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Riley’s Post It Note Reviews: These Vengeful Hearts, Down Comes the Night and Pumpkin

With the holiday break, teen reviewer Riley Jensen was able to get some reading done and is sharing some post-it note reviews with us. Riley’s mom, that’s me, had some technical difficulties so the post it note review pics are super tiny and I apologize.

These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin

Publisher’s Book Description

Anyone can ask the Red Court for a favor…but every request comes at a cost. And once the deed is done, you’re forever in their debt.

Whenever something scandalous happens at Heller High, the Red Court is the name on everyone’s lips. Its members–the most elite female students in the school–deal out social ruin and favors in equal measure, their true identities a secret known only to their ruthless leader: the Queen of Hearts.

Sixteen-year-old Ember Williams has seen firsthand the damage the Red Court can do. Two years ago, they caused the accident that left her older sister paralyzed. Now, Ember is determined to hold them accountable…by taking the Red Court down from the inside.

But crossing enemy lines will mean crossing moral boundaries, too–ones Ember may never be able to come back from. She always knew taking on the Red Court would come at a price, but will the cost of revenge be more than she’s willing to sacrifice?

Riley’s Post It Note Review: Very dark and twisted, but there were some things that I didn’t fully understand.

This book is already published.

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

Publisher’s Book Description

He saw the darkness in her magic. She saw the magic in his darkness.

Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.

The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.

With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.

Allison Saft’s Down Comes the Night is a snow-drenched romantic fantasy that keeps you racing through the pages long into the night.

Love makes monsters of us all.

Riley’s Post It Note Review: Lots of good twists and turns and has a great theme of things aren’t always what they seem. Nice enemy to lover.

This book publishes in March 2021 from Wednesday Books

Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

Publisher’s Book Description

Waylon Russell Brewer is a fat, openly gay boy stuck in the small West Texas town of Clover City. His plan is to bide his time until he can graduate, move to Austin with his twin sister, Clementine, and finally go Full Waylon, so that he can live his Julie-the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music-Andrews truth.

So when Clementine deviates from their master plan right after Waylon gets dumped, he throws caution to the wind and creates an audition tape for his favorite TV drag show, Fiercest of Them All. What he doesn’t count on is the tape accidentally getting shared with the entire school. . . . As a result, Waylon is nominated for prom queen as a joke. Clem’s girlfriend, Hannah Perez, also receives a joke nomination for prom king.

Waylon and Hannah decide there’s only one thing to do: run—and leave high school with a bang. A very glittery bang. Along the way, Waylon discovers that there is a lot more to running for prom court than campaign posters and plastic crowns, especially when he has to spend so much time with the very cute and infuriating prom king nominee Tucker Watson.

Waylon will need to learn that the best plan for tomorrow is living for today . . . especially with the help of some fellow queens. . . .

Riley’s Post It Note Review: A classic Julie Murphy feel-good book about becoming who you were meant to be and loving yourself.

This book comes out May 2021 from Balzer & Bray and is book #3 in the Dumplin’ universe

Take 5: The Last 5 Best YA Books I Read in 2020, YA fiction round 2

We started with YA. Last week I dove into nonfiction. Last week was all about Middle Grade. And today we end where we began, with another round of Teen/Young Adult fiction.

The Burning by Laura Bates

Publisher’s Book Description:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month!

What happens when you can’t run or hide from a mistake that goes viral?

This powerful young adult novel by the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project is a necessary book every young adult needs.

A rumor is like fire. And a fire that spreads online… is impossible to extinguish.

New school. Check.
New town. Check.
New last name. Check.
Social media profiles? Deleted.

Anna and her mother have moved hundreds of miles to put the past behind them. Anna hopes to make a fresh start and escape the harassment she’s been subjected to. But then rumors and whispers start, and Anna tries to ignore what is happening by immersing herself in learning about Maggie, a local woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century. A woman who was shamed. Silenced. And whose story has unsettling parallels to Anna’s own.

From Laura Bates, internationally renowned feminist and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, comes a realistic fiction story for the #metoo era. It’s a powerful call to action, reminding all readers of the implications of sexism and the role we can each play in ending it.

Karen’s Thoughts: In the song Mad Woman off of the Folklore album by Taylow Swift, Swift reminds us that they use to call women who stood up for themselves mad and burn them as witches. That is an underlining theme in The Burning as well. Anna and her mother leave to start a new life and it’s clear that something has happened. Over time we learn that Anna’s dad has died and in her grief, she developed an unhealthy relationship with a boy who shares her nudes with others. Her fresh start doesn’t go well when new people find those nudes and more. At the same time, Anna is researching for a local history project and learn about a historical woman in her new town who was burned for being a witch because she had a child out of wedlock. There is a lot going on in this book: mothers and daugthers, friendships, social media, feminism and more. But it’s all woven together in a really solid story that made me rage and then rejoice.

Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

Publisher’s Book Description:

Liv Fleming’s father went missing more than two years ago, not long after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Liv has long accepted that he’s dead, though that doesn’t mean she has given up their traditions. Every Sunday, she and her lifelong friend Doug Monk trudge through the woods to check the traps Lee left behind, traps he set to catch the aliens he so desperately believed were after him.

But Liv is done with childhood fantasies. Done pretending she believes her father’s absurd theories. Done going through the motions for Doug’s sake. However, on the very day she chooses to destroy the traps, she discovers in one of them a creature so inhuman it can only be one thing. In that moment, she’s faced with a painful realization: her dad was telling the truth. And no one believed him.

