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RAVEN

From the Cinzento Academy series , Vol. 1

Gripping and fresh, with memorable characters—a winner.

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A team of teenage computer security experts tackles a mysterious hacker.

In the near future, the Cinzento Secure corporation, which focuses on cybersecurity, also houses the Cinzento Academy. Though all the students are gifted, Team Raven is especially elite, composed of computer-skill prodigies more qualified than most adults. As “Mom,” the kids’ lunch lady/counselor/substitute parent says, “They’re a pretty special bunch—when they don’t let it go to their heads.” The team lead is Ginger “Fireball” Finney, 16, named for her “flame-colored” hair. Other team members, each with their own nicknames, work on specialties like system integration, networking, security, and hacking. Newly recruited to Team Raven is Angel Cambeiro, 17, perhaps inevitably nicknamed Noob; his field of expertise is troubleshooting. The team’s latest assignment is to solve a security breach that’s caused multiple problems at a major bank. The crew is confident they’ve got the chops but soon discover “an epidemic of weird,” as Fireball puts it. For example, the glitches seem to disappear on their own. But why would a hacker go to the trouble of breaking a system only to fix it? Who is the mysterious helper sending the team coded messages? And what’s happened to Zander Grayson, Cinzento Secure’s CEO? As Team Raven works to unravel the mysteries, which begin affecting the country’s entire infrastructure, they encounter big revelations.

Loh uses her background as a Microsoft software engineer to give her debut the ring of authenticity in plot, action, and dialogue. Though the concepts may be unfamiliar for nontechies, Loh makes them as understandable as possible, engaging readers through her teenage characters’ slangy energy: “Within minutes, memory maxed out, ​all ​the drives filled up, and the machine controlling them crashed and rebooted. ‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?’ murmured Scrappy.” The book is also well plotted and paced so that tensions and complexities develop intriguingly. Readers may guess some of the mysteries ahead of time, but it’s still enjoyable to see the team puzzle them out. Despite the novel’s tech focus, another strength is that it’s character-driven. The diverse young protagonists may be geniuses, but they’re still maturing. For example, when Fireball and fellow team member Scrappy deliver a martial arts beat down to bullies threatening a city bus driver, she numbers it among “instinctive acts of kindness.” Later that day, Fireball lets information slip to a reporter who’d questioned her abilities. As a result, she’s temporarily removed as team lead and reflects on the bus incident. It’s true they genuinely hate bullies, “But hadn’t some of it been about pride? About needing to establish worth?” This reflectiveness helps balance what could be a smug undertone to the team’s superiority of skill. The arrival of a new member, too, provides conflict through team friction plus a graceful excuse for necessary exposition.

Gripping and fresh, with memorable characters—a winner.

Pub Date: May 20, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 353

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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POWERLESS

From the Powerless Trilogy series , Vol. 1

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes.

The Plague has left a population divided between Elites and Ordinaries—those who have powers and those who don’t; now, an Ordinary teen fights for her life.

Paedyn Gray witnessed the king kill her father five years ago, and she’s been thieving and sleeping rough ever since, all while faking Psychic abilities. When she inadvertently saves the life of Prince Kai, she becomes embroiled in the Purging Trials, a competition to commemorate the sickness that killed most of the kingdom’s Ordinaries. Kai’s duties as the future Enforcer include eradicating any remaining Ordinaries, and these Trials are his chance to prove that he’s internalized his brutal training. But Kai can’t help but find Pae’s blue eyes, silver hair, and unabashed attitude enchanting. She likewise struggles to resist his stormy gray eyes, dark hair, and rakish behavior, even as they’re pitted against each other in the Trials and by the king himself. Scenes and concepts that are strongly reminiscent of the Hunger Games fall flat: They aren’t bolstered by the original’s heart or worldbuilding logic that would have justified a few extreme story elements. Illogical leaps and inconsistent characterizations abound, with lighthearted romantic interludes juxtaposed against genocide, child abuse, and sadism. These elements, which are not sufficiently addressed, combined with the use of ableist language, cannot be erased by any amount of romantic banter. Main characters are cued white; the supporting cast has some brown-skinned characters.

A lackluster and sometimes disturbing mishmash of overused tropes. (map) (Fantasy. 14-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9798987380406

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023

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A GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER

From the Good Girl's Guide to Murder series , Vol. 1

A treat for mystery readers who enjoy being kept in suspense.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Everyone believes that Salil Singh killed his girlfriend, Andrea Bell, five years ago—except Pippa Fitz-Amobi.

Pip has known and liked Sal since childhood; he’d supported her when she was being bullied in middle school. For her senior capstone project, Pip researches the disappearance of former Fairview High student Andie, last seen on April 18, 2014, by her younger sister, Becca. The original investigation concluded with most of the evidence pointing to Sal, who was found dead in the woods, apparently by suicide. Andie’s body was never recovered, and Sal was assumed by most to be guilty of abduction and murder. Unable to ignore the gaps in the case, Pip sets out to prove Sal’s innocence, beginning with interviewing his younger brother, Ravi. With his help, Pip digs deeper, unveiling unsavory facts about Andie and the real reason Sal’s friends couldn’t provide him with an alibi. But someone is watching, and Pip may be in more danger than she realizes. Pip’s sleuthing is both impressive and accessible. Online articles about the case and interview transcripts are provided throughout, and Pip’s capstone logs offer insights into her thought processes as new evidence and suspects arise. Jackson’s debut is well-executed and surprises readers with a connective web of interesting characters and motives. Pip and Andie are white, and Sal is of Indian descent.

A treat for mystery readers who enjoy being kept in suspense. (Mystery. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-9636-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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