Conviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert

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Braden is the star on his baseball team, his dad is a famous radio DJ, and he seems to have everything going for him. That changes when Braden and his dad are in a car accident that leads to the death of a police officer. Now, Braden’s dad is on trial for murder, and Braden will have to testify in the case. Braden’s older brother, Trey, comes home after being gone for ten years, but their reunion is awkward and Trey wants nothing to do with the trial. Somehow, Braden must find a way to get his life back and decide what to say at the trial. Will he be brave enough to tell the truth?

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, but it was really good! I’m not a baseball person, but the sports terminology wasn’t hard to follow. The family drama was engaging and meaningful, and I liked how the author drew out the suspense surrounding the trial. I was never sure what happened until the very end. This author is also an incredible writer, so I can’t wait to see what she puts out next. If you like books with feels, this is a solid pick.

Rating: 4/5 

 

 

When by Victoria Laurie

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Since Maddie can remember, she’s been able to see numbers on the foreheads of everyone around her. As she grows older, Maddie realizes that the numbers she sees are the dates that person will die. After the death of her father, Maddie’s mom uses Maddie’s power to make extra money for the family, even though her daughter would rather keep the death-dates to herself. One day, Maddie reads the death-date of a healthy young boy, a boy who turns up missing on the exact day that Maddie predicted he would die. As authorities begin to look at Maddie for the possible crime, Maddie must find a way to clear her name before others around her go missing as well.

This book was soooo great! I really loved it! The plot is super fast-paced, the mystery intriguing, and it gave me a lot to think about. Would I want to know when I die? I can’t decide. My one complaint about the book is that I felt the ending was too quickly wrapped up. I wanted more! If you’re looking for a in-depth, challenging read, this isn’t it. BUT, if you’re looking for an exciting, quick read with a unique plot, here’s your book. Give it a try the next time you’re in the mood for a mystery/thriller.

Lonestar, 2016

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

After May’s best friend, Libby, dies in a car accident, May is lost. The girls used to do everything together, including creating a comic series called “Princess X”. The comic features a strong female character (Princess X) who must take back her kingdom from usurpers. A few years after Libby’s death, May begins to see pictures of Princess X plastered around town. At first, May thinks the stickers and posters must be some sort of weird coincidence — someone must have copied Libby’s drawings. But, as the clues keep piling up, May isn’t so sure. Is Libby really dead? If not, where is she, and why does everyone think she’s dead?

Wow! I LOVED this book. I really like that it features strong, smart female characters who are obviously super talented. I also loved that we get to read the Princess X comments along with May’s story. While this book has a large “tech-thriller” aspect, don’t worry if you’re not tech-savvy; the book is still very easy to understand. I can’t lie, I read this book in almost one sitting because I just HAD to know what happened next. If you’re looking for a new mystery/thriller to read or if you love web comics/graphic novels, definitely try this book out. I just hope there are more!

*Lonestar, 2016

Rating: 4.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Set in New York during the roaring 20’s, Bray’s epic novel weaves together the lives of Evie, a flapper determined to find the “good” life, Memphis, a number’s runner with a powerful gift, Theta, a Ziegfeld girl running from her past, and many more. Evie, foremost in the cast of characters, is sent to live with her bachelor uncle in New York after a public embarrassment, and finds herself helping him with a murder investigation. Evie, who boasts the ability to “read” objects, must use her ability to help find the murderer, though a darker mystery looms in the near future.

This one was not my favorite. I had high hopes, as I know Libba Bray won the Printz for Going Bovine, but this was a real letdown. First of all, it’s incredibly long (578 pages). I don’t mind length if the story is really good, but Bray filled up most of these pages with back-story that wasn’t necessary to plot development, and lengthy descriptive prose. If I want to read a whole two pages about what the wind “feels”, I’ll pick up Dickens. Aside from wordiness, Bray also riddles the text with 1920’s slang. I think she was trying to add legitimacy, but the constant “-ski’s” and “pie face’s” got annoying. I just really expected better.

That said, once Bray finally got down to business, the murder mystery/serial killer hunting was fantastic. There were points that were really exciting, and I definitely wanted to see how the novel ended. The ending was another let-down, though. Oh well. As always, just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean you won’t, so if you’re a fan on the ’20’s, murder mysteries, or ghost stories, give this one a try!

