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The Amazing Book is Not on Fire

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The Amazing Book is Not on Fire: The World of Dan and Phil by Dan Howell & Phil Lester (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015, 224pp.)

Take a walk on the silly side with Dan and Phil, a British YouTube duo who use the Internet to entertain millions with their videos. Using pictures, text conversations, interviews, and more, this pair chronicles their unusual career in a way that entertains as much as their online content. Fun stuff includes trivia, comedy sketches with stuffed lions, tips on hamster breeding, and how to make your own YouTube videos. Recommended for Grades 7-Up for some mild swearing.

Eleanor & Park

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013; St. Martin's Griffin, 2016, 352pp.)
Omaha, 1986. Eleanor is an unwieldy red-head who decorates her sweaters with fishing lure and lives with her mother, four siblings, and an abusive stepdad. Park is a comic book-loving do-gooder whose half-Korean heritage makes him a novelty in this neck of the woods. When Park lets Eleanor, the new girl, share a seat with him on the school bus, they soon find themselves bonding over comic book heroes and exchanging mixed tapes. Soon, they have embarked on an unlikely romance—however, both have personal issues that repeatedly threaten to end the relationship. The author’s admirable refusal to shy away from the painful (and frightening) subject of domestic abuse, as well as the story’s bittersweet but realistic ending, are what make this love story stand out. Recommended for Grades 9 Up for strong language.

Surrounded by Sharks

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Surrounded by Sharks by Michael Northrop (2014; Scholastic Press, 2016, 224pp.)

Thirteen-year-old Davey makes the worst mistake of his life when he decides to ignore the “No Swimming” sign at the beach. Shortly after he wades in, he’s overtaken by a dangerous riptide and swept out to sea. Now he’s floating in the middle of the ocean—and about to come head to head with a hungry tiger shark! While the novel’s lack of character development brings much disappointment, the plot that accompanies the author’s spine-tingling premise does not. It’s action-packed from beginning to end, and will definitely appeal to reluctant readers in Grades 5-7.

Dawn of Spies

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Dawn of Spies (Crusoe #1) by Andrew Lane (Adaptive Books, 2017, 320pp.) 

In this reimagining of Daniel Defoe’s 18th century classic of shipwreck and survival, Robinson “Robin” Crusoe, a merchant’s son, and Friday, the daughter of a pirate king, are finally rescued from a desert island after three long years as living as castaways. Shortly after they arrive in London, the writer Daniel Defoe offers to buy the rights to their amazing story. In normal circumstances, this close-knit pair of friends would be reluctant to open up to a stranger--however, circumstances have rendered them penniless, and they see no other choice but to agree to a meeting. Imagine their surprise when Defoe later reveals himself to be a spy for the government. He thinks their unique experiences will make them perfect spies, and wants to recruit them for service under King Charles II. Their first mission is to protect the king’s daughter, the Countess of Lichfield, from kidnapping by enemies of the Crown. Of cours…

A Charming Series

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A Charmed Life (The Charmed Life #1-3) by Jenny B. Jones (Thomas Nelson, 2012, 976pp.)
A Charmed Life is an omnibus edition of Jenny B. Jones’s Christian fiction trilogy of the same name. This lovely series documents the hilarious, heartfelt misadventures of privileged New Yorker Bella Kirkwood, a child of divorce who finds herself living on a farm after her mother remarries and moves them to Truman, Oklahoma. To Bella, moving away from New York is a fate worse than death. Where are the fashion boutiques? What about a Starbucks? Not to mention she now has to hitch a ride to school with her obnoxious stepbrother, Budge, who drives an out-dated hearse. But when she ends up on the Truman High School newspaper, she surprises the heck out of everyone with her tenacity, her drive, and above all, her awesome investigative journalism skills. Over the course of the series, she becomes quite the sleuth. Not only does she investigate a malevolent brotherhood of football players and save a prom qu…

Meh

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What Light by Jay Asher (Razorbill, 2016, 272pp.)
Sierra is always bummed to leave her friends behind when she and her parents leave for a month every year to tend their out-of-state farm in California. On her latest stay, she meets a cute boy named Caleb. Caleb is charming and gentle, a selfless young man who buys up discounted Christmas trees and delivers them to families in need. In any other scenario, Sierra knows the two would be a perfect pair—but alas, the couple already have two strikes against them! First, Sierra doesn’t believe in long-distance relationships. Second, Caleb once attacked his sister with a knife, an attack that locals still gossip about. Although Sierra accepts Caleb’s explanation that he was acting under extreme duress at the time, and that his sister has since forgiven him, all the townspeople, including her parents, still look upon him with suspicion. As Sierra passionately defends their budding relationship, she risks alienating both friends and family. Wil…

A Gripping, Suspenseful Crime Novel

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With Malice by Eileen Cook (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016, 320pp.)

When Jill, an American teenager, wakes up in a hospital with no memory of the past two months, she learns several disturbing things. One: while she was on a school trip to Italy, she crashed a rental car and was rushed to a hospital back home. Two: Her best friend, Simone, was killed in the crash. Three: the Italian police say that the crash was a deliberate act of murder/suicide. Now they want her back in Italy to stand trial. Fortunately, she’s given permission to stay in America until she completes rehab, but she has to wonder: why was she driving a car on a school trip? What exactly happened?

Twist and turns abound in this suspenseful novel, which proves gripping to the very end. What makes the novel better than average is the author’s inclusion of police interviews and media transcripts, which allow us to see the story in the broader scheme of things, and thus provides for a more compelling reading experience. R…