Review: The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The FixerTitle: The Fixer

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Release Date: July 7th, 2015

Interest: Mystery/Thriller

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

This thriller YA is Scandal meets Veronica Mars.

Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick has spent her entire life on her grandfather’s ranch. But when her estranged sister Ivy uproots her to D.C., Tess is thrown into a world that revolves around politics and power. She also starts at Hardwicke Academy, the D.C. school for the children of the rich and powerful, where she unwittingly becomes a fixer for the high school set, fixing teens’ problems the way her sister fixes their parents’ problems.

And when a conspiracy surfaces that involves the family member of one of Tess’s classmates, love triangles and unbelievable family secrets come to light and life gets even more interesting—and complicated—for Tess.

Perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars and Heist Society, readers will be clamoring for this compelling teen drama with a political twist.

I forgot how much fun it is to read a good mystery until I read The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. This is going to be a class favorite this upcoming school year.

I’ve only watched the show Scandal a handful of times, but I know enough about the show that fans will enjoy The Fixer. The political intrigue is there, as well as the personal backstories. The suspense is paced well and nothing was ever in-your-face obvious about how the story would end. In fact, one element of the plot really surprised me.

Something I really appreciate about Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s latest release is that there isn’t a strong love element. I thoroughly enjoy a good love story, but it’s refreshing to read a book without love at the forefront of the story. And while I encourage my students to see books not as books for girls or books for boys, but as books for readers, I do understand that many of my boys don’t want to read a romance. Not all of my girls want to read a romance. I know those students will be thrilled to read The Fixer and know that they can focus on the fun of the mystery.

As much as I enjoyed the mystery, I really enjoyed the characters and their relationships in this story. Tess is tough and independent like her older sister Ivy, but despite their similarities they have a tense relationship. Watching their relationship grow and evolve was a definite highlight for me. Tess’s friends really made The Fixer shine. The friendships allow readers to see Tess as a champion for the underdog, Vivie and Henry in particular. Asher really brings out Tess’s quick wit.

If you’re looking for a fun page-turner, then look no further than The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Other reviews of The Fixer:

The Fixer easily becomes one of my favorite reads this year. Without doubt, this book is joining my Top Ten Favorite Reads of this year.” ~Young Adult Hollywood 

“It’s fast paced, tense, brilliantly plotted and filled with a whole host of intriguing characters.” ~The Review Diaries

Blog Tour Book Review: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom

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Click here for blog tour info (reviews / giveaways / related posts)

Don't Ever ChangeTitle: Don’t Ever Change

Author: M. Beth Bloom

Publisher: HarperTeen

Release Date: July 7th, 2015

Interest: Contemp / New Adult

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Eva has always wanted to write a modern classic—one that actually appeals to her generation. The only problem is that she has realized she can’t “write what she knows” because she hasn’t yet begun to live. So before heading off to college, Eva is determined to get a life worth writing about.

Soon Eva’s life encounters a few unexpected plot twists. She becomes a counselor at a nearby summer camp—a job she is completely unqualified for. She starts growing apart from her best friends before they’ve even left for school. And most surprising of all, she begins to fall for the last guy she would have ever imagined. But no matter the roadblocks, or writer’s blocks, it is all up to Eva to figure out how she wants this chapter in her story to end.

Perfect for fans of E. Lockhart, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell, Don’t Ever Change is a witty, snarky, and thought-provoking coming-of-age young adult novel about a teen who sets out to write better fiction and, ultimately, discovers the truth about herself.

I’ve decided to switch up my review style for this post and focus on reasons why teens might enjoy Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom.

1. I consider Don’t Ever Change as a new adult novel (although it’s still YA) because Eva has just graduated from high school and most of her conflicts stem from her preparing for college and wanting more life experiences. This is a book I’ll hand to my seniors this coming school year since I’m sure many of them will relate with Eva.

2. Eva is a writer and wants to improve as a writer. So many of my students read and write fanfic, they journal,  and they work on their own novels. I know many of them struggle with wanting to improve as writers, but they also don’t necessarily want to know what they’re doing “wrong”, much like Eva.

