In a near-future where society is obsessed with social media, followers, and apps, The Postman app is the newest big thing. Alcatraz 2.0 takes convicted killers and puts them in a suburbia setting on Alcatraz, where serial killers hunt them down and kill them in graphic, theatrical detail for those watching on the app.
Dee’s sister, Monica, was obsessed with the app, so when Dee wakes up in a deserted warehouse, she knows immediately she’s been sent to Alcatraz 2.0 for the murder of her sister. With social media buzzing with bets on the quickness of her demise, Dee decides she’s not going to just roll over and die.
Instead, Dee takes on the notorious serial killers, determined that this princess is going to rescue herself—and prove her innocence. She just has to survive the worst the island has to offer.
#murdertrending was, to me, a scary look at a future that wouldn’t surprise me at all if it came true, considering how our culture is changing. The characters were a bit underdeveloped, and the identity of The Postman didn’t surprise me at all—the foreshadowing was a little heavy-handed—but it was a quick, easy read. If you’re squeamish, you might want to give this a pass, as it’s pretty graphic.
Ashley was fourteen, a freshman, when she was raped by the senior star for points in the traditional football team scavenger hunt. That was two years ago. A year ago, her rapist was sentenced to a paltry year in prison as the community, the team, and her brother supported him.
Ashley still suffers from debilitating panic attacks that make her wonder if she’ll ever get better. She’s a pariah at school—for getting football thrown out—but when the team is reinstated, she’s desperate to prevent the scavenger hunt that changed her life forever from hurting anyone else. Though scared and afraid, Ashley decides to speak up one more time.
Her brother Derek, away at school, blames himself for what happened to his sister—and how he reacted. What he once saw as normal behavior, he now sees as rape culture, but he doesn’t know how to communicate with Ashley—or anyone else—his remorse and determination to be part of a change. At Thanksgiving, with their entire family falling apart, Derek and Ashley must decide if their relationship is worth the effort it will take to repair.
Patty Blount loves chocolate, cars, and reading. Someone I Used to Know is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.)
Elise doesn’t want to leave the city and start over in a new town, but since the death of her brother in Afghanistan, her mom has checked out, and her sister-in-law and niece need help. So, they move to a small coastal town, but Elise just longs to get back to the city.
Until she meets Mati on the beach one day. He’s Afghan, and Elise must put that aside and get to know him. She discovers a kind, quiet, caring boy who she has so much in common with.
But his religion and culture—and both their families—are huge obstacles. Not to mention the looming date of Mati’s return home. Is there any way to make things work out?
Katy Upperman is a YA author. The Impossibility of Us is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Swoon Reads in exchange for an honest review.)
The Stone Plague has tormented England for years. There is no cure. In most cases, it means death. For a lucky few, it means a life of despair and being shunned and beaten. Thomas Fawkes has the plague, but it’s dormant, hidden behind his eye patch, and almost no one knows.
Except his father, the legendary Guy Fawkes, known for his bravery and courage. But he abandoned Thomas after his son got the plague, and all Thomas wants from him is his own mask—so he can graduate and make his way in the world using his color power as a Keeper, one who bonds with a single color power. Keepers are beaten and killed now that an Igniter king is on the throne, so Thomas trusts no one.
When his father doesn’t show up, Thomas is kicked out and abandoned. Angry, he makes his way to London, and finds his father embroiled in a plot to kill the king and Parliament, destroying Igniter power forever and putting a Keeper on the throne. But Thomas starts to see that things aren’t as his father believes, and with the help of a classmate, an Igniter girl with more power than he’s ever seen, he learns the truth. Now Thomas must decide between his father and the girl he loves—and his choice is a death sentence for one.
I found the magic system in Fawkes fascinating and unique. Thomas is a troubled character searching for the truth amid many obstacles. His relationship with his father—the notorious Guy Fawkes—is complex and nuanced, and the exploration of English culture is vivid and probably uncomfortably accurate. I highly enjoyed reading this adventure.
