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Teen Book Review- Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen

Dangerous Alliance

TL;DR: 8.5/10. Romance and other relationships lacking, and some irritating tropes. Overall, fantastic historical detail, and good approach to abuse in the Regency period. Recommended for Jane Austen lovers!

Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen is a historical fiction with a dash of mystery which, if you know my favourite genres, is right up my aisle! Of course, the book is a romance too, which is less my thing… but! Jane Austen fans–this one is for you.

Lady Victoria Aston is living the idyllic English country life she always wanted. With her sister married in town, her parents give her mostly free reign of the estate. Best of all, here in the country, she doesn’t need to fit in with society’s rules of how a lady should behave. But one very eventful day later, Vicky’s life has completely changed. Aside from the fact that there might be someone out to harm her, Vicky finds out that sister was living in an abusive relationship. Long story short, Vicky has to marry soon… or she might lose her beloved Oakridge estate to that cad of a brother-in-law. Vicky knows her duty is to enter London’s society season and procure herself a husband, but her heart aches for a romance like found in her beloved Jane Austen stories. Will she find it, and with who? Also, who is behind all the strange incidents popping up around her?

Moving on to my thoughts! The plot is very Austen-like, which I can appreciate is no easy thing to do. The mystery and adventure aspects were my favourite, as well as the historical details. It is SUPER refreshing to see authors get historical things accurate! *swoon* The characters were wonderfully complex, and the different POVs–I’m a sucker for different POVs.

There were a few less wonderful parts, unfortunately. The romance, for one, but that might be my personal bias. I felt the couple well-written on their own, as characters. Together, though, I could barely see the chemistry. The love triangle was irritating, too, and although I rooted for who the author clearly wanted me to root for, I had no particular investment in it. In fact, all the relationships in this book were lacking. The ones I was most disappointed with (aside from the romances) were the sibling relationships. Vicky and Althea did have conversations, but they all lacked substance in my opinion. I also didn’t find the conclusions to either sibling conflicts very satisfying or sufficiently detailed.

The last thing I’m going to criticize is very nit-picky, but if it bothered me this much, it might bother someone else too. This book played the “strong female MC” trope well, but also felt quite sexist in some other aspects. (Bear with me.) Vicky compares herself to other girls, and says that–unlike them–she doesn’t like idle chatter about fashion or whatever. She mentions that many women would be eager to marry a (unnamed for spoiler reasons) man, in a critical way… almost as if she were better than those women because she wouldn’t. In the scenes where we are in Tom’s POV, he mentions SEVERAL times that debutantes are waving their fans and giggling at him, which I found extremely arrogant. We don’t get a broad diversity of main female characters, either. Susie is a ‘Mary Sue’ (stock character with no flaws), and Althea is uncomfortably demure.

Now that I’ve wasted two whole paragraphs on criticisms, let me give you the rating: 8.5/10.

That high, you ask? Well, I have a soft spot for well-written character arcs. The backstories were good, too, and original (for once). The rich historical details, as I mentioned before, gave me life, as did the old English dialogue. Something that I haven’t mentioned, but that I especially loved: how this book touched on marital violence, and abuse. It highlighted the fact that the Regency period wasn’t all balls and gowns, and demonstrated that certain characters’ views and personality were the way they were because of the trauma they faced. I liked how Althea, for example, wasn’t all healed after escaping her abusive household. The fact that she still fears for her safety on the daily, hesitates to talk about it, and fears the divorce won’t go through is realistic.

I recommend Dangerous Alliance for anyone who wants some 19th century drama!

Teen Author Interview: Joelle Anthony (J.M. Kelly)

I recently had the privilege to interview author Joelle Anthony, along with fellow Teen Ambassador Dorothy. Joelle Anthony is a playwright, actress, writing teacher, and author of three novels for teens, Restoring Harmony, The Right & the Real and Speed of Life (published under the pen name J. M. Kelly.) She is currently also an audiobook narrator. We discussed everything from writing advice to the process of audiobook recording, to even our favourite flavours of ice cream! Here are some of my highlights from the interview:

Dorothy: “How do you choose your topics for your books? Is it inspiration, and does it come suddenly, or do you have start with a basic idea?

Joelle: It’s a collection of different small things that all of a sudden come together.  For Speed of life, for example, I used to ride the bus a lot when I lived in the city. I saw these teen mothers with their babies and they got on the bus, and they had these strollers and groceries and they just looked so exhausted. The looked so young, too and I thought… these girls are well past the point of “Oh my God I’m pregnant” and they’ve made the decision that “I’m going to keep my baby” and now they’re living with that. It struck me that nobody ever talks about what it’s like to live with the baby afterwards. There are books about the big decision, there’s the upheavals of family, but nobody ever really gives them their little moment for people understand like OK you’ve made the decision and now you can’t go back on it. I thought, this is what total exhaustion 24-hours-a-day looks like, taking the bus because you haven’t had a chance to go to University, or learn a trade, and buy a car.