Now, she and Doug have a choice to make. They can turn the alien over to the authorities…or they can take matters into their own hands.

Karen’s Thoughts: Why do seemingly good people engage in horrific acts of violence? This is one of the main questions that Kraus tackles in this ultra violent novel that explores the depth of grief and loss and mixing in a bit of psychological manipulation and toxic masculinity. Nothing is ever as it seems in Bent Heavens and then there a mindblowing twist that turns everything on its head.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Publisher’s Book Description:

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

Karen’s Thoughts: The prom novel is a tried and true staple of teen/young adult fiction. And here we get a joyful prom novel starring a Black main character that will make you laugh, make you cry, and warm your cold, dead 2020 heart. It’s everything you want in a ya novel and more.

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Publisher’s Book Description:

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born


Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today


Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

Karen’s Thoughts: A moving look at contemporary issues regarding systemic racism and the criminal justice system by someone who all too sadly knows about it from personal experience. Told in verse, this is such a moving and uncomfortable read. I love that it demonstrates the healing and expressive power of art while taking us on this journey. Like some of the best books out there, it takes an uncomfortable look at hard truths and it’s not always an easy read, but it’s a moving and necessary one.

We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Publisher’s Book Description:

A ripped-from-the-headlines novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have no false illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Though their families–both biological and found–create a warm community for them, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the three teens know they have no choice but to run: for the border, for the hope of freedom, and for their very lives.

Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico with their eyes on the U.S. border, they follow the route of La Bestia, a system of trains that promise the hope of freedom–if they are lucky enough to survive the harrowing journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and the desperation that courses through their very veins, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know that there’s no turning back, dangerous though the road ahead might be.

In this powerful story inspired by real–and current–events, the plight at our southern border is brought to painful, poignant life.

Karen’s Thoughts: Jenny Torres Sanchez is one of the best authors you’re probably not reading and this book is hands down her best one yet. It’s a ripped from the headlines Own Voices story about a group of teens fleeing Guatemala and trying to get to the sanctuary of the United States. We start out with an in depth look at their lives at home, to get an idea of what, exactly, they are fleeing and then take the harsh journey with them. This is such a painful book to read, and terrifying in its stark depiction of real life for so many, which is why it’s one of the best and most important books of our time. Well written, moving, and sadly necessary for our current times, everyone should read this book.

And there you have it, 20 of the best books I read in 2020. What do you think of my list? What books are on yours? Let’s talk about it in the comment.

Have Some 2021 Books, by Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

We are nearing the end of 2020, thank goodness. As we approach the end of this eventful year, I think we should look at what’s to come. So, obviously, this means we should look at books!

Love is a Revolution by Renee Watson

When Nala Robertson reluctantly agrees to attend an open mic night for her cousin-sister-friend Imani’s birthday, she finds herself falling in instant love with Tye Brown, the MC. He’s perfect, except . . . Tye is an activist and is spending the summer putting on events for the community when Nala would rather watch movies and try out the new seasonal flavors at the local creamery. In order to impress Tye, Nala tells a few tiny lies to have enough in common with him. As they spend more time together, sharing more of themselves, some of those lies get harder to keep up. As Nala falls deeper into keeping up her lies and into love, she’ll learn all the ways love is hard, and how self-love is revolutionary.

Coming February 2, 2021 from Bloomsbury

Every Single Lie by Rachel Vincent

Nobody in Beckett’s life seems to be telling the whole story. Her boyfriend Jake keeps hiding texts and might be cheating on her. Her father lied about losing his job before his shocking death. And everyone in school seems to be whispering about her and her family behind her back.

But none of that compares to the day Beckett finds the body of a newborn baby in a gym bag-Jake’s gym bag -on the floor of her high school locker room. As word leaks out, rumors that Beckett’s the mother take off like wildfire in a town all too ready to believe the worst of her. And as the police investigation unfolds, she discovers that everyone has a secret to hide and the truth could alter everything she thought she knew.

Coming January 12, 2021 from Bloomsbury

Game Changer by Neal Shusterman

All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it.

Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension—and keeps on falling into universes that are almost-but-not-really his own, each one stranger than the last.

And if he isn’t careful, the world he’s learning to see more clearly could blink out of existence…

Coming February 2021 from Quill Tree Books

As Far as You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life–where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval.

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

Coming February 9, 2021 from Bloomsbury

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher

Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

Coming February 2021 from Wednesday Books

Riley, Teen Reviewer

I am a senior in high school and an avid reader. I have been reviewing books on this blog since 2012. I love musical theatre and listen to show tunes a lot. I also love murder books (both fiction and nonfiction), and want to go to college to be a forensic scientist after high school. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, so I just put that hobby to good use for my mom.

Take 5: Creepy(ish) Teen Reads for the Month of October (and always)

It’s spooky season, one of my favorites. So I’ve been trying to read more spooky, creepy, thrilling, murdery books. Though one could I argue that’s what I normally read. Here’s a look at 5 books I’ve recently read, some old and some new and one not yet published, that are great reads for those looking for a little creep factor in their life.

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

Publisher’s Book Description:

A hitched ride home in a snow storm turns sinister when one of the passengers is plotting for the ride to end in disaster.

