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Teen SRC 2021 – The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson

“The other, louder part of her mind told her that something was wrong, wrong, wrong.”

The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson is the fourth instalment in the Truly Devious series, although you could 100% read it as a standalone.

After solving the Ellingham cold case, Stephanie “Stevie” Bell finds herself bored… that is, until she receives a message from the owner of Sunny Pines, once known as Camp Wonder Falls, in Barlow Corners. He wants Stevie to help him out with a podcast on another unsolved case, the Box in the Woods murders.

In 1978, 4 camp counsellors went into the woods, and none came back out. They were stabbed brutally, and 3 of the 4 victims showed signs of head injury. These teens were Todd, the cocky Mayor’s son, Diane, Todd’s girlfriend and mediocre student, Eric, the camp weed dealer, and Sabrina… the local high school’s star student. I’ll let you decide who stands out.

It will surprise no one that I literally could not put this book down. I promise I tried, but I failed. I finished it at 11:30pm last night, which did nothing for my fear of the dark, but I genuinely could not stop turning the pages. Maureen Johnson has once again created a mystery that hooks the reader from the first page to the last.

There are lots of things to love about this book. It’s fast-paced, it creates amazing atmosphere, and Stevie talks through her thoughts very clearly, making it easy for the reader to immerse themselves. When she’s on the edge of a breakthrough, the anticipation is intense because the story is so absorbing. There are also several flashback scenes which are super helpful in keeping the reader engaged, because they feel like extra hints that not even Stevie has.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like every single aspect of the story, which is to be expected. Like I mentioned before in my review of Truly Devious, I don’t find Stevie a very likable character. Don’t get me wrong, I think she’s a great fit for narrating murder mysteries; she’s calculated, cold, and not very emotive. But she’s definitely not someone I’d like to be friends with, which detracted from my appreciation of the novel.

Another thing is the complicated romance between Stevie and David; it just didn’t belong in the book at all! It served no purpose, and it was so weird seeing Stevie suddenly feel things whenever he came around. So I apologize, but in the case of this novel in particular, I am back to being a romance hater.

Other than that, I have nothing else to critique, the beginning was a bit slow, but the other parts of the book made up for it! The mystery was well crafted as always, and it definitely lived up to my expectations.

I would rate The Box in the Woods an 8.5/10, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of murder mysteries!

Teen SRC 2021 – The Toll by Neal Shusterman

“We are imperfect beings… how could we ever fit into a perfect world?”

The Toll by Neal Shusterman is the third and final book of the Arc of a Scythe Trilogy, a Dystopian series set in a world where humanity has conquered death. Those who die are simply deadish, able to be revived within a day, and old age is no longer a concern either; anyone and everyone is welcome to ‘turn a corner’ and go back to a certain age at any time. Scythes manage population control, gleaning people to make sure the Earth does not exceed its population capacity. But of course, with great power comes great responsibility, and some just do not possess that needed quality.

As this review is for The Toll, and not the first two books of the series, there will be spoilers for Scythe and Thunderhead. If you haven’t read those yet, I recommend that you do that first!

Regardless, onto the review.

Going into this, I had high expectations. Scythe and Thunderhead were both incredible reads, and I was hoping that The Toll would wrap the series up well. I was not disappointed; this book left me reeling with a variety of emotions, and even now, I’m still processing the ending. It’s been such a journey seeing the characters develop throughout the years, and in contrast to what I critiqued in my review of Scythe, I have come to relate to the many protagonists in this world, and it brings me so much joy to follow them on their many adventures.

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Teen SRC 2021 – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner eBook by Khaled Hosseini - 9781408803721 | Rakuten Kobo  United Kingdom

“For you, a thousand times over.”

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a historical fiction novel set in Afghanistan, and the United States. It follows the life and journey of Amir, the son of a a rich Afghan businessman, whom he calls Baba. Amir is rather sensitive and intelligent, and has a talent for storytelling. He and Hassan are best friends, having grown up together, but he is jealous of how Baba seems to favour Hassan over him.

This envy, combined with Amir’s ever-growing desire to prove his worth to Baba, leads to the unthinkable. He turns a blind eye when Hassan is sexually assaulted, and pretends he has not seen. Because of this, Amir is weighted with guilt, and for many years, he looks for a way to redeem himself.

The Kite Runner is one of those books that is felt deeply. It reaches into you and plays with your heartstrings. It evokes all kinds of emotions from you, from joy to heartbreak. For this reason, I loved it. It was a gorgeous, albeit devastating read, and it truly affected me. Hosseini writes with a distinct style that changes with the characters’ ages, and it genuinely feels as if I watched Amir grow up, making it all the more engaging. The characters are so well developed, and I especially appreciate the realism with which Hosseini depicted them. He makes you realize that the world really is all different shades of gray. That people are flawed; we’re not bad, we’re not good, we’re only human.

