Heist
Durst, Sarah Beth
3 stars = Pretty Good

Sky’s mother has disappeared. Assuming that their mother is dead, Sky, her three brothers, and their father feel unmoored. Especially because their mother disappeared in the midst of a heist she was committing – heists are fairly normal for wyverns as they are always trying to increase their horde, but this heist was a direct attack on Sky’s boyfriend’s family. As Sky learns more about the failed heist, she realizes that her squeaky-clean-now- ex-boyfriend’s family might be hiding something. And Sky’s going to find out what it is, and save her mother…or suffer her mother’s fate.

I wanted to read this book as I’ve read Durst’s adult fantasy series the Queens of Renthia, and I really enjoyed it! When I was approved for Fire & Heist on Netgalley, I was pretty excited. And I liked the book – it’s a solid YA standalone fantasy. The worldbuilding and plot are cool, though the characters are a little one dimensional. My biggest complaint was that the book straddled two worlds and tones, and I think it would’ve been a bit better had it leaned into one a little more. The book was part quirky middle grade fiction, part dark YA fantasy. Had it gone full bore in either direction, it would’ve been a higher quality book. As it is, it’s a fun heist fantasy with some dragon flavorings which makes for a fast, amusing read.

This one would be a great read for younger teens and mature tweens who aren’t quite yet ready for Bardugo’s Six of Crows or Hartman’s Seraphina. I liked it! 3 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Crown Books for Young Readers for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an unbiased review. Fire & Heist is available to put on hold now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: The Serpent King
Zentner, Jeff
4 stars = Really Good

Dillard Early is the son of a snake handling preacher that is in prison for child pornography. He and his two best friends, Travis and Lydia, struggle to survive in small town Tennessee, where they clearly don't belong.

This is not your typical young adult book. The story defies the genre by containing minimal (although some) naval gazing and overt attempts at being angsty and hip. The story is real and the subject matter interesting. Who doesn't want to hear about snake handlers in the deep south? The twist in the middle was surprising, but I was a bit disappointed by how it occurred. Overall, darn good for young adult fiction. I listened to it on audio and it was fantastically well done.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener's Bones
Sanderson, Brandon
4 stars = Really Good

Earlier this year, I read Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and absolutely loved it. Consequently, I had high hopes for the next book in this series, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones. While there was still the same amount of self-awareness and humor in this book, it felt a little…off. Perhaps I should have read these two books closer together, but I had some trouble coming up to speed in the beginning and wasn’t entirely sure why the “goal” of this book was to find Alcatraz’s father. In any case, Sanderson’s world-building is still in top form here.

Of course, the “cute” way that this series was self-aware when I read the first book was a bit more annoying this time around. It almost felt like every chapter had to have a soliloquy, even if it didn’t link itself to where the plot was at the time—which often broke the flow of the action. Similarly, while the randomness introduced in Versus the Evil Librarians did seem to have some purpose, it seemed to have less of a purpose in this book. It felt like it was randomness for randomness sake, even if some of it did eventually come into play.

Despite the things that made the first book endearing becoming a little more grating in this book, I did enjoy the magic system, and more in-depth explanations of the lore were explored in this sequel. Things like why the main character is named Alcatraz and a better explanation of the “powers” of his family members helped round out the questions that weren’t necessarily obvious in the first book but still needed to be answered at some point anyway. The action was fantastic (if not against all laws of physics), and I wouldn’t mind seeing how the relationship between Alcatraz and Bastille develops in later books.

An amusing and well-rounded “silly fantasy,” I give Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
The Red Badge of Courage
Crane, Stephen
4 stars = Really Good

War is an ugly thing full of death and destruction. While most books written today bemoan this fact and complain that wars should never start in the first place, what do the individual soldiers handle a war that they didn’t even start? Set in the Civil War, The Red Badge of Courage is perhaps the best representation of the growth of a soldier from a deserter to a courageous fighter. Our intrinsic fear of death is what motivates so many of us to do the things we do to survive. Overcoming that fear and charging headlong into battle does take a measure of courage usually not present in most people.

Stephen Crane does a fantastic job weaving the story of a young man who has to learn what it truly means to earn the titular “red badge of courage.” His prose is almost poetic as he describes the landscapes, battles, and people who were forced to endure this historic war between brothers. There’s realism to the narrative that immerses the reader into the era and the battles that helped to define the war as a whole. In the end, though, this book could almost be set during any period and any war; the themes present within it are that timeless.

While it took me this long to finally sit down and go through this book, I’m glad I finally did. I had started it many years ago but lost interest for some reason. This time around, I was able to appreciate the story based solely on the strength of Crane’s writing. I know this book is usually assigned to elementary school students at some point, but if it has escaped your “read” list as it did for me, then I would urge you to pick it up and give it a read. It won’t take long, and it’s certainly worth the time spent reading it.

A timeless classic that deals with the human side of war, I give The Red Badge of Courage 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease
Moalem, Sharon
4 stars = Really Good

Survival of the Sickest, by Dr. Sharon Moalem, is a book that talks about the surprising connections between disease and longevity. The author does a great job of changing the reader's understanding of illness and presenting a new view of our bodies. While some people may find biology and other sciences boring, the book applies to everyone. The information is conveyed well and in a way that isn't just straight facts and boredom.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone, especially those who are into biology.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L
The Never War
MacHale, D.J.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!

The Never War, by D. J. MacHale, is the third book in the Pendragon series. The series take place in a dystopian universe where multiple "territories" exist. This time, Bobby Pendragon, the main protagonist, is forced to set out to "First Earth" to protect New York City during the year 1937. The book's setting is amazing and cleverly crafted, as always, and the plot is intruiguing as well. The characters are also well developed and their identities start to mature after the first two books. The antagonist Saint Dane is also fascinating as his entire identity is shrouded in mystery.

Overall, the book is a great adventure novel and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in books like the Harry Potter series.

Reviewer's Name: Steven L