When Mira flies home to spend Christmas with her mother in Pittsburgh, a record-breaking blizzard results in a cancelled layover. Desperate to get to her grief-ridden mother in the wake of a family death, Mira hitches a ride with a group of friendly college kids who were on her initial flight.

As the drive progresses and weather conditions become more treacherous, Mira realizes that the four other passengers she’s stuck in the car with don’t actually know one another.

Soon, they’re not just dealing with heavy snowfall and ice-slick roads, but the fact that somebody will stop at nothing to ensure their trip ends in a deadly disaster.

Karen’s Thoughts:

Here’s a totally true story. Years ago, The Mr. and I were trying to fly from Ohio to Mississippi to spend Christmas with my mom and we were being chased by a wicked storm. After being rerouted for the 5th time, we met up with two total strangers in the airport and rented a car together and drove from Atlanta to Mississippi. We were in our early twenties and didn’t even have cell phones yet, so this was not a great idea. We did call before leaving the airport and gave my mom everyone’s driver’s license information in case we never made it there alive. So when I saw the premise of this book, I was excited. Just the prospect of being in a car with strangers in a snow storm is terrifying, and here was an entire novel about it. And Natalie D. Richards is one of my go to authors for creepy reads. She does not disappoint here. Everyone’s hiding secrets, no one is really who they appear to be, and the storm itself is an interminable foe. Teens will enjoy this wild ride.

Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young

Publisher’s Book Description:

Stay tonight. Stay forever.

When Audrey Casella arrives for an unplanned stay at the grand Hotel Ruby, she’s grateful for the detour. Just months after their mother’s death, Audrey and her brother, Daniel, are on their way to live with their grandmother, dumped on the doorstep of a DNA-matched stranger because their father is drowning in his grief.

Audrey and her family only plan to stay the night, but life in the Ruby can be intoxicating, extending their stay as it provides endless distractions—including handsome guest Elias Lange, who sends Audrey’s pulse racing. However, the hotel proves to be as strange as it is beautiful. Nightly fancy affairs in the ballroom are invitation only, and Audrey seems to be the one guest who doesn’t have an invite. Instead, she joins the hotel staff on the rooftop, catching whispers about the hotel’s dark past.

The more Audrey learns about the new people she’s met, the more her curiosity grows. She’s torn in different directions—the pull of her past with its overwhelming loss, the promise of a future that holds little joy, and an in-between life in a place that is so much more than it seems…

Welcome to the Ruby.

Karen’s Thoughts: I’ve wanted to read this one for a while now so when I went searching for something October scary, I knew it was finally time. Who doesn’t love a creepy hotel? I thought this was a really creepy read that slowly builds and then when things are revealed, I was not let down. I was mesmerized by the world of the Ruby and the characters that inhabit it. This is the perfect October read.

Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso

Publisher’s Book Description:

When she was a child, Cassidy Pratt accidentally started a fire that killed her neighbor. At least, that’s what she’s been told. She can’t remember anything from that day, and her town’s bullies, particularly the cruel and beautiful Melody Davenport, have never let her live it down.

But then Melody goes missing, and Cassidy thinks she may have information. She knows she should go to the cops, but she recently joked about how much she’d like to get rid of Melody. She even planned out the perfect way to do it. And then she gets a chilling text from an unknown number: I’m so glad we’re in this together.

Now it’s up to Cassidy to figure out what really happened before the truth behind Melody’s disappearance sets the whole town ablaze.

Karen’s Thoughts: Small towns, big secrets. A variation on the word creepy is right there in the title, so it makes the list. This is a pretty twisted psychological thriller with small town secrets, bullies, stalkers, serial kills and siblings trying to survive childhood trauma. There are some twists and turns and red herrings along the way. It is a satisfying read.

Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

Publisher’s Book Description:

Caroline Lawson is three months away from freedom, otherwise known as graduation day. That’s when she’ll finally escape her rigid prep school and the parents who thought they could convert her to being straight.

Until then, Caroline is keeping her head down, pretending to be the perfect student even though she is crushed by her family and heartbroken over the girlfriend who left for California.

But when her best friend Madison disappears, Caroline feels compelled to get involved in the investigation. She has her own reasons not to trust the police, and she owes Madison — big time.

Suddenly Caroline realizes how little she knew of what her friend was up to. Caroline has some uncomfortable secrets about the hours before Madison disappeared, but they’re nothing compared to the secrets Madison has been hiding. And why does Mr. McCormack, their teacher, seem to know so much about them?

It’s only when Caroline discovers other missing girls that she begins to close in on the truth. Unlike Madison, the other girls are from the wrong side of the tracks. Unlike Madison’s, their disappearances haven’t received much attention. Caroline is determined to find out what happened to them and why no one seems to notice. But as every new discovery leads Caroline closer to the connection between these girls and Madison, she faces an unsettling truth.

There’s only one common denominator between the disappearances: Caroline herself.

Karen’s Thoughts: I debated adding this book to this list because it’s actually a pretty heavy book with serious discussions and doesn’t fall very well onto a list of creepy books for the sake of being creepy and fun. BUT if you have teens looking for a good psychological feminist thriller that is dark, this IS the book for that teen. I reviewed it earlier on TLT and said, “This is a heavy book, full of complicated conversations and relationships. There is no happy ending, even with a lot of important plot lines resolved. It’s a dark exploration of meaningful and realistic topics that populate the landscape of teen lives. It’s moving and powerful . . . and it’s important. Pretty politically relevant as well. Definitely recommended.”