Nadine Brandes loves Harry Potter and Oreos. Fawkes is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)
Hope Diaz lives in New York City. She spends her time swimming, studying, and caring for her mother, who has dementia. She doesn’t have time for parties, so when she receives a mysterious invitation to one, she doesn’t really care. It seems like every other senior in the city got one, so it can’t be all that special. Until she realizes that everyone else can only see a single sentence on the invitation…and she sees more.
Soon, Hope finds herself on Mount Olympus, a guest of the gods, as she and other challengers prepare for a competition that will grant them their greatest wish. Hope doesn’t want immortality. She just wants to go home and take care of her mother.
But leaving Olympus isn’t an option and Hope soon finds out that not everything—or everyone—is as it seems.
Olympian Challenger isn’t a completely unique concept. I’ve seen lots of comparisons to Percy Jackson and Hunger Games. Sure, there are similarities. It’s difficult to write anything that has nothing in common with any other book ever written. But Olympian Challenger is its own story.
Hope is an interesting character, and the friendships she forges on Olympus are intriguing and inspiring. I enjoyed seeing the gods and the heroes through her less-than-impressed eyes. While the plot lags in places and does skimp on details at times, the writing is solid, and I’m interested in reading the second book.
Astrid Arditi lives and writes in Brooklyn. Olympian Challenger is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.)
Sadie has a boyfriend she loves, Henry, who plays in a band and loves her even though she can’t understand why. Her best friend, Lucie, runs Cross Country and is a secret nerd, but still loves to hang out with Sadie. Then there’s George. George just gets her. They talk for hours. They go on adventures. They explore the world around them. Together, they are magic.
George is a secret. He’s imaginary. But when a car accident leaves Sadie calling out his name, she ends up in a hospital for people with issues like hers.
Life with George is more extraordinary than anything Sadie has experienced without him. But, while trying to keep her secret, she starts to yearn for something more, for something real. Can she give up George and the magical lives she leads with him?
At first, I wasn’t too sure about this book. I mean, daydreaming is one thing, but Sadie takes it to a whole other level. Her adventures with George are fantastic, but she just can’t see how great her real life is, too. I just didn’t get it at first, but then it all started to make sense, and I really felt for Sadie and all she’d been through. This is an exploration of mental illness from the inside—and it is very, very well done and vivid.
Tara Wilson Redd lives in Washington D.C. The Museum of Us is her debut novel.
(Galley provided by Random House Children’s/Wendy Lamb Books in exchange for an honest review.)
Lulu Saad has her squad, her family, and a huge chip on her shoulder. She doesn’t need anything else. She’s fasting for Ramadan, which she does every year, and her squad still doesn’t get it, but Lulu is determined to make it through this time.
Except Lulu and her friends have a falling out. And she alienates half of her extended family. And she can’t quite figure out why everything in her life is going wrong…
Okay. I didn’t realize quite how…plotless this book was until I tried to write a synopsis. And now it’s all so clear to me…Lulu and her friends aren’t very likeable. Scratch that. They aren’t likable at all. They do stupid stuff, knowingly. They talk about people. They sabotage people. They’re judgmental. Basically, this book is all angst and anger, with a lot of cultural diversity thrown in.
Now, that part was very well done, and executed so well that I caught all the nuances of Lulu’s struggle to fit in when she feels like she doesn’t belong in either culture. But she’s also touchy to the point of looking for things to take offense at. Have some respect for yourself. Guys should absolutely respect women, and women should be able to wear whatever they want without having to be afraid of guys’ reactions…but, it’s not okay to sexualize men for their bodies, either. Lulu doesn’t get this, and she thinks it’s okay for her to be focused on the guys and for her to react inappropriately towards them. So…all the stars for diversity, but no stars for plot or character likability.
Aminah Mae Safi has studied art History, but now writes fiction. Not the Girls You’re Looking For is her debut novel.
(Galley provided by in exchange for an honest review.)
Hannah and Emory are next-door-neighbors and best friends. Until a few months ago, when they had a fight and said some things they can never take back. Hannah’s life at the Christian school her father runs is great, but is her faith really her own, or is it something she just picked up from her family? These questions become even harder when she realizes she may never get the chance to live out her dreams and gets involved with someone she should never have been involved with.