3. Eva is worried about losing her friends when they all move on to college, so she’s trying desperately to keep their friendships close. I can’t tell you how many times I hear my seniors talk about “the last this” and “the last that.” It’s hard moving away from friends and not knowing if those relationships will stick.

4. There were times as I was reading Don’t Ever Change and thought it felt a little hipster-ish. It was something about the voice. I’m not saying E. Lockhart or David Levithan are hipsters (not by any means!), but the voices of some of their characters fit that of Eva’s, as the summary says. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan and the Ruby series by E. Lockhart seem like good comparables. Their characters are witty and upbeat and smart.

5. The cover will definitely pull in some of my readers. I polled my students about book covers and many of them stated that they like covers that stand out and that have brighter colors. Don’t Ever Change utilizes both of those criteria.

Blog Tour + Giveaway: Students Want to Know Katie M. Stout, Author of Hello, I Love You

Katie M. Stout’s debut Hello, I Love You has been on my radar for a while now, so I was overjoyed when St. Martin’s Griffin asked me to join her blog tour. The cover, the concept, and the setting drew my students in right away when I asked them if they wanted to participate in an interview with Katie.

Also, how cool is it that Katie created a Spotify playlist for Hello, I Love You?!

Stout, Katie_CREDIT Brenna B Photography

Katie’s Social Media

Goodreads
Website
Twitter
Tumblr
Pinterest

Hello, I Love YouAbout The Book (From the publisher)

Grace Wilde is running—from the multi-million dollar mansion her record producer father bought, the famous older brother who’s topped the country music charts five years in a row, and the mother who blames her for her brother’s breakdown. Grace escapes to the farthest place from home she can think of, a boarding school in Korea, hoping for a fresh start.

She wants nothing to do with music, but when her roommate Sophie’s twin brother Jason turns out to be the newest Korean pop music superstar, Grace is thrust back into the world of fame. She can’t stand Jason, whose celebrity status is only outmatched by his oversized ego, but they form a tenuous alliance for the sake of her friendship with Sophie. As the months go by and Grace adjusts to her new life in Korea, even she can’t deny the sparks flying between her and the KPOP idol.

Soon, Grace realizes that her feelings for Jason threaten her promise to herself that she’ll leave behind the music industry that destroyed her family. But can Grace ignore her attraction to Jason and her undeniable pull of the music she was born to write? Sweet, fun, and romantic, this young adult novel explores what it means to experience first love and discover who you really are in the process.

Student Questions:

Ashley asks:

Why did you choose Korea as a setting and not another country? Is Korea significant to you?
I chose Korea because I wanted to write about Korean pop music. That seemed the obvious choice. :)

What are some of your favorite YA novels?
I’ve got a ton of favorites, but I’d have to say some of my all-time favorites are…
1.  Lunar Chronicles series, by Marissa Meyer
2. The 5th Wave series, by Rick Yancey
3. Shatter Me series, by Tahereh Mafi
4. Curse Workers series, by Holly Black
5. River of Time series, by Lisa T. Bergren

 Hannah asks:

How long did you have the idea for Hello, I Love You before you started writing it?
Considering I wrote the rough draft of the book nearly four years ago, this is going to be a guess…

But I remember thinking about it a while. I was working on another project at the time, a YA paranormal (it was hot at the time), but I got too distracted by this new idea. Glad I let myself switch to the new idea!

How long did it take to write this and get it published?
I think I just answered that. Hah! It was a long journey, with many rounds of edits. I was told many times by many people that YA wasn’t ready for a book about KPOP. I had one particularly lovely agent say she loved the book and wanted to offer representation, but she had no idea how to sell it and therefore had to pass. I’m still really grateful for both my agent and my editor, who took a chance on the book!

About The Author

Katie M. Stout is from Atlanta, Georgia, and works for an international charity that sends her to fun places like Spain and Singapore. When she’s not writing, you can find her drinking an unhealthy amount of chai tea and listening to Girls’ Generation, Teen Top, and all her other favorite K-pop tunes.

