What Light written by Jay Asher

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WHAT LIGHT
by Jay Asher
(Razorbill; $18.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

Jay Asher's What Light cover

 

What Light by Jay Asher was released in October and was a perfect way to kick off the holiday season, but it’s also a book that keeps the holiday spirit going all year round. In fact, I’d say anytime is a great time to read a romance. It tells the story of teenager Sierra, whose family owns a generations-old tree farm and spends every December in California selling their trees to locals there. Her overprotective father keeps all the worker boys at bay, even though Sierra has no interest in a fleeting romance—that is, until she meets Caleb. Struck by his charming character and smile, Sierra’s feelings for him clash with her high standards for relationships as well as the rumors she hears about Caleb. He has a history that looms over him like the Ghost of Christmas Past, but Sierra tries to lighten the burden he’s carried with him for so long.

Sierra and Caleb share the instant love of Romeo & Juliet (though without the dramatic dual-sacrifice ending). In fact, the title, What Light, is a nod to Romeo & Juliet’s first meeting: “What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” However, the title becomes much more meaningful as the relationship between Sierra and Caleb unfolds.

Given that it is only 186 pages, and given Asher’s ability to instantly make me care about his characters so much that I need to know what happens next, it’s no surprise that I finished this book in one day. What was a surprise (and delight) was just how much my teenaged niece, new to Asher’s novels, loved the book as well. She had told me that she needed a book for her independent reading at school, and I immediately suggested this. She was going on a trip, and I told her it would be perfect for the plane ride. Upon her return, she messaged me immediately and said that she loved the book, could not put it down, and had never been so happy to be “forced” to read a book. She loved the bond between Sierra and Caleb and said, “It’s so cute….  I want this to happen to me.”

This story is one of family and friendship, understanding and forgiveness, love and loyalty, and, most of all, hope. My niece has been passing this book around to her friends, and I have been passing it along to those of my students who are avid young adult readers and enjoy a spark of love and hope in their lives. In a world that offers so much darkness at times, Asher’s latest novel offers us some well-needed light.

 

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

 

 

 


 


Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

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ENTER TITLE HERE
Written by Rahul Kanakia
(Hyperion; $17.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

enter-title-here book cover
Just in time for back-to-school comes ENTER TITLE HERE from Hyperion. Rahul Kanakia’s debut YA novel examines the fierce competition for college admissions in a fresh, surprising, and funny package, with a bonus meta element for those of us readers who are also writing our own novels. The main character is Reshma Kapoor, a Silicon Valley high school senior who employs unhealthy and unsavory means to achieve her all-consuming end: admission to Stanford.

Reshma is convinced that her application — with its stellar grades but average-after-several-tries SAT scores — needs a hook in order to stand out in the admissions slush pile. She thinks she’s found her “in” when an essay she published in the Huffington Post earns her an email from a literary agent: “If you were to someday write a novel, I’d love to read it.” Boom, goal-oriented Reshma has a new aim: secure a contract with this agent, and write a novel to be under submission (or maybe even sold) in time for Stanford’s Early Action deadline.

And that novel is ENTER TITLE HERE. Or is it? I enjoyed the argument in my head as I read: is this really happening, or is this just for the novel? Reshma the narrator certainly encourages the confusion. She scopes out a brief synopsis in her head, epiphany and all, and then writes a “SEPTEMBER TO-DO LIST” of the experiences she needs to have to write the novel convincingly: make a friend, go on a date, attend a party, get a boyfriend, have sex. In the pages that follow, she sets about checking off each item. Oh, and this isn’t on her list, but no way is she going to loosen her grasp on her school’s valedictorian spot. She won it by hook and by crook, and keeping it is as essential to her plans (and her self-image) as writing the novel is.

You may have guessed by now that Reshma is not a very likable person. When she writes, for school assignments, newspaper articles, or her novel, she maintains two versions: an honest one and a pretty one. But when she meets people face-to-face, “…they start to hate me. That’s because when I speak, I find it hard to create a pretty version.” But even as we dislike much of what Reshma thinks, says, and does, we keep reading. Why?

