Poison for Breakfast

Author: Lemony Snicket

Publisher: Liveright

Release Date: August 31, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Anyone who has ever read a Lemony Snicket book will know the witty, philosophical quirkiness experienced within the pages of Poison for Breakfast.

Lemony Snicket has investigated many suspicious things over the years but none as suspicious as his own death. One morning after breakfast he receives a note telling him he has had Poison for Breakfast. Now he has the unpleasant task of figuring out what was poisonous and who would want to poison him. It is not a task Mr. Snicket is going to enjoy, but nonetheless, he has no choice but to solve this mystery.

I have always been a big fan of the Lemony Snicket series, even though it has been many years since I read the original books. When Poison for Breakfast came out, I was excited to dive into another Snicket adventure. It may be that it has been many years since I first read them and I am older now, but the magic of the Snicket universe just wasn’t there for me this time. My attention wasn’t held as well as I would have liked which is probably mostly due to the narrative style of storytelling. I do think this is a good, fun story for a certain group of young adults. If you are looking for a good, satire book, this is for you. It is mostly narrative which can slow the story down considerably. While this wasn’t a favorite of mine, I do think others will greatly enjoy it.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Heartless Heirs

Author: MarcyKate Connolly

Series: Twin Daggers #2

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: August 10, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A fantastic follow up to one of my favorite books from last year. So much action, drama, tension, and character connection to love.

After rescuing her sister from the dungeons and technocrats, Aissa and her friend Remy flee to the woods for safety. At one time, Aissa and her twin, Zandria were closer than two sisters could hope to be. After being trapped in the steel helmet and tortured, Zandria is having a hard time understanding how Aissa could fall in love with Aro, a Techno prince when they are the very enemy they are trying to take down. Remy still sides with his father, a Magi leader who refuses to believe his spymaster is a traitor. Their mission is now to find the secrets of the Alchemist Alliance and the key to healing the divide between the Technos and the Magi after centuries at war. The bond between Aro and Aissa grows with each day, and if they don’t find the answers, all they hold dear will be threatened.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of this since I turned the last page on Twin Daggers. I quickly fell in love Aissa, Aro, Zandria and the rest of the characters. The connection between Aissa and her twin and then Aissa and Aro was the driving force to the page turning story. With the bond between the twins strained, the story took a different yet interesting turn, would they be able to regain their trust in one another or would the torture they both endured turn them against one another? Being able to establish the connection between the characters the way Connolly did kept me engaged with the story and what would happen to the characters. That relationship is more important to me than a strong plot. When I find characters, I love, I enjoy the story even more which is what happened with these books. Every conversation, fight and tense look was enough to make me nervous for what would happen and keep me envisioning myself in the room with the characters. This was a perfect two book series with just the right amount of character development, world building and magic. I recommend this book to those that love a good YA fantasy with characters that are easy to cheer for to succeed.

Chasing the Spotlight

Author: Sarah Anne Sumpolec

Series: Riverbend Friends #4

Publisher: Focus on the Family

Release Date: August 17, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The fourth book in the Riverbend Friends series gives readers a look into the life of Amelia.

Amelia loves the friends she has made in drama class, but lately she has been feeling a bit lost and lonely. With her big brother married and moved out and her parents busy with marriage counseling for their church, there isn’t much time or attention left for her. Her big sister Maggie couldn’t be more different from Amelia, whose love for theater is something none of the rest of the family understands. The new play for the school year is Peter Pan and Amelia is desperate for the lead role. When things don’t turn out the way she hoped, she wonders if chasing the spotlight is going to cost her the friends she made and all she was worked for.

