REVIEW: Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles

"Wild Cards" by Simone Elkeles

“Wild Cards” by Simone Elkeles

After getting kicked out of boarding school, bad boy Derek Fitzpatrick has no choice but to live with his ditzy stepmother while his military dad is deployed. Things quickly go from bad to worse when he finds out she plans to move them back to her childhood home in Illinois. Derek’s counting the days before he can be on his own, and the last thing he needs is to get involved with someone else’s family drama.

Ashtyn Parker knows one thing for certain–people you care about leave without a backward glance. A football scholarship would finally give her the chance to leave. So she pours everything into winning a state championship, until her boyfriend and star quarterback betrays them all by joining their rival team. Ashtyn needs a new game plan, but it requires trusting Derek—someone she barely knows, someone born to break the rules. Is she willing to put her heart on the line to try and win it all?

Getting caught wasn’t part of the plan. Pulling off a prank so epic that it’d be talked about for decades was. I’m standing with five of my friends in Headmaster Crowe’s office listening to him rant for the past hour about how our latest prank embarrassed not only him, but the trustees and teachers of this “prestigious boarding school” as well.

“Anyone want to fess up?” Crowe asks.

Jack and Sam are freaking out. David, Jason, and Rich are trying to hold back their laughter. I’ve been called into the headmaster’s office more than a few times since I transferred here, so this is nothing new to me.

—ARC paperback edition

Ashtyn and Derek are two guarded teens thrown together in a straightforward but engaging romance. In witty, dueling first person narratives, football captain Ashtyn and former-football player Derek tumble through love-at-first-sight, complete with on-again off-again summer lust as their egos get in the way.  They’re going to have to learn to open up and trust before they can love.

Derek has a presumably false wrap as a ‘bad boy’: this nice California boy with the Texas drawl spends most of the book cooking healthy meals, watching out for his kid step-brother and doing chores no one asked him to do fixing up the Parker place.  Meanwhile, Ashtyn is focused and motivated, having worked hard to earn her teammates’ respect.  She is a rare blend of heroine who is one of the guys AND one of the girls.  With her mom run out and her dad checked-out, she is her own adult figure, looking up to Katie Calhoun, one of the few female football players on the college level.

The story is sweet, unmarred by too much depth or subplot.  At times, the romance takes a back seat to more interesting tensions (like what’s up with Ash’s boyfriend, Derek’s letter from his grandmother, and how Ash will get to football camp.)  It would have been enjoyable with even less romance, as the family dynamics and drama at the Parker house were intriguing enough to stand on their own.

Readers may be disappointed to learn that the next novel in the series doesn’t follow Derek and Ash, but fear not! They will be around as their friends take center stage.

Appropriate for ages 14+.  Strong language, alcohol use, sexual situations, bullying.  Deals with love, loyalty, finding a place in your family, sportsmanship, and growing past old fears to make a better, stronger future.

If you…

  • Enjoy slow-burn summer romances
  • Are a football guy or gal
  • Like tough but tender leading ladies
  • Have ever fallen for someone you swore you wouldn’t

Contemporary YA romance
Hardcover & Ebook, 342 pages
Published October 1st, 2013 by Walker Books for Young Readers (ISBN0802734375)

(Review copy provided by Katy Hershberger at Walker Books.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 2/20/2014 on

REVIEW: Winger by Andrew Smith

"Winger" by Andrew Smith

“Winger” by Andrew Smith

Ryan Dean West’s life is complicated. He’s a fourteen-year-old junior at Pine Mountain, a school for rich kids. He’s stuck rooming with the biggest jerk on the rugby team in the dorm for miscreants and troublemakers. And he’s totally in love with his best friend, Annie, who thinks of him as a little kid.

As Ryan Dean tries to get a handle on school, life, and rugby, he finds himself muddling through a lot of decisions and making some major mistakes along the way.  But nothing can prepare him for what comes next. And when the unthinkable happens, Ryan Dean has to find a way to hang onto the important things–no matter what.

I said a silent prayer.