For one thing, I was curious to find out which of her many enemies deserved the title. There’s her mother, who thinks Reshma should lower her sights from Stanford. There’s her “perfect” classmate Chelsea, who couldn’t possibly be as nice as she pretends to be. And then there’s Alex, Reshma’s Adderall supplier. Reshma blackmails Alex into being her friend (item number one on the TO-DO LIST) and then wonders if she can trust Alex to have her back. Meanwhile, will Reshma ever notice that George, whom her parents allow to live in the basement so he can go to a good school, consistently behaves like a real friend?

Kanakia keeps us rooting for Reshma, in spite of all her faults. We want her to figure out how to stop the train before the wreck. Her mother tries to help her, sending her to a therapist. As a writer, I found some of the funniest moments of the book occurring in Dr. Wasserman’s office. He’s not just a therapist; he’s also an unpublished novelist, and his line of questioning is familiar to any fellow striver: “…you’ve mentioned your agent…Who is she, if you don’t mind me…?” He has lots of advice for Reshma, but it’s never clear. Are the ideas for the novel, or for her life? Does Reshma imagine Dr. Wasserman’s decline into obsession with her plot line and character arcs? Or is he a horrible therapist but a pretty good editor?

I enjoyed ENTER TITLE HERE and recommend it as a work of evil genius that will be especially appreciated by students currently competing in the college admissions rat race. Their parents will like the novel too — though it may send some of them searching their kids’ backpacks for stray Adderalls.

  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

The Crown by Kiera Cass – The Selection Series Volume Five

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THE CROWN
(THE SELECTION SERIES #5)
by Kiera Cass
(HarperTeen; $19.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

The_Crown by Kiera Cass book cover

 

Since Kiera Cass’ The Heir left off on a heart-wrenching cliffhanger, we’ve been eagerly awaiting the next and final installment of The Selection series, The Crown. Princess Eadlyn faces the fear of possibly losing her mother, while having to step into very large and heavy shoes in the absence of her parents. As Maxon stays glued by his ailing wife’s side, Eadlyn must fill the role of both King and Queen while also continuing her Selection for the sake of her parents and her country. Eadlyn must also provide comfort for her younger brothers all on her own, as they are all still mourning the departure of Eadlyn’s twin brother, Ahren, after his surprise elopement to France. While the situation is extremely daunting, Eadlyn takes on these challenges, following in the strength of her mother, and blossoms into the woman she was always meant to be. She still struggles with whether love is actually possible for her, ever comparing it to the truest and deepest love her parents share, but she must find a way to do what’s right for herself, her family, and her people.

I recommend rereading the last few chapters of The Heir before reading The Crown to remember all the Selection candidates and Eadlyn’s feelings for each one. It reintegrated me back into the palace and Eadlyn’s life, allowing me to be wholly invested in her once again. I waited an entire year to read this book, and Kiera Cass did not disappoint. She gave me everything I wanted in an ending and allowed me, as a devoted reader, to lovingly say goodbye to these characters. I’m sad it’s over and will likely read the entire series again, just to experience it one more time.

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

    Click here to get more info about Kiera Cass.
    Read  Krista’s review of The Heir here.


Glass Sword (Red Queen, Volume 2) by Victoria Aveyard

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GLASS SWORD
Red Queen; Volume number 2
by Victoria Aveyard
(HarperTeen; $19.99, Ages 14 and up)

 

Glass_Sword

 

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard is the next installment of her riveting series Red Queen. The story picks up right where we left off in the previous book. Mare and Cal are now fugitives, having fought their way out of their own executions. Maven, now king after using his mother’s power to force Cal to kill his own father, is in pursuit of Mare and Cal aided by his entire army and a society of Silvers, who have been manipulated to believe in his lies. Mare realizes that the only way to win this fight is to find others like her, those they call “new bloods.”

Aveyard brings in a little bit of an X-Men feel as the “new bloods” are slowly found. They are Reds with Silver abilities but are stronger than the Silvers themselves. They learn how to control and use their powers while preparing for war against Maven. However, Mare is constantly torn between her need to save others, her own self-doubt, and the betrayal that surrounds her. Two things are always constant in this book, lives are always at stake and you never know whom to trust. As Julian, Mare’s former teacher and Cal’s uncle, said repeatedly in Mare’s lessons, “Anyone can betray anyone,” and this mantra remains true as the story progresses.