The Cousins by Karen McManus

Publishers Book Description:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying comes your next obsession. You’ll never feel the same about family again.

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised . . . and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point–not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother’s good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it’s immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious–and dark–their family’s past is.

The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn’t over–and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

Karen’s Thoughts: When I was a teen, one of my favorite movies was Evil Under the Sun based on the book by Agatha Christie. What can I say, I was a weird teen. The Cousins immediately brought the works of Agatha Christie to mind, more so even then her earlier books One of Us is Lying and Two Can Keep a Secret did. This book is about family secrets and it’s strength is the character development. Again, it’s not so much a creepy book as it is a really good mystery, which I always love. This book doesn’t come out until the end of 2020, so you’ll have to wait a bit to find out more about these family secrets. But you can read about more family secrets in a small town that actually involves a haunted house in Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus, so that’s the perfect October read while you wait to satisfy your Agatha Christie-like cravings with The Cousins later this year.

I’m on the hunt for more creepy reads, so what have you been reading?

Have Some K-Pop, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

K-Pop has been making a comeback for while now, and it’s proving to be very popular with teens. Many teens are very invested in certain groups and some even learn numerous dance routines that go with songs. So, here are a few songs that I enjoy by popular K-pop groups.

Back Door by Stray Kids

Love Shot by EXO

Lovesick Girls by BLACKPINK

Psycho by Red Velvet

Fancy by TWICE

All of these songs are fairly new, the oldest one going back only a year. These groups are usually some of the most well known, except for BTS which was left off the list because most people know of that group. There are obviously more groups and each group has numerous good songs, so if you find that you enjoy K-pop then there is plenty of songs out there.

And here are a few YA books for KPop fans

Riley, Teen Reviewer

I am a senior in high school and an avid reader. I have been reviewing books on this blog since 2012. I love musical theatre and listen to show tunes a lot. I also love murder books (both fiction and nonfiction), and want to go to college to be a forensic scientist after high school. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, so I just put that hobby to good use for my mom.

Some Books Coming Soon for Your TBR List, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Here’s a look at some YA releases coming your way. One later this year and four early 2021. All book descriptions are provided by the publisher.

This is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey

Like many teens, sometimes it feels as though everything in Jess Flynn’s life has been engineered for maximum drama–from her performance at the school talent show, to the reappearance of her childhood best friend and perennial crush Jeremy, to her friends trying to set her up with one of the hottest guys in school. It’s almost as if everything might finally be going her way…until one day a tiny black phone with an apple logo on its screen falls out of her best friend’s backpack and lands at Jess’s feet.

The problem is, it’s 1998, and the first iPhone isn’t due out for another nine years.

Jess’s friends refuse to acknowledge the strange device. Her sister Sara, on hospice care with a terminal blood disease, for once can’t tell Jess what she should do. It’s almost as if everyone is hiding something from her. Even her beloved dog Fuller seems different…like, literally different, because he definitely didn’t have that same pattern of spots on his stomach last week…

Nothing in Jess Flynn’s world is as it seems, and as the cracks begin to show, Jess will discover her entire life is nothing more than someone else’s entertainment. Except in this reality, the outside world is no place anyone would want to escape to. (November 2020, Quirk Books)

Sing Me Forgotten by Jessica S. Olson

Isda does not exist. At least not beyond the opulent walls of the opera house.

Cast into a well at birth for being one of the magical few who can manipulate memories when people sing, she was saved by Cyril, the opera house’s owner. Since that day, he has given her sanctuary from the murderous world outside. All he asks in return is that she use her power to keep ticket sales high—and that she stay out of sight. For if anyone discovers she survived, Isda and Cyril would pay with their lives.

But Isda breaks Cyril’s cardinal rule when she meets Emeric Rodin, a charming boy who throws her quiet, solitary life out of balance. His voice is unlike any she’s ever heard, but the real shock comes when she finds in his memories hints of a way to finally break free of her gilded prison.

Haunted by this possibility, Isda spends more and more time with Emeric, searching for answers in his music and his past. But the price of freedom is steeper than Isda could ever know. For even as she struggles with her growing feelings for Emeric, she learns that in order to take charge of her own destiny, she must become the monster the world tried to drown in the first place. (March 2021, Inkyard Press)

Riley’s Thoughts: A gender bent Phantom of the Opera? Yes!

Five Ways to Fall Out of Love by Emily Martin

Aubrey Cash learned the hard way not to rely on love. After all, Webster Casey, the new boy next door she’d been falling for all summer, stood her up at homecoming in front of everyone with no explanation. Proving her theory that love never lasts seems easy when she’s faced with parents whose marriage is falling apart and a best friend who thinks every boy she dates is “the one.” But when sparks fly with a boy who turns out to be Webster’s cousin, and then Webster himself becomes her lab partner for the rest of senior year, Aubrey finds her theory—and her commitment to stay single—put to the test.

As she navigates the breakdown of her family, the consequences her cynicism has on her relationship with her best friend, and her own confusing but undeniable feelings for Webster, Aubrey has to ask herself: What really happened the night Webster stood her up? And if there are five ways to fall out of love…could there perhaps be even more ways to fall back in? (March 2021, Inkyard Press)

The Flipside of Perfect by Liz Reinhardt

AJ is a buttoned-up, responsible student attending a high-achieving high school in Michigan. She lives with her mother, stepfather and two younger half sisters.

