Category Archives: ARC
The Also Known As series by Robin Benway is so fresh and fun! Bring on more YA spy series like this I say! (OK I’ve only ever read two- this one and Ally Carter’s, but there’s room for more) Going Rogue is the sequel to last year’s AKA and brings readers an all-new international spy adventure. But now our heroine has to navigate friendship, family, and love as well as ducking would-be assassins.
For the uninitiated, the AKA series is about a teen safecracker named Maggie who is part of a family of spies. For the first time in her life, her family of wanderers is putting down roots in Manhattan so Maggie can finish high school as a regular girl. Maggie becomes best friends with Roux and snags a boyfriend named Jesse. But she still gets spy missions from family friend Angelo, and that is always something that makes her keep a little distance from her friends. She wants them to remain unaware and safe. But, there’s a new high stakes mission in Going Rogue- will Maggie’s worst fears come true?
Going Rogue picks up in the summer after the events of AKA, as Maggie, Roux and Jesse are trying to hang out and do normal friend/couple stuff. Roux worries that Maggie (her only friend) will be whisked away on another spy mission and so she’s teaching herself to be an indispensable part of the spy team. Wouldn’t you know the biggest case yet is dropped in Maggie’s lap? And this mission hits Maggie very close to home.
This series showcases the characters and the capers very well. Maggie is likable and relatable. She’s mature beyond her years since she’s treated as an equal in the spy ring, and the girl loves to crack a safe. Maggie’s sidekick Roux is endearing and funny and the scenes are always a little more fun when she’s around. Maggie’s minder/Giles type character Angelo is another standout character who’s always there for Maggie and her family. The romance is sweet, with Jesse crazy about Maggie but not knowing how to exactly be a spies’ boyfriend. (Who does?)
As always, Robin Benway’s writing is sharp and witty, and with the sequel she lets us get to know the characters and the spy world a little bit better. I liked that some of the action moved to Paris in this installment, with scenes in the underground tunnels and the Louvre. Manhattan also comes to life through the pages, with scenes at coffee shops, bookstores, and The Cloisters. Once the spy action heated up it was hard to put this book down.
There are some tense action scenes in Going Rogue! In the end, there’s not really a cliffhanger, but the story does certainly leave room for a sequel. I for one hope there will be another book. I like reading about this misfit band of spies!
Going Rogue is on sale now from Bloomsbury. As a covert member of the spy team I thank the publisher for the review copy.
Congrats to Amy & Ronnie who won a set of the AKA books!
Book: Dirty Little Secret by Jennifer Echols, MTV Books, On Sale July 16, 2013
Book Info: YA Contemporary Romance, HC 288 pg, received for review from the publisher
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
This book is so cute, y’all! Jennifer Echols is back with a new summer contemporary romance, and this one has a country western flavor. I’m a big fan of the TV series Nashville, as well as music-themed YA, so I was excited to see what Echols would do with a country music theme. In the book, the main character compares her relationship woes to a country song and that’s a pretty fair description of Dirty Little Secret. There’s lots of drama, music, and heart in this one. My favorite Echols book is still Such a Rush, but all the same Dirty Little Secret put a smile on my face.
In Dirty Little Secret, Bailey is a talented fiddle player, and one half of a sister duo. That pairing goes up in smoke when Bailey’s sister Julie gets her own record deal, and that’s seemingly it for Bailey’s career. She goes to live with her grandfather in Nashville, and plays fiddle at the mall in tribute bands featuring Elvis, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash. That’s where she meets Sam, and dares to hope for another chance to make it in the country music circuit.
The music scenes and Nashville setting made the book a standout for me. Bailey lives and breathes music and puts her all into writing songs, performing on stage, and even working at the mall in her Dolly Parton band getup. Bailey has perfect pitch and I thought it was so interesting how it was a blessing but a curse for her. It really bothers her when musicians are off-key!
Sam the love interest is quite the charmer, even though you’re never really sure if you can trust him. He’s so ambitious I couldn’t tell if his motives were true.
