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Read + Review: The Friend Scheme by Cale Dietrich

Amazon.com: The Friend Scheme (9781250186997): Dietrich, Cale: Books

You can reserve a print copy here and an eBook copy here!

Matt Miller is a high-school student with a big secret: his father is the head of one of the biggest mobster families in the city. His secrets don’t stop there. Matt grapples with the fact that he will never live up to the son his father has raised him to be, a ruthless and cold killer who hates the Donavans’ his family has been fighting with for years. With these doubts in mind, he ends up meeting a boy named Jason who begins to see Matt as the person he really is. This connection between the two boys turns from romantic to dangerous as new plots and secrets reveal themselves and Matt must make a choice to stay loyal to his family or to reveal who he really is.

I found myself relating to the main character, Matt, a lot of times when reading the book. I think the author did a great job narrating his feelings and writing his journey. The book goes into detail the inner crisis he has within himself and the struggle between making his family proud or choosing his own path in life. The plot reminded me of Romeo and Juliet as it was about two boys from opposite sides of a war who fall in love with each other. I appreciated how Matt was able to finally find himself and figure out what he wanted to do with his life. I felt proud in the end when he realized that a life of crime wasn’t permanent for him and that he could stand up to his father and choose his own destiny.

A thing I found memorable about the book was the plot twists that had me gripping the edge of my seat. I also appreciated how the relationship between Jason and Matt wasn’t rushed at all and was taken slowly. One thing I did dislike though was that it felt as if it was too fast paced and lacked emotion at some point. Especially towards the end when the biggest conflict of the book gets quickly resolved, I wanted more detail going into that. I also wanted Matt to spend more time trying to fix his strained relationship with his father. The dialogue also seemed awkward in some parts, as it went over the same point multiple times.

Reviewed by Tasnia, Libbie Mill Library

Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed

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After humiliating herself and nearly ruining her odds at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the last thing Khayyam Maquet wants to do is relax in France during her summer vacation. The annual family holiday in Paris is something that Khayyam should look forward to, but after being burned by a judge for her scholarship essay, all Khayyam can think about is how to rewrite her submission. Add Khayyam’s so-called boyfriend Zaid, who suddenly stopped communicating with her, and it almost seems impossible for Khayyam to enjoy herself. A chance encounter changes everything when she meets Alexandre Dumas, the descendant of the famous writer with the same name. Khayyam, an aspiring art historian, is thrilled, considering how the original Dumas was a topic in her failed essay. When they discover a connection between Dumas, Delacroix (a renowned painter), Lord Byron (a famed poet), and a Muslim woman named Leila forgotten to history, Khayyam is determined to solve the mystery of the woman’s story. Together with Alexandre, Khayyam searches throughout Paris for clues and embarks on a journey of revelation while exploring her identity. Switching back and forth between Khayyam in present day and the enigmatic Leila of the nineteenth century, this story takes a look at the struggles of two young women making their mark on history.