Della spends every summer with her father in Florida. A free-spirited wild child, she spends as much time as possible on the beach with her friends and older siblings.

But there’s a catch: AJ and Della are the same person. Adelaide Beloise Jepsen to be exact, and she does everything she can to keep her school and summer lives separate.

When her middle sister crashes her carefree summer getaway, Adelaide’s plans fall apart. In order to help her sister, save her unexpected friendship with a guy who might just be perfect for her, and discover the truth about her own past, Adelaide will have to reconcile the two sides of herself and face the fact that it’s perfectly okay not to be perfect all the time. (April 2021, Inkyard Press)

These Feathered Flames by Alexandra Overy

When twin heirs are born in Tourin, their fates are decided at a young age. While Izaveta remained at court to learn the skills she’d need as the future queen, Asya was taken away to train with her aunt, the mysterious Firebird, who ensured magic remained balanced in the realm.

But before Asya’s training is completed, the ancient power blooms inside her, which can mean only one thing: the queen is dead, and a new ruler must be crowned.

As the princesses come to understand everything their roles entail, they’ll discover who they can trust, who they can love—and who killed their mother. (April 2021, Inkyard Press)

How to Get Out of Handcuffs and Other Things You Need to Know to Write a Mystery Thriller: The Murder Teen Interviews YA Author April Henry

As you may know, teen contributor Riley Jensen is interested in becoming a forensic scientist. Last Thursday, she interviewed prolific YA author April Henry over Zoom. Ms. Henry was very gracious to talk with The Murder Teen and answer her questions about writing a mystery/thriller novel for teens. It’s a fascinating conversation that talks about research and devolves into a very in depth conversation about how one can get out of handcuffs. Now Riley wants practice handcuffs and a lock picking set for her upcoming birthday, so there’s that.

April Henry’s 25th novel The Girl in the White Van releases tomorrow, July 28th. The interview is posted for you below. I tried to close caption the video for the first time to make it accessible and I hope that works correctly.

About The Girl in the White Van

A teen is snatched after her kung fu class and must figure out how to escape—and rescue another kidnapped prisoner—in this chilling YA mystery.

When Savannah disappears soon after arguing with her mom’s boyfriend, everyone assumes she’s run away. The truth is much worse. She’s been kidnapped by a man in a white van who locks her in an old trailer home, far from prying eyes. And worse yet, Savannah’s not alone: Ten months earlier, Jenny met the same fate and nearly died trying to escape. Now as the two girls wonder if he will hold them captive forever or kill them, they must join forces to break out—even if it means they die trying.

Master mystery-writer April Henry weaves another heart-stopping young adult thriller in this story ripped straight from the headlines.

Coming July 28th, 2020 from Henry Holt & Company

About April Henry

New York Times-bestselling author April Henry knows how to kill you in a two-dozen different ways. She makes up for a peaceful childhood in an intact home by killing off fictional characters. There was one detour on April’s path to destruction:  when she was 12 she sent a short story about a six-foot tall frog who loved peanut butter to noted children’s author Roald Dahl. He liked it so much he showed it to his editor, who asked if she could publish it in Puffin Post, an international children’s magazine. By the time April was in her 30s, she had started writing about hit men, kidnappers, and drug dealers. She has published 25 mysteries and thrillers for teens and adults, with more to come. She is known for meticulously researching her novels to get the details right. 

Find out more about April Henry and her books at her webpage.

Everything’s Coming Up YA: A Day at the North Texas Teen Book Festival, part 2

On Monday, I shared the experiences of Thing 2’s day at the North Texas Teen Book Festival. Today, The Teen is sharing her own experiences and recapping the various YA panels that she attended. This was the first time she went off totally on her own and it was interesting to me to see what panels she chose to attend and what she thought of them. We had great conversations on the car ride home. This is her first time writing a post for TLT from start to finish on her own.

Mary Hinson, Thing 2 and The Teen at the North Texas Teen Book Festival

At the North Texas Teen Book Festival, I attended four panels. Each of them was good in their own way.

Read the Rainbow

First, I attended Reading the Rainbow. On this panel there was George M. Jonson, David Levithan, Gabby Rivera, Marie Rutkoski, Aminah Mae Safi and Nic Stone. There was very little time in this panel since so many people wanted to attend it, so right after introductions they jumped into audience questions. Most of the questions did not pertain to books. One teen asked for advice for coming out and another asked how to deal with not feeling accepted. There was a disclaimer made at the beginning of the panel by David Levitan that the authors were not professionals when it came to this stuff, but they would answer the questions to the best of their ability. And that’s what they did. They gave advice for coming out and they told the teens how they deal with not feeling accepted. There were questions about books, like what is a trope that you wish people would move away from and what would you tell young aspiring queer writers. But, mostly the panel just felt like a place full of people seeking advice from the people they look up to. It was really amazing seeing all of these teens so excited to listen to these authors who are making it possible for them to see people who are like them in books. And with some final recommendations of books, the panel was over.

