When You Leave by Monica Ropal

Cass has a theory: everyone eventually leaves. Her father walked out, her mother is starting a new family, and she almost lost her best friend to cancer.

When Cass transfers to a preppy new private school, her plan is to stay anonymous by hiding her skater girl veneer beneath plaid skirts and knee socks. But when her cute locker neighbor, Cooper, takes an interest in Cass, keeping a safe distance isn't easy. And once Cass lets her guard down, the unthinkable happens: Cooper is mysteriously murdered.

As the investigation unfolds, Cass's close friend, Gav, is suspected as the killer. Determined to find answers, she must go through her list one by one until somebody cracks. However, will uncovering the truth really give Cass what she is looking for?

My Review I was excited to read this book because of the following blurb:

Monica Ropal is picky about murder mysteries. She’s troubled by stories with cold, precise detectives, stories that become about the crime, rather than the victim. Which is fine—everyone is entitled to their own personal genre tastes. Except for the fact that Monica’s debut novel is a murder mystery. 

I mean, come ON, the author sounds like me! And from the first pages, WHEN YOU LEAVE did not disappoint. It's one of those books where you think, "Okay, a chapter before bed," and then you realize you're three chapters in. And then tweeting the author because WOW.

Those books are few and far between.

I can't go into this in much detail, because I don't want to spoil ANY of it, but do yourself a favor and grab this. The characters take hold of you and Cass leads you through her story intimately--and she won't let you go until the end.

Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis

What if, on a normal morning, everyone reacted to you with shock and horror, insisting that you died three months ago? Died, as in fell off a pier and drowned? Died, as in they saw your coffin lowered into the ground? Author Kat Ellis explores this horrifying premise in her debut thriller, Blackfin Sky.

Blackfin is a small, insular town where newcomers are rare and odd things happen. Even so, residents wonder how Skylar Rousseau could return when she had seemed to drown on her 16th birthday. Sky remembers the last three months living her life as normal, which means she has no idea whose body is buried underneath her tombstone.

Everyone seems reluctant to help except her steadfast friend and crush, Sean . . . and a secretive man who draws her to a mysterious circus in the woods.

It is easy for readers to lose themselves in the magic of Blackfin, where weathervanes are inhabited by ghosts and fortune-tellers can be found in foreboding, walled-off forests. The sincere voices of Sky and the friends and family who love her ground the mystery in a story that is, at its heart, about protecting the people you love. A little bit The Night Circus and a little bit Wake, Blackfin Sky spins a unique magic of its own.

My Review The premise was impossible to say no to, and the book design looked so great that I dove in as soon as I got my ARC. From the first lines, I was hooked, and the story carried me through seamlessly. I can’t talk too much about the plot, but suffice it to say the setting, characters, and story made this book come alive.

It's for the older YA set, as there are a few dark moments for our heroine, particularly pertaining to a swinish set of brothers who are out to do Sky harm. The magic and the mysticism are wonderfully navigated, however, and I can't wait to explore the world further.

Fans of Sarah Rees Brennan, Maggie Stiefvater and Myra McEntyre will definitely enjoy Blackfin Sky, which releases in the US in September 2014, from Firefly Press. 

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stievater

Some race to win. Others race to survive.

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.
Some riders live.
Others die.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn't given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition - the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
As she did in her bestselling Shiver trilogy, author Maggie Stiefvater takes us to the breaking point, where both love and life meet their greatest obstacles, and only the strong of heart can survive. The Scorpio Races is an unforgettable reading experience.      From amazon.com

My Review

Yes. Yes. A thousand times YES.

She nails it.

As an avid horsewoman, I cringe reading horse stories because they often don't capture my love and experience--but The Scorpio Races handled the equine factor in this novel so well that my senses came alive with the smells of sweet feed, hay, horses, and heat. I could feel the dirt and sweat under my nails, feel the ache in my legs, the swelling of my heart I would have after a good ride.

And it's not just the horses: the story is solid, and the characters are real people. I am completely in love with this book.

The audio is not to be missed, either! Listen all the way through to the very end. The notes given by Maggie are excellent, and you fall for the author as much as you did the book!

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

From amazon.com:

"Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?"

When this peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. (And you, dear reader, can test your wits right alongside them.) But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules.

As our heroes face physical and mental trials beyond their wildest imaginations, they have no choice but to turn to each other for support. But with their newfound friendship at stake, will they be able to pass the most important test of all?

Welcome to the Mysterious Benedict Society.

