Harmonic Feedback

by Tara Kelly

Drea and her mother are moving.  Again.  This time to the small town of Bellingham and into Grandma Horvath’s house.  Drea isn’t looking forward to yet another new school, especially because she’s always had trouble making friends.  Drea has been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger’s and she just doesn’t understand some of the social rules that everyone else seem to instinctively know.  Much to Drea’s surprise, Grandma’s neighbor is a friendly, purple-haired girl named Naomi who seems to actually like Drea.  Drea and Naomi connect over a mutual love of music and Naomi isn’t scared off by Drea’s straight-forward manner, but Naomi has some problems of her own, things Drea isn’t quite sure how to handle.

Drea also meets Justin, another new student who shares her passion for music.  She and Justin get off to a shaky start as she tries to figure out exactly who he is and what he wants from her.  Plus, Justin has a few secrets of his own.

Drea, Naomi, and Justin form a band together and a fast friendship but those bonds might not be enough to hold the group together as one of the trio quickly spins dangerously out of control.

Harmonic Feedback is a powerful, realistic, and poignant novel that manages to cover so much ground but do it in such gentle way.  Whether teens have Asperger’s or not they will be able to connect with Drea and share in many of her feelings of uncertainty regarding high school and relationships even if they do not experience these things in the same way she does.  The romance is done beautifully.  My heart just did a little hiccup as I thought about it while typing.  Naomi’s experiences are tough but real and well-done.  Despite all her flaws and all of her mistakes in judgment, readers will be rooting for her until the very end.  For me, this book was such an unexpected, amazing, delightful surprise and has made it to my list of favorites for the year.

Review: Academy 7

by Anne Osterlund

Aerin barely escapes slavery on the planet Vizhan, fleeing in her father’s broken down ship, the Fugitive.  Knowing nothing of her past and having no answers since her father died when they crashed on Vizhan years ago, Aerin has no where to turn.  Luckily, a friendly captain takes her onto his ship and secures her a place at a prestigious school, Academy 7.  Aerin knows that she doesn’t really belong at Academy 7, doesn’t belong to the Alliance — the governmental body that supports the academy, and is at a disadvantage since she has had no formal education, so she works extra hard to prove herself, to prove that she belongs and give no one a reason to question her presence.  Dane is the son of the Alliance’s military commander.  His father is powerful and rich but a very hard man.  Nothing Dane does can measure up to his father’s standards.  When Dane is accepted to Academy 7, he only excepts the invitation because he knows his father would not approve, his father having some sort of falling out with the academy years ago.  Dane is famous because of his father’s name and his own bad boy reputation, but behind it all is a cunning mind and he is determined to stay at Academy 7, at the very least to annoy his father.  Aerin and Dane are very different but have more than they can expect in common.  They both have tough, questionable pasts.  They compete for top honors in every class.  They both have secret pasts.  Aerin and Dane are drawn together but will secrets and their own self destruction keep them apart?

Reaction: I found Academy 7 a quick, satisfying read.  While the setting is technically sci-fi, with different habitable planets, easy interplanetary travel, artificial living environments, and more, readers who are not fans of sci-fi will still enjoy the story because at its center is simply two people with complicated lives trying to get by.  I think teens will find themselves able to easily relate to both Aerin and Dane.  They are both prickly because of their pasts and not very trusting of others.  Aerin spent years fighting for her life as a slave.  Dane’s father, while highly revered, abuses Dane both verbally and physically.  What they don’t know is that they are connected by more than just similar experiences and attitudes, but by their family’s shared pasts.  While secondary to their overall connection, finding out the truth about their pasts is an important part of Dane and Aerin’s story.  Readers who like character driven stories with scarred but healing characters will enjoy Academy 7.

Girlfriend Material

Girlfriend Material by Melissa Kantorby Melissa Kantor

Katie’s parents have this cycle.  They fight, usually over her dad’s inattentiveness and her mom’s need to be acknowledged, things become tense in the house for a couple of days, then her dad buys her mom flowers or jewelry and things go back to normal for awhile.  Not this time.  This time Katie’s mom decides that she is going on extended vacation to stay with some old college friends, the Cooper-Melnicks, at their house in Cape Cod and take Katie with her.  Understandably, Katie’s upset.  Cape Cod is over half the country away from her home and she’s already started off a great summer taking a writing class and hanging out with her best friend.  To make matters worse, when Katie and her mom arrive in Cape Cod, Sarah, the Cooper-Melnick’s daughter, treats Katie like she’s not worthy enough to be Sarah’s friend.  Just when Katie begins to think all hope is lost for her summer, she meets Sarah’s friend Adam.  Adam shares her love of literature and they have a great time when they hang out.  Katie thinks she may have found the guy who will be her first boyfriend when she learns that Adam has a secret.  When his secret comes out, Katie will have to decide what exactly she wants from Adam and their relationship, and whether or not she is girlfriend material.