Buy Links

Amazon
B&N
Books-A-Million
IndieBound
iBooks

Giveaway Details:

One copy available for US & Canada entrants only
Giveaway provided by the publisher
Leave a comment to enter
Only one comment per entrant
Giveaway open until 6/17/15
Winner will be emailed/tweeted
Feel free to spread the giveaway love! :)

Waiting on Wednesday–This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

I already have almost 200 books on my 2015 release Goodreads shelf, but I wanted to add more so I started perusing NetGalley and came across today’s WoW pick. The bright cover grabbed my attention first and then the summary solidified the deal. I REALLY want to read This Raging Light by Estelle Laure. My students next school year will adore this book.

This Raging LightTitle & Author: This Raging Light by Estell Laure

Release Date: December 22, 2015

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary (From Goodreads):

“A funny, poetic, big-hearted reminder that life can—and will—take us all by surprise.”—Jennifer E. Smith, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight  Can the best thing happen at the worst time?  Her dad went crazy. Her mom left town. She has bills to pay and a little sister to look after. Now is not the time for level-headed seventeen-year-old Lucille to fall in love. But love—messy, inconvenient love—is what she’s about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend’s brother. With blazing longing that builds to a fever pitch, Estelle Laure’s soulful debut will keep readers hooked and hoping until the very last page.

Audiobook Review: 99 Days by Katie Cotugno

Audio Review

99 DaysTitle: 99 Days

Author: Katie Cotugno

Narrator: Allyson Ryan

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: April 21st, 2015

Interest: Contemp

Source: eARC received from the publisher / audio received via Scribd

Summary (From Goodreads):

Day 1: Julia Donnelly eggs my house my first night back in Star Lake, and that’s how I know everyone still remembers everything—how I destroyed my relationship with Patrick the night everything happened with his brother, Gabe. How I wrecked their whole family. Now I’m serving out my summer like a jail sentence: Just ninety-nine days till I can leave for college, and be done.

Day 4: A nasty note on my windshield makes it clear Julia isn’t finished. I’m expecting a fight when someone taps me on the shoulder, but it’s just Gabe, home from college and actually happy to see me. “For what it’s worth, Molly Barlow,” he says, “I’m really glad you’re back.”

Day 12: Gabe got me to come to this party, and I’m actually having fun. I think he’s about to kiss me—and that’s when I see Patrick. My Patrick, who’s supposed to be clear across the country. My Patrick, who’s never going to forgive me.

Audiobook Review: I decided to read 99 Days via audio despite having the eARC mostly because of how much easier it is for me to listen to audiobooks at this stage in my life. I’m trying to keep up with blog tour reading requests and my own personal reading desires, so sometimes I’ll take the easiest route and experience a book via audio. Also, I’ve recently been contacted by Scribd to give their platform a free one month trial and figured, why not? Katie Cotugno’s book was right there and I’ve been wanting to read it. The stars aligned and I made it happen.

At first I wasn’t quite sure about Allyson Ryan as the narrator. She doesn’t really sound like a teenager to me and sometimes her voice went a little flat, but somehow that worked for Molly’s character. Molly is sometimes a tough character to like so it worked for me that I didn’t always like Ryan’s voice. A number of people have abandoned this book because of the content and characters, so I think those readers should give the audio a try. It’s not my favorite audiobook because of the narrator, but I enjoyed the story itself.

Book Review: Like I said, 99 Days has been receiving a lot of criticism, mostly because the story features characters who cheat on one another. Honestly, I don’t think those reviewers are being fair. I 100% understand being against cheating, but I think we have to recognize and remember that even though it’s ugly and messy, it happens more often than we’d like it to. For that reason, I think Katie Cotugno deserves more credit for writing this book. She could have written another story about a guy or a girl getting cheated on, but instead she wrote it from the point of view of the person being unfaithful. This is a young adult novel and young adults are going to connect with Molly, Patrick, and Gabe for one reason or another. Every reader deserves to find her or himself in a book even if that book contains subject matter that some readers don’t like.

Do the characters in this novel make poor choices? Yes. Do they make poor choices over and over again? Yes. For me, this heightened the story and made those characters stand out on the page. I like flawed characters; they’re interesting and engaging. So many times I cringed over Molly’s decisions, but I also recognized that she’s just finished college and is at an age when she’s going to make mistakes. I think one of the best parts about her story is that she learned from those mistakes. Her entire summer was about figuring out who she is and how and who to love. She needed to figure out how to make friends and how to trust her mother again. She needed to figure out what she wants out of college. Molly figured out much of those problems, but it wasn’t a neat and tidy process that resulted in a gift with a big fat bow. She stumbled, she lost friends, and she learned some important lessons about life and relationships.

