B O O K R E V I E W : How Not to Fall in Love by Jacqueline Firkins

Harper Jamison works in her mother’s bridal shop and has seen too many bridezillas focus on appearances and seating charts to believe love is behind marriages. Her best friend, Theo Turner, however, falls in love after a first date—and always gets his heart broken.

Harper finally tires of seeing Theo in distress and promises to teach him to date without falling in love. Harper, though, as far as Theo knows, has never dated, so he challenges her to follow her own lessons. She didn’t realize how hard it would be to keep from falling for Felix, the handsome athlete she started dating to prove her point or how painful it would be to see Theo with someone who might appreciate his quirky personality. Most challenging of all is being honest to herself about her true feelings.

I loved Theo! Smart, romantic, and unabashedly himself, he eschews fashion, sword fights at LARP events wearing hand-crafted chainmail, and hangs out in a windmill-shaped tree house. If you are familiar with Don Quixote, you might recognize the inspiration for Theo.

I really felt for Harper who had a lot of responsibility for a teenager and thought Pippa was a delightful character.

The book included two steamy scenes (without sex) that I thought were more effective than most sex scenes I’ve read in adult romance novels.

A great choice when you want to read a sophisticated YA romance with multidimensional characters you’ll become invested in.

Thanks to @marychasewrites for organizing a fun buddy read and @jfkillsdarlings for an advanced reading copy of the book. Mary also set up a Zoom with Jacqueline that was so fun! She was so generous in her responses to our questions about the book and her writing process.





Book Review: The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass

It’s not enough that Jake Livingston is one of the only Black students at his exclusive private school, or that he’s gay, or that he likes drawing more than sports. He also can see ghosts. For much of his life, they’ve existed in the background—he sees them in death loops, but they don’t cross over into the world of the living to interact with him.

That changes when Matteo Money, survivor of a high school shooting and Jake’s neighbor, is murdered In his bathroom. Days later, he finds the initials S.A.D. written in blood, Sawyer Doon, the shooter at Matteo’s school who killed five before shooting himself.

Powered by anger and desiring vengeance, Sawyer identified Jake, suffering from low self-esteem, as the ideal host through which conduct his revenge tour. Realizing he’s at risk, Jake decides he needs to learn as much as possible about Sawyer to be able to effectively resist him.

With his friends Fiona and Allister, he steals Sawyer’s journal which traces his path from troubled teen to murdered. Ultimately, Jake will need help from both the living and dead if he hopes to overcome his nemesis.

THE TAKING OF JAKE LIVINGSTON is incredibly creative and thought-provoking. In a small volume, it addresses so many important issues: bullying, racism, negative LBGTQ+ attitudes, and other traumas. As Jake was exposed to Sawyer’s rage, he might have found that some of it mirrored his own but that he never expressed.

Personally, I had a hard time visualizing many of the scenes where Jake interfaced with ghosts; the descriptions confounded me. Additionally, I wanted a little more information about how the “rules” of the spirit world worked: it felt like there were many inconsistencies. My biggest challenge is that Jake did the one thing he was cautioned not to do, risking everything, and his behavior flummoxed me.

Thanks to Penguin Teen and NetGalley for an advanced reading copy of the book and Nina for the RAOK of the finished version!

Book Review: DECEPTION, a continuation of the Dark Matter Trilogy

Happy publication day to Deception by Teri Terry, Book Two in the riveting Dark Matter Trilogy!

Shay, believing herself a carrier of the deadly Aberdeen Flu, flees her boyfriend, Kai, in the night to turn herself in. She’s imprisoned with a group of other survivors under the management of physicist Dr. Alex Cross, Kai’s hated stepfather.

Although angry Shay abandoned him, Kai can think of nothing but finding her. However, with no leads, he decides to find Freja Eriksen in London—a mysterious woman who has been posting videos disputing that survivors are contagious. Callie, Kai’s “cured” sister who can only be seen by survivors, follows him.

Meanwhile, as the epidemic spreads across the UK, jumping quarantine lines, a cure seems ever more elusive.

