Ember Williams leads an active life at Heller High. She covets a 4.0 GPA, runs track, and captains the debate team. On the surface, she looks like a high-achieving teenager with a bright future. But there are secrets at Heller High. Secrets that Ember wants to uncover and force into the light. The Red Court is a rumor, smoke vanishing into nothing under the fluorescent lighting of Heller High’s hallways. It’s rumored to be a secret society made up of female students, led by a mysterious ‘Queen of Hearts.’ They say the Red Court grants wishes. Desperate students can stuff a note in an unclaimedRead More →

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, I needed a feel-good book, and Alex Flinn’s Love, Jacaranda did not disappoint.  Written in one-way email correspondence, almost like a diary, Flinn’s book performs some genre-bending in that it is realistic fiction sprinkled with mystery and romance. Named for the tree that heralds springtime in Southeastern Florida, Jacaranda Abbott bags groceries at a Publix supermarket.  Because she loves to sing and to bring joy to others, she performs for Mr. Louis, one of her favorite patrons. Chorus has always been the best part of her school day, since it is “sort of like a little vacay right in the middleRead More →

Used to building her life around empty spaces, around locked doors and unanswered questions, Margot Nielsen is starved for details about her family and her roots.  All she has are her mother’s reticence, semi-coldness, and confusing and manipulative mannerisms. “How to keep a fire burning. How to stitch a fight up until it’s only a scar.  That’s the kind of thing you learn with a mother like mine. Mostly, though, you learn how to be loved without any proof” (8). In a pawn shop where objects are cluttered and close, Margot finds clues to her past and a family.  Because she’s seventeen years old, drowningRead More →

Dressed in a disguise, the Queen of Mynaria plays the cello with passion and life as her ten-year-old daughter Princess Amaranthine sings in the ale houses.  But mothers die, and Mare becomes a different person after donning a surly personality, wearing it like a suit of armor.  Bold and brazen, she is vakos, a girl without magic and one with an affinity for trouble and without a knack for social pleasantries.  More comfortable in communities where horsemanship is a measure of rank, Mare falls in love with Dennaleia, Princess of Havemont who was betrothed to Mare’s brother, Thandi, and groomed to be a queen.  ButRead More →

Readers of Tamora Pierce (Song of the Lioness series) and Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows) will likely find Amanda Foody’s new novel, Ace of Shades to be an equally dark and thrilling fantasy-mystery.  This first book in the Shadow Game trilogy features seventeen-year-old Enne Salta, whose only known mother-figure has gone missing. Determined to find Lourdes Alfero—the one person who has listened and advised and cared—Enne leaves her lady-in-training finishing school and her familiar life in Bellamy to cross the seas to New Reynes.  The solitary lead Enne has is a name, that of Levi Glaisyer, and when she arrives in the City of Sin,Read More →

Misunderstood and somewhat disengaged from her sophomore classmates, Jess Cutter lives in a fictional town in Montana called Birdton, where not much happens and where “unwritten sock protocols” often marginalize her.  When her identical twin sister Anna—creative writer and out-going socializer—dies mysteriously, grief consumes Jess, but she’s afraid that if she begins to cry, she will “dissolve, leaving only a ring of salt behind” (22). Because her sister’s death leaves Jess feeling like a part of her is missing, she gives her life purpose by working to reconstruct the events of her sister’s death so that she can understand not only Anna’s motivations but the secretsRead More →

Somewhat like the choose-your-own-adventure books with alternate endings, Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore occasionally leaves the reader with the feeling of being lost in a maze, confused by the various plot twists and turns or coming upon a similar detail and experiencing déjà vu.  Although Cashore’s book is intended for linear, cover-to-cover reading, when the book’s protagonist, Jane, approaches an important choice, the reader follows her down that path to see how the decision plays out. The novel begins on a boat, with Jane travelling to Tu Reviens, a house on an island and a place of opportunity.  She had promised her deceased aunt MagnoliaRead More →

If you’re the sort of person who secretly reads the end of a novel first, then Emily Lockhart’s new book Genuine Fraud was written with you in mind because it begins with Chapter 18 and works its way to Chapter 1. Lockhart writes about two young women: Imogen Sokoloff and Jule West Williams, two orphans and school friends who defy social conventions but have histories that bind them.  Imogen, a New York City, private-school blond, is an open-minded, confident, and desirable friend and hostess who draws people in with her power, money, enthusiasm, and independence.  She refuses to strive for greatness or to work toward other people’s definitionsRead More →

While Lady Julia Lindsay Mackenzie Wallace Beaufort-Stuart (aka Julie) is home from a Swiss boarding school and exploring her grandad’s Murray Estate in Strathfearn, Scotland, she wanders upon a pearl thief and receives a blow to the head.  As she tries to recall the events of that fateful day on the Fearn River and to untangle a mystery of thievery, assault, and murder, she learns that memory is a strange and unreliable thing.  To solve the mystery, Julie must string together the clues, like pearls torn from a necklace. Besides being a mystery, The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein fits my definition of Cultural IdentityRead More →