Mare is searching for the new bloods, but Maven is too, so every venture out to find them is a risk of her life and that of her team. Maven sets trap after trap in order to catch the new bloods and, more importantly, to try and catch Mare. Throughout the novel, the relationship between Mare and Cal is ever intriguing, but it’s not clear what their future holds. This book is hardly predictable, but the one entirely foreseeable element is betrayal, right up until the end. It will be tough to wait an entire year to see what happens next, but I will be on the edge of my seat, eagerly awaiting the next book and what is sure to be an exciting conclusion.

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

Click here to read Krista’s review of Red Queen.


Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

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LIBRARY OF SOULS 
THE THIRD NOVEL OF MISS PEREGRINE’S PECULIAR CHILDREN
By Ransom Riggs
(Quirk Books; $18.99, Ages 13 and up)

Library_of_Souls 

 

The Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs is an intriguing tale of mystery and magic, inspired by a collection of inexplicable vintage photographs. The story that began in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued in Hollow City, comes to an electrifying end in Library of Souls. Having traveled to a mysterious island off the coast of Wales to try to make sense of his grandfather’s untimely and cryptic death, sixteen-year-old Jacob Portman discovers his grandfather’s oldest and most peculiar friends, including his dearest love, Emma. Jacob fights alongside her and the other peculiars against unimaginable enemies and monsters that threaten their world. When their headmistress, Miss Peregrine, and all her fellow ymbryne leaders of Peculiardom are abducted, Jacob allies with the peculiar children and discovers he has power of his own.

Library of Souls opens as the children are trying to escape their enemies (and the monsters they control) while attempting to rescue their ymbrynes and the many other peculiar children who have been captured. Their journey takes them to Devil’s Acre, a sinister labyrinth of dark alleys and mysterious characters. We struggle along with Jacob and Emma, not knowing whom to trust and fearing the worst for their beloved friends. As Jacob discovers the strength of his powers, he also discovers true friendship and a love he never knew existed. While this particular leg of the story is a maze in itself and takes more than a few twists and turns, it remains a captivating series that comes to a fulfilling end, allowing readers to truly appreciate the extraordinary.

Click here for more information about the boxed set of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies

 


YA & MG Authors Share Their Stories Part I

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This past weekend I attended a Mother & Daughter book event at Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse in La Canada, CA. I sat and listened to seven presentations by some of the most interesting and personable women writers for young readers.  Now that I have deciphered my notes I can share what I learned with you. If you happen to be in the San Gabriel Valley on Feb 7, don’t miss the one year anniversary of the bookshop’s new location. You’ll be able to take advantage of sale prices as low as 70% off, and enjoy a delicious beverage as well.

Let’s start with local author Kathy McCullough. First you’ll want to visit her wonderful website to get more details than my brief ones here, but suffice it to say I was impressed by her candor, and clever ideas. She has easily transitioned from screenwriter to kids and teen writer and I am certain we can expect to hear more exciting developments about her blossoming career in the months ahead.

Her new book from Random House/Delacorte Press is called Don’t Expect Magic and introduces us to Delaney Collins, f.g. And if you are wondering what the f.g. stands for, it’s fairy godmother, but “without the pink and sparkly” says McCullough. It so happens that Delaney is not at all happy about having to help people, and to be specific, a certain boy she likes, but she’s basically got no choice since she was born with the f.g. gene. I don’t want to give too much away since I’ll be reviewing the book soon and can’t wait!

While the book is billed as a YA novel, McCullough’s heard from delighted readers in 5th and 6th grade who have become quite demanding in the diversity of their subject matter. Parents will feel comfortable allowing their middle grade readers to pick up Don’t Expect Magic because it’s not full of foul language or questionable content. The book combines a little bit of fantasy with a little bit of humor so check out the trailer now and get a taste of the good time in store for you. You can click here for a selection of links where you can buy the book.

The best news is that there will be a sequel featuring Delaney’s rival fairy godmother which promises to be another feel good novel to keep you turning the pages. And what’s McCullough doing now? She’s working away on yet another YA novel so I recommend fans follow her website to keep up-to-date on all her appearances and publication dates.

Please join me here next week to meet more of the charming women novelists I spoke with at the event. Then, make tracks to your favorite book shop to purchase the stack of books I’ve covered. I promise they will keep you enlightened, amused and entertained for hours!