The last book in the Riverbend Friends series gives readers a closer look into Amelia’s life. Of the four friends, I didn’t enjoy her story as much as the others. It was still good but didn’t draw me in as much as the others. Though I did enjoy the way they used some of what happened with Izzy to bring up tension in this story. All four of these books and their main characters are great books for young adult female readers. Chasing the Spotlight is a story with heart and a lot of character growth. Out of all the books, I saw more character growth with Amelia than any of the others. While the others went through a lot, Amelia had the greatest overall growth as a character. The nicest thing about these books is that they are clean, faith-filled, entertaining reads that I am happy to recommend to young readers. So many books these days, even the ones marketed to young readers, have so much questionable material that I have a hard time being okay telling young readers to enjoy them. I do recommend these books to young female readers, especially preteens that will get a good lesson from the pages within.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Me You See

Author: Jill Williamson

Series: Riverbend Friends #3

Publisher: Focus on the Family

Release Date: August 3, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The next installment in the Riverbend Friends series gives us a look into the life of Izzy and the struggles she faces. A great read for young adult females to connect with and relate to.

The third installment in the Riverbend Friends series picks up with the story of Izzy. Izzy has a lot put on her by her parents; while they are at work, she ends up being the caregiver for her brother, Sebastian. Izzy spends any free time she has making cupcakes and posting them to her Instagram account. During winter break, she feels more alone than ever with her friends gone and all the time she must spend at home taking care of her brother. When school starts back up and Zac, a senior she has had a crush on for a long time, starts showing interest in her and texting her, she feels like things are going her way. Her friends aren’t sure about Zac and Izzy just wants to be with him and have her friends be happy for her, is that too much to ask?

This has been a great year for good, clean young adult books. The Riverbend Friends series has been a great addition for young girls to read and enjoy. The newest installment adds value to the series with a great story, that just might be my favorite of the series. Izzy’s story resonated with me more than the others; there was more tension, and the stakes were higher for her with what she had to deal with. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this story will be much more intense with heavier issues than the previous. I think that is what made it my favorite as the stakes were higher which made me more invested in what was going to happen with the characters. We still got to see the other friends and what was happening in their world which is nice to build on that with each new novel. This book is perfect for young girls aged 12 to 16 that will show them the value of friendships and trusting your gut feelings when something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Hand on the Wall

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious #3

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release Date: October 20, 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The third book in the Truly Devious series brings more mystery, more teen drama, and a satisfying conclusion!

Ellingham Academy has had its share of bad luck. First, the kidnapping and murders in the 1930’s when it was opened and now more murder mysteries. Stevie Bell has one goal, to solve the murders, both past and present. She uses her detective skills to piece together what happened in the past and how it relates to the trouble at the school while she is there as a student. Not only is she trying to solve the murders, but she is also trying to find missing student, David Eastman. A major snowstorm hits the academy trapping them inside, giving Stevie the time and resources to hopefully solve one of the biggest mysteries ever.

Let me start with the positives, this was a great mystery with a complex story line tying in the past with the present. Lots of smaller storylines that needed closure which all got tied up by the end in a satisfying way. Stevie is a fun and compelling protagonist that kept me engaged in the story and eager to see if she was going to pull of solving a case no one else had ever been able to solve. While it might have seemed a little uncertain that a teenager could pull it off, Maureen Johnson wrote this series in such a way that everything was believable.

There were very few negatives for me, but the first was David. He was a little whinny here and just got on my nerves at times. The other part, which is one of the same criticisms I had in the second book, was the character of Vi. When this character was on the page the pronouns them/they were used. I get that this is a part of society now but when reading that it took me out of the story; I had to go back and reread to determine if it was talking about one character or multiple characters. This was really my only big problem with the book, the concept was great, the other characters were fantastic, and I loved the overall story. While this story is geared towards Young adults, there is a lot of adult language, which makes me hesitant to recommend to that group of readers. I do recommend this to readers that enjoy mystery, suspense and solving crimes with the characters.

The Vanishing Stair

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious #2

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release Date: December 10, 2019

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The second book in the Truly Devious series picks up right where the first left off with even more mystery, intrigue and action keeping me glued to the page.

Ellingham Academy was established in 1936 but quickly became the site of an unsolved murder and kidnapping. Years later, amateur sleuth Stevie Bell is determined to solve the case. When she is invited to the school, she hopes to figure out the clues no one else has been able to, that is until one of her classmates is murdered and another goes missing. Her parents have her come home, but she is willing to do anything to get back to the school and the mystery. When Senator Edward King, an unlikely source, helps her get back to the academy she is reunited with his son David, who lied about who he was to her when they first met. Now Stevie has bigger problems to worry about than David and his father: where did the murderer hide? What does the riddle mean? And how does it all tie together?

