The Year of the Beasts

I really didn’t know what to expect when I first started reading The Year of the Beasts. I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads, and the only things I knew going in were that I’d previously enjoyed books by the author, Cecil Castellucci, and the story was told in both prose and comics (drawn by the very talented Nate Powell). I was unprepared, then, for just how hard this book hit me.

At first, I thought I’d be reading a fairly typical tale of two sisters who grow apart because of a guy and then eventually find their way back to each other. Yeah…not so much. To say that this book defied and exceeded all of my expectations would be a gross understatement. The Year of the Beasts threw me for a loop, and I’m still thinking about how the story relates to my own life and my understanding of things like jealousy, love, and grief.

It all started when the carnival trucks rolled into town. That was the unofficial start of summer, a summer that would forever change everything for Tessa and her younger sister, Lulu.

For the first time, Tessa and Lulu are enjoying the carnival without the watchful eyes of their parents. They’re finally free to truly enjoy the food, the rides, the games…the boys. So when Tessa sees the opportunity to hang out with her crush, Charlie, and his friends, she seizes it.

Tessa, Lulu, and Tessa’s best friend Celina join up with Charlie and his buddies for a bit of fun at the carnival, but Tessa couldn’t know that this one outing would change her relationship with Lulu. Why? Well, as it happens, Charlie isn’t interested in Tessa. He wants Lulu…and Lulu wants him back.

Tessa is green with envy, but she tries her best to hide it. She doesn’t want to rain on her sister’s parade, but she can’t be wholly happy for her either. Charlie was supposed to be hers, not Lulu’s…and it feels like Lulu is taking every possible opportunity to throw her new boyfriend in her older sister’s face. It feels like Lulu, the younger of the two siblings, is growing up, moving on, and leaving Tessa in her wake.

Tessa’s only respite from the drama with Lulu, Charlie, and their assorted friends occurs in the arms of Jasper, the school outcast. Tessa finds a measure of peace when she’s alone with Jasper, but she doesn’t see how he can be part of her “real life” outside of the woods where they meet. Neither does he. No one even knows about them, and Tessa fears her friends’ reactions if they did. On top of that, even though Tessa is growing closer to Jasper, she still can’t let go of her jealousy over Lulu’s claim on Charlie. Why does Lulu, now Miss Popular, get to parade around with her boyfriend while Tessa has to keep her tenuous new relationship a secret? Nothing about this is fair in Tessa’s eyes, and she doesn’t know how to cope with all of the jealousy and rage bubbling within her.

Everything is about to come to a head for Tessa, Lulu, and company, and the summer that began with such promise will end in a tangle of envy, sadness, self-loathing, regret, grief, and–when all is said and done–a small measure of hope.

Will Tessa find some way to tame the monster raging within her and find the girl she used to be once again? Or will the events of this one tragic summer change her–and everyone around her–forever?

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I don’t know that the brief recap above in any way captures what happened in this book. It doesn’t even touch on the story presented in the comics. At first glance, the two stories don’t appear to be related, but, as the book progresses, the prose and the comics come together to create a story so intricately woven that I can scarcely believe that I ever thought they could be separate. While the prose tells of that one eventful summer that changed everything, the comics–presented in alternating chapters–show readers how grief and self-loathing can turn a person into something completely unrecognizable. How do the comics relate to Tessa’s story? Well, I’ll leave you with that one surprise, but I will tell you that I felt totally ripped to shreds by the book’s conclusion, and I’ll probably take a second look at the book’s art to see if I can pick up any clues that would have hinted at the emotional wreck that I was soon to become.

