Clique Bait by Ann Valett

Book Review by Elizabeth

Clique Bait by Ann Valett is one interesting novel, indeed. I was quite excited to read this one since my high school drama content has run quite low, so I wanted to taste that convoluted, unrealistic, and overexaggerated world again. Fortunately, this book delivered me my reading guilty pleasure, as well as some internal screaming at the pages which I oh so love. 

Each chapter of this book opens with a short letter written from our main character, Chloe, to her best friend Monica. Chloe is a senior who day and night thinks of one thing only – how to take down the most popular clique in their school. She and Monica had previously divided up their private school’s students into levels, each representing a different step in the social hierarchy. Monica had always wanted to be at the top, to sit in the seat of Lola Davenport, their current queen bee. After she had gotten to Level One (the most elite clique), the regulars had taken her down, so much so that she was no longer at their school. This is why all through summer, Chloe had been planning her revenge on them, to bring justice to Monica that she knew she deserved. To put her plan into action, Chloe would need to infiltrate Level One, using blackmail to force her way in via William, the mayor’s son. Little did she know, William would instead offer to help her, proposing she pretend to be his girlfriend to ease her way in, as what needed to seem to them as a permanent fixture. 

Overall, this book was nice. I enjoyed this read as a way to kill time, while still feeling productive. This isn’t a masterpiece by any means. Frankly, I found it predictable but at the same time engaging, so props for that. I wish the author hadn’t resorted to such overused tropes, and wish the ending wasn’t as anti-climactic. For the average reader, I’d still totally recommend it as this book still does the job, but maybe not so much for someone who wants more nuance and twists in their reads. Still, I think this is a great guilty pleasure read and really hits the spot on a rainy day. 

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Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

Book Review by Giles

Bent Heavens, by Daniel Kraus, isn’t the type of book that I normally read. However, I was intrigued by the book’s description on the library’s webpage: “Two years after the disappearance of her father, seventeen-year-old Liv and her friend capture an alien in the Iowa countryside, and instead of turning him over to the authorities, they choose a different path.” Sounds otherworldly and maybe science fiction, right? Wrong. The publisher’s description is misleading. This book turned out to be more of a horror story than sci-fi. This book made me feel all kinds of things: curiosity, anticipation, disgust, revulsion, pity, dislike, and anger.

This book has lots of flashbacks that reveal the story. Liv’s father, a high school teacher, first went missing for several days. When he returned, he claimed he’d been abducted by aliens. He started acting strangely because he was convinced that the aliens were coming back for him. He set up traps, in the woods around his house, to catch the aliens before they got him a second time. 

Then Liv’s father went missing again. This time it was for good. That was over two years ago. Liv and her childhood friend, Doug, were maintaining and checking her father’s traps, every Sunday, ever since he disappeared. At this point, I should have clued in that this was going to be a horror story. Liv’s father’s traps had terrible horror movie names, like “the neck breaker” and “the amputator”. 

Just when Liv is ready to give up checking the traps and destroy them, an alien gets caught in one. Liv realizes that her father was telling the truth and remembers how no one believed him. Liv and Doug don’t turn the alien over to the authorities. This is when things start to get ugly.

There’s a lot more happening in this book than just the capture of an alien. Liv is dealing with the emotional trauma of the disappearance of her father and the probability that he’s dead. Liv’s in her senior year and she’s having trouble at school. She feels great frustration and pressure.

The teacher, who replaced her father, is putting on the same play that her father was directing at the time of his second disappearance. This is really upsetting to Liv and she acts out. She gets punished by not being allowed to compete in running meets. This puts her at odds with her close group of friends. She also becomes romantically involved with a new student, Bruno. 

This book starts out as a story about family and grief. Liv is grieving for her father. After Doug and Liv catch the alien, the book becomes a story about torture, suffering, and heartbreak. The alien isn’t treated very nicely in this book. There are things that happen to the alien that really disturbed me. Then the author throws in a conspiracy and the book becomes something of a detective story. Liv must figure out what is really going on. Her father’s disappearance, old family friends, the alien, and things that happened in the past lead Liv to terrible discoveries. 

Daniel Kraus did an excellent job building tension in this story. Just when you think that you know what is going to happen, he throws in another twist. However, I didn’t like reading the graphic depictions of torture in this book. The climax of the story was an absolute shocker. For me, it was too much, too contrived, too over the top. In conclusion, although this book was a page turner, its progression into darkness and violence was unsettling. It was not the story I was expecting. It wasn’t scary, it was disturbing.

It Came from the Sky by Chelsea Sedoti

Book Review by Giles

It Came From the Sky by Chelsea Sedoti, sounded like a fun book to read and I wasn’t disappointed. The publisher’s description intrigued me: “Gideon and Ishmael Hofstadt, ages sixteen and seventeen, accidentally start a hoax that aliens have landed, turning their town of Lansburg, Pennsylvania, into a circus. Told through narrative, police interviews, text messages, blog posts, and more.” 