Actually, silent is probably the only type of prayer a guy should attempt when his head’s in a toiler.
—Hardcover edition
Ryan Dean West, aka Winger, offers us the opportunity through his humorous first-person narration (and his creative use of infographics and doodles) to glimpse the hidden world of a teenage private schoolboy. Impossible love for an older girl, changing and growing friendships, first drinks, parties, bullies and rivalries, and proving himself to adults… Winger reveals it all.

Raw and powerful, the whole story is populated with well-drawn–no pun intended–characters, from Winger’s roommate Chas and best friends Seanie and JP, crush Annie, cool gay guy Joey, and even the adults and parents who impact his life. Readers may find Winger’s self-deprecating tone repetitive, but he proves to his audience that he is not the loser he thinks he is: he is just another kid, living life and growing up.

Appropriate for ages 14+. Contains mild drug/alcohol use, sexual situations, violence on and off the field, strong language, and intense situations. Deals with burgeoning adulthood, self-respect, friendships and romance, sexuality, bullying, hate crimes, and death.
If you…

  • Enjoy private school stories, like “Prep” and “A Separate Peace”
  • Want to bawl your eyes out
  • Have ever felt like the whole world still thought you were a kid
  • Are a fan of “boy” books
  • Need a nice, long read that won’t leave you too soon

YA Contemporary
Hardcover, 439 pages
Published May 14th, 2013 by Simon & Schuster (ISBN 1442444924)

(Review copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 2/20/2014 on

REVIEW: Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

"Uninvited" by Sophie Jordan

“Uninvited” by Sophie Jordan


“When Davy Hamilton’s tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS)-aka the kill gene-she loses everything. Her boyfriend ditches her, her parents are scared of her, and she can forget about her bright future at Juilliard. Davy doesn’t feel any different, but genes don’t lie. One day she will kill someone.

Only Sean, a fellow HTS carrier, can relate to her new life. Davy wants to trust him; maybe he’s not as dangerous as he seems. Or maybe Davy is just as deadly.”


I always knew I was different.

—ARC paperback edition


The concept of a country falling to paranoia is not an unfamiliar one, most recently after 9/11, but also the Cold War, and McCarthy’s witchhunt.)  If McCarthy had been able to genetically test for who would be a Communist sympathizer, this is roughly what you’d get.

Priviledged musical prodigy Davy starts out thinking and acting like she is better than the other teens who have HTS, the kill gene.  It’s almost as though she thought her parents might find a way to get her out.  It takes time, but she does eventually open her mind to the idea that the other HTS kids may be as not-a-killer as she is herself.

The romance never takes center stage, which works well.  Davy’s world is larger than her relationship status, especially right now.  Sean is a bit of the man-of-few-words type and, while that might work for Davy, it’s not going to work for all readers.

Unfortuantely, a lot of Davy’s agency is taken from her.  When she stands up for herself, it resolves with her earning a mark.  When she is threatened, Sean is often the one to come to her rescue.  She might be more comfortable keeping out of a fight, but the mystery of “will she/won’t she” live up to being a killer would not have suffered if she could ever protect herself.

The female characters certainly could use a lesson in being loyal to their friends and in self-respect.  Just about every other female in Davy’s life is either antagonistic, cruel, or taken advantage of.  The only person who treats her like a person is her older brother, which was a nice change of pace considering their parents look upon him as a failure.

Appropriate for ages 13+.  Intense situations, threats of sexual violence, misogyny, manipulative student-teacher relationship, bullying, strong language.  Deals with nature vs. nurture, genetics, identity, betrayal, abandonment, finding inner strength and societal panic.

Readers may wish to discuss the ways in which they made quick judgments about others–over clothing, gender, sexuality, relationship status, intelligence, hobbies, financial status, friend groups, job status, and others.  It would benefit to brainstorm ways to know a person better, rather than accepting the opinions pushed by society.


