Renegades by Marissa Meyer

renegadesContrary to popular belief, heroes are not always perfectly behaved and villains are not always evil.  In fact, heroes sometimes act out of spite or self-interest, and villains sometimes act selflessly to help other people.  In this story, both the Renegades and the Anarchists are comprised of prodigies — people with special powers, much like the X-Men — but their vastly different ideologies have placed them on opposite sides of the hero-villain spectrum.  The Anarchists honestly believe that society would fare better without so much governmental oversight and interference, i.e. with anarchy.  The Renegades, on the other hand, think that they are doing society a favor by overseeing everyone and bringing back law and order.  Though both sides think their way would be best for the greater good, neither side seems capable of seeing the other side’s point of view.

Enter Nova, aka Nightmare.

Nova was raised by her Uncle Ace [the leader of the Anarchists] after the Renegades failed to protect her family.  Nova has been consumed by a desire to avenge their deaths for as long as she can remember, but none of her plans seem to work out.  Luckily, the Anarchists have an alternate plan that just might work.  Because the Renegades don’t know Nightmare’s true identity, the Anarchists decide to send Nova to Renegade try-outs so that they can use her to gather intel and take down the Renegades from the inside.  Of course, it doesn’t take long for Nova, who takes on the Renegade name of Insomnia, to start to feel conflicted.  Not only does she start to fall for a guy who is a part of the Renegades, but she starts to see *why* the Renegades operate the way they do and that their methods actually have some merit to them.  What’s a girl to do?!?

Happy Reading!

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Winner Take All by Laurie Devore

winner-take-allNell has always been an overachiever.  Whether training hard so her team could advance to and win the state volleyball championship or studying hard to become her class valedictorian, Nell has always given her all.  And that was why she couldn’t stand Jackson Hart.  He never seemed to try nearly as hard, but he always got what he wanted.  Jackson was the captain of his baseball team, one of the most popular guys at school, AND he was beating her by a fraction of a percentage in the class rankings.  Not only that, but Jackson came from money, and she only attended their elite prep school because her mother was the principal.  Talk about opposites!  But, as the saying goes, opposites attract.  Nell had always been frustrated by the fact that no one else could seem to see past his charming exterior to recognize the slime ball that he was inside.  Until even she started to fall for his charms.  And she fell hard…  But then she began to suspect that their relationship might be just another of Jackson’s games.  And, if it *was* a game, Nell was determined to win.

This book was a great read on so many levels.  It touched on honesty — between friends, between family members, and with one’s own self.  It addressed what can happen when competition is taken beyond a healthy level.  And it explored how perfectionism and toxic relationships (familial and dating) can contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.  This is definitely a book you’ll want to add to your #ToBeRead list so you can be sure to check it out when it’s released at the end of January.

Happy Reading!

The Lines We Cross by Randa Abdel-Fattah

lines-we-crossMichael, whose father is the leader of a group called Aussie Values, has always assumed that his parents’ stance on immigration was correct.  They’d always been kind and loving toward him and his brother, so they were clearly just looking out for the best interests of natural-born citizens with their work in Aussie Values, right?  Well…  Then he met Mina, a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan, and he began to see things from her perspective.  When Mina started to open up to Michael about her own experiences — including the horrific circumstances in which she fled her home, her time in a refugee camp, and her harrowing journey to Australia — he finally understood that the world was not so “black and white,” that not all Muslims are hate-filled terrorists, and that immigration was much more complex than his parents would have him believe.  But, can his better understanding help him to encourage tolerance and acceptance?  Or will his personal understanding and empathy for the Muslim community, and refugees in general, simply drive a wedge between him and his family?

Sadly, xenophobia (intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries) and Islamaphobia (dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims) are a world-wide epidemic.  Far too many people find it easier to fall back on fear of the “unknown” than to educate themselves about what they and those “other” people have in common.  Hopefully stories like this will help to personalize the struggles of Muslim people, particularly those who have been displaced by war and are only seeking a better life for themselves.  #WeNeedDiverseBooks because we can only stamp out illogical fear and hatred with a better understanding of the people and the world around us.

Happy Reading!

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

serpent-kingPeople often talk about “wrestling with vipers” as a metaphor for dealing with difficult people or situations.  And, while Dill has had to face down plenty of “vipers” at school, he has also come face-to-face with actual poisonous snakes in his father’s Pentacostal church.  After his father was sent to prison — not for endangering the welfare of his congregation with snake handling and poison drinking, but for charges of child pornography — Dill’s life only got more difficult.  He and his mom had to figure out how to run their household and tackle the family debt without their main provider…  And Dill’s mom literally blamed him for his father’s imprisonment.  On top of the fact that his mom actually thought he was to blame, sharing his father’s name seemed to make the townspeople think he shared his father’s penchant for perversion.  Thank goodness Dill had two good friends, Lydia and Travis, who stood by his side regardless of how the rest of the community treated him.