I was curious to find out how the story could be told like this. I thought it would be difficult to do but the author did a fantastic job developing the characters and their relationships with one another. The story flows seamlessly. Each text, blog post, interview, and report give readers important information from the viewpoints of different characters. The different media used results in the chapters being short and easy to read.

The story begins with Ishmael messing up one of Gideon’s science experiments. The blast from the experiment is the catalyst for the hoax. Ishmael suggests extraterrestrial activity as an explanation for the crater left by the blast. Gideon goes along with it and the brothers go to great lengths to keep the hoax going so that they aren’t caught. Gideon is reluctant to keep it going but then he decides that the hoax can be a sociological experiment where he can record his research findings in a case study. Ishmael sees the hoax as the greatest prank of all time.

More lies lead to the hoax becoming increasingly wilder and more complex. Soon the hoax is out of control. People are seeing UFOs, having close encounters of the third kind, and even claiming that they were abducted by aliens. There are plenty of hilarious moments in the story, thanks to the hoax. 

Suddenly, the story shifts gears. Some nefarious things are going on in the small town and it’s up to Gideon to figure out what is happening. I wasn’t expecting a villain in this story. This subplot concerns sensitive material about grooming and pedophilia. I was a little surprised by this turn of events in the book. It seemed to come out of nowhere. 

One of the themes of this story is family and friendship. As there weren’t too many characters, it wasn’t hard to keep track of all the relationships. The characters were well-developed. The author added lots of details to show their personalities, motivations, and desires. It was nice to read a story about a family that wasn’t dysfunctional. Gideon’s family and their interactions were believable. The family’s interesting, unconventional, and quirky.

Gideon’s not a stereotypical science nerd that you might see on tv or in the movies. He’s an introverted, gay teenager who struggles with his relationships with his family, friends, and his on-again off-again boyfriend, Owen. He worries about his grades and his future. I think that Gideon experienced a lot of personal growth through the events of the story.

There was never a dull moment in this book. It was chaotic, hilarious, reckless, heartwarming, nerve-racking, adventurous, and upsetting all rolled into one. This book was a page turner for me, but it wasn’t due to a build-up of tension. It was a page turner because I was invested in finding out what was going to happen next to Gideon. He’s a very likable character. I recommend this book. It’s a fun, fast read. I enjoyed it.

The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Book Review by Nathan

This book is great. It somehow takes political fiction and makes it genuinely interesting to read. The Winter Duke was a great read. It really pulled me into the world, made me feel like a part of the ongoings of Kylma Above’s duchy, and all of the plots and schemes of the nobility. The book tells the story of Ekata, a possible heir to the duchy, who wants nothing to do with being a duchess. After her whole family succumbs to a strange sickness, she finds herself becoming a reluctant duchess, and must quickly learn how to do her job on her feet, resulting in a lot of funny moments and mishaps. 

It had plenty of humour, and the characters were relatable on multiple levels. As the book went on, the various mysteries slowly became a little clearer, but never too quickly, which meant that I almost never wanted to put the book down. Despite the fact that most of the action is political, it doesn’t feel overly complicated, or hard to track. The overall feeling of this book was one of lighthearted jokes and tense action all at the same time. This book really does do political fiction justice, and even though I had never read anything from Claire Eliza Bartlett, if she manages to make all her books this good, I think I’m going to have to read more of her work.

I would definitely recommend this book. It has a great plot, good characters, and a world that feels as real as our own. If you’ve been looking for something funny to read or just some good political fiction (surely this isn’t the only good piece, right?) then maybe you should give this book a try.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Book Review by Allie

Melissa Bashardoust has beautifully combined Perisan Mythology with beloved fairy tales. This wonderful blend of past and present has created a compelling storyline, reminiscent of fairy tales such as Sleeping Beauty and Rapunsel. It was a fun read that left me wondering what’s going to happen next at every turn. 

Girl, Serpent, Thorn follows the life of a young princess named Soraya. Soraya, though, is no ordinary princess for she was cursed from birth to be poisonous to anyone who touches her bare skin. The wedding of her twin brother is swiftly approaching and after the royal procession returns to the palace Soraya lives in, she notices a young man who looks at and sees her for who she is beneath the poison. Soraya feels that, despite the attention of that man, she has found her place among the shadows hidden away from everyone for she is dangerous. Her worldview is then turned on its head when she makes a grave mistake. This mistake as terrible as it is makes Soraya begin to question whether she is the monster or the princess in this story.

I absolutely adored reading the progression of Soraya’s story and the way her character changed and grew due to adversity and events in the novel. I felt that Soraya was an adequate protagonist as her choices and mistakes were relatable. Also, as a fan of Grimm’s fairy tales, this was an amazingly different take on some of the old stories and it was fun to pick out pieces that corresponded with each respective fairy tale. 

Overall, I absolutely loved this novel and I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of modern, romantic, fantastical novels that make you laugh, cry, and smile at the same.