If you…

  • Enjoy light sci-fi tones in their dystopian societies
  • Have ever been judged unfairly by others
  • Are a fan of Minority Report
  • Love a little romance with your action


YA Dystopian Thriller

Hardcover, 384 pages

Published January 28th, 2014 by HarperTeen

ISBN 0062233653 (ISBN13: 9780062233653)

(Review copy provided by Lindsey Karl at HarperCollins.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 2/20/2014 on

REVIEW: Then You Were Gone by Lauren Strasnick

"Then You Were Gone" by Lauren Strasnick

“Then You Were Gone” by Lauren Strasnick


Two years ago, Adrienne’s best friend walked out of her life. One week ago, she left Adrienne a desperate, muffled voicemail. Adrienne never called back.

Now Dakota is missing. She left behind a string of broken hearts, a flurry of rumors, and a suicide note.

Adrienne can’t stop obsessing over what might have happened if she’d answered Dakota’s call. And she’s increasingly convinced that Dakota must still be alive.

Maybe finding and saving Dakota is the only way Adrienne can save herself.

Or maybe it’s too late for them both.


She’s standing, clutching a Coke can, dancing in front of my broken mirror.  “Turn the music up?”  Her moves are sluggish and slinky, and while she watches herself, she takes small, dainty sips from her soda.
—Paperback edition


Adrienne narrates this tale of spiraling obsession when her ex-best friend goes missing and is presumed a suicide.  Gothy teenage SoCal rocker Dakota Webb is revealed to be fairly sociopathic over the course of the tale—and sadly Adrienne’s grief for her lost friend/”friend” drives her to be more like the missing girl.

With clipped, rapid-fire dialogue and sparse but effective descriptions, the short chapters breeze by. The did-she didn’t-she mystery surrounding Dakota and then also Adrienne’s suddenly-ended friendship will have readers curious enough for just one more chapter until they’ve swallowed the story whole.

The secondary cast is a mixed bag, but mostly read true to life.  Adrienne’s best friend, Kate, and her slowly not-boyfriend Lee stand out in particular.  The friendships and relationships morph and crack naturally and with great tension.

While the ending has a few twists and turns that lack serious foreshadowing enough to make them worthwhile, Adrienne’s psyche is certainly a matter of journey over destination.

Appropriate for ages 14+.  Sexual situations, underage drinking, drug use, emotional abuse, juvenile delinquency.

Deals with loss and grief, friendship, relationships, dark obsession, self-identity.


If you…

  • Want to explore the layered psychosis of a teen girl
  • Are a fan of good girls gone bad
  • Enjoy twisted friendships
  • Have ever loved the wrong person for all the wrong reasons


YA Mystery

Ppaerback & Ebook, 212 pages

Published January 7th 2014 by Simon Pulse (ISBN 1442427167)

(Review copy provided by Kristen Matzen at Simon Pulse.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 6/30/2014 on

REVIEW: A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier

“A Death-Struck Year” by Makiia Lucier

The Spanish influenza is devastating the East Coast—but Cleo Berry knows that’s a world away from the safety of her home of Portland, Oregon.  And then the flu moves into the Pacific Northwest.  Schools, churches, and theaters are shut down.  The entire city is thrust into survival mode—and into panic.

Seventeen-year-old Cleo is told to stay put in her quarantined boarding school, but when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she can’t ignore the call.  In the grueling days that follow her headstrong decision, she risks everything for near strangers.  Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student.  Strangers who could be gone tomorrow.  And as the bodies pile up, Cleo can’t help but wonder: When will her own luck run out?

Based on the real-life pandemic considered the most devastating in recorded world history, Cleo’s story leaves readers asking: What would I do for a neighbor?  At what risk to myself?

In the coming weeks, I would wish that I had done things differently.  Thrown my arms around my brother, perhaps, and said, I love you, Jack.  Words I hadn’t spoken in years.  Or held on a little tighter to Lucy and said, Thank you.  Thank you for watching over me, when my own mother could not.  But the distance between hindsight and foresight is as vast as the Pacific.  And on my family’s last evening in the city, my attention was fixed not on gratitude, certainly, but on myself.
—Paperback ARC edition

In the beginning of her first-person narration, Cleo Berry doesn’t know what she could possibly do with her life.  She feels no passion for anything in particular, except that she’d like to find something meaningful and possibly a little glamorous.  When the Spanish flu breaks out in Portland while her brother and sister-in-law are away on a vacation, Cleo sneaks out of her boarding school to stay in her own home.  But, once there, she realizes just how quickly the panic of the pandemic has spread: everyone is wearing white cotton masks, there is already a death toll and a climbing number of cases, and the grand theater has been turned into a make-shift hospital.