From the ARC:
He was the devil in disguise, the handsome but low-down, no-good sneaky guy from a thousand country songstresses’ revenge plots.
If you are familiar with the show Nashville, Sam is kind of a cross between Avery and Gunnar. His scenes with Bailey crackle with chemistry, and Echols does write fantastic kissing scenes for them.
The drama with Bailey’s parents, sister, and the record label, was a little far-fetched for me. I couldn’t understand why Bailey couldn’t do her own thing with music, and why her parents couldn’t support both of the sisters in their musical aspirations.
I’d pick up Dirty Little Secret for the great Nashville music vibe and the romance. There are also some great colorful characters, and dramatic tension to keep you turning pages. It left me hankering for more country music themed books.
Book: The Wild Ones by M. Leighton, Berkley Trade, On Sale Now
Book Info: Contemporary Romance, Review copy courtesy of the publisher, Paperback 336 pages
The Wild Ones is the first book I’ve read by author M. Leighton. You know I’ve been on a New Adult kick lately, so that plus the horse ranch setting got my attention. There’s a forbidden romance vibe about the book and I liked that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a fun and fast paced ride with charismatic characters.
The Wild Ones centers on Trick and Cami, two people from different worlds that are drawn to each other like magnets. Cami is the wealthy daughter of a horse breeder, and Trick works in their stable to support his family. Trick has a gift with wild horses but the boss is not too impressed with him and wants him to stay away from his daughter. Can their love beat the odds?
We get to know Trick and Cami through alternating POV. Since the two haven’t known each other long it’s interesting to learn more about them through their own POV. They each have their friends, and personal and family dramas that give insight into their character. When the pair is together their scenes crackle with chemistry. I wanted to root for them, even though they have an insta-love/attraction.
There is a twist that makes the forbidden love aspect even more forbidden. I have to say I was relieved to find out what the twist was- my mind was making it darker than it was. It’s a little soap opera-y like an episode of Nashville, though the story is entertaining.
I like the unusual nickname Trick for Patrick and how the author has fun with the trick or treat name with some of the dialogue:
Pick ‘treat’. Please, for the love of God, pick ‘treat’. -Trick
The Wild Ones is a cute read, and I liked the wild horse tie-in and that it makes the most of the ranch setting. It’s heavy on the romance and written in a casual style with a strong character voice. If you like cowboy romance or New Adult type books give The Wild Ones a try. Trick and Cami’s story wraps up in The Wild Ones, but there is a sequel in the works about another couple in the story, Rusty and Jenna. Look for The Wild Child in the fall.
To learn more behind the scenes info, check out my interview with author M. Leighton.
Book: Escape Theory (Keaton School #1) by Margaux Froley, Soho Teen, On Sale Now
Book Info: YA Contemporary, ARC via Edelweiss, Hardcover 272 pages
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
There’s a crop of YA mystery type reads out lately, and the boarding school setting of Escape Theory makes for even more fun. In TV scribe Margaux Froley’s debut, high school junior Devon Mackintosh is a new peer counselor at a California boarding school who talks to students about everything from drugs to shoplifting to grieving. The school is reeling from the shocking suicide of Jason Hutchins (“Hutch”), the Keaton legacy student and all-around good guy. Devon feels the suicide is out of character and aims to set the record straight. Escape Theory is the first book in the Keaton School series, and is funny, mysterious and a little dangerous.
Hutch is “the boy that got away” from Devon. Ever since they shared a late night snack of Nutter Butter pancakes one night freshman year, they’ve had a bond. They ran in different circles, though they kept track of each other over the years. Something doesn’t sit right about his alleged suicide, and Devon in her peer counselor role is in a unique position to do some digging.
Escape Theory is set at Keaton School, a fancy-pants California boarding school. Devon is a scholarship student and feels like an outsider among the privileged student body. She does make friends though, and adds some new connections to her circle that she meets after Hutch’s death. The good life at Keaton includes parties, surfing and easy access to pharmaceuticals. As a peer counselor, she learns that there’s more than meets the eye to the troubled students of Keaton.
