The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Former piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

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Writing this review is difficult. I know tons of individuals that raved about this book (including the majority of the Goodreads community), but I found it just okay. Yes, the writing is beautiful and there are tons of memorable lines, but the lack of plot made the storyline move incredible slow at times. The book is character driven, and switches point of view between damaged high schoolers ‘Nastya’ and Josh. The mysterious reason for Nastya’s silence is hinted at and slowly revealed as the book progresses.

The romance is heavily focused on, and is mostly adorable. I thought it was cute that she fell for an equally damaged individual with his own ‘human force field’. Although they both survive tragedies, they are able to find healing and safety in each other. Their love and trust builds slowly and it felt authentic. Pet nicknames in general are terrible, but Josh’s overuse of calling Nastya ‘Sunshine’ got beyond irritating.

Speaking of names, the origin and meaning of names played a large role in the book. It’s interesting (and so not a coincidence) that every single name meaning matched their personality (example- Sarah being a princess, Josh being a savior, etc.)  While I don’t think a given name predicts your personality, I did a quick search of the meaning behind my name and it is weirdly accurate.

Overall, this is a very angst filled book of two broken individuals finding each other and starting over. Because of the profanity, and mature content, it reads like other darker ‘new adult’ books and so I would recommend this title to older teen readers.

 

Shadowlands (Shadowlands #1) by Kate Brian

Rory Miller had one chance to fight back and she took it. Rory survived and the serial killer who attacked her escaped. Now that the infamous Steven Nell is on the loose, Rory must enter the witness protection program. Entering the program alongside her, is her father and sister Darcy. The trio starts a new life and a new beginning leaving their friends and family behind without a goodbye. 

Starting over in a new town with only each other is unimaginable for Rory and Darcy. They were inseparable as children but now they can barely stand each other. As the sisters settle in to Juniper Landing, a picturesque vacation island, it seems like their new home may be just the fresh start they need. They fall in with a group of beautiful, carefree teens and spend their days surfing, partying on the beach, and hiking into endless sunsets. Just as they’re starting to feel safe again, one of their new friends goes missing. Is it a coincidence? Or is the nightmare beginning all over again?

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Shadowlands started off brilliant with an intense, action packed, thrilling scene of a serial killer stalking and attacking the main character, high schooler, Rory Miller. Luckily, she survives, but then things get questionable. Rather than protecting the family, the police make them super vulnerable to another attack. In addition to following other idiotic orders, Rory’s family are instructed to drive themselves to a new isolated town, and to use a different last name (but hey, keep your first names). Rory soon discovers weird happenings in the town (fog, bracelets, disappearing people, etc.) but only makes a half-hearted attempt at getting answers (partying is more important). Flashbacks and lengthy dreams are thrown in to make things more confusing for the reader. The truth is only revealed in the last sentence, and now I feel cheated and left with sooooo many questions. Criticism aside, it was a quick, thrilling, page turner of a book. Unfortunately, the frustrating ending has completely colored my thoughts on Shadowlands. For those interested in continuing Rory’s story, the series continues with Hereafter (published October, 2013). 

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

In an extraordinary debut novel, an escaped fugitive upends everything two siblings think they know about their family, their past, and themselves.

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Zebra Forest is a short, beautifully written story about family, secrets, love and forgiveness for mature middle grade readers.  Eleven year old Annie, and her nine year old brother Rew live with their depressed grandmother in a cluttered house among the birches and oaks of the ‘Zebra Forest’.  Although Annie was expecting a dull, unadventurous summer, her life was turned upside down when an escaped prisoner from the nearby prison holds them hostage.

This book is for readers that love character driven stories. Early on, it becomes evident that Annie and Rew are extremely resilient kids forced to grow up and take care of themselves as their grandma becomes less and less stable and reliable.  Throw in heavy family issues and a surprise they never saw coming, it is no wonder they turned to literature (specifically Treasure Island) as a means of comfort and escape.  Obviously, as a librarian, I loved this connection to the power of reading and storytelling.

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