A thriller premise with a satisfying shades-of-gray resolution

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PRETENDING TO BE ERICA

Raised up by her foster father to become the world's best con artist, Violet's disguised as a girl who's both very rich and very dead.

Ever since Vegas con man Sal found 5-year-old Violet in the foster system, he's raised her to commit the perfect crime. Now that she's 17, it's finally time for Violet to go into deep cover as kidnapped Erica Silverman. Erica, stolen 13 years ago from her kindergarten, is still the subject of her wealthy mother’s relentless search. If Violet can convince Mrs. Silverman she’s her daughter, she'll have one shot at the fabled Silverman painting, a $60 million jackpot. Sal's given Violet a lifetime of training in crime and skullduggery, three plastic surgeries over a mere five years, a bone broken and reset to match an old break of Erica's, even a fake DNA sample. Yet the simple realities of high school are overwhelming for previously home-schooled Violet. To maintain her cover, Violet-as-Erica makes friends and is surprised to find she truly likes them. Realism sometimes takes a back seat to premise (Sal's astronomical resources, connections, and skills apparently don't preclude his raising Violet in poverty), but the focus is more on Violet's moral qualms and the difficulty of maintaining two distinct identities. 

A thriller premise with a satisfying shades-of-gray resolution . (Suspense. 14-17)

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01497-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots.

ASH PRINCESS

From the Ash Princess series , Vol. 1

The daughter of a murdered queen plots to take back what is hers.

With her country seized and her mother, the Fire Queen of Astrea, murdered by invaders when she was only 6 years old, Theodosia has been a prisoner for 10 years, stripped of her crown, her people enslaved. Theo (renamed Thora by her captors) is at the mercy of the Kaiser—the fearsome ruler of the Kalovaxians—enduring his malicious whims in order to survive. But when the Kaiser forces Theo to execute her own father, survival is no longer good enough, and she finally takes up the mantle of queen to lead her people’s rise to resistance in a land saturated in elemental magic. Debut author Sebastian has invigorated some well-worn fantasy tropes (a displaced heir, an underground rebellion, and a love triangle that muddies the distinctions between enemies and allies), delivering a narrative that crackles with political intrigue, powerful and debilitating magic, and the violent mechanisms of colonization even as it leaves sequel-primed gaps. Some details—like Theo’s crisis of identity and Hamletian indecision—work well to submerge readers in a turbulent and enthralling plot; others, like racialized descriptions that fall short of actual representation (Atreans are dark-haired and olive-skinned, Kalovaxians are blond and pale-skinned) and the use of magic-induced madness for narrative shock and awe feel lazy and distracting among more nuanced elements.

“Cinderella” but with genocide and rebel plots. (Fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6706-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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