I liked Devon; she’s hard working, analytical, and tries to see the good in people. She has a good sense of humor and a strong moral compass. Devon makes some allies in her search for the truth, and I especially took to Cleo, the gossipy kleptomaniac who becomes a sleuthing sidekick in Devon’s Nancy Drew type investigation.
Even though the book begins with Hutch’s obit, we get the chance to meet him through flashbacks. He was one of my favorite characters and his personality lights up the page. It is interesting to get insight into his character through Devon’s eyes. He had more facets to his personality than she realized.
The book is eminently readable and engaging. The dialogue is snappy and the plot moves at a brisk pace. I liked the use of flashbacks to tell the story and the way that setting is used to full advantage. I was turning pages quickly towards the end to find out what happened to Hutch.
Escape Theory is entertaining and witty, and has pop culture references that made me smile. From the book blurbs I expected a Pretty Little Liars/Gossip Girl type book, and there are some similarities, though this book reads a little older to me. If you like boarding school settings, or YA contemporary mysteries like Also Known As or Heist Society, give Escape Theory a try.
To learn more behind the scenes info, check out my interview with author Margaux Froley.
Book: Also Known As by Robin Benway, Bloomsbury, On Sale February 26, 2013
Book Info: YA Contemporary, ARC via NetGalley, Hardcover 320 pages
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
I’m a big fan of Robin Benway’s YA contemporary gem Audrey, Wait and have been waiting for lightning to strike twice. Also Known As also features Benway’s trademark humor and this time centers on a family of spies. I found it highly enjoyable, witty and fresh, and AKA even made me LOL at times. ;)
Also Known As (AKA) is the story of a teen safecracker named Maggie. She is always on the move with her spy parents, making the world safe from bad guys. Her current assignment is her first solo outing, and it ‘s a big one. Maggie has to go undercover as a student at a Manhattan prep school to get close to fellow student Jesse Oliver. Jesse’s wealthy dad has the names and photos of Maggie’s family and other members of the spy group known as the Collective. If Maggie can’t retrieve the file in time, their identities will be leaked to the media. What Maggie didn’t bank on is falling for Jesse for real, and finding a real friend (not air quotes friend) in Roux.
I expected AKA to be a kind of funny Heist Society type novel, with lots of gadgets and dangerous missions. Where this book is a little different is that the main character gets to experience a normal life for the first time. She’s always lived the life of an international spy, never putting down roots anywhere. Now she’s getting her first taste of high school and being around teenagers, and it’s out of her comfort zone but in a good way.
There’s a great cast of characters in AKA. Maggie has a mentor and coffee buddy in the forger Angelo, and Maggie’s parents walk the line between over-protective mom and dad, and stern bosses. Maggie is clever and sarcastic and is used to talking to adults all day. Her new friends are independent and loner types (but the filthy rich kind) like her. But together they click as a band of misfits.
I loved the smart and snappy dialogue in AKA. The novel flows in a conversational and easy way and is a quick and fun read. Benway’s wit shines through the pages, and the story is full of action, friendship, and heart. The New York setting is also used to advantage with several scenes taking place in familiar landmarks. I found it humorous that Maggie has to be a “spy” for her Halloween costume and doesn’t know how to dress the part.
In addition to Maggie torn between the spy world and wanting a normal life, there’s also a mystery to solve and the clock’s ticking. The stakes are high for her family and for the first time Maggie has friends that she doesn’t want to let down.
I think anyone that enjoys humorous YA contemporary books will love Also Known As. The spy twist is fresh and a blast to read. And even though there is a sequel in the works, this book has a satisfying conclusion on its own. I’m looking forward to the next installment.
Thanks to Bloomsbury for inviting me to participate in the Triple Threat Blog Tour and providing a review copy of AKA!
Check out Robin Benway’s Also Known As Spotify playlist, and read more about where the songs take place on her blog.