Personally, I couldn’t stand Patrick for most of the book and could not understand Molly’s attraction to him. Gabe has a little more going for him, but even he didn’t always seem right for Molly. Molly struck me as an insecure teen trying to find her way and in need of positive attention. I know teens like Molly and I know they’ll appreciate what Katie Cotugno wrote.

I do, however, like Molly’s close friend Imogen. She’s the type of friend I think most people desire because she’s loyal and honest.  She stands by Molly and sticks up for her as Molly endures endless slut-shaming, but she also calls Molly out when she thinks she’s making a huge mistake. People need friends like that in their lives because they keep us balanced. I’m glad Cotugno wrote Imogen’s character the way she did.

Another element to the story I enjoyed is the summer atmosphere. I can’t wait for summer and warm weather and reading on my deck, so listening to 99 Days while I drove to work in the morning literally brightened my day. It felt like summer while I read this even though the temps weren’t quite summer-ish.

Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

Things We Know By HeartTitle: Things We Know by Heart

Author: Jessi Kirby

Publisher: HarperTeen

Release Date: April 21st, 2015

Interest: Author / Contemp

Source: eARC from the publisher / Purchased hardcover

Summary (From Goodreads):

When Quinn Sullivan meets the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart, the two form an unexpected connection.

After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all.

Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn’t want to give in to it—especially since he has no idea how they’re connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake.

Jessi Kirby is hands down one of my favorite authors of realistic fiction. Every one of her books pulls at my heart strings and Things We Know by Heart is no exception. I literally cried within the first two pages.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the inclusion of different quotes relating to hearts at the beginning of each chapter. Some of the quotes are profound, many are scientific, and others are dealing with love. I especially appreciated how each quote specifically connects with events in the chapter it begins. Unfortunately I didn’t mark some of my favorite quotes like I now wish I would have.

I also really liked Quinn and Colton; they’re simply incredibly likable characters. Sometimes books dealing with the loss of a loved one will feature characters trapped in the past, but Quinn isn’t like that. She’s understandably afraid to move on from Trent, but she shows growth and allows herself to let go and try new things when she’s with Colton. Both characters shine when they’re with each other and I couldn’t help but fall for both of them.

There were times when I was uncomfortable and tense while reading Things We Know by Heart, but that’s natural considering the plot. Quinn already knows Colton before actually knowing him. She’s at an unfair advantage in the relationship and as a reader I kept waiting for the moment when that would come to light. So of course parts of the story are predictable, but that never drew away from my complete and utter engagement and enjoyment. I rooted for Quinn and Colton the entire time I read this book, especially as I stayed up until close to midnight on a school night so I could finish reading their story. I may have even shed some tears as I read the last 10-15% of the novel.

Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby made my heart swell. It’s one of my favorite books of 2015; I hope you’ll read it soon if you haven’t already.

Students Want to Know Jennifer Banash, author of Silent Alarm

Jennifer Banash is the author of The Elite, White Lines, and the recently published novel Silent Alarm. Thanks to Jennifer and Penguin, some of my students were afforded the opportunity to read ARCs of Silent Alarm and ask Jennifer questions about the book.


Jennifer Banash 2

 

Jennifer Banash’s website
Follow Jennifer on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

 

Silent AlarmSummary (From Goodreads):
Alys’s whole world was comprised of the history project that was due, her upcoming violin audition, being held tightly in the arms of her boyfriend, Ben, and laughing with her best friend, Delilah. At least it was—until she found herself on the wrong end of a shotgun in the school library. Her suburban high school had become one of those places you hear about on the news—a place where some disaffected youth decided to end it all and take as many of his teachers and classmates with him as he could. Except, in this story, that youth was Alys’s own brother, Luke. He killed fifteen others and himself, but spared her—though she’ll never know why.
 
Alys’s downward spiral begins instantly, and there seems to be no bottom. A heartbreaking and beautifully told story.