This book is also extremely relevant given recent events, and I am so glad I had the chance to learn more about Afghanistan and its people. The ending was very open, and I actually really liked that. It leaves a tinge of hope, because what happens next is up to us to decide.

Overall, I would rate this book a 9/10. I have yet to dislike a historical fiction, and The Kite Runner was no exception. I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t opposed to a heavy, emotional read that tackles many, many important topics.

Teen SRC 2021 – Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Hi everyone! So I looked at my review history and I actually wrote one for Red Queen (Book 1 of the series) in 2017!? That’s wild. But anyway, it also means that this is long overdue, but I sincerely hope my writing has at least improved to make up for it!

*SPOILER ALERT!* I will talk about things that happened in Red Queen, so if you have yet to read Book 1, please do that first!

“No one is born evil, just like no one is born alone. They become that way, through choice and circumstance.”

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard is the second book in a scintillating fantasy series. It follows Mare, Cal, and the Scarlet Guard as they figure out their next steps after the intended execution in the Bowl of Bones that didn’t end as planned. Things are grave, seeing as Maven and Queen Elara have planted a huge target on the backs of the exiled prince and the little lightning girl, convincing the world that they murdered the late King Tiberias.

The story itself definitely wasn’t as good as Red Queen, but to be fair, not many sequels can beat their predecessors. Despite that however, it certainly wasn’t bad. It was a fast-paced, plot-driven book, and I enjoyed the re-read! I think the only thing that threw me off was the characters. I didn’t connect with them very much, and Mare is far from my favourite protagonist. However, I do have to commend Ms. Aveyard on her ability to write realistically, because humans are flawed, and she was able to portray that through her characters, even in such a wildly supernatural world.

Glass Sword felt a lot like a preparatory book for King’s Cage (which I will try to write a review for as well). It was great in its own way, but nothing substantial really occurred. It was also a tad bit overdramatic at times, but that did add to the atmosphere, so no complaints from me LOL.

Overall, I would rate this novel a solid 7/10. It has all the components of a great dystopian/fantasy novel; it simply pales in comparison to the first book. There are some brutal scenes that may be hard to read, but other than that, I would recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy/superpowers, and wouldn’t mind a side of romance!

Teen SRC 2021 – Holes by Louis Sachar

The novel I’ll be reviewing today isn’t actually categorized as a teen read, but I think it’s quite appropriate for adolescents of any age so I hope this won’t be taken down.

I loved this book back when I first read it in Grade 7 or 8, and I still love at 16, based on a recent re-read.

Holes by Louis Sachar is about a boy named Stanley Yelnats, who is under a “curse” brought upon his family by his great-great-grandfather. And because of said curse, Stanley has been sent to a boys’ detention center called Camp Green Lake, where he is forced to dig holes all day, everyday… definitely an unorthodox camp activity. Clearly, there’s something else going on that Stanley’s missing.

Holes is one of those books that feels very well planned out, I hope you know what I mean. The pacing is great, the action is great, and the plot is awesome. The ending is wrapped up very nicely and realistically, readers won’t be baffled nor unsatisfied, and the overall storyline is really cool!

I also really enjoyed the flashbacks in the book; they helped me understand the story and allowed me to predict what was coming! They were also woven in very well and didn’t disrupt the flow of anything which I appreciated. The flashbacks were also a great way of showing not telling, which allows the readers to have their own sort of “eureka” moment when they figure something out!

Overall, I’d rate the story an 8/10. It’s not the greatest thing ever, but it’s pretty darn good; especially for a “children’s” book! I’d recommend it to anyone who likes realistic adventures with a tinge of mystery! (There is also a pretty good movie adaptation of it, so if you’re a film person, you should check that out!)

TAMBA Author Interview – Eileen Cook

You Owe Me a Murder : Cook, Eileen: Amazon.ca: Books

Back in March, Stephanie and I had the chance to interview the amazing thriller writer, Eileen Cook. She has written many incredible books, such as The Hanging Girl, You Owe Me A Murder, and With Malice, so we were so excited to talk to her!

We had a blast learning about everything from where she gets her inspiration and how she builds suspense to the tips she has for emerging writers!

Read on for a few of our favourite highlights:

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Rosie: So, what got you into writing and when did you first develop more of an interest in doing it seriously?

