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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- Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Allegedly - Jackson, Tiffany

TL; DR: This is the first book I am at a loss on how to review. 4 or 9 /10.

So. I don’t know how to start the review for Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson and that’s a first. I usually have a million of things to say (notice the average length of my reviews, hahaha) but for this one, I am still grappling.

Before I go into that, the premise.

Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say. Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home. There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

Just from that you know that this thriller is going to be intense. And it really was.

First of all, why is this a YA novel? The protag is 16 years old but the topics in here are HEAVY and well… don’t open it expecting your typical YA stuff. Although that isn’t exactly fair either, because it does have a bunch of your typical YA stuff.

To give (some) structure to the review, I’ll break it down like this. Characters: 9/10. The arcs are strong, and the main characters are EXTREMELY complex and well-written. The side characters on the other hand are lacking, and stereotypically so. Writing: 7/10 Some lines catch you off-guard with their beauty but the overall style was just average. Romance: 8/10. I am still iffy about the romance, but oh well, it’s YA! Importance/Issues Discussed: 10/10. Now that’s one thing I can’t criticize Allegedly for. It takes the most uncomfortable, least-discussed, nitty gritty of the world and forces you to grapple with it. Just… astounding.

Notice how I didn’t rate the plot. Because the plot is *continuous screaming*. Without any spoilers, this is my plea to authors everywhere: DO NOT INCLUDE A PLOT TWIST IF THE ONLY THING IT’S ADDING TO THE BOOK IS SHOCK VALUE.

The ending felt incomplete and it was a long way for me to go to end up unsatisfied. I can’t give the book an overall rating because it’s either a 4/10 or a 9/10. Take from this review (which ended up being long despite what I said at the beginning, super sorry!) what you will and go forth with indecisiveness on whether to read Allegedly or not. 🙂 You’re welcome.

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 Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos

The Girl They Left Behind - Veletzos, Roxanne

The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos is the most moving, heartbreaking and beautiful book I’ve read in a long time. Set in World War II Romania, the book tells the life story of two families joined despite war, boundaries, and suffering, by the daughter they share.

Natalia is four years old when the knock comes on her door. The police is here to arrest her father and take her and her mother away. It is only by sheer luck that the family runs away in the cover of the night. Fearing for their lives, and that of their daughter’s, Natalia’s parents have to make the worst decision of their lives. Leave Natalia behind, and give her the chance at a better life, breaking their own hearts in the process, or risk taking her with them, where death is an almost certain possibility.

Enter Despina and Anton. In every way except one, they are the perfect young couple. She is rich and gorgeous, he is charming and happy. But after four miscarriages, the sadness that hangs on Despina is too much for Anton to accept. At the orphanage, Despina and Anton are shocked to meet Natalia a silent, broken girl, and not the joyous bundle they expected. But something stirs deep inside her heart and Despina knows she needs Natalia’s love just as much as Natalia needs hers.

Despina, Anton, and Natalia’s story is told in gripping scenes and chapters, time passing as Natalia slowly grows up into a young woman. With the war ending, and the Soviets taking control, the family’s fortunes are reversed. They lose everything, and come close to losing each other. Victor, a young man Anton took under his wing years ago, returns later in the story as a powerful Communist leader. He becomes, even as they begin a secret affair, Natalia’s only chance at freedom.

With the devastation of war and the power of love, comes the pain of sacrifice. What will Natalia choose: staying with the only people she’s ever loved, in an ever-shrinking world, or leave behind everything to seek freedom, and answers to a past she thought buried?

Wow, okay, so the description went a little long (sorry! and believe me, there were no spoilers in it). The book itself includes so much more, and every bit of it is raw, and riveting. The passage of time was discreet, and well-written, and the subplots/ change in perspectives were amazing. The only thing I didn’t like in the book was the romance between Victor and Talia, and the fact that sometimes a scene would start in the middle, telling us what happened before instead of showing it. That glossed over some things should’ve been more important.

Anyway, the book shook me to my core. It made me cry, both from sorrow and happiness. Each character is complex, none of them perfect (having well-written characters in historical fiction is a must!!) The Girl They Left Behind matches to the likes of The Book Thief. 10/10, no regrets.

Teen SRC 2020 – Bone Crier’s Moon by Kathryn Purdie

Bone Crier's Moon - Purdie, Kathryn

Bone ​Criers have a sacred job. Them alone can keep the dead from preying the living. But their power to ferry the spirits of the dead into goddess Elara’s Night Heavens or Tyrus’s Underworld comes with a great sacrifice. The gods order a promise of dedication to their duty. And that promise includes the life of the Bone Criers’ one true love. Ailesse has been molded since her first breath to become the matriarch of the Bone Criers. But first she must successfully complete her rite of passage and kill the boy she loves. Bastien’s father was slain by a Bone Crier which he wasn’t supposed to wittiness, and now he seeks revenge. Along with his companions’ whose family has also been taken as sacrifice by Bone Criers. But when he finally kidnapped one, his craving for vengeance will have to wait. Ailesse’s ritual has begun and now their fate has already been tied. Sabine, Ailesse’s best friend, never had the guts to take part of the Bone Crier’s work. But when Ailesse had been caught, Sabine will do whatever it takes to save her, even if it means breaking their traditions or acting against their matriarch just to break the bond between Ailesse and Bastien. And to just make circumstances even worse the matriarch seems to be harboring dark secrets and Sabine only has one year to save Ailesse, or they will all die.