All Bodies are Beautiful

So, I moved to All Bodies Are Beautiful with Becky Albertalli, Julie Murphy, Karen Schneeman, Renee Watson and Lily Williams. The panel opened again with more introductions and a description of their newest books. These introductions were quickly followed by a question from the moderator about terminology and about what terminology that the moderator should us for them. I feel like this is something that this way a brilliant way to begin this panel, and I actually learned something from this question that I would have never known. Julie Murphy was the first to answer this question and she said that body positivity actually comes from a smaller group called fat positivity. She also said that she uses the word fat for herself because it’s not a negative word, but people have just been using it in a way that makes it seem negative. The moderator asked more questions, but there was one question that gave me some answers that made me really sad. The question was about how hard did the authors have to push for their cover art. Thankfully, the authors said that their illustrators were quick to make changes to their first attempts of the cover art, but the covers did not begin as the authors wanted. For Watch Us Rise, Renee Watson said that she had to push for her cover art because when a character is fat the illustrators make her look sad and if she’s black they make her look angry. But, thankfully, on her next book she was able to make changes to her character design very quickly. Julie Murphy followed Watson in answering the question. She said that for Dumplin’ the illustrators were ready to make her a “curvacious bombshell” and for her newest book, Faith Takes Flight, she actually gave her illustrator pictures to base the design off of. This panel really opened my eyes to how hard it has been to get fat people the proper representation they deserve. The panel closed with an audience question about if loving your body is a straight line. Renee Watson gave a quick no to that question, saying that loving your body is not a straight line. And Julie Murphy followed by saying, “the things I say and think about myself, you’re thinking those things about the people around you.” This panel really left me thinking about my body differently. It left me feeling a little teary. It was really amazing to hear these people whose books I have read essentially say that all bodies are beautiful.

Black Girl Magic

After that panel I went to Black Girl Magic with Tonya Bolden, Camryn Garrett, Tiffany D. Jackson, Angie Thomas and Nicola Yoon. The panel once again opened with more introductions and a description of their latest book. These introductions were followed by some questions from their moderator, my favorite was about finding your passion which Angie Thomas gave a beautiful reply that there is no time limit on finding your passion and when you find it then you find it. After the questions were asked by the moderator, the floor was opened to the audience. There were many good questions about how to combat stereotypes in writing and how to make writing more diverse, but there was one question that made the room go silent. The question was can white people write people of color. Angie Thomas had my favorite response. Her response was to ask yourself, “am I the person to tell this story?” Which was a excellent way to end this panel with a reminder that everyone must be conscious of what they write.

Killer Vibes

With that panel over, I moved to Killer Vibes with Libba Bray, Traci Chee, Mintie Das, Maureen Johnson and Karen M. McManus. More introductions and more descriptions of their latest projects. This panel was probably the most fun for me. {Editor’s note: regular readers may recall that The Teen is hoping to become a forensic scientist so murder is one of her favorite subjects.} A lot of fun questions were asked like what was the weirdest thing that they had to google for research and which character they would want to trade lives with. These questions led to a lot of funny stories and I honestly didn’t take a lot of notes over this panel because I was laughing too much at the authors quick responses and humor. This panel was a great way to close the day.

A Love Letter to Muslim Authors, a guest post by Lisa Krok

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, many Muslims in the United States and elsewhere have been the victims of prejudice and stereotypes. Recently in the young adult book world, a novel written by a non-Muslim writer received backlash in some reviews regarding the portrayal of Muslims and the Kosovan Genocide in 1996. The author has since apologized and pulled the book from publication. Additionally, Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) has faced death threats and Islamaphobic hate, linking her to the September 11 attacks. The horrific Mosque shootings in Christchurch this past week demonstrated white supremacy in action, bringing tragic consequences for many families.

My heart is so heavy for the hurt Muslims repeatedly endure. My heart is also so very full with peace and love for them. With so much negativity directed towards the Muslim population, they truly deserve a love letter for all they bring to the world of young adult literature. Muslim teens have historically not had much representation in books, and thankfully, this is changing. I have personally read eight books in the past few months by Muslim authors and/or featuring Muslim characters. At first, I was choosing books that had summaries that sounded interesting. As I read more, I found that the #ownvoices books by Muslim authors had stories that captivated me, so I began seeking out more of them. The selections below are primarily published in 2018 and 2019, with some forthcoming very soon.

The realistic fictional accounts depict Muslim teens having many of the same issues all teens have, albeit sometimes at a much more intense level: concerns about fitting in, bullying, first love, sexuality, parental expectations, mental illness, etc. Hijabi teens are included, with explanations of the hijab and why they choose to wear it. A terrific example of this is illustrated in Tahereh Mafi’s A Very Large Expanse of Sea (Harper Collins, 2018). When hijab wearing teen Shirin couples with school basketball star Ocean James, many of their classmates are critical. Shirin faces unfair intimidation and threats. Fortunately, her relationship with her brother is strong, and together they work on a breakdancing routine for the school talent show. Mafi has stated that the book is not autobiographical, but is inspired by situations that happened in her life. Teens will be interested to learn that Mafi is a breakdancer herself, as demonstrated in the book trailer below.

alkafThe Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf (Salaam Reads, 2019) propels readers into Melati’s world during the race riots of 1969 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Melati is a Beatles loving, movie going teen with OCD. When tensions rise, a riot leader storms the movie theater. Melati and her best friend are forced to separate, and their lives are forever changed. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan (Scholastic Press, 2019) portrays a lesbian teenaged girl wanting to make her own decisions about who she will date and marry, with some roadblocks from her controlling parents. Kick the Moon by Muhammed Khan (Pan Macmillan UK, 2019) features Ilyas, who is battling on many different fronts, including toxic masculinity, misogyny, test pressures, and accountability.