Now it’s time to get a little personal…

Truthfully, I think my strong feelings about this book come, at least in part, from my own experiences. Like Tessa, I have a younger sister. When we were teenagers, I sometimes felt like she had everything going for her. (To be perfectly honest, I still feel that way on occasion.) While I was the short, fat, near-sighted, bullied, tuba-playing nerd with braces, my sister was the tall, thin, athletic, blond girl who didn’t take crap from anyone. It was difficult to stand next to her and not wonder if everyone was thinking, “Well, I guess little sister is definitely the pretty one.” (Sometimes I didn’t have to wonder. People said those words out loud.) And things didn’t get any better for me when the guy I was madly in love with (or so I thought) had a thing for my sister. While she did not reciprocate his affections, the mere thought that he preferred her to me turned my overly dramatic teenage world upside-down. (If you’re reading this, you probably think I still haven’t recovered. You’d be right.) It was painfully easy to see my sister and me in the characters of Lulu and Tessa. I think that’s a big part of the reason why this book’s conclusion affected me the way it did. It made me examine what my teenage self would have done if she were faced with the same circumstances, and I have to admit I likely would have felt much like Tessa did.

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If your interest has been piqued by this post, I strongly urge you to give The Year of the Beasts a try. You won’t regret it. I think this is an excellent book for any reader in eighth grade and beyond.

To learn more about this amazing book, you can check out author Cecil Castellucci on her website, Goodreads, or Twitter, and graphic novelist Nate Powell on his website and Twitter.

Published in: on December 9, 2014 at 12:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Oblivion

Last night, I finally finished reading another book that came to me through NetGalley. This book, Oblivion by Sasha Dawn, came out on May 27th, and I honestly should have finished reading it before the release date, but I just couldn’t do it. It took me three weeks to get through this book, and that is rare. The premise of the book was interesting, but the book itself just didn’t hold my interest. It was very easy to put down.

Callie has been plagued by graphomania (an extreme need to write) for the past year, ever since her father, Reverend Palmer Prescott of the Church of the Holy Promise (a very cult-like “church”), disappeared with Hannah, a young girl from the church. Authorities–and even Callie herself–think Callie knows more about the supposed abduction than she’s told them. Buried somewhere in her memories are clues to what really happened. All Callie really knows is that she was found after the disappearance with the words “I killed him” scrawled on the walls of a shabby apartment. What really happened that night? And does Callie hold the keys to unlocking the truth of a young girl’s whereabouts?

The anniversary of this terrible event is fast approaching, and Callie’s graphomania is taking on a life of its own. The words are pouring out of her, but what do they mean? Callie seeks answers from her mentally disturbed mother, but it’s often difficult to separate lucidity from insanity with her mom.

A guy at school, though, may be able to help Callie. John has followed this case–and another related one–and he seems to be triggering some latent memories in Callie’s fragile mind. He’s helping her make sense of the words plaguing her, and Callie is growing closer to the truth of what really happened.

Is Callie ready for what the truth will reveal? What will it mean for her life now? And what will happen when it becomes clear that someone is willing to do anything to keep some secrets buried forever?

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Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, I did like a couple of things about it. I found the entire concept of graphomania to be intriguing. It’s not a condition I’d ever heard of before, and I now find myself wanting to know more about it. Trying to decipher what Callie’s words really meant was both frustrating and engaging, and when things finally coalesced at the end, those words made a strange sort of sense.

Watching Callie and John work together to uncover the mystery surrounding Palmer and Hannah was interesting at times. They had a few setbacks, and Callie’s words led them on some wild chases for answers, but they persevered and eventually found the truth. Were they the answers the duo expected? Not always, but I think their relationship was strengthened by the journey together.

I think my biggest issues with this book had to do with pacing and characters. The story seemed to drag on and on until the big conclusion, when everything went at a frantic pace. The ending actually took me by surprise because it came on so suddenly. I was expecting a little more of a build-up, especially considering how slowly the rest of the book went. So, although I found the end to be exciting, disturbing, and fitting, I also found it to be rather abrupt.