Reaction: Perfect summer reading!  It is easy to relate to what Katie is going through.  She and her mother have never really been that close because her mother is into more “girly” things like crafting and shopping while Kate is into tennis and writing.  Because of her lack of closeness with her mother and because her parents fighting seems like second nature in the household, Katie is ill-prepared for her mother’s impromptu trip and doesn’t really understand how close her parents are to splitting up.  She really thinks her mother is just throwing a hissy-fit to end all hissy-fits and subjecting Katie to the fall out.  Only after spending some time in Cape Cod and having her father, with whom she’s always been close, brush her off as if he doesn’t have time for her, does Katie begin to see the seriousness of her parent’s relationship problems and view the situation from both her father and mother’s perspectives.

The best part of the story, though, is Katie’s relationship with Adam.  I think every teenage girl should read this story so they can know they’re not alone.  All of the uncertainties that I felt when I first started dating were acted out through Katie: not wanting to read too much into a friendship, afraid after one date or one kiss you’ll never hear from the other person again, and trying to act cool or like you don’t really care when you’re really feeling needy or insecure.  Katie and Adam’s relationship made me feel better about my first dating experiences even though they happened over 10 years ago now! :)

If you’re looking for something light and romantic but something that also has a bit of substance, definitely look for Girlfriend Material.

The Season

Seasonby Sarah MacLean

Lady Alexandra, or Alex for short, is destined to have her first London season, to see and be seen, and to catch an eligible and wealthy husband.  Unfortunately, Alex is not interested in the least in having a season or a husband.  Alex is independent-minded, strong-willed, and not afraid to say what she thinks — nothing any suitable bachelor is looking for.  She is sure the season will be a complete waste of time, that is until she stumbles upon a bit of a mystery.  The father of her longtime friend Gavin, now Earl of Blackmoor, died recently when he fell from his horse while riding at his country estate.  Despite the fact that his death looked very much like an accident, Gavin can’t seem to shake the feeling that there might have been something more sinister behind it.  Gavin is constantly on the lookout for clues that might lead to the truth behind his father’s death.  Alex and her friends Ella and Vivi begin their own search for clues after Alex overhears a conversation between two mysterious and dangerous-sounding men.  As both Alex and Gavin search for answers and as the season launches into full swing, Alex and Gavin begin to see each other in a new light.  Will Alex have found herself a husband after all?

Reaction: From the reviews I had read (and my summary even kind of makes it sound like this), I thought there was going to be more of a mystery element.  Really, the mystery was very secondary and pretty easy to figure out, but that’s ok because it served very nicely as a foil between Alex and Gavin — a way to connect them but also to keep them apart.  The center of the story, if you hadn’t guessed already, is the growing relationship between Alex and Gavin, and it was done very well.  I often gripe about how quickly characters fall for one another and the lack of development between romantic characters but I have no complaints in that regard here.  The whole story was crafted in a way that allowed these two characters, friends since childhood, to realize their feelings for one another had grown into something more, something special.  My only (very minor) complaint would be that I felt there may have been one too many times when Alex and Gavin waffled between their feelings or what to do about their feelings.  In the overall scheme of things, this complaint doesn’t even really register.  The Season was a fun and very well done historical romance.

Something, Maybe

Something Maybeby Elizabeth Scott

Hannah’s parents are so outlandish and memorable Hannah spends most of her time trying to blend in and become invisible.  Hannah’s mother is Candy Madison, of candymadison.net.  Her two biggest claims to fame are 1. Once being one of Jackson James’ girlfriends and 2. Appearing almost nude holding a pizza box in a pizza commercial.  Now she hosts her own web show where site subscribers pay to talk with her while she is wearing lingerie.  Hannah’s father is none other than Candy’s first claim to fame, Jackson James.  Jackson is a 70-something millionaire (possibly billionaire?) who always has a gaggle of 19 to early-20-something girlfriends around him.  Hannah and Jackson aren’t exactly on speaking terms at the moment.  As part of trying to stay invisible, pretty much all Hannah does is work and school.  Work is the drive-thru call-in center for the fast food chain BurgerTown.  Work has one great plus, though, it has her soul mate Josh.  Josh is a thinker, a do-gooder, a poet, and Hannah thinks he’s perfect.  Hannah aspires to be more like Josh.  And then there’s Finn.  Annoying Finn.  Always goofing off, not a do-gooder, not deep like Josh, so why is it Finn who Hannah feels comfortable talking to, who makes her laugh, who knows what to say and do when she’s upset?  And lately, she’s had a bit to be upset about as her estranged father tries once again to be a part of her life.