My Review:

Our homeschool book club suggested this one, and because it's a large book a bit daunting for V (her tracking hasn't developed quite enough to be able to read smaller print without fatigue and strain), I grabbed the audiobook from the library.


And so was I!

Filled to the brim with unforgettable characters and fun surprises, Stewart keeps the story tension high without making it uncomfortably suspenseful for kids--and that is a fine line to walk. I'm really impressed with his storytelling, which merges the zany and intelligent into a wonderful story. We'll definitely continue the series.

Dare Me by Eric Devine

As a young adult, how many times did you complete a dare just so you didn’t look like a coward, or maybe because the rush was too great to pass up? I knew someone who jumped off of a train bridge hundreds of feet into their town’s river. And then there’s always the ever exciting thrill of sneaking out of ones parent’s house after curfew to go gallivanting in the dark with friends. Sound familiar? While we may be ashamed of some of these incidents now, dares and foolish stunts are a rite of passage that teens complete no matter where they’re from … only these days, you can document a dare and post video online for the whole world to see. Weblebrities abound.

In Eric Devine’s new book, DARE ME, high school seniors Ben Candido and his friends, Ricky and John, decide to post a YouTube video of themselves surfing on top of a car. Overnight, the video becomes the talk of the school and they finally feel like the somebodies they are meant to be instead of the social nobodies they’ve been for so long. The trio agrees to complete ten stunts total, bankrolled by a mysterious donor met via Craigslist. They’ve been promised money, but is it the thought of becoming legends what’s really driving them to take the risks?

Writer Eric Devine, a high school English teacher based out of Waterford, NY, has written a tale that explores the extremes of standing out from the crowd and the costs of doing so, the nuances of our social media-driven culture, and, most importantly, what it takes to stay true to one’s self in the face of relentless pressure.

Cool Creations by Sean Kenney

COOL CREATIONS is a perfect first LEGO book for young artists-in-the-making, and reviewers have recommended it as an ideal gift for kids.

Sean taps deep into his imagination with an exercise that will challenge readers of all ages. He illustrates how to build dozens of ‘cool’ figures—from menacing robots with names like Blurg and Scraps, to transforming trucks, to creatures that live in the rainforest—out of LEGO bricks, but uses no more than 35 pieces in each construct.

Sean has been building with LEGO bricks since he was a boy and left a lucrative career to become the first LEGO-certified professional. He currently has three touring exhibits and has built sculptures weighing up to 400 pounds that required tens of thousands of Lego bricks. But he gets just as much joy from creating the intricate-yet-simple designs in COOL CREATIONS IN 35 PIECES, and readers will too.

For more information on Sean and to see his sculptures, visit his website at seankenney.com.

The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can't remember what’s happened, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and Anais’s school uniform is covered in blood. Raised in foster care from birth and moved through twenty-three placements before she even turned seven, Anais has been let down by just about every adult she has ever met. Yet despite the parade of horrors visited upon her early life, she greets the world with the witty, caustic insight of a survivor—and a dreamer’s heart.  

Named one of the best books of the year by the Times Literary Supplement and the Scotsman, The Panopticon is an astonishingly haunting, remarkable debut novel. I fell utterly in love with Anais, and know you will too.

Some early praise for The Panopticon:

“Fagan has given us one of the most spirited heroines to cuss, kiss, bite and generally break the nose of the English novel in many a moon.” The New York Times

“An exquisite first novel—Jenni Fagan has created a dark, disturbing, yet ultimately hopeful portrait of a young woman growing up alone in the Scottish foster care system.  To say it is haunting is an understatement—I kept wanting to set a place for Anais at the table with the rest of my children.”—Vanessa Diffenbaugh, author of The Language of Flowers

"The best debut novel I've read this year." —Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting

“Very literary and suspenseful. I like books set in an altered reality—one that feels familiar and yet also deeply unfamiliar, that embodies some of the dailiness of life, and yet slowly reveals itself to be a very different, much more sinister place.”—Gillian Flynn, O, The Oprah Magazine

“A heartbreakingly intelligent and sensitive heroine wrapped in an impossibly impenetrable exterior. Readers won’t be able to tear themselves away from this transcendent debut.”—Booklist, starred review

“This dazzling and distinctive novel has at its heart an unstoppable heroine…Fagan’s prose is fierce, funny and brilliant at capturing her heroine’s sparky smartness and vulnerability…Emotionally explosive.”—Marie Claire