What I adore most about these realistic fiction novels by Muslim authors is that even with the differences in culture, religion, geographical location, and time periods, the characters are so very relatable to a broad spectrum of teens. This is a harmonious merging of what some perceive as “other”, to help them see that our commonalities are far greater than our differences. The more Muslim teens view themselves reflected in books, the more they will feel validated and seen. These accounts can also help non-Muslim teens progress from possible stereotypical thoughts and promote conversations on the path to real life acceptance and celebration of each other. These are ideal and highly encouraged for classroom book discussions or book club picks. Some of the themes represented include racism, resisting, self-acceptance, family issues, homophobia, mental illness, and dating. All of the realistic fiction books below are available now, with the exception of Internment by Samira Ahmed (Little, Brown BFYR, March 19, 2019), Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali (Salaam Reads, April 30, 2019) and Symptoms of a Heartbreak by Sona Charaipotra (Macmillan, July 2, 2019).

YA Realistic Fiction

 yarealistic

For teens interested in books with a sci-fi/fantasy element, Muslim writers have you covered there, too! Digging deep to find your inner strength, even in the most dire of circumstances is a common thread in many of these SFF novels. Three incredible debut books by new Muslim authors are shown below. Mirage by Somaiya Daud (Flatiron, 2018) is available now in stores and libraries. The Candle and the Flame, by Nafiza Azad (Scholastic Press) and We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR) share a book birthday on May 14, 2019.

YA Fantasy yafantasy

Teens who enjoy dark, edgy reads will inhale these two gripping series. The “Queen of Cruel” (but we love her dearly), Sabaa Tahir, will rip your heart out, dance on it, and leave you begging for more. Book four of the An Ember in the Ashes series is slated to come out in 2020, giving those who have read the first three time to recover and crave vengeance. Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series is also intense, with novellas provided in between the books to satiate readers clamoring for the next installment. Defy Me releases April 2, 2019.

YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy Series

                                              scifi1

 Middle grade readers can find some commendable options from Muslim authors, also. Karuna Raizi’s The Battle (Salaam Reads, 2019) is the sequel to her previous book, The Gauntlet (Salaam Reads, 2018) and has special appeal for gamers. Raizi’s book is forthcoming, August 27, 2019. Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018) has already grabbed the hearts of many librarians, teachers, and students, who have become immediately engaged with the very likable protagonist, Amal, and her struggle to be free.  Also, forthcoming by Aisha Saeed is Aladdin: Far from Agrabah (Disney Press, April 2, 2019).

Middle Grade Readers

middlegrademuslim

To the many incredible Muslim authors who have worked tirelessly to bring their stories to teens, thank you. Thank you for giving Muslim teens their chance to be SEEN. Thank you for addressing issues affecting teens, such as mental illness, sexuality, racism, bullying, and more. Thank you for the strength of your characters and for their resilience. Thank you for opening the door to discussions for non-Muslim teens to see that we are all more alike than they may think.  Inshallah, this is just the beginning of a journey spreading peace and understanding to many.

With love,

Lisa Krok,   M.L.I.S., M.Ed

If you would like to help families affected by the New Zealand shootings, please visit the official Victim Support donation page:  https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/christchurch-shooting-victims-fund?fbclid=IwAR0xUiUdpGsfqVgBgQ1eUqAFqIFLMejM47pZDYfh90uiDI5i-GvoDyDyu_Q

lisakrok2019 -Lisa Krok is a librarian, die-hard YA reader, social justice warrior, and a Ravenclaw. She has a passion for reaching reluctant readers, and was appointed to the 2019 and 2018 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers teams. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Hip Hop is Happening in YA Lit, a guest post by Lisa Krok

The Grammys have often failed to recognize hip-hop artists in the most notable award categories. Based upon the lack of representation of Black performers in the Motown tribute, the Grammys clearly still have work to do. However, the steps toward progress are in motion, with huge wins for Childish Gambino and Cardi B. Childish Gambino’s “This is America” won Grammys for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and Best Music Video. The Song of the Year honors writers of songs, while the Record of the Year honors the recording artist. “This is America” was the first rap song to win these two distinguished accolades. Additionally, Cardi B was the first female solo artist to win the Grammy for Best Rap Album for “Invasion of Privacy”, alongside several other award nominations. This year Childish Gambino and Cardi B made history, and Young Adult Lit is here for it!

Three strong and exceptionally talented Black YA authors have hit the trifecta with books that are new releases or coming soon and reflect hip-hop culture. As rapper and social theorist KRS-One stated, “Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live”.

hiphop1Many teens will already be familiar with author Angie Thomas from (NYT Bestseller for 100+ weeks) The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray, 2017) book and movie. The Hate U Give has received multiple awards and honors, including YALSA’s William C. Morris Award, a Coretta Scott King honor, a Printz honor, and the National Book Award long list, just to name a few. Thomas, a former teen rapper herself, recently released On the Come Up featuring Bri, a female teen rapper trying to make it big. Living up to a dead father who was a rap legend is tough. Combine that with racist actions from school security, a recovering addict mom desperately trying to make ends meet, and competition in the ring, finding your voice is difficult and is sometimes misconstrued by those who want to knock you down. Thomas passionately and realistically portrays the harsh realities of being Black and poor, while pushing forward and going for your dream. On the Come Up released February 5, 2019 from Balzer + Bray.