Other than hanging out with Lydia and Travis, Dill’s only escape was through music.  And he even had to keep that a secret, since the only music his parents found acceptable was Christian music.  (His ability to create so-called Christian explanations for the names of bands and artists was masterful, though, so he still managed to listen to bands like Joy Division.)  The problem was that escaping into music and spending time with his friends weren’t helping as much anymore, since his senior year was being overshadowed by fear of the future.  How could he possibly manage after Lydia went away to college — especially if she started to forget about him?  Would he and Travis still be as good of friends without Lydia in the mix?  And would he ever find a way to truly make himself happy while he still felt compelled to “honor his parents” and work to pay off their debts instead of going away to college to plan for a better life for himself?  If you enjoy reading novels by John Green, A.S. King, and Sara Zarr, I highly recommend you check out Jeff Zentner.

Happy Reading!

This Is Not a Love Letter by Kim Purcell

not-a-love-letterJessie thought that she and Chris needed a break.  Just for a week.  Just to get a little perspective before graduation.  Chris seemed to think they should get married right away, but she thought he was wrong.  Why?  Because Chris was being scouted for a full-ride baseball scholarship and could likely end up playing in the big leagues.  She thought that she would just weigh him down, regardless of how often he told her that she would only make his life complete.  And she was pretty sure her own college and career aspirations would not work out if she followed Chris off to college, since his school didn’t have the environmental conservation major she had her heart set on.  Besides, she wasn’t really sure what she could truly offer him since she thought of her upbringing as “white trash” and was embarrassed to even bring him into her home, which was dangerously full of her mom’s hoarding piles.

When Chris disappeared, though, Jessie had to find the courage to speak out about the secrets Chris had been keeping and to dig deeper.  She knew that Chris had been jumped a few weeks prior, by some other local baseball players who accused him of only getting a scholarship because he was black.  Even though she told the police about how they had used hate speech while they attacked him, and that she was concerned that those same guys were involved in his disappearance (since he was running in that same area when he disappeared), the police seemed content to think he ran away.  After all, those other guys came from good families and had an alibi for the night in question…

Every week, Chris had written Jessie a love letter.  As she struggled to work through her emotions and to try and figure out what happened to Chris, she decided to write him a letter of her own — but she insisted that it was NOT a love letter.  If he wanted a love letter, he would need to come back to her.  This book would make a great conversation starter about racism, mental health, friendships/relationships, communication, and more.

Happy Reading!

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

eye-of-mindsBecause I enjoyed Dashner’s Maze Runner series, and am not-so-patiently waiting for the theatrical release of Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline), I thought this seemed like an audiobook I should probably check out.  I mean, what’s not to like about a fast-paced technological thriller, right?!?  Much like in Ready Player One, a lot of this story took place in a virtual world.  Rather than just using goggles and gloves to connect to that virtual world, though, the people in this story use “coffins” that provide their bodies with physical sensations to make it feel as if they are actually experiencing the sensations (both pleasure and pain) of the VirtNet.

Michael is a gamer who spends more of his time in the VirtNet than in actual reality.  And, who can blame him?  Most of his friends are people he has never met in real life, and his hacking skills mean that he can be better, faster, and stronger with only a few lines of code.  Rumors begin to circulate about a “bad” hacker who is using his skills to trap people in the VirtNet against their will, which causes the victims to suffer brain damage and memory loss in real life.  Shortly after meeting a girl who claimed to be a victim, Michael was contacted by someone from the government who asked him to use his hacking skills for good by tracking down the perpetrator.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Yeah…  Definitely not!  If you want lots of action and adventure set in a high-tech virtual world, you’ll definitely want to read this one.

Happy Reading!

When I Am Through with You by Stephanie Kuehn

when-i-am-through-with-youI am NOT the kind of person who enjoys spoilers, and I *never* flip to the end of the story to sneak a peek… but I somehow really enjoy stories that start out telling you how things are going to end and then go back to the beginning to show you how it all went down.  I had forgotten the synopsis of this story when I started reading, and it started out innocently enough.  Ben was talking about how he and Rose came to be a couple — with her basically picking him and telling him she was going to be his girlfriend.  A little abnormal, but not scandalously so.  I am a sucker for love stories, although I was pretty sure the title meant they had broken up, but then it became clear something had happened to Rose.  She had died in some tragic way, and Ben’s story was going to tell the reader how it happened.  What I wasn’t prepared for, nevertheless, was when Ben ended the first chapter asking, “So why’d I kill her?”  Say WHAT?!?

I was recently talking with a colleague about Nancy Pearl’s “four doorways” into the book — characters, language, setting, and story — and I think this book had all four but story was my primary doorway.  I was sucked right in because I just had to know more about Ben and what could compel him to kill the girl he claimed to love, let alone claim that he wasn’t sorry, felt absolutely no guilt, and was not looking for absolution.  I especially liked how we got to glimpse into Ben’s past to see how he had been shaped by both the injury and tragedy of his childhood to become the young man he was when this story took place.  If you are a fan of mysteries that don’t follow a typical crime show formula, you should check this one out.

Happy Reading!