Book Info: YA Contemporary, ARC via NetGalley, Hardcover 316 pages
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
High school student “Butter” is a lonely obese guy who can’t get out of the over-eating cycle. He needs to lose weight for his health but lacks the support at home and motivation to stick to the plan. Butter is usually ignored at school but has also been a bully target at times. After a particularly bad day, Butter’s thoughts turn to self-harm and he determines to eat himself to death live via webcam on New Years Eve. He announces his plan on his website and is startled to find his classmates embrace the idea and encourage him with comments, invitations to parties, last meal suggestions, and friendship. But if they are his friends, how can they let Butter go through with his plans?
The premise is so morbid that I was worried I’d be able to get through this one. But the writing is so compelling I had to keep reading to see how it all turns out. It’s hard to read about Butter’s depression and his treatment at school, but there have been stories similar to Butter’s on the news unfortunately. Though many of them make mistakes along the way, the adults and kids in the story are not all good or all bad and makes you think about how you’d handle the situation if it happened to you.
One thing that makes this read a little easier to digest is that Butter has a great sense of humor. He wants people to see past his appearance and get to know the real him. He’s a nice guy, clever and talented – he’s a gifted saxophone player and the band teacher really wants him to join their music group, but he doesn’t want to put himself out there that way. One person who does like him (personality-wise) is a girl he chats with online anonymously. She is a popular girl at school named Anna and doesn’t give him the time of day there. But, she falls for him online and wants to meet face to face, something Butter of course is reluctant to do.
The subject matter is intense and hard to read at times and brings feelings of anger at the people in Butter’s life and at Butter himself too for letting the situation get so out of control. The whole situation really makes you think and would make for a great book club discussion. The bullying, depression and eating disorder topics are relevant to today and should resonate well with readers of realistic fiction. Erin Jade Lang writes a powerful book with strong characters and a great message.
Book Info: YA Science Fiction / Romance, ARC via Edelweiss, Hardcover 336 pages
Rating: 5 / 5 Stars
I’m always excited when there’s a new David Levithan book out, and Every Day may be my favorite yet. The concept caught my eye immediately – a being who wakes up every day in a new body, wow! It works as both a science fiction book and a contemporary love story and really draws you in.
“A” is a genderless entity and spends every day in someone else’s body- going through the motions of their life and trying not to disrupt anything. No matter what, the next day there will be a new body, could be male, female, straight or gay, a drug addict, a loner, an athlete, or a social butterfly. A has learned to adapt, and race, gender, and sexual orientation is no big deal to A. A can access the host body’s memories to get by, but still has a unique personality and thoughts, just without a physical body. It’s lonely never being able to form attachments or stay in one family for more than one day. Everything changes one day when A falls in love and begins to question everything. Sounds like a cool concept, yes?
This exercise of A’s really made me think when I was reading it, trying to imagine what it would be like to experience the world through someone else’s eyes every day and all the good and bad that comes with it. It’s a big responsibility to hold someone’s life in your hands for a day! It definitely takes someone kind and compassionate with a good moral code to handle that role. There is the temptation to meddle in the life of this temporary body, but should you?
Given A’s situation of being without a permanent body, the romance is on the angst-y side. It takes a special person to be accepting of their partner regardless of their ever-changing appearance and gender. It is really sweet to see A make a go at romance and let someone in on the secret. Talk about relationship challenges!
I liked learning about all the different characters A personified and seeing how A handled the reactions of others to each different body. The situation inspires a great deal of empathy. A is respectful of each character’s choices, but the different experiences can’t help but color your view of the world.
Of course I questioned why A has this role, and if there are others like A, etc. But I also was really interested in the story Levithan was trying to tell and not too concerned with the whys. Every Day is really gorgeous, thought provoking and special, a little melancholy and intense. This is a good choice for fans of Levithan or John Green, and should appeal to young adults and adults of both genders. I liked the ending too, but can’t help thinking about what happens next…
Every Day is in stores Tuesday August 28. Hope you check it out!