I like how Khayyam was French, Muslim, Indian, and American, and how her complex identity makes up who she was. Her feelings of not being able to completely fit into any of those groups is relatable. I like how witty and clever Khayyam was, and Khayyam’s dialogue with other characters was usually amusing to read. Khayyam’s disdain of colonialism and orientalism is also something I appreciate. The author’s detailed writing style made it easier to envision the story happening, and doesn’t take away from the moment. This is where things start going a bit downhill for me. Much of the plot can only be described as unbelievable. There are numerous instances that require suspension of disbelief, especially regarding the historical hunt where everything feels straightforward and convenient. History is a field of study that requires great research and substantial evidence to transform ideas into facts; both of these elements in this book are a bit weak, which is why I can’t accept this book’s attempt at creating a realistic discovery of the forgotten past. Despite the characters being intriguing, I didn’t really connect with them. Zaid has few character traits besides being sketchy and while Alexandre is mildly likeable, in the end he falls a little flat. Khayyam’s parents are generally happy and perfect at saying the right things to Khayyam. However, they aren’t in the story enough for me to get attached and thus they lack some depth. They also seem a little too relaxed, letting their seventeen-year-old daughter roam around Paris alone or with a friend she just made that summer. Although I previously stated that I liked some things about Khayyam, there were other things that bothered me too much to fully enjoy her character. First, her constant feminist comments started to annoy me. Of course, feminism itself isn’t bad and I know it is one of this book’s themes, but when it’s forced into the majority of the conversations Khayyam has, it gets redundant. I even sometimes felt this way about some of Khayyam’s remarks on colonialism and orientalism, despite liking the general attitude. I wish the author made her point in a way that didn’t feel overdone. Second, Khayyam is extremely trusting, to the point where she seems too naive. In the past, she hadn’t seen through Zaid despite his shady behavior. In the present, she randomly comes across this stranger who happens to be related to Dumas and almost right after, they exchange phone numbers. I can’t think of any good reason for why she wasn’t more cautious around Alexandre. These thoughts, juxtaposed with Khayyam’s almost immediate attraction to him, make it jarring to read and puzzling to understand. Third, Khayyam’s behavior is questionable. She is upset with how unclear her relationship with Zaid is, but instead of being direct with him, Khayyam instead moves onto Alexandre and even uses him to make Zaid jealous. Despite not liking how Zaid plays mind games, Khayyam does the same. Moving onto Leila, my main complaint is that her story was short. When I first read the original synopsis, I expected that I would be reading a novel split between the two heroines’ perspective. In reality, there are only a few pages at the most whenever the book shifts to Leila’s narrative while Khayyam usually has full chapters. The brevity made Leila’s story seem less important than Khayyam’s, and the briefness also made Leila’s character too distant for me to care about her. What’s even more baffling is how concerned Khayyam is with Leila and her story. Maybe that’s just how Khayyam is, but if the author had given the reader an opportunity to actually connect with Leila, I feel that I wouldn’t have been as uninterested with Leila’s story and I would’ve understood Khayyam’s passion for learning about this unknown woman. The story’s shortness, plus its formal writing style, makes Leila’s side of things overall a bit dull. As for the rest of the historical content (regarding Dumas, Delacroix, and Lord Byron), I only had a vague idea of their significance. Only those who were familiar with at least one of the men could somewhat follow. Being a person who hadn’t really known any of them, it was all hard to keep track of. I especially got lost in the areas of the story where the historical content is rather dense. This was another part of the story that wasn’t as interesting, and it made me care less about the historical mystery. I wish the author exposed the reader to those famous men in an intriguing way so that I could understand the great enthusiasm Khayyam had for this part of the past. All things considered, Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know isn’t awful, but it definitely has flaws that lower its quality. I would probably give it a few decimal points above three stars, but I wasn’t feeling generous to round up to four stars. Frankly, it already feels a little generous putting it at three stars.

One memorable thing about this book is the themes. If the author’s goal was to leave the reader remembering her thoughts on sexism, colonialism, and orientalism, she definitely succeeded. I have difficulty recalling much of the historical aspects and how the information Khayyam and Alexandre found was significant in their journey, but I don’t think I’ll be forgetting her points anytime soon. While it was irritating how the execution was handled, these themes are still important and worth reflecting over.

Reviewed by Christine, Twin Hickory Library

Books, Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: Havenfall by Sara Holland

Amazon.com: Havenfall (9781547603794): Holland, Sara: Books

You can place a hold on a print copy or an eBook copy!

The Inn at Havenfall is a sanctuary between realms, where people from all worlds can come together safely to ensure peace and unity across the universe. Earth is the only non-magical realm, and for the sake of neutrality, the Innkeeper of Havenfall must be from there. This responsibility falls to Maddie’s uncle, who is tasked with running the Inn and preserving the delicate balance between the realms. Regardless of the pressure, Maddie’s summer visits convinced her that Havenfall is her home, and with her brother dead, her mom on death row, and her dad acting distant, she has nowhere left to go. Despite her father’s wishes, she wants more than anything to be the next Innkeeper and decides to spend her summer back at the Inn to learn from her uncle and gain his approval for her to become his successor. However, when a murder threatens the renowned safety of Havenfall and her uncle mysteriously falls unconscious, her dream starts to become true sooner than she expected. With her trust misplaced and her beliefs challenged, Maddie quickly realizes she’s in over her head as she tries to run the inn and uncover the truth about Havenfall. The fate of all the realms rests on her shoulders as forces conspire against her with the fragile balance of the worlds at risk.

While I truly enjoyed reading this book, it had its strengths and weaknesses. The plot itself was captivating, with the mystery and fantasy elements woven intricately, but the pacing was a bit off, with large chunks of exposition and narration broken up by repetitious flashbacks and plot-driving events. However, it wasn’t a detrimental issue because I was still able to appreciate the overarching story. In addition, the use of imagery in the world-building is exceptional and creative, but it feels wasted as the majority of the story only takes place at the inn. Since she is good at creating lush environments and colorful scenery, the author’s writing style is very much suited for an adventure that spans across the realms, and the one location makes it feel somewhat stuck and repetitive. The characters also lack much depth or development, except for Maddie in some cases. Nevertheless, while sometimes predictable, the story and its twists were entertaining, and, despite its flaws, I still felt invested in the novel and the fate of Havenfall.