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Teen Book Review- I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

I Killed Zoe Spanos

It almost took me longer to write this review than it did to read I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick. Which is less a complaint about my writing speed and more a testament to how awesome this book was–I truly could not put it down. Contemporary YA murder mysteries are an untapped gold mine, and this book proves it.

It’s told in two timelines: Now and Then. In the “Then” timeline, teenager Anna Cicconi travels down from Brooklyn to the rich Long Island neighbourhood called Herron Mills where she has been hired as an ‘au pair’ for the summer. Anna is ready to leave her old life of partying and drinking behind. She can and she will be responsible, even with the expensive booze around her, the mysterious boy living next door, and an increasingly failing memory. But then Anna learns of her resemblance to Zoe Spanos, a local girl that disappeared months ago. The longer she lives in Herron Mills, and the deeper she delves into Zoe’s life, the more Anna is convinced that she is somehow connected to the case.

“Now”: Anna Cicconi is under arrest after confessing to killing Zoe Spanos. But considering Anna was never even supposed to have met Zoe, and that her confession doesn’t completely add up, teenager ‘investigative journalist’ Martina Jenkins/Green decides to get to the bottom of this complicated mystery.

Okay, so. As you can probably tell from the blurb, this book is going to be twisty, and that’s not just an expectation–“I Killed Zoe Spanos” completely delivered. The setting, pace, and writing are all very well-done. I loved how most of the book was status quo prose, with an occasional “podcast” or different perspective chapter . I also appreciated that that even though the timeline could have butchered the suspense aspect completely, it didn’t! We learned little by little about what had actually happened, which is how a mystery should be. The only aspect of the book I would’ve improved on was the romance (ugh, I know). And maybe the resolution could have gone a bit longer… I wanted to see Paisley (the 8-year old Anna was looking after) again!!

All in all, I Killed Zoe Spanos is a welcome relief from my slew of not-quite-for-me book reviews. 10/10

Teen Book Review- Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove - Mahurin, Shelby

TL:DR: 7/10, not my genre. Enjoyed it overall, but won’t be picking up the next one in the series. 14+, mature scenes present.

Before reading Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin, I didn’t believe that a 495 page book could float only on witty dialogue and cliched tropes. I stand corrected.

Premise:

Lou is a witch in hiding. Ever since she fled her coven two years ago, she steals, lies, and tricks others to get by. Which is no easy feat considering that Cesarine is a place where her kind are hunted. If she is ever found out, she will be burned.

Reid is an orphaned witch hunter. The guiding principle of his life is to kill witches. Oh, and follow the Church’s teachings through his father figure, the Archbishop.

Their fates collide when a cruel trick forces them into the holiest of all bonds: matrimony.

Yup. They get married. And normally, I’m a sucker for that ‘fake marriage for convenience’s sake’ trope. But if you’re not going to do it like “My Lady Jane” then honestly, why bother?

Before I get further into my commentary, let me explains why I am reviewing a fantasy book, (and one whose main theme is romance?!) in the first place. This is not my usual kind of book, I admit, but…The cover. HAVE YOU SEEN THE COVER?! *contented sigh* I was also trying to be more open-minded about my preferences, and decided to give Serpent and Dove the benefit of the doubt.

Unfortunately it just proved that the fantasy/romance genre is not for me. Let’s get into why.

From the start, the world building was done poorly. Characters spoke French at odd intervals and Christianity was present throughout (as well as the Bible) but in all other aspects, it was a different world. So why not make up some other religion/language or simply set it in France–why one foot in this world and one in the other? I don’t know, but that irritated me.

The characterization was average, and sadly stereotypical. We have the petite but fiery female MC. She is ‘selfish’ because she puts her life before the lives of others. Noble and muscular male MC. He is judgemental and has some anger issues but is really just a nice guy. Let’s not forget the Black best friend who is beautiful and supportive with no apparent flaws of her own. The Archbishop, regular ‘father-figure’ baddie.

What about the plot? Slightly better. There were some twists and surprises which were pleasant, but did it completely redeem the book? Not for me. The romance was passing, but it felt like a stale version of Nina and Matthias from Six of Crows. Which is not to say the romance was bad, by the way. Just not amazing.

Okay so now we come to the good parts. (yes, there are good parts). The humour. Maybe that’s what’s so attractive about these types of books, they have the ability to be light-hearted. The witty banter, the jokes and heart-felt scenes… even when the plot darkens, the drama of life and death adds feeling to the relationships.

