“Belle epoque” Elizabeth Ross

Rated 4 stars **** 2013. Delacorte. 327 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

BelleEpoqueUnwilling to submit to an arranged marriage to a 40-year-old man, sixteen-year-old Maude Pichon runs away from her small, seaside village. Adrift in the large city of Paris and with her limited money running out, she seeks work at the Durandeau Agency where she reluctantly becomes a repoussoir – a person who is so ugly she repels others to makes her client look beautiful.

The Agency is filled with poor women and girls who have no money, but who Durandeau deems ugly enough to earn him a few francs. Maude becomes the repoussoir for Isabelle, a Countess’ rich daughter she plans to marry off during her upcoming debutante season. The only catch to her job is Maude must gain Isabelle’s confidence and report back to the Countess, but not let Isabelle know her true role. As months go by and the Countess transforms Maude’s life, she finds herself drifting into fantasies where she has become the debutante and finds herself a rich husband.

As she begins to befriend Isabelle, she looks down on her former life and friends at the Agency in favor of a new, imagined life with the Countess. However, the more time she spends with them, the more she will have to come to terms with her true self and decide if the rich life is really where she’s meant to be.

I enjoyed reading “Belle Epoque,” and learning about life in 1800’s France. Though based on a fictional story about repoussoirs written in 1866, it’s a shame that we still judge others by appearances rather than by what they offer society.

Recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

“Romancing the dark in the city of light” Ann Jacobus

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Thomas Dunne. (St. Martin’s Griffin). 276 p. (Also includes Suicide Prevention Resources, and Discussion Questions.)

RomancingTheDarkInTheCityOfLightForced to move to Paris to live with her very rich mother after being kicked out of four high schools, eighteen-year-old Summer is not a happy camper. In order to inherit a lot of money, her grandfather’s will mandates that she graduate from a private high school and finish college by the age of twenty-two, but Summer can’t muster up the interest needed to finish the last five weeks of her senior year. She’d rather spend time drinking, and dreaming of the Parisian boyfriend she absolutely MUST find so she could have a purpose for her life.

After a suicide on the Metro she meets the very handsome Kurt, who she soon decides is going to be the boyfriend she’s been seeking. She also feels the same way about Moony, a fellow student at her high school. As time goes on, Summer spends more time getting drunk and hanging out with Kurt than she does with Moony – even though he’s the one who makes her heart flutter. With just a few weeks left before she’s supposed to graduate, Summer makes a decision that will forever change not only her life, but also Moony’s.

I wasn’t a fan of this book. I knew Summer had big problems, but some of what happened to her seemed a bit far fetched as well as fantastical. I also had a problem with her constant neediness and the way she couldn’t handle rejection – even something as simple as someone saying they had to go to a doctor’s appointment when she’d invited them to coffee.

Though I enjoyed the descriptions of Paris, which reminded me of the time I’d spent there many years ago, Moony was the only one that really grabbed my interest as I found Kurt and Summer to be clichés. It is because of Moony that I gave this book two stars instead of one.

I’ll leave it up to those of you in the 16 and older range to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Bang” Barry Lyga

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. To be published April 18, 2017. Little Brown. 295 p.

BangFourteen-year-old Sebastian has never forgotten that, when he was four years old, he accidentally shot and killed his four-month-old baby sister. Everyone knows he’s a murderer, and have judged him for it. His best friend’s parents look at him funny, people whisper behind his back, and his father walked out because of what he did. He and his mother can’t seem to talk about it, and part of him is glad they don’t.

Despite what his therapist has said, Sebastian knows it was entirely his fault, but has plans to make it right. When he’s gone his mother can be normal again, and everyone will be happy. He’s been planning this for awhile so, with his best friend away for the summer, the time is ripe – until he meets Aneesa.

Aneesa is a distraction, helping him become a YouTube cook, and allowing him to think of something other than his guilt. However, despite everything, Sebastian knows it’s only a matter of time before he answers the voice that’s always there to remind him he doesn’t deserve to be happy. He knows the voice speaks the truth.

Sebastian’s struggles, along with those of Aneesa, are heart rending and real. Both experience things no one should have to struggle through but which, unfortunately, occur and need to be discussed. This is Lyga at his most brilliant.

At the recent American Library Association (ALA) conference, I refused to pick up any ARC’s (Advance Reading Copies) because I had too many to plow through from past conferences. However the cover and summary caught my eye, and “Bang” became my only ARC from that conference. I’m so glad I picked it up because I could not put this book down. Neither will you.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Gap life” John Coy

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published November 22, 2016. Feiwel & Friends.

gaplifeCray’s father expects him to go to the college he went to, become a doctor just like him, and carry on the tradition of having doctors in the family. Cray has just graduated high school and is miserable. He doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, but knows he definitely does NOT want to be a doctor.

When he finally gets the nerve to tell his parents he’s decided to take a “gap year” and will not be going to college in the fall, his father blows his top and insists he get a job to pay rent. His foray into the world of work puts him into contact with Rayne, a beautiful, free thinking fellow graduate who knows exactly what she’s going to do during her gap year.