Reaction: Wow, I just wrote what felt like a spectacularly long summary for a book that’s only 217 pages long.  Sheesh.  Anyway, on to my feelings.  Something, Maybe is cute.  I liked Hannah’s relationship with her mother, who is supportive and loving despite what people may think about her and her profession.  Botox hasn’t killed those motherly instincts.  I liked watching Hannah and Finn, because y’all know what’s going to happen there, right?  I loved how much Finn blushed.  As a fellow blusher (I swear it happened to me at work today at least 4 times, embarrassing!) I love it when characters are blushers. (BTW, James from Audrey, Wait! is also a blusher and also adorable).  Elizabeth Scott has been compared to Deb Caletti and Sarah Dessen and I can definitely see why.  Readers who like those authors will definitely fall in love with Elizabeth Scott’s writing.  Something, Maybe wasn’t nearly as issue driven as either of those two authors but she still deals with issues — Hannah’s search for personal identity instead of being defined by who her parents are, Candy’s coming to grips with Jose’s death, and Hannah’s relationships with each parent.  I thought the issues were dealt with a little more deftly than the one Caletti I have read but with not as much weight as Dessen.  I will certainly be looking for other Elizabeth Scott’s in the future.  In fact, I think I will move on to this one while I get up the nerve to read this one.

Perfect Chemistry

Perfect Chemistryby Simone Elkeles

Meet two seemingly very different people: Brittany Ellis, co-head of the pom squad and fabulously wealthy, and Alejandro “Alex” Fuentes, resident bad boy gang member from the “wrong” side of town.  When they are paired together as chemistry partners, it’s hate at first sight.  They both believe they are too different to ever be able to function as a pair.  How wrong they are!  Soon, Brittany and Alex realize they have more in common than they ever could have imagined, but will they be able to overcome the differences in their backgrounds — Brittany’s snooty friends’ ideas of who she should date and Alex’s increasing gang involvement — and find a way to be together?

Reaction:  Let me get a few things out of the way before I gush.  I found that the beginning was a bit of tell instead of show.  The characters seemed a bit too in tune with the psychological reasons behind their actions and they had no qualms sharing those reasons with readers over and over again.  I was seriously about to strangle Brittany if I had to hear the word “control” from her mouth one more time, or I would have if she was a real person.  So, the writing was a bit shaky.

Ok, on to the gush.  I LOOOVVVEEEDDD it.  Brittany was a likable popular girl and her love for her sister was admirable.  Alex was a swoon-worthy bad boy who, in the only way he knew how, tried to keep his family safe and create a future for his younger brothers.  The guy on the cover fits my exact image of Alex, with his floppy hair, white t-shirt, nice build.  Ack, I love me a good bad boy.  Also, I was so intrigued by the inner-workings of the gang and the part it played in Brittany and Alex’s relationship.  For Alex and his family, his being in the gang was a way of life, but the gang was something that Brittany couldn’t understand or accept.  Brittany and Alex’s romance really clicked for me, and, sheesh, they were sizzling!

Other Reviews: Trisha at The Ya Ya Yas and Teen Book Review (and I agree with both of them about the epilogue, especially because, to me at least, it felt like the second or third epilogue with how the passage of time was spaced at the end of the novel.)

Also, book trailer:  It’s a rap!

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Darkside

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Darksideby Beth Fantaskey

Jessica knows that she was adopted and that her name at birth was Antanasia, but what she doesn’t know is that she is actually a vampire and that she was betrothed to another young vampire when she was only a baby.  Her betrothed, Lucius Vladescu, has come to collect his bride and bring her back to Romania where their marriage will end the war between their two high-powered families.  But Jessica is sure that he and her adoptive parents are just delusional.  She is too practical to believe in anything like vampirism, and where are her fangs?  All Jessica wants is to continue being a mathlete and possibly date Jake, the farm boy from down the road.  Soon, though, Jessica begins to feel an ache in her gums, can sense blood in a way she never has before, and has a hunger that cannot be assuaged by any food or drink she knows of, but is it too late?  Lucius is showing incredible interested in the heartless and popular cheerleader, Faith.  Has Jessica lost him forever?  And what about the war between their families?  Jessica finds herself having to making hard decision to try and save vampire family members she has never met and the young vampire she is beginning to love.

Reaction: Much more than I expected.  I really liked Lucius.  He is so arrogant and annoying in the beginning, I just wanted to smack him, but then you learn that his life has been horrible.  His uncle raised him by beating him into submission.  Lucius was raised to think of himself as regal and entitled but he was also raised as his uncle’s pawn.  He grows a lot during his time in America when he learns about freedoms he never thought possible.  I also liked that the specifics of vampirism aren’t the main focus of the story.  Yes, Jessica and Lucius and several other characters are vampires, but it is more about their relationships–Lucius and Jessica, Lucius and his uncle, Jessica and the family she never knew–though vampirism does play an important part in shaping who Jessica ends up being.  There are definite weak points.  I wish that Jessica’s transition from despising Lucius to loving him as well as her transition from American teenager to vampire royalty had been a bit more developed .  I found the ending a bit rushed, though it was by no means a short novel.  Overall, I think Jessica’s Guide is a good addition to the ever-growing collection of vampire stories out there.