This might sound like a complete plot twist of my own, but I did enjoy reading Serpent and Dove. It was fun and suspenseful but I just didn’t find it a good book in the ways that matter to me. (In addition to the minute scenes/details I found irritating)

Teen Book Review – I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak

I Am the Messanger

TL; DR 8.5/10 only because it’s not my style of book (like The Book Thief was), but do give it a read just in case it is yours.

I’ll be honest and say that I only started I Am The Messenger because Markus Zusak is the one that wrote The Book Thief. I wasn’t expecting the books to be completely alike, but considering they have the same author, I did expect some similarity. In that regard, I was disappointed.

I Am The Messenger is very different from The Book Thief. The Book Thief’s beauty is apparent and classy, it’s like a stunning painting on the wall. I Am The Messenger has beauty, too, but it’s inconspicuous and not obvious at all. To continue my metaphor, if the Book Thief is a revered masterpiece, I Am The Messenger is a patch of graffiti, but like… talented graffiti.

Awkward metaphors aside, here’s the disclaimer: DO NOT PICK THIS BOOK UP EXPECTING “THE BOOK THIEF” 2.0

Now that we’ve got that settled… Ed Kennedy is the main character in this book. He is an underage cab driver, hobbyist card player, and completely in love with his best friend Audrey. He lives in a shack (his words, not mine) with the Doorman (foul-smelling but beloved dog). In other words, Ed Kennedy is a deadbeat at the ripe old age of 19.

But then Ed Kennedy stops a robbery. Which isn’t much of a feat, really, since the bank robber was almost as incompetent as Ed himself, but it does end up changing his life. Because that’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.

On the cards, there are simple codes. Sometimes addresses, sometimes the names of movies or places… but the goal is obvious, at times even simple. Ed has to make an impact. Doing good (or bad when needed) Ed becomes the Messenger.

The question remains… who is behind Ed’s mission?.

My review, finally: This book is the kind of good that slaps you in the face five pages from the ending. There are pieces of gold comedy in there– it made me laugh out loud. There are also some very ugly scenes, scenes that are uncomfortable and seem to serve no purpose than making the reader insane. But like I said, it’s really good. (I can think of no other way to describe it, sorry!!) The romance is shockingly well-written, and doesn’t take up too much of the book, which is always a plus. I’d definitely recommend it, but with some pointers: you’ll be confused. You’ll want to stop reading, and send an email to the author involving a lot of question marks. You’ll wonder at the slang. But at the end, if you stick with it, you’ll appreciate it for the gem it is, and the message (pun intended) it carries.

Teen SRC 2020- A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder - Jackson, Holly

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson seemed like an interesting read (the cover is amazing, and i judged the book by it, fight me 😉 ). But then, the synopsis ended up disappointing me. It sounded like the book was a mash-up of literally every other YA murder mystery. We have our usual ‘good’ white girl protagonist, our suspect from a marginalized community, with a name like ‘Sal Singh’ to make it extra obvious. We have the popular/mean girl murder victim (Andie) and the lazy/racist reporter. Then, of course, Ravi. The younger brother of previously mentioned murderer that killed his girlfriend then himself (Sal Singh). Of course, Ravi is the cute but very reserved and intense love interest.

The first quarter of this book made me want to chuck it at a wall. But I kept going and… it improved. BY A LOT.

The characters stayed flat. Only Pippa (protag) had some sort of character arc, and even that was half-hearted. No, the only thing that redeemed this book was the mystery. It was SHOCKINGLY well-planned and thought out. I didn’t guess the murderer and wouldn’t have in a thousand years, but IT MADE SENSE.

The romance ended up growing on me, and the relationships between the characters are okay. I don’t have much else to say, so the rating: 8/10. Boring and stereotyped characters, but BRILLIANT mystery. Enjoyable, and suspenseful, but seriously– too many cliches.

Teen SRC 2020- The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager - Philippe, Ben

When I first started reading The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, I didn’t expect much from it. I was wrong. So, so, so wrong. It’s an amazing book but before I start telling you exactly why, let me tell you what it’s about.

Norris Kaplan is a Black kid from Montreal and he is moving to Austin, Texas. Being an only child of divorced parents, living with his dad’s new family is not an option. And Judith (immigrant, professor, all-around cool mom), doesn’t have many options when it comes to a job. So Texas it is. Norris knows he will hate it. If you ignore the fact that it is TEXAS we’re talking about (and the tiny little detail of Norris’s skin colour), there’s the heat, the lack of hockey, and perhaps even more glaring than the Texas sun, his lack of friends.