Eileen: Well, I absolutely loved the library, and I’d go with my family every week to check out huge stacks of books. So very early on, I realized that somebody must actually write all of these stories! And I used to go and find where my book would go on the shelf if I ever wrote one, and make a little space for it there. Then, when I was 10, I discovered a book in the adult section of the library called Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King, and I went to check it out, along with my little pile of Nancy Drews and Judy Blume… and despite a warning from the librarian, I still ended up taking it home. It was terribly scary and I slept with the lights on for a while after that… but I remember thinking it was really cool! The fact that I knew it was make believe but that it was still able to make me so terrified? And that was the first time I realized, yes, I want to do this.

Rosie: I can totally relate to that! I think it’s so crazy how books are literally just words on a page, but somehow they can still make you feel so many different emotions, and so strongly too!

Stephanie: True. And speaking of the thriller and adventure genre, how do you create such suspense in your books?

Eileen: Well let me tell you, it’s a lot harder than it seems. Especially because readers are getting a lot better at solving these mysteries than they used to be. Anyway, what I play with most often is: what do people see versus what really happened? For example, say you have a crush on someone, and you decide to tell them, but then you see them hugging someone else in the cafeteria and you’re like… NOOOO! I’ll never talk to them again! But later, it turns out they had just been hugging a cousin or something. So the suspense comes from convincing people that they see one thing, when they might actually be seeing something else. It’s a little bit like magic, almost!

Rosie: That’s so cool! And speaking of ways to create suspense and make your books more thrilling, what do you think makes a good story?

Eileen: I think a good story is something that makes you want to understand the characters better. Not anything to do with the plot, it’s the person. I have to care about the characters or at least find them interesting, which can definitely pull me into the story! 

Rosie: Yes I completely agree. With amazing books, I just end up wanting to be friends with them or get to know them better.

Stephanie: And they’re really able to drive the story forward, especially in your books, I’ve noticed! Like all the actions and the plot is driven forward BY the character.

Eileen: And something else! I used to think that when writing was hard, it meant that it was bad… but in reality, sometimes writing is just difficult. Just like how any other job is just hard on some days. It’s important to just keep pushing through, and pursue your passion!

Rosie: That’s so true! And on this same topic of overcoming obstacles in writing… Do you have any general tips for becoming a writer? As I know many members of our audience are likely aspiring writers, myself included!

Eileen: Ooh… I have many tips, but I’ll just give you the most important ones; the first of these is: read a LOT of books, because sometimes they really are the best teachers. When you finish a book, open it back up and read it again. Think about potential changes you could make and how that’d affect the story! Read like a writer. Another piece of advice would be to be nice to yourself. When I first began, I’d have amazing ideas for a book but I’d start writing and just never finish because it always ended up lousy on the page. What I had to learn was that everybody writes terrible first drafts. And we often compare our rough drafts to published novels… which is not realistic at all! So yes, be nice to yourself.

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Eileen Cook is currently working on another thriller with lots of mayhem, a possible accidental murder, and maybe even poison, so keep an eye out for that — it sounds deliciously suspenseful!

Once again, a huge thank you to Ms. Cook for taking the time to talk to Stephanie and I. Our discussion was so intriguing and we definitely learned a lot!

Teen SRC 2021 – Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Tweet Cute: A Novel: Lord, Emma: 9781250237323: Books - Amazon.ca

I feel like I know what you’re thinking: Rosie writing another review on a YA romance?? ?

And yes, you are correct. I did indeed read yet another realistic fiction, teen romance novel this year :0

BUT — it’s because I was trying to get into the summer mindset and this just happened to scream teen spirit to me!!

And guess what? I liked it a lot more than Anna and the French Kiss! I know, crazy. Just read on to find out why <3

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord is the story of Pepper Evans and Jack Campbell. An enemies to friends to enemies to lovers. Yep. That’s basically it. But if you really want to get into it, let me tell you about these two, because I loved, loved, LOVED them. Remember how I commended Stephanie Perkins on making Anna and St. Clair relatively realistic and likable? Well Emma Lord blew this aspect out of the heckin’ park.

Pepper is an all-round amazing student. A perfect GPA, countless stellar extracurriculars and awards, and a naturally competitive spirit to top it all off. She’s smart, she’s driven, and she’s… lost? She isn’t quite sure what she wants to do in the future, so she’s just trying to do everything she can to make it into a top university for the time being. To add to her workload, her mother (the CEO of a huge fast-food chain, Big League Burger) is constantly asking Pepper to manage the business social media, posting snarky replies and funny tweets.

Jack, on the other hand, is the class clown, always just one step behind his incredibly popular twin, Ethan. His family runs a local deli (Girl Cheesing), and Jack’s been working there his entire life, and many of their loyal customers have watched him grow up. He knows that when he graduates, Ethan will be off changing the world, and he’ll be charged with staying and taking on the family business. Secretly though, Jack harbours dreams of going into app development and coding, and has already created several fun and unique apps.