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Teen SRC 2020- We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars

Having read Genuine Fraud (also by E. Lockhart) I started We Were Liars happily expecting to have my socks knocked off. And it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Welcome to the Sinclair family. Tall, proud, and rich. Golden-haired, freckled, and most importantly: perfect. There are no Sinclair addicts, drop-outs, or failures. And every summer, the prestigious family meets on their very own island. But one summer, when the Liars (Cadence, her cousins, and a family friend named Gat) are fifteen, something goes horribly wrong. Cadence has an accident and now, at seventeen, she’s still suffering from constant migraines and selective amnesia. She doesn’t remember a thing of what happened. But after having skipped summer sixteen to travel Europe with her dad, Cadence finally returns to Beechwood Island, desperate for answers.

We Were Liars was absolutely brilliant. The idea of a perfect and rich family with their own island is fascinating, and E. Lockhart pulled it off impeccably AND realistically. The flashbacks, Cadence’s pain written in fanciful poetry, and yes, even the romance, was enjoyable to read. It beautifully conveyed the reality that no family is perfect, and there is an overall message in the book about dealing with family problems, money, expectations, pain, loss, and guilt…

And then there’s the plot twist. OH BOY, what can I say about the plot twist? My heart skipped a beat and I had to read the page again and again when I got to it. And the best part: it was entirely believable. (I mean, it took some time but I eventually came to terms with it.) Seriously, the plot twist is amazing.

The book isn’t perfect. (Duh, nothing’s perfect. Not even the Sinclairs!) The switching timelines were confusing: I didn’t know half the time when Cadence was talking about summer fifteen or seventeen. It could have been improved with chapter headings or something like ‘before’ and ‘after’. Cadence is okay as a character– not enough personality in my opinion, and not very likable, either. There were also some overdone metaphors that cut the quality of the writing, and and abrupt ending that needed more and slower falling action.

But please, don’t let my harsh criticism put you off. (that’s just me being me, really.) We Were Liars gripped me from the start and I finished the book in hours. I sacrificed sleep for it, and I don’t regret a thing. It’s the best of the best of contemporary suspense novels and I can’t wait to read it again. 9.5/10.

Teen SRC 2020 – China Rich Girlfriends by Kevin Kwan

China Rich Girlfriend - Kwan, Kevin

On the eve of Rachel’s Wedding, she should be overjoyed by her beautiful ring, wedding dress, and a an who is willing to give up all his inheritance  just to marry her. But yet, she grieves of the thought that her birth father won’t be able to walk her down the aisle. That was the case until an announcement made a huge turn in events. In this second book, Carlton a Ferrari crashing bad-boy, Colette a celebrity who is constantly chased by paparazzi, and Rachel’s unknown father who she has been dying to meet. While Astrid is learning that having a newly tech, billionaire husband has a downside. Drama, gossip, rumors, and secrets unfold as they travel through auctions, clubs, estates, and VVIP after after parties.

I love this series. Its sassy, funny, bold, and so much drama! Reading this book was so enjoyable and relaxing. Even though I prefer the first book as it focused more on Rachel and Nickolas, but I think the second one was more pointed towards Carlton and Colette. I am still really fond about the story but I just wished Rachel and Nickolas had more depth in the plot. I would rate this book 7/10 and I definitely plan on watching the movie when it comes out.

China Rich Girlfriend and Kevin Kwan’s other works can be found here.

Teen SRC 2020 – Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Title details for Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan - Available

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan stars Rachel Chu, an economic professor in NY dating Nicholas Young, her boyfriend of two years. She agrees to visit her boyfriend’s family in Singapore for the summer. She expects a humble experience and just spending quality time with the one she hopes to marry. However, she is faced with massive parties, homes that looks like palaces, and with the man every girl in Asia wants to marry right by her side, she is basically a prey with a huge mark on her. Not only does she have to deal with all the constant rumors and two sided people, but her significant’s mother definitely hates her guts. Nicholas Young’s mom, Eleanor Young, is very strict about who her son should, or shouldn’t marry. And conveniently, Rachel is probably the highest on the “shouldn’t marry” list. As she tries to survive in this new environment, she will have to decide who is her allies and who is her foe.

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August’s Teen Book Club

Welcome to the August’s Teen Book Club! Can you believe that half the summer has already passed! Even though the library is open in a small capacity, we still can’t meet in the library, so we’re doing a book club here on the blog. Participate by commenting below this post and start discussions with other teens. And there’s prizes!! Remember, 1 teen will win 1 Book Prize each week for a thoughtful comment in the monthly Teen Book Club.

For the month of August, let’s talk all about Romance in books. Should romance always be a plot point in books?

To get you started, here are some questions for you:

  • Romance is great and lovely, but should it be in almost every book?
  • Did the romance make sense, or did it ruin the story?
  • Why is romance such a large part of teen books?
  • Does the romance in the story help the character or the plot?
  • What is your favourite romance book or storyline?