As for the characters, I must say that I didn’t particularly like any of them. Even Callie, our protagonist, was kind of hard to like sometimes. Yes, I rooted for her and wanted her to uncover the truth, but I didn’t think she was very relatable, and she made some pretty bone-headed choices (which I know would be expected for someone in her situation, but a little common sense would have been nice). The character I disliked the most was probably Lindsay, Callie’s foster sister. That girl was horrible! I’m still trying to figure out why Callie put up with Lindsay’s wide array of crap (bullying, drug use, lying, etc.). There were a few other major characters in this book, and I’m sad to say that I found none of them–save maybe Hannah–to be especially sympathetic.

I read an uncorrected proof of Oblivion, so it’s possible that some changes were made to make the book a bit better before final publication. If you happen to read a final copy, please let me know what you think! I feel that this book had so much potential to be great, but, in my opinion, it just fell short.

Better Off Friends

It’s becoming pretty clear that I’m going to like any book that Elizabeth Eulberg writes.  I’ve now read four of her books–Prom & Prejudice, Take a Bow, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, and Better Off Friends–and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every single one. Last night, I finished reading Eulberg’s latest, Better Off Friends. This book takes aim at that age-old question: Can a guy and a girl really just be friends?

The two main characters in Better Off Friends, Macallan and Levi, have been friends since they first met in the seventh grade. In fact, they’re best friends. They have a special bond that seems to be unbreakable…even when Levi starts dating one of Macallan’s other friends. (As you can probably imagine, this doesn’t really end well, and Macallan is forced to choose between friends. Quite the pickle.)

As Macallan and Levi exit middle school and enter the exciting world of high school–dances, team sports, serious relationships–their strong friendship is tested. No one really gets the closeness between Macallan and Levi, and that leads to problems with boyfriends and girlfriends.

As this dynamic duo examines just why their other relationships fail, they’ll be forced to face how they really feel about each other. This is not exactly a comfortable process. In fact, at one point, Macallan escapes to Ireland for the summer just to avoid facing her feelings for Levi! Levi, meanwhile, is trying to balance being a guy’s guy with having a girl for a best friend…a girl who he may love as more than a friend.

Life is quickly becoming an emotional whirlwind for both Macallan and Levi. When mushy feelings are thrown into the mix, their friendship undergoes some changes. Sometimes, the two can’t even speak to each other without arguing. At other times, the two are inseparable.  Their newly-discovered feelings for each other–feelings that each one denies at one point or another–are quickly making a mess of everyday life, and something’s got to give soon.

Would becoming a couple change everything that is special about their friendship, or would it make them stronger than ever? Should Macallan and Levi explore their feelings, or are they better off friends? There’s only one way to find out…

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Part of me wanted this story to steer clear of anything romantic. I think guys and girls can be just friends, and I think it would have been refreshing to see that play out. However…

SPOILERS!

That’s not what happened here. Love–and not the platonic kind–got thrown into the mix, and I’ll admit it made for a great read. I imagine every reader will wonder when Macallan and Levi are going to wake up and see that “The One” is right there in front of them. This struggle made for some tense moments, but I held out hope that these two would find some way to eventually be together.

I did have reason to believe things would turn out okay for Macallan and Levi. In between chapters, readers see conversations between these two–mostly reactions to what happened in the previous chapter or hints about what’s about to happen–so we know that, at the very least, they remain friends. That was definitely a comfort when their friendship hit a few low points.

If you’re looking for a fun, often hilarious, romantic, light read, I urge you to give Better Off Friends (and other books by Elizabeth Eulberg) a try. Even though the book doesn’t really answer the question of whether guys and girls can be just friends, it does show that sometimes the best relationships start with amazing friendships.

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Eleanor & Park

My latest read landed on my to-read list after a glowing recommendation from a friend.  (Hi, Jen!)  For some reason, though, I didn’t pick it up immediately.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, this blog hosted an interview with author Rainbow Rowell. I took that as a sign to read her books as soon as I could.  Well, yesterday, I finally finished Eleanor & Park, and I must say that I wish I had read it sooner.  I don’t know if words can express how much I loved this book.  (Don’t worry. I’m going to try.) It was almost like being immersed in a John Hughes movie, and any child of the 80s can tell you how awesome that is.