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Teen SRC 2021 – Anna and the French Kiss

So… I haven’t read a pure romance YA novel since The Selection (which I did not enjoy very much… oops) was a thing, which was a LONG time ago. But this quarantine I caved, and finally read the mother of all YA romance, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.

I assume everyone has heard of this book before, because it’s commonly hailed as THE YA romance, so I won’t give too thorough of an introduction; if you’re interested, there are synopses everywhere on the internet, and you should be able to find a much more detailed summary quite easily!

So anyway, this is the story of an american girl by the name of Anna Oliphant, an outgoing, clumsy, aspiring film critic who is sent to a boarding school in France by her father. At first, she’s terrified, which is understandable considering the major culture shock and the abruptness of this change, but as she spends more and more time in the city of light, she starts to change her mind…

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TAMBA Author Interview – B. R. Myers

Rogue Princess

Recently, my friend, Isabella, and I were given the opportunity to interview B. R. Myers, author of Runaway Princess! It’s a beautiful sci-fi novel: a gender-swapped retelling of Cinderella! We loved the story, and it was so awesome to have the chance to speak with Ms. Myers and learn a bit about the behind-the-scenes of her book! 

Without further ado, here are some highlights from the interview:

Rosie: So how did you come up with the idea for Rogue Princess? I know it builds on that classic fairytale of Cinderella — but how did you initially think of doing a spin-off story?

B. R. Myers: In the beginning, I think I just wanted to do something different from the few contemporary novels I had already worked on. And coincidentally on Twitter, Pitmad was going on, which is when authors get to pitch their ideas for novels in a very limited number of characters. I noticed that there were a lot of retellings amongst the pitches, and I found that really cool! Cinderella is also my favourite fairytale, so that was the first thing that popped into my head when I first thought about possibly doing a twisted fairytale. So I started to think about how I could make it more unique, and gender swap came to mind. Then I joked about “oh, how about I set it in space!” and what do you know? 

Isabella: That’s so funny that it started as a joke! Yes, I’ve read many Cinderella retellings, but I’ve never encountered a gender-swap version, so I thought that was awesome! My next question is: what do you like best about being an author? What don’t you like?

B. R. Myers: What I love the most about being an author is meeting my readers, like you two! Connecting with other authors, other readers, is definitely my favourite part. As for what I don’t enjoy as much, I would have to say the “waiting” portion. When you’re trying to get published, there are so many external factors that take a long, long time to work out! For example, after I wrote Rogue Princess, I was super excited and I wanted to share it with the world, right away! But I had to wait for almost a year before the actual publishing because so much work goes into it, so that was definitely a test for my patience.

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TAMBA Author Interview – Arthur Slade

Hunted - Slade, Arthur

Recently, Isabella and I got the opportunity to interview Arthur Slade, the author of numerous best-selling YA and Middle-Grade novels, including Dragon Assassin, Dust, The Hunchback Assignments, and many more! We talked to him about his journey as an author, his story building, writing techniques, and many other topics of interest.

Here are some highlights of our conversation!

Rosie: To start off with a general question, what really got you into writing? And when did you start taking more of an interest in it?

Arthur: Well, I was always kind of a creative kid, and I liked writing film scripts. I saw Star Wars, and I remember wanting to be a director, and writing film scripts, in Grade 6-7ish. And I started writing fiction then as well, off and on, I tried a whole bunch of things! And by the time I was in Grade 11 — well I blame it all on a teacher. They had given us an assignment to write a short story, and mine was called Under Heaven, Over Hell. But when I got the story back, I got a hundred percent! That was kind of the moment it crystallized for me — it was kind of a reward for writing! That’s sort of how I got started, in Grade 11, I just thought: Well, if I can write a short story and get a hundred percent, I can write a novel too. And… I ended up writing my first novel in Grade 11-12! It…was not a good novel, but it was my first one.

Isabella: How do you usually come up with your stories? Especially since most of your books are fantasy, we were wondering what your process is in creating a whole new world?

Arthur: I tend to write what I’m interested in reading. I grew up reading mostly fantasy and I’ve always loved going into another place, even if it was a scary place, or fantasy world – that was interesting to me. When I get an idea, it’s different every time, but sometimes they’ll just come out of the blue! I have a book called Dust, a book set in the 1980s, I just got an image of a boy walking along in a prairie – I don’t know why it was there in my head – and of this truck coming towards him and just this feeling of doom…something really bad was going to happen. And that’s what I do, I write down that idea just so I can kind of get the mood of it.

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