Emory is preparing for her UCLA performing arts audition and enjoying every moment she has left with her boyfriend, Luke. They’ll be going off to separate colleges, and she knows they don’t have much time left. Emory just wants to avoid her memories of the fight with Hannah—and what caused them.
The distance between the two girls seems unsurpassable, until the night Hannah finds Luke in his car outside Emory’s house, doubled over and on the verge of death. In the aftermath of that ordeal, the girls seek to sort out their differences, and realize their friendship is the strength that keeps them both afloat.
I loved this book. I could relate to Hannah so much, and the way she struggles with defining her own faith, while fighting for the chance to chase her dreams, was both poignant and uplifting. She makes some bad decisions, but learns from them, and changes as a result. Emory is a vibrant girl who practically dances across the pages. Her outgoing personality hides a secret—and a fear of the future. The two of them are drawn back together because of Luke, but their friendship is the backbone of this wonderful novel.
Tamara Ireland Stone is a New York Times-bestselling author and her novels have won several awards. Little Do We Know is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)
Tilla has finally made it to safety in the city of Lightspire. She’s there with her boyfriend, Zell, and her best friend, Princess Lyriana—safe from her rebelling, murderous father (she’s his illegitimate, disposable daughter), who’s intent on overthrowing the king. But the whispers and accusations follow her even as she attends the prestigious University.
Life in Lightspire isn’t what she imagined, but she does her best to fit in…until she stumbles on the body of one of her friends and sees a mysterious mage with deadly powers. Tilla’s friends won’t listen to her—what she saw is treason, and she’s already under suspicion due to her father.
But Tilla knows what she saw and is determined to find out the truth. Things don’t make sense: not the secretive cult causing trouble in Lightspire, not how her father’s army is beating the invincible Lightspire mages, and certainly not the secrets those closest to her are keeping.
I haven’t actually read Royal Bastards, which is the first book in this series. And that did not make much difference at all in reading City of Bastards (although it might have explained the title a little bit). Although the setting is pretty traditional for fantasy, Tilla (and Lyriana) is a surprisingly modern teenager, complete with getting drunk and how open she is about her physical relationship with Zell. (So, if you’re expecting “traditional” fantasy/medieval values, that’ll be a shocker.) Her observations give the story an edge and settle the reader firmly in her point-of-view, so we’re just as shocked as she is at the murder and betrayal she experiences. I loved these characters, and I intend on going back and reading Royal Bastards to catch up.
Andrew Shvarts was born in Russia but grew up in the U.S. City of Bastards is his newest book, the second in the Royal Bastards series.
(Galley provided by Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)
Cliff Hubbard tries to stay in the background at Happy Valley High School, a difficult task for someone who’s 6’6”, 250 pounds, and called Neanderthal by the whole school. Cliff’s life sucks: he has no friends and his home life in a ratty trailer park has only gotten worse since his older brother committed suicide last year. He can’t stand the popular kids, and he doesn’t even know what to say to the druggies who hang around outside of school.
The guy he hates the most is Aaron Zimmerman, the perfect star quarterback who can do no wrong. All Cliff wants is to beat that smug look off Aaron’s face. Until Aaron has a near-death experience and returns to school with a message: while unconscious, he saw God, who gave him a list of things to do to make Happy Valley better…and Cliff is the only one who can help him.
To his own surprise, Cliff agrees, and he and Aaron start on the List which includes the meanest English teacher ever, a computer hacker intent on exposing the entire school’s secrets, the local drug dealers, the school’s most sadistic bully, and a group of teens who are Christian in name only. But soon Cliff will realize the List is more personal than he ever suspected—and he must act if he’s to prevent tragedy from striking Happy Valley High again.
I’m just going to say it: I LOVED this book! I generally prefer female YA protagonists, but Cliff was wonderful! His voice and humor brought this story to life, and I couldn’t wait to see what he’d do next. Cliff’s family life is sad and hard, and I felt so sorry for him at times I wanted to cry. But at heart, he’s such an optimistic, good-hearted person. Even the minor characters in this book are vivid (and somewhat over-the-top, making them completely realistic), and I loved every page.
Preston Norton’s newest book is Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe.
(Galley provided by Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)