The novel really gains its legs once Cleo volunteers for the Red Cross at the theater.  Cleo is a wonderful role model, and her choices have real consequences.

Her clear romantic interest in Edmund, a young medical student and former military man, never detracts from the main focus of the plot—instead it is a gentle romance that unfurls naturally as a subplot, appropriate for the very real drama of death and disease.

There is a strong sense of dread that permeates the novel, that at any moment any character might drop dead—literally.  Readers who become attached to secondary characters, and there are plenty worth attaching to, will quickly devour the tale, even if only to make sure their favorites survive.

In her debut novel, Guam-native and Idaho-resident Makiia Lucier has raised the bar for her next novel extremely high—and readers will be excited for whichever historical setting she tackles!

Appropriate for ages 12+.  Intense situations, death, disturbing images.

Deals with sickness, fear, dying, selflessness, responsibility.


If you…

  • Love historical American fiction
  • Are a fan of independent, head-strong heroines
  • Enjoy thought-provoking tales of human courage
  • Have ever wondered what YOU would do in a crisis


YA Historical

Hardcover & Ebook, 288 pages

Published March 4th 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers (ISBN 978-0-544-16450-5)

(Review copy provided by Roshan Nozari at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Cover image courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 6/1/2014 on

INTERVIEW: Kami Garci and Margaret Stohl get DANGEROUS

Ridley Duchannes will be the first to tell you that she’s a bad girl. She’s Dark. She’s a Siren. You can never trust her, or even yourself when she’s around. Lucky for her, Wesley “Link” Lincoln can never seem to remember that; quarter Incubus or not, his heart is Mortal when it comes to Ridley.

 When Link heads to New York City to start a music career, Ridley goes along for the ride-and she has her own reasons. As if leaving small-town Gatlin for the big city, trying to form a band, and surviving life with a partially reformed Siren isn’t hard enough already, Link soon learns he has a price on his head that no Caster or Mortal can ever pay.

"Dangerous Creatures" by Kami Garcia & Maragret Stohl

“Dangerous Creatures” by Kami Garcia & Maragret Stohl

Olivia: Kami, Margaret, welcome!  What a wild and crazy ride it must have been for you two these past few years.

OH: Let’s talk about Ridley.  How did you two first meet?  What drew you two back to tell her and Link’s story?

Margaret Stohl: Ridley is a hot mess–we always knew there was more to her than just being the bad girl. Our readers loved her odd-couple romance with goofball Link, and we all knew Link was headed to NYC to become a rock star after high school. So it was a natural story to tell.

Kami Garcia: Ridley and Link were reader favorites from the moment they appeared in Beautiful Creatures. Though Ridley is the quintessential bad girl and Link is loyal to a fault, they are both more complex than that, and we wanted to give readers a chance to learn more about them.


OH: What sets Ridley’s story apart from other supernatural romances?  What will readers find that they can’t anywhere else?

KG: Ridley is a unique heroine because she isn’t afraid to show us her dark side—or her mistakes. As a reader, I think it’s interesting to see how that kind of character perceives herself versus what she chooses to show the world. By writing parts of Dangerous Creatures from Ridley’s POV, readers get to see what’s really inside her head (and it’s not always pretty).

MS: I think of ​Ridley and Link’s story as the opposite of Lena and Ethan’s. In some ways, Rid and Link are our most relatable, most modern couple of all. As Rid says on page one, this is not a fairy tale. And it’s not.

OH: What non-book influences (films, television shows, music, plays, etc) helped spark this story for each of you?