Norris promises his mom that he will try. And trying means reigning in his sarcastic and often caustic tongue, limiting his thoughts to the pages of his counsellor-given notebook. Enter: Maddie, kind (?) cheerleader, Liam, budding hockey enthusiast (rich, too), Aarti, beautiful and witty photographer (Norris is in love). Even Patrick “Hairy Armpits”, school bully, is given a chance in Norris’s new Texan life.

But then things start to go awry (see: Norris’s inability to keep his mouth shut and general tendency to be a jerk) and soon he has as many enemies as friends. Seems like his sweat glands had the right idea… Texas isn’t the right place for him and might never be.

I know what you’re thinking. This is just another new-kid-finds-his-tribe type of book. And it is, (kind of), but not so cliched. (arrogant Black French Canadian protagonist might have given that away.) There are the usual party scenes, and quirky date scenes, of course, but there are also other more poignant plot lines. Norris’s relationship with his parents, for example, the complexity of which I loved. There’s also discussions about depression, racism, and what it means to be yourself. Best of all, there’s no preachiness in the book, or lines stolen from a therapy/parenting book. The characters feel real, and they act like real, flawed teenagers. The wittiness of the dialogue alone is a feat. Norris’s character development is WONDERFUL and gosh, this book really is a feel-good story that will break your heart and make it whole again.

Alas, I am but a judgemental critic and The Field Guide to the North American Teenager gets a mark shy of a 100: 9/10. Why? The chapter headings (you’ll have to read the book to understand) were off-putting and a hassle. There were also some stereotypes in the book I could have done without (see: Indian girl with strict parents, Black absentee dad) but the plot lines did okay with them in the end.

Overall, this is a book I would recommend to everyone, and if you’re looking for your next read, you’ve just found it. (P.S. Isn’t the cover just GORGEOUS?)

Teen SRC 2020 – The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl

A historical fiction mystery with a witty protagonist not afraid to speak her mind. You can’t go wrong with a book like this, but adding proper POC representation, unconventional family troubles, and career goals is just icing on the cake.

Introducing: Jo Kuan. She lives with her stand-in father, Old Gin, in the basement of a print shop, in 1890’s Atlanta. Having just been fired from a millinery (apparently customers are uncomfortable with her directness. Or maybe it’s her Chinese features. Probably both.) Jo has no choice but to take up position once again as a maid for Caroline Payne, the downright cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the city. If memory serves right, Jo is going to have her work cut out for her, especially now that she’s started anonymously penning the column “Miss Sweetie.” She started the column so that the newspaper shop (also secretly serving as her home) can stay in business.

But as each article starts voicing more and more progressive ideas, the elite of Atlanta pick up pitchforks. How could someone so openly write against segregation, encourage women to ride the bicycle, and–gasp!– promote a future for women that ISN’T marriage? Jo knows that if Miss Sweetie is unmasked as a Chinese commoner, it could mean her life. But having had a taste of the freedom words can give, Jo isn’t ready to give up so easily.

I absolutely adored this book. The summary I (tried to) give above is just a fraction of the plot, all of which is completely riveting. Stacey Lee’s writing style is unique, and honestly, at first, I didn’t know what to think about it. The funny expressions grew on me, though, and I ended up loving her style. Don’t let the cover put you off (the potential wasted on portrait covers is a hill I will die on)– this book is worth a read.

Teen SRC 2020- Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

Dry

Living in a time where dystopian books are common and overdone (the more apocalyptic and doomsday-ish, the better) it’s truly rare to find a book that will leave you with chills running down your spine. Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman does exactly that.

The idea behind this book is also unusual but not entirely unimaginable; what if the taps were to suddenly go dry? What if there was no more running water, and what if everyone around you suddenly became a thirsty water-zombie that would stop at nothing to get a few drops of the stuff? I know what you’re thinking. No running water, the end of the world, and ZOMBIES? Not another apocalypse book!

And while I don’t consider myself an expert on sci-fi or dystopian novels (not really my genre), I think this book did some things differently that changed it from an overused cliche doomsday book to something special.

First: This novel is narrated by a multiple person perspective. The first few characters stuck throughout the story, but others were just here to offer ‘snapshots’. I found it interesting because we didn’t just see what the Tap-Out meant for Alyssa, Kelton and their friends but for a whole host of different people. Living the apocalypse isn’t really fun when you don’t get the whole experience, am I right?

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Teen SRC 2020 – Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1) by Leigh Bardugo

“No mourners. No funerals. Among them, it passed for ‘good luck.'” – Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo blew my mind. Honestly, I was a bit weary when I first picked up this novel. It’s a well-known book, and I’ve seen it everywhere- from my local library to my school library, it was always at the front of the bookshelf. At this point, so many people were talking about it. However, I was still a little suspicious because I usually don’t enjoy fantasy novels (totally just a lack of imagination on my part). Still, I decided to give it a read after all the big talk, and I don’t regret it at all.

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