Mini synopsis, adapted from Goodreads: Tella Holloway is losing it. Her brother is sick, and when a dozen doctors can't determine what's wrong, her parents decide to move to Montana for the fresh air.
Then she receives mysterious instructions on how to become a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed. It's an epic race across jungle, desert, ocean, and mountain that could win her the prize she desperately desires: the Cure for her brother's illness. The jungle is terrifying, the clock is ticking, and Tella knows she can't trust the allies she makes. And one big question emerges: Why have so many fallen sick in the first place?
My mini take: I'm a huge Amazing Race fan. Fire & Flood took the Amazing Race concept and jacked up the stakes. Each contestant is competing to win a cure for a gravely ill family member.
I can't say I connected to Tella right off. Her brother is dying, and she's whining about how she can't find a decent Greek salad in her new town. Fortunately, she did become less grating as the book went on. The other unique aspect of Fire & Floodwere the Pandoras. At the start of the race, each contestant chose a Pandora, a sort of high-tech animal companion, to assist them along the way. At first I was pretty skeptical of this concept, but it also grew on me.
That said, this is definitely more of a plot-driven than a character-driven book. The plot centers around the race, and the world building and character development have to be squeezed in around the edges. I had a lot of questions: what's wrong with Tella's brother? Why are all these people sick and why can't they get these cures? When does this book take place, anyway? Answers are offered up along the way, but I had to be a little patient.
Recommended for: readers looking for a fast-paced read that's a new spin on the "kids compete to the death" concept.
Mini-synopsis, adapted from Goodreads: Before and After. That’s how Rowan Areno sees her life now. Before: she was a normal sixteen-year-old—a little too sheltered by her police officer father and her mother. After: everything she once believed has been destroyed in the wake of a shattering tragedy, and every day is there to be survived. If she had known, on that Friday in March when she cut school, that a random stranger’s shocking crime would have traumatic consequences, she never would have left campus. Finding a soul mate in Eli, a witness to the crime who is haunted by losses of his own, Rowan begins to see there is no simple, straightforward path to healing wounded hearts. Can she learn to trust, hope, and believe in happiness again?
My (mini) take: Me Since You is a realistic and poignant story of a family dealing with and trying to move forward after a senseless and horrible loss. I really liked the fact that the story didn't try to fast forward through the recovery process and rush the characters to a happily ever after. I was even more happy that that romance was NOT presented as a magical antidote to sorrow and loss. There were a few moments of speechifying and statistics quoting, but overall, this felt authentic and real to me. And I was pleased that one of my favorite parts of the story -- something that I thought was just added for atmosphere -- ended up having a lot of significance to the plot.
Recommended for: readers who like YA books about grief and loss.
Mini synopsis, adapted from Goodreads:Savannah. Courtney. Peyton. The three sisters grew up not knowing their father and not quite catching a break. But it looks like their luck is about to change when they find out the secret identity of their long-lost dad—a billionaire Las Vegas hotel owner who wants them to come live in a gorgeous penthouse hotel suite. Suddenly the Strip's most exclusive clubs are all-access, and with an unlimited credit card each, it should be easier than ever to fit right in. But in a town full of secrets and illusion, fitting in is nothing compared to finding out the truth about their past.
My (mini) take: The Secret Diamond Sisters was 100% sparkly, escapist fun. Three teenaged sisters are plucked out of obscurity and taken to live with their casino mogul dad in Vegas. Yes, a lot of this is pure girly wish fulfillment: "Here are three Black Amex cards; go have fun!" But I have to say, I did come to like all three sisters. There's rebellious Peyton, responsible Courtney, and naive Savannah, all of whom react to their new lives in different yet believable ways.
There are other characters, too, many reminiscent of those in Gossip Girl. There's a smoking jacket wearing high school playboy -- hello, Chuck Bass! There's a fashion-obsessed girl in love with a guy who seems oblivious to her infatuation - hello, Blair Waldorf! There's a public school transfer who thinks all these spoiled kids are beneath him -- hello, Dan Humphrey! There's also a blog (XOXO!!) that comments on all the goings-on at the beginning of each chapter. But it's a formula that works, if you like that kind of story. I'm not going to lie: sometimes I really do :)
Recommended for: readers who have been missing the crazy shenanigans of the Gossip Girl gang.
Two of these titles will be coming up for grabs on Freebie Friday, so stay tuned...