Margaret  & Kami

Margaret & Kami

MS: My daughter goes to school in NYC, and I’ve been there quite often as a result. So I wrote much of the NY story while physically being in NY, which helps. I think nobody can write about teens in NY and not have Chuck from Gossip Girl in their head, but there were lots of musical influences here as well.

KG: Music has always been one of my primary influences, and Link and I just happen to have very similar musical tastes. Classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Pink Floyd have a huge influence on Link, but he also loves metal bands like Metallica, Black Sabbath, and Judas Priest, which gives him an edge. I grew up in Maryland, right outside of Washington, DC, and I spent a lot of time in DC clubs like the 9:30 Club, which made it easier to write about the Dark Caster band Link joins. In college, my best friend went to NYU, and I spent more than my share of weekends in New York hanging out in clubs like The Tunnel, which inspired aspects of Sirene.


OH: When you were teens, what was your favorite book (YA or otherwise)?  Now that you’re authors for teens, what are your favorite contemporary YAs?

KG: I grew up reading fantasy novels like The Hobbit and A Wrinkle in Time. But as a teen, I gravitated to poetry and grittier contemporary fiction (which would today be considered contemporary YA) like The Outsiders, The Bell JarThe Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Eventually I discovered Ray Bradbury, Anne Rice, and Stephen King—three of my greatest literary influences. There are so many young adult books that I love on the shelves right now, but a few of my favorites are: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, Vivian Divine is Dead by Lauren Sabel, and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs. I’m also really excited to read Four by Veronica Roth, because I’m a fan of Divergent (and Four is one of my literary crushes).

MS: I loved classic fantasy – CS Lewis, Susan Cooper, Ursula Le Guin, Diana Wynn Jones. I still love fantasy and sci fi, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Gayle Forman’s If I Stay at the movies this summer. That book captivated me.

OH: What is the story behind the title DANGEROUS CREATURES?

MS: I think that was sort of how we thought of the project in its most basic terms – dangerous, wicked, not your mother’s protagonists – and it stuck.

 KG: Definitely.


OH: What has been the most difficult part of returning to the world of Casters?  What has been the most enjoyable?

KG: Writing the final Beautiful Creatures novel, Beautiful Redemption, was so bittersweet. I missed the Caster world and writing with Margie. So writing Dangerous Creatures has been pure fun.

MS: I think it’s only been enjoyable. We so missed these characters and this world–and each other! It’s a privilege. 


OH: Your first novel together, BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, was adapted into a feature film last year.  What was it like to see your characters on screen, played by such a talented cast?  Are there any talks of bringing DANGEROUS CREATURES to the screen as well?

MS: It was amazing to see the Beautiful Creatures brought to life. We loved the entire cast, but especially our teens. They really held their own, surrounded by Oscar winners! As for Dangerous–who knows!

KG: It’s crazy to see imaginary people and places brought to life in such detail. The teen cast was remarkable. And since we’re talking about Dangerous Creatures, Emmy Rossum gave us such a sexy and layered portrayal of Ridley.

OH: What’s up next for you in YA land, either separate or together?

KG: Right now, we’re revising the sequel to Dangerous Creatures, which is a welcome distraction while I wait for Unmarked (the sequel to my solo novel Unbreakable) to release on September 30th. Luckily, Margie’s sequel, Idols, comes out first, so cheering her on will keep me busy.

MS: Just finishing the sequel to Dangerous now! And then my Icons sequel, Idols, comes out July 8, and Kami’s Unbreakable/Legion sequel is out in the fall. Busy girls!


OH: Last one!  If you could spend one day with Ridley and Link, what would you do together? What would advice would you give to Ridley about her past or future?

MS: I think I’d send Rid straight to therapy. And then maybe I’d help Link with his lyrics…

KG: I’d go shopping with Ridley. I have a serious jewelry obsession, and Ridley would be the perfect shopping partner. Link and I would probably just hole up in my office and listen to Black Sabbath and talk about how much we both love Magneto. I’d give them both the same advice I give everyone, including myself: Be yourself. Fitting in is overrated.