Cray lands a part-time job at a home for developmentally disabled adults; soon learning that the acceptance he wishes for at home is fully his with the residents. As he works to figure out his future, figuring out how to stand up to his father, the independence Cray seeks finally falls into his lap.

I liked how adults with disabilities were shown in a positive light, but found Cray to be extremely whiny and immature. The more I read, the more I saw him as a spoiled rich boy and was annoyed. The morals of the story were to believe in yourself, make a decision, then get it done. It took WAY too long for him to believe in himself enough to actually make a decision.

Recommended, with reservations, for ages 14 and older.

“This is our story” Ashley Elston

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published November 15, 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 312 p.

thisisourstoryJohn Michael, Shep, Henry and Logan are accused of murdering their friend Grant. During a hunting trip he was shot and killed, but none of them will admit to it. Kicked out of their prep school, the four rich boys are now attending public school to finish out their senior year while the district attorney works out the legal details of their case. Everyone expects their case to be dismissed because of their daddies’ money and closeness to the DA.

Kate is devastated, as she and Grant had been texting for weeks and she’d fallen for him. Her mother works for Mr. Stone, the assistant district attorney, where she has a part-time intern position. When the DA recuses himself and gives the case to the ADA, it is with the assumption he will not find the boys guilty. Kate is angry at what happened to Grant, and Mr. Stone is angry at being expected to lose. Together they work hard to find whatever evidence they can to incriminate the boys.

As Kate takes photographs, and sifts through transcripts and testimonials, she begins to realize the five best friends were leading double lives. The more she learns, the more she finds herself mixed into their lives. Soon the real killer decides she knows too much and, as time ticks closer towards a conviction, plots ways to get away with more than one murder.

This murder mystery kept me on the edge of my seat. I thought I knew who killed Grant but, when the truth was revealed, I was completely wrong. Bravo to Elston for crafting not only a very interesting read, but giving readers excellent descriptions of what goes on behind the scenes in a murder case. It was also intriguing to read the killer’s thoughts after almost every chapter, dropping hints about the case.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“My sister Rosa” Justine Larbalestier

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Published November 2016. Soho Teen. 312 p.

mysisterrosaSeventeen-year-old Che and his 10-year-old sister Rosa have lived all over the world. They’ve lived in Australia the longest, but now his parents are moving them to New York City. At first Che is upset because he’s leaving close friends behind, but soon finds himself at an excellent boxing gym with the most beautiful girl in the world, and is starting to form new friendships. The biggest fly in the ointment of his life is Rosa.

Rosa is not a normal 10-year-old. Her inability to show empathy, or feelings of any kind, as well as her ability to convince people to do her will, has always troubled Che. He is sure she’s a psychopath but no one, including his oblivious parents, believes him. Che loves Rosa, but is tired of years spent covering up her behavior and trying to reason with her. For her part, Rosa feels perfectly entitled to act the way she does, and is confident in her ability to get her way – even when it means that life can never be normal for Che or her family.

I found myself very frustrated with Rosa’s behavior and Che’s inability to get the help she needed. As she became more and more intense, I became more and more upset with the situation, which is why I could only give it 2 stars. I will inject a spoiler alert below to explain my rating but, for those who dislike spoilers, I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

********SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT********

 

Besides the fact that I disliked the way Rosa got away with everything and that no one believed Che, I also HATED the ending. I hated that Che is trapped for the rest of his life, that Sally has checked out of their lives, and that David and Rosa got away with everything.

“Birth Marked” Caragh M. O’Brien

“The Birthmarked Trilogy,” Book #1. Roaring Book Press. 2010. 362 pp.

BirthMarkedI read this book back in 2010 when it was first released. Those of you who follow my blog know how much I dislike series books because I usually wind up forgetting what each book is about before the next one is released. “Birth Marked” was no exception, since I’d forgotten what it was about and couldn’t read the next two books until I refreshed my memory on the first one. However, since I hadn’t read YA in so long, and my new school had all three copies, I decided to reread book 1 and treat myself to some good ole YA .

Sixteen-year-old Gaia is an assistant to her midwife mother. She assists with births and makes sure their quota of Advancing three babies per month to The Enclave is met. The poor citizens on her side of The Wall are supposed to be glad their perfect children have been Advanced to serve The Enclave, to be raised with the rich citizens on the other side of The Wall. No one with a defect is ever Advanced, as Gaia’s scarred face excluded her from a life of privilege. She has always unquestioningly followed Enclave rules, but everything changes when her parents are arrested and accused of being traitors to the Enclave.

Gaia’s only thoughts are for her parents’ safety but, while trying to figure out how to save them, she finds out strange and unsettling things about The Enclave and those in leadership. A veiled secret and open threat towards her from The Enclave only serves to make Gaia fear more for their safety. Aided by simple townspeople, and an unexpected source from The Enclave itself, Gaia must choose between the life she’s always known and the unknown future which awaits if she rebels.

Fourteen and older fans of dystopian YA will enjoy O’Brien’s first foray into YA literature.