 

 

My students Hannah and Rachel asked the following questions:

 

What inspired you to write a book revolving around a school shooting?
Well, I’m a high school teacher, and while school shootings aren’t something I’ve experienced first hand, thank goodness, they are something I think about more and more these days as they’re happening much more frequently. I’d also been reading news articles about shootings at the time I had the idea to write the book, and one of them mentioned that the shooter in that particular case had a younger sister. I started imagining what things were like for her, and Silent Alarm was born!

 

Why did you decide to write about the sister’s recovery instead of the events of the shooting?
I felt that so many books and films had already covered shootings themselves, so I wasn’t particularly interested in exploring them further or telling the story from the gunman’s perspective. I wanted to write about the people who are also victims in these kinds of events–the families who are left behind to clean up the mess.

 

Would you consider writing a book about the events leading up to and including the shooting in the perspective of Luke? 
Actually, I wouldn’t. It’s Alys’ book, and I feel like by the end of the novel, both she–and Luke–achieve some kind of closure, or are on their way towards it. To me, at least, I feel like the story is finished, The point of the book is that sometimes there are no concrete answers when tragedies like these happen–there are no easy answers at all. And going back in time and retracing Luke’s last days wouldn’t really provide them either. What happens to Luke occurs over the course of many years–not days.

Waiting on Wednesday–Violent Ends by Shaun Hutchinson

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

A blogger I follow on Goodreads posted about Violent Ends and as soon as I saw the author compilation I knew I had to read it! Shaun Hutchinson has included Trish Doller, Courtney Summers, Neal Shusterman, Beth Revis, Kendare Blake, and even more of my favorite authors in one book. I know this is going to be a powerful book, so I can’t wait to get my hands on it, tear through it, and share it with my students in the fall.

Violent EndsTitle & Author: Violent Ends by Shaun Hutchinson

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Summary (From Goodreads):

It took only twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to exit his car, march onto school grounds, enter the gymnasium, and open fire, killing six and injuring five others.

But this isn’t a story about the shooting itself. This isn’t about recounting that one unforgettable day.

This is about Kirby and how one boy—who had friends, enjoyed reading, played saxophone in the band, and had never been in trouble before—became a monster capable of entering his school with a loaded gun and firing on his classmates.

Each chapter is told from a different victim’s viewpoint, giving insight into who Kirby was and who he’d become. Some are sweet, some are dark; some are seemingly unrelated, about fights or first kisses or late-night parties.

This is a book of perspectives—with one character and one event drawing them all together—from the minds of some of YA’s most recognizable names.

#IReadYA Week WoW: What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

Here are a few reasons I look forward to reading this upcoming YA release:

  • Jessica Verdi is the author.
  • I’m a fan of pregnancy stories told from the guy’s point of view.
  • There appears to be a slight element of mystery.

What You Left BehindTitle & Author: What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi

Release Date: August 4th, 2015

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Summary (From Goodreads):

It’s all Ryden’s fault. If he hadn’t gotten Meg pregnant, she would have never stopped her chemo treatments and would still be alive. Instead, he’s failing fatherhood one dirty diaper at a time. And it’s not like he’s had time to grieve while struggling to care for their infant daughter, start his senior year, and earn the soccer scholarship he needs to go to college.

The one person who makes Ryden feel like his old self is Joni. She’s fun and energetic—and doesn’t know he has a baby. But the more time they spend together, the harder it becomes to keep his two worlds separate. Finding one of Meg’s journals only stirs up old emotions, and Ryden’s convinced Meg left other notebooks for him to find, some message to help his new life make sense. But how is he going to have a future if he can’t let go of the past?

Waiting on Wednesday–George by Alex Gino

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.  It’s designed for bloggers to spotlight the upcoming releases that they simply can’t wait to read.

I’m excited about today’s featured upcoming release for a couple reasons. First, I don’t know of too many middle grade novels that have an LGBT protagonist. Second, a few of my friends have already read George by Alex Gino and are raving about it. I’m suprised more of my friends haven’t added this to their Goodreads TBR lists, so hopefully now it will be on the radar of more readers.

GeorgeTitle & Author: George by Alex Gino

Release Date: August 25th, 2015

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Summary (From Goodreads):

BE WHO YOU ARE.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part . . . because she’s a boy.  

With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

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