See Epic Reads track-by-track breakdown of Spotify’s On the Come Up playlist, along with a rap name generator. Playlist features tracks from Biggie, Common, Cardi B, Tupac, Nicki Minaj, Queen Latifah, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Missy Elliott, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, Lauryn Hill, and many more legends. Selections for the playlist were chosen by Angie Thomas.

https://www.epicreads.com/blog/on-the-come-up-playlist/

hiphop2Lamar Giles is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books, and was an Edgar award finalist  for both Fake ID (Harper Collins, 2014) and Endangered (Harper Collins, 2015). Additionally, Overturned (Scholastic, 2017) was a 2018 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and a Kirkus Best Book of 2017. Giles also edited the WNDB anthology Fresh Ink (Random House, 2018) and contributed to anthologies Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America (Balzer + Bray, 2019) and Three Sides of a Heart (Harper Collins, 2017). He is best known for his crime fiction, and in his newest release, Spin (Scholastic Press, 2019), takes on a murder mystery involving DJ Paris Secord, aka DJParSec. This fast-paced mystery starts off with DJParSec’s two estranged friends, Kya and Fuse, under suspicion for her murder. When some of the ParSecNation fandom spins off into an ill-intended Dark Nation side, Fuse and Kya band together to uncover the true killer. Tough female protagonists + hip-hop + murder mystery = a winner for Lamar Giles. Spin was released January 29, 2019 from Scholastic Press. Giles also has a middle grade fantasy forthcoming, The Last Lastay-of-Summer from Versify/HMH on April 2, 2019.

Spin has a Spotify playlist, too!

Check out these tracks inspired by DJParSec, featuring Cardi B, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Missy Elliott,

Lil’ Kim, Drake, J. Cole, Beyonce, Jay Z, and more.

https://t.co/Di5WOPGGv1

hiphop3Tiffany D. Jackson is a master of twist endings, as evidenced by the shocking revelations in Allegedly (Katherine Tegen Books, 2017) and Monday’s Not Coming (Katherine Tegen Books, 2018). Jackson’s awards and honors include 2018 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers for Allegedly, and most recently the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Monday’s Not Coming. Additionally, Monday’s Not Coming received a Walter Dean Myers honor and was named a SLJ Best Book of 2018. She adds her own contribution to this hip-hop book fest with Let Me Hear a Rhyme (Katherine Tegen Books, 2019). Jackson collaborated with Malik “Malik-16” Sharif, who provided the lyrics within the novel. Set in the 1990’s in Brooklyn, friends Steph, Quadir, and Jarrell are mourning the loss of Biggie Smalls, who they felt represented their neighborhood via his music. When Steph is shot and killed, his two friends conspire with his sister, Jasmine, to commemorate him. When they unearth shoeboxes full of recordings of Steph’s songs, they promote him as “The Architect”, while the producer has no idea that he is promoting a dead client. This amusing situation adds levity to the mystery, as the team of three begin to uncover what really happened to Steph. Let Me Hear a Rhyme is forthcoming from Katherine Tegen Books on May 21, 2019. 

“I think about the lyrics in so many hip-hop songs and understand why Steph made me listen to them. Life has never been easy for black folks, and survival means doing things you wouldn’t do normally. Can I really judge someone trying to live?”

 – Jasmine, Let Me Hear a Rhyme

Great songs tend to have a “hook”, and so do great books. The three aforementioned novels each have a KILLER first line:

  • “I might have to kill somebody tonight.” – On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
  • “I did not kill Paris Secord.” – Spin by Lamar Giles
  • “You’ve probably seen this scene before: Ladies in black church dresses, old men in gray suits, and hood kids in white tees with some blurry picture printed on the front and the spray-painted letters RIP.” – Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson

The hot, striking covers, cool beats, and captivating hooks make all three of these selections great for many types of readers, including the most reluctant of readers. Books like these, and rap music itself, lend themselves to many creative opportunities for teens to break down lyrics and even write some of their own.

So, if rap = poetry + rhythm, then poetry as lyrics can work in many different ways.

“A poet’s mission is to make words do more work than they normally do, to make them work on more than one level.     – Jay Z

Teens may also be interested in trying their hand at Poetry Slams, a la The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Tips about poetry slams can be found here:

https://www.powerpoetry.org/actions/how-write-slam-poetry

Angie Thomas stated at an event in 2018 that hip-hop has given a voice to urban America. See Angie’s comments here:

Lastly, give the amazing Bahni Turpin’s audiobooks a listen. Turpin narrated Allegedly, The Hate U Give, On the Come Up, and DJParSec’s portion of Spin, among many others. Her voice is a perfect fit for the characters in these stories. Please see the links below for more information about Bahni Turpin, We Need Diverse Books, and these three fantastic authors.

https://www.audible.com/search?searchNarrator=Bahni+Turpin

https://diversebooks.org/

https://www.facebook.com/ACThomasAuthor/

https://www.lamargiles.com/

http://writeinbk.com/

 

lisakrok– Lisa Krok is a longtime fan of hip-hop, especially Queens Latifah and Nicki, along with the legendary Biggie. Her rap generator name is “Bad Swerve”. Lisa is a die-hard YA reader and a Ravenclaw, with a passion for reaching reluctant readers. She served on the 2019 and 2018 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers teams. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.