I am falling in love with the Truly Devious series. Stevie is a feisty protagonist that is fun to follow along on her adventures solving mysteries. There were nice twists and turns that I enjoyed, especially the way Stevie made it back to Ellingham. There is more depth for Stevie and most of the characters that brings the story to a higher level. My only real complaint for this one would be when a scene involved Vi, the way the pronouns were they/them just confused me. I’m not saying I have a problem with that issue, but not having encountered this issue in person. I just got confused with what was happening. Were we talking about multiple characters? Or just one? I know that it is becoming more common and I’m sure it will be more explained to me in the future. Any other scene was engaging, fun and full of tension that kept me glued to the page until the very end. New clues brought about answers to some of the questions while leaving some unanswered to be a solved in the next installment. I ended up starting this series with book four without realizing it and once I finished, I had to dive into the first three in the series. These are great books that I recommend to those that enjoy mystery, thrills, and adolescent angst.

Truly Devious

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious #1

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release Date: January 16, 2018

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A fun and exciting tale of mystery, murder, cold cases, and an exclusive academy for gifted students to come and learn makes for an engaging read that was just plain fun.

Albert Ellingham always wanted to give back to others and show that learning is best when viewed as a game. He established Ellingham Academy in the foothills of Vermont for the best and brightest. It wasn’t long after the school was opened before disaster struck, Albert’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and sent clues as riddles by someone calling himself Truly Devious. Years later, Stevie Bell, a true crime obsessed teen makes her way to Ellingham Academy; she wants to finish out her school years there but also solve the mystery of what happened all those years ago. Just as Stevie is starting to figure out the mystery, Truly Devious returns bringing death back to Ellingham Academy. Murders from both past and present collide in this fantastic start to a wonderful series.

I have to say that I started this series out of order, I read the fourth book not realizing there were three previous novels in the series. I loved the fourth so much I had to start at the beginning. Truly Devious is the start of a magnificent series; Stevie Bell is a fun and engaging protagonist as a modern-day Sherlock to seek out the answers no one else has been able to find. Stevie along with her new housemates turn the story into a game of Clue, who did it, how and why. So many questions to answer, only some are answered in this edition of the series, my guess is all will be answered by the end of the series. The mystery of what happened in the past and how it ties into the present time is what kept me glued to the page. Stevie has a tenacity about her and the way she won’t give up until the case is solved makes her a precocious yet engaging character. Her relationship with the others in the house is a high point that made me relate to her even more; going to a new school is hard, what makes it even harder is going to the school to solve a murder no one else has been able to solve for decades. Even though not all the answers were wrapped up at the end, I was satisfied with the conclusion but left thirsty for more. I can’t wait to see what the next in the series has in store. I recommend this for those that love Young Adult mysteries with lots of twists and turns. My only negative would be the little adult language used throughout, not a lot but enough to make me hesitant to recommend to younger readers.

Escape from the Everglades

Author: Tim Shoemaker

Series: High Water #1

Publisher: Focus on the Family

Release Date: July 6, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A fantastic thriller for young adults that is fierce, gripping, and full of more suspense and less fluff, making for a wonderful read!

Parker Buckman is the son of a park ranger stationed in the Everglades, a place full of danger both in the water and out of it. When Parker ends up mauled by an alligator and almost dies, he can’t help but see it as a place full of death. The only thing he wants is to get out while he still has a chance. His dad puts in for a transfer, but before they can leave, a friend goes missing.  Parker knows can’t leave until he helps find her. Together with his friends, they search high and low throughout the Everglades and discover alligators aren’t the only monsters they are facing.