OH: Thank you very much, Kami and Margaret!  And congratulations on the latest addition to your world, DANGEROUS CREATURES!


Readers, be sure to check out Kami Garcia at her website and Margaret Stohl at her website Or follow them on Twitter @KamiGarcia and @MStohl.

DANGEROUS CREATURES, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, is now available at your favorite retailers and local independent bookstores!

Interview by Olivia Hennis, originally published 6/16/2014 on 

REVIEW: Cinderella’s Dress by Shonna Slayton

Cinderella's Dress by Shonna Slayton

Cinderella’s Dress by Shonna Slayton

Being a teen-ager during World War II is tough. Finding out you’re the next keeper of the real Cinderella’s dress is even tougher.Kate simply wants to create window displays at the department store where she’s working, trying to help out with the war effort. But when long-lost relatives from Poland arrive with a steamer trunk they claim holds the Cinderella’s dress, life gets complicated.Now, with a father missing in action, her new sweetheart shipped off to boot camp, and her great aunt losing her wits, Kate has to unravel the mystery before it’s too late.After all, the descendants of the wicked stepsisters will stop at nothing to get what they think they deserve.


Spring 1994, New York CityKate Allen, in proper hat and gloves, stared at the typed sign above the receptionist: THERE ARE NO SMALL PARTS; THERE ARE ONLY SMALL ACTORS. Hmpf. Maybe in showbiz, but not in real life.
—Paperback edition

Kate Allen longs for a shot at creating window displays–but her mother has delusions of higher society and keeps encouraging… or forcing… Kate to attending auditions and model in the department store’s fashion shows. The arrival of Aunt Elsie and Uncle Adalbert sends Kate’s normal routine as a girl in wartime New York City into one filled with mystery, romance, intrigue, and beautiful gowns.

One of the most delightful parts of Kate’s personality is how she’s goal-oriented and career-driven while still being a teen. Her life doesn’t stop because of the handsome Johnny Day; in fact, she fights for her job and is allowed to make mistakes along the way. She also doesn’t have to give up friendships along the way, which might have been the case if the story was handled by a different author.

The other major players–Aunt Elsie, Uncle Adalbert, Johnny, Josie, and even Kate’s dead grandmother affectionately called Babcia–have rich personalities and individual goals. The love between Elsie and Adalbert, even in the face of Elsie’s diminishing mental faculties, strikes especially teary-eyed chords.

There’s plenty of fun historical nuggets floating around, too–like the New Look and its protesters, famous fashion designers and window designers and more.

One unfortunate part of the story is from a meta perspective. Reading the book description will give away too much of the plot–and even bits which are not as important–along with the title itself. An error early on, calling the dress Cinderalla’s dress rather than its Polish name, also will pull readers out of the moment. If the title had been different or the mystery of whose dress Aunt Elsie was guarding was less drawn out, those bits would have shown like diamonds on the princess’s bodice. That said, many readers–like us–were likely intrigued by the very title that gives away the early mystery, so it is hard to tell if this will hurt it in the long run.

The ending, which satisfyingly wraps up the major plots of Kate’s life, leaves wide open the majority of the minor ones. Hopefully this means that author Shonna Slayton has plans for a second novel–Cinderella’s Slippers, perhaps?–where Kate, Johnny, Josie and the rest can take a European vacation in search of a missing soldier…

Appropriate for ages 12+. Mild language, no alcohol or drug use, or sexual situations. Some intense situations and discussions of wartime tragedy.

Deals with family, friendship, sweet romance, loss, responsibility, mental health issues.


If you…

  • – Love magical realism and fairy tales brought to life
  • – Are a fan of driven, intelligent heroines who aren’t afraid to have emotions too
  • – Enjoy high fashion, vintage lifestyle, and the right amount of wartime spy thrills
  • – Have a soft spot for WWII era tales and want perspective from a teen on the homefront

YA Historical Retelling
Paperback & Ebook, 340 pages
Published June 3rd, 2014 by Entangled Teen
ISBN 1622663403

(Review copy provided by Entangled Teen.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 9/6/2014 on