Deception expands the cast of characters from the first novel in the Dark Matter Trilogy, Contagion, and explains more about the mechanisms of the Aberdeen Flu as well as the surprising powers of the survivors.

With Freja, Shay and Kai enter a love triangle made complicated by distance and distrust as well as the survivors’ new capabilities. Dr. Cross’s motivations remain suspicious—and while Shay is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, Kai is certain he is a malevolent force. At the same time, Callie must confront uncomfortable truths about her situation.

Written for a young adult audience, this trilogy offers an entertaining series that engages questions of identity, difference, and power. Deception is a satisfying continuation, and I look forward to the final volume, Evolution.

Thank you to NetGalley and Charlesbridge Teen for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: REFUGEE, the harrowing journeys of three young asylum seekers

Alan Gratz

Forced by life-or-death circumstances to flee home at a moment’s notice, the young protagonists of Refugee by Alan Gratz illustrate the journeys of asylum seekers in three periods of history. In 1938, Josef, a Jewish boy, boards the MS St. Louis for Cuba hoping for freedom for persecution. Isabel, her family, and her next-door neighbors, in 1994 board a handmade raft to Miami from Cuba after her father took part in a demonstration against Fidel Castro. Mahmoud and his family leave his beloved city of Aleppo, in ruins after six years of civil war, in 2014, after their apartment building is destroyed by a missile. Despite being separated by decades, the families are interconnected in surprising ways.

Though each has a unique voyage, similarities run through the pilgrimages. They all experience danger; watch as their families separate, sometimes permanently, witness death; and take on adult roles even though they are only twelve or thirteen. The book also shows how living besieged and then as refugees can affect people differently. Additionally, the reader can find interesting symbolic parallels such as the role of dictators and how they are displayed visually in each society.

These are heady and difficult issues, but Gratz presents them in an age-appropriate way. Especially at the beginning of the book, he provides a lot of context about the leaders in power in Germany, Cuba, and Syria, and the conditions that create refugees. While there is a lot of loss and sorrow in the book, it ends on a hopeful note.

I would recommend this book to any guardians who want their children to learn more about the refugee crisis. It’s also a book that promotes empathy with people of other cultures and backgrounds. Adults, too, can learn from the story.

Book Review: PLAGUE LAND – NO ESCAPE, conclusion to a trilogy

Scarrow, Alex - Plague Land No Escape (3)Plague Land: No Escape
Alex Scarrow

The third novel in the Plague Land series finds Leon left in the UK, Freya on her way to what’s left of the United States, now hosted by Cuba, and Grace on a Chinese aircraft carrier. In the first novel, a malevolent virus wiped out most of humankind within a week. Only those taking drugs seemed to be spared. The second novel showed the virus’s development and introduced Tom, Leon and Grace’s father, who was desperate to find his children. Partnering with the Pacific Nations Alliance, he led a disastrous attempt to rescue English survivors. With too many refugees in a small camp, it became overrun with the virus that was now able to copy humans and hide in plain sight. As chaos spread among the survivors, the three teenagers became separated.

Plague Land: No Escape concludes the trilogy, with the virus attempting to reach out to humans to communicate and explain its mission. However, the virus is willing to forgo negotiations and complete the mission by any means necessary. It seems inevitable that the ever decreasing number of survivors will be annihilated by the virus which can now flawlessly duplicate any living form and withstand any attack. Those left now must decide to fight or acquiesce to the virus’s demands.

This series is marketed as young adult which surprises me a little bit, partly because of the language but mainly because of the gore. It is so disgusting, and each volume was more graphic and gross! These weren’t descriptions of violence but of the effect of the virus. Furthermore, it didn’t make much biological sense so felt gratuitous. No Escape introduced a few new characters, but the characterization was light, and I didn’t like the separation of the three main characters. To me, the action wasn’t as compelling as the previous entry, and many conversations between the virus and the humans were repetitive. I suppose when it came down to it, I didn’t much like the mission of the virus or how it played out. I’d hoped that the ending would wrap it up in a compelling way, but I was underwhelmed.