The first thing I have to say about this book is WOW!! There was so much suspense and action I felt like I was getting a workout as my heart rate got high at times. I loved the action and suspense, especially for a young adult. The next thing that made it such a great read for me was the fact that it was clean, there was no language, it never got too graphic and I will feel completely comfortable letting my eleven-year-old son read this one. So many young adult novels out there are filled with content that I just don’t feel comfortable exposing my kids to. I am grateful for authors that have figured out how to write a great thriller for young adults without filling it with language or content I wouldn’t approve of them reading. This was definitely an adventurous read with the alligator attacks and drama on land. Both boys and girls will love this one I believe, something there for everyone to enjoy. I recommend this to readers that enjoy a high suspense read with very little fluff to fill the pages, great characters and a storyline that is riveting.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Box in the Woods

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious Mystery #4

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release Date: June 15, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A fantastic YA thriller that kept me enthralled in the story and unable to put it down!

Stevie Bell needs a good mystery. She helped catch a killer at her high school and now she feels lost with nothing to do having to live a normal, boring life. Then, she gets a message from the new owner of Sunny Pines, formally called Camp Wonder Falls, where there is an unsolved case from decades ago. The Box in the Woods Murders, four camp counselors were killed in the woods and their bodies left on display outside Barlow Corners. The new owner of the camp wants the mystery solved and brings in Stevie to help. Stevie is curious about the case and agrees to come if she can bring some of her friends. As they arrive at the camp and start investigating, it quickly becomes clear that someone doesn’t want them there. The more they investigate things, the more danger they are in and this just might be the case Stevie doesn’t make it out alive from.

First off, I did not realize this was the fourth in a series when I started this book, I didn’t even realize it until I finished. That being said, I was fully able to enjoy this story without having read the first three in the series. The characters were fun, witty, interesting, and full of vigor that kept me glued to the page. They were like a modern-day Scooby gang solving mysteries together. Even though Stevie is young, it wasn’t hard for me to believe her and the way she went about solving the crimes. She found clues that no one else was able to find and put them all together just like the pieces of a puzzle. After reading it, I am dying to go back and read the first in the series and see where it all started and how these characters came together. The story had a great flow to it and tension at all the right spots. The back and forth timelines can sometimes throw things off and take readers out of the story, but here it brought the story to a whole new level. This was my first time reading a book by Maureen Johnson, but it definitely won’t be my last. I recommend this to readers that love a good mystery and having it solved in just the right way.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Searching for Normal

Author: C.J. Darlington

Series: Riverbend Friends #2

Publisher: Focus on the Family

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The second book in the Riverbend Friends series picks up where the first left off, but now readers get to focus on Shay and see her story. A great YA/Coming of age story that is perfect for young adult readers.

The second book in the Riverbend Friends series focuses on the life of Shay Mitchell. Her life changed forever six months ago when she came to live with her aunt and started a new school that brought about her being bullied. Living with her Aunt Laura above a bookstore is nice, but none of her new friends know the real reason she came to live with her aunt and what happened in her past that is causing her to be bullied. While living with her aunt, Shay learns the truth about her biological father and rushes at the chance to meet him. All she wants is a normal family life and to be happy without all the bad stuff hanging over her. But what she wishes for and how she thinks it will happen might be the farthest thing from a happy normal life.

With this second book in the Riverbend Friends series, I am falling in love with these four friends and the way these books are written to young adults, especially young girl readers. For me, this is the perfect series because it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, it shows these girls going through hard things and the way they lean on each other and find a deeper relationship with God through the problems they are facing. They go through hard things, but they realize that even through bad, good things come out of it, like the new friendships they find with each other. I think that is one of the most important things, especially now, finding a few good friends you can trust and rely on through the hard times makes getting through those hard times a little bit easier.

Shay and her story picked up where the first book left off but also gives readers some good back story as to what happened to her and makes the first book even better because I was able to reflect on why she reacted the way she did to some of what happened in that book. I liked this character and how she handled what happened to her, her aunt was one of my favorite characters with her taking Shay in and dealing with how she was treated by both family and school issues. I would recommend reading the first in the series with this one, it could be read after but in my opinion to get the most out of the series go in order. Young girls will be the target audience for this one and parents can enjoy the fact that it is a good story that is clean and no questionable content. I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.