This one has a great book trailer!

Rating: 2.5/5

*YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2013

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Jazz Dent is your typical teenager; he has a best friend, girlfriend, and is involved in his high school activities. But unlike his “normal” peers, Jazz has a problem: his dad, Billy Dent, is the most notorious serial killer alive. With “dear old dad” safely behind bars, Jazz tries to outrun his father’s shadow, attempting to convince himself that he’s not the same as his father. Try as he might, Jazz’s efforts are blocked by Billy’s insistence that Jazz will one day join the deadly “family business”. What’s more, Jazz is distracted by a recent murder in his town – one that he feels he must solve before people start believing he’s the killer.

This one is great if you love thrillers. The premise alone is enough to suck you in — teenager with a serial killer for a dad? Yes, please. In many ways, the story reminded me of the Showtime series, Dexter (which is also a book series by Jeff Lindsay), only the protagonist, Jazz, isn’t a killer. However, he does know enough about killing to be one, and he spends most of the novel fighting what he believes is his true nature. Jazz’ fight with himself, coupled by his insatiable drive to catch the new murder in this town, will have you hooked until the end. While the novel can be a bit predictable at times, there are plenty of surprises. I thought I had figured out who the killer was within the first chapter —  I was wrong. Which was great, because I hate figuring things out early. If you’re a fan of suspense, action, mystery, and bloody crime scenes, give this one a try! If you love it, there are two more in the Jasper Dent series: Game, and Blood of My Blood. Lyga has also released some prequels. I’m not a huge fan of prequels — I feel like most of the time authors are just reaching when they start releasing those. But who knows? They might be just as good.

This one also has a great book trailer! Click here to watch

Rating: 4/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Kindness for Weakness by Shawn Goodman

Desperate to earn his older brother, Louis’, attention, fifteen-year-old James enlists in Louis’ drug dealing business. However, when James is caught by police and Louis leaves him to fend for himself, James finds himself the small, scrawny kid locked up in “juvie”. Desiring only to do his time and get out, James must find a way to survive amidst a sea of pre-eighteen-year-old “gangbangers”, and learns the true meaning of self-respect and loyalty.

I think the saddest thing about this book is that it’s so real. Goodman, in the author’s note, even apologizes for how sad the book is. However, its sadness is also reality. If you’re curious at all about the juvenile criminal justice system, this is the book for you. The characters are strikingly real, and the situations even more so. I especially liked that Goodman doesn’t make the novel too preachy — it’s not a “scared straight” book. This is just James’ attempt to find himself in an incredibly hostile environment, after he’s been lost for years. I have to warn you though — it’s heavy.

Aside from the sadness, I feel like something just fell flat with Goodman’s plot. James’ story is an important one, and he’s an easy character to relate to, but there was just something missing. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a good book. Just not a great one. Still worth a try, though! You might love it!

Rating: 3/5

*YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults

*TAYSHAS Reading List, 2014

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

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Told in screenplay format, Myers depicts the trial of Steve Harmon, a sixteen-year-old accused of second-degree murder. According to prosecutors, Steve acted as lookout during a drug store hold-up, during which the owner of the drugstore was killed. With the help of his defense attorney, Steve must separate himself from the other accused participants in the crime or face a possible death sentence.

So, this book is a little older (published 1999), but it’s still great. Its screenplay format is extremely interesting and provides excellent opportunities for read-alouds and even reader’s theater (the format also makes for a great quick read if that’s what you’re looking for). Though published 15 years ago, Steve’s story is extremely relevant. I would recommend pairing this book with some research about what happened to Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station, and also the recent case of the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Myers’ work is all about racial stereotypes, so it would be interesting to see how much has (or hasn’t) changed in the past decade (and a half).

Aside from the social commentary, Monster is an all-around entertaining read. Steve Harmon is arguably an unreliable narrator, and he keeps you guessing throughout the whole book. The screenplay is paired with entries from Steve’s diary, which adds a powerful touch to the court proceedings. In all, this is a great book if you’re at all interesting in the justice system, or if you like criminal dramas. Give it a read!

Rating: 4/5

*Printz Award Winner, 2000

*National Book Award Nominee, 1999

*Coretta Scott King Honor Book, 2000
For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.