The most memorable part of this book for me is the world-building because, while they are less explored, the realms were very unique and interesting to learn about. The history and lore of this universe were well-written and detailed, and the author’s ability to place the reader in these alternate realms with harsh environments and magical elements is excellent. While the origins of this multi-realm universe aren’t fully explained, the world itself was well-thought-out and well-imagined.

3-stars

Reviewed by Ananya, Twin Hickory Library

Books, Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: Running by Natalia Sylvester

Amazon.com: Running (9780358124351): Sylvester, Natalia: Books

You can place a hold on an eBook copy here!

Mariana Ruiz wanted to be an actor when she was eight. Her parents seem to think that she hasn’t grown at all since then and act as if she loves the constant spotlight on her family. It’s only natural that people would watch her every move since her father is running for president. All Mariana wants is some privacy, but she can’t even ask for that apparently. With her parents constantly telling her that the openness to the public is for the good of the campaign, she feels like they aren’t even listening to her. To make things worse, her best friend Vivi is moving to Miami Beach. She has to switch schools and leave Mariana to deal with this all on her own. As her distaste for the situation grows, she learns more and more about her father’s beliefs, which she begins to question. Mariana has to be careful though, because the whole country is watching what she will do next.

I liked the premise of the book, it seemed interesting, and I was not disappointed. I could feel the pressure that Mariana’s parents had placed on her shoulders and the author succeeded in making it feel unfair. You can feel Mariana’s perspective on her family change as she begins to find her own opinion. I think the only complaint I have about this book is how Mariana doesn’t seem to truly know her father’s beliefs. She somehow lived with this person for years, she even says later how he sometimes said some questionable things, and yet she never put the two together. It doesn’t seem likely that a fifteen-year-old would be this oblivious to her own father’s beliefs. The book often states that their parents keep them out of politics, but this story is set in a hazy modern day when the internet is very much a thing. This wasn’t totally unbelievable, but it was not totally believable either. This one problem doesn’t ruin the entire book though, I still think it’s a pretty good book.

The thing that I think was the most memorable was the way the author wrote Mariana. Every complaint Mariana had felt completely understandable. Even though she had a lot of grievances, she never felt whiney or spoiled. She just sounded like a completely reasonable person. Personally, my father never has run for president, but I was still able to relate to Mariana. Even though I kinda complained about this earlier, Mariana discovering what her father actually believed in was interesting to read. I really like well-written characters and Mariana was not a disappointment!

4-stars

Reviewed by Elaine, Twin Hickory Library

Books, Read + Review, Teen Reviews

Read + Review: I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

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You can find an eBook copy here or an eAudiobook copy here.

The bright colorful world of K-pop is infamous for its seemingly unattainable beauty standards. Skye Shin knows all about them. Her mother has constantly told her since childhood how fat girls shouldn’t be on stage, but that wasn’t going to stop Skye. Skye wants to show her mother, and anyone else who doubts her, that fat girls are just as, if not more, talented than anyone else. That’s why when “You’re My Shining Star”, a new K-pop competition survival show, was hosted in LA, she auditioned without telling her mother. As Skye gets thrown into K-pop scene she is immediately hit with back-lash, but there are also plenty of people wanting her to succeed. Skye perseveres through the competition showing everyone that she is star-material, regardless of her body type.

The characters in this book are true gems! There was some dialogue that were definitely cheesy, but the struggles they faced were relatable. I truly understood Skye’s need to prove her mother wrong. I was genuinely rooting for her throughout the entire book. Another thing about the characters is that they felt like real people. Some of them were definitely more morally gray than others, and they didn’t feel like characters in a story. The plot moved forward a little quickly, especially in the beginning. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, but to me it felt like things were passing by quite quickly. The plot was good in the sense that nothing felt too unrealistic.

Even though I have already stated this, the characters are super memorable! I think I like the way they portray Skye’s mother the best. I don’t think that Skye’s mother wanted to hurt her daughter, but that is what ended up happening. In the book Skye repeatedly thinks about when she was younger and how low of a self-esteem she had due to her mother’s hurtful words. Obviously Skye and her mother love each other, but their relationship definitely took a hit because of her mother’s actions. Just because I think she is a complex character does not mean I condone her actions. She pushed her standards on Skye, completely blind to the pain it was causing her. I think a lot of parents could be guilty of this. Maybe not to this extent, but I’m sure some parents have said hurtful things because they want the best for their children.

5-stars

Reviewed by Elaine, Twin Hickory Library