A subpar mystery buoyed by a crackling gumshoe protagonist.

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THE BIKER'S BROTHER

A biker is accused of murder.

Seventeen-year-old white Josh Williams is determined to make the most of his promising football skills. His older brother, Jamie, spent time on the field in high school but wound up involved with the local biker gang, the Annihilators. When a national biker gang, the Popeyes, rides into town and threatens to swallow up the Annihilators’ territory, Jamie ends up accused of murdering the meth-cooking brother of Josh’s crush, white beauty Brenda. Josh believes his brother is innocent and investigates, pulling at a tangled web of biker politics in search of the true killer. Josh is an engaging protagonist, and the author builds his multifaceted personality through his interactions with authority figures, friends, and the assorted bikers. Unfortunately that’s where the characterization stops. None of the secondary characters are given more than one or two notable characteristics. Most disappointingly, Brenda is the thinnest of them all, introduced as “a teenage Scarlett Johansson, but a taller, leaner version,” and never developed further than that. This would be less noticeable if the shoe leather of the mystery were more satisfying to chew on, but the author doesn’t make it tasty enough. Josh stumbles on to the truth, and everything is settled on technicality and circumstance. There’s no satisfying “Eureka!” climax, and the novel just ends on an even note.

A subpar mystery buoyed by a crackling gumshoe protagonist. (Mystery. 14-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55451-936-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Annick Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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Only for readers who are really good at suspending disbelief.

H2O

Grab an umbrella: The latest fictional civilization-ending threat is deadly rain.

Ruby’s having the best night of her life, drunkenly making out with her crush in a hot tub at a party. Suddenly, the host’s parents arrive and, panicking, drag everyone indoors. The radio broadcasts an emergency message about fatal rain. Space bacteria have entered the atmosphere on an asteroid, replicated in the clouds’ moisture and now rain death upon humanity. Just humanity, though—inexplicably, this bacteria’s apparently harmless to plants and other animals. After struggling to live through the first few days—finding uncontaminated water sources is a particular challenge—Ruby decides to travel across the country to find her father. The situation’s horrifying, but what gives the deaths resonance is how sad they are, rather than simply scary (although they are plenty gory). Ruby’s narration is unsophisticated and, especially in the beginning, self-conscious, keeping readers from immersing themselves in the story, much as the strange butterfly graphic that censors curse words does. Additionally, Ruby’s progressively vapid characterization makes her hard to root for. Her biggest redeeming trait’s her love of animals. The novel also has the usual post-apocalyptic tropes—nerdy companion, military of dubious trustworthiness, human threats, a young child to take care of and so forth. The ending is immensely unsatisfying.

Only for readers who are really good at suspending disbelief. (Post-apocalyptic adventure. 14-17)

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4926-0654-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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A tightly plotted thriller helmed by a firecracker that never loses her spark.

NOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST

Estranged best friends must come together to survive man-made threats in the harsh Alaskan wilderness.

Maddie and Logan, both white, were best friends at age 10. Maddie’s father’s job was to keep the president safe, and as the president’s son, that meant Logan too. But when Russians attempt an attack on Logan and the first lady, everything changes. Maddie’s father decides they must move somewhere with no phones, no internet, no access. Soon Maddie and Logan are thousands of miles apart, she in rural Alaska and he in the White House. For six years there’s no contact; Maddie spends two years writing to him with no response. She becomes skilled in the ways of the wilderness, her anger at Logan building. His perspective highlights a privileged, reckless life, leading the president to administer a unique punishment: staying with Maddie and her father in Alaska. But Logan brings dangerous baggage with him, and with her father away for the night, it’s up to Maddie to keep them both safe. Maddie’s grit, humor, and cleverness make her an engaging action hero. Logan’s less dynamic, hyperfocused on ensuring Maddie’s safety when she’s not the one who needs saving. Fans of survivalist fiction will be impressed by the well-researched, immersive Alaskan landscape and all its beauty and brutality.

A tightly plotted thriller helmed by a firecracker that never loses her spark. (Thriller. 14-17)

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-13414-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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