When Eleanor and Park first met in August of 1986, it wasn’t immediately all moonlight and roses. (As a matter of fact, their relationship was never all that smooth.) Eleanor was a new girl; kind of strange and with flaming red hair that made her a target of jokes. Park was the only Asian kid for miles, but he was on the fringes of the popular crowd. These two crazy kids met on the bus, and, when Park told Eleanor to take the empty seat next to him, he probably didn’t realize that his life would change forever…just because of one small (and kind of mean) gesture.

Eleanor and Park didn’t become instant friends. For the longest time, they didn’t even speak to each other. They eventually bonded, though, over punk music and comic books. That tenuous bond later grew into a rather rocky relationship. A relationship where Park was kind of embarrassed about his feelings for someone so far removed from his circle of friends. A relationship that Eleanor could never speak of to her troubled family.

As Eleanor and Park grew ever closer, they realized just how much they meant to each other. Park gave Eleanor a haven from all of the wretchedness at home and school. Eleanor gave Park the acceptance he craved after a lifetime of being so different from those around him. Theirs was a love like nothing either had ever experienced.

But sometimes love just isn’t enough. Sometimes things happen that force people into untenable situations. What could possibly happen to drive Eleanor and Park apart? And could love be strong enough to bring them back together?

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If you’re still reading, let me say that this post doesn’t even come close to describing the beauty and awesomeness of Eleanor & Park. I was sucked in from the very beginning, and I’m still contemplating everything that happened to these two characters who I came to love.  To put things in perspective, the last book that generated such strong feelings in me was The Fault in Our Stars.

This book isn’t one that only young adults can appreciate. I firmly believe that anyone who’s ever been a teenager in love will be able to relate–maybe in just some small way–to what Eleanor and Park experienced. Anyone who has ever bonded with someone over music and comic books will be especially drawn to this book. Also, if you grew up in the 80s and wanted your life to be like a John Hughes movie, this is definitely the book for you!

I cannot say enough good things about Eleanor & Park, but, for now at least, I’m going to stop. Read this book. You won’t be sorry.

For more information on this book and others by Rainbow Rowell, visit http://rainbowrowell.com/blog/.

Published in: on October 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You

This book–the entire series, really–has been in my to-read pile for a while. This week, I finally decided to jump right into the first book in Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You. (Great title, by the way.) I had a feeling I would enjoy it simply because I liked Carter’s Heist Society series. So far, so good. This first book, which introduces us to Cammie and her fellow spies-in-training, is a great start to what I’m sure is a wonderful, light-hearted series.

The Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women is no ordinary school, and student Cammie Morgan is no ordinary girl. From the outside, the Gallagher Academy looks like a private school for girls from prestigious families. Within its walls, however, some of the brightest girls in the country are trained in the arts of espionage, combat, code-breaking, and covert operations. That’s right. It’s spy school. Cammie Morgan, who happens to be the headmistress’ daughter, is a sophomore at Gallagher Academy this year, and this is one year that might just change her entire world.

Now, the Gallagher Academy might teach its girls how to speak a dozen languages, the latest in chemical warfare, or how to use trash to learn all about a person, but there’s one thing that this school never prepared Cammie for. How to talk to boys.

While Cammie is trying to be incognito on a class assignment in town, she gets noticed by a guy. Cammie is used to being overlooked (one of her strengths as a spy), so she’s taken aback by this guy, Josh, who is showing interest in her. But what can she really tell him about herself? She can’t tell him where she goes to school. (Townies have attitude about the Gallagher Girls.) She can’t tell him about her family, friends, or many of the details of her day-to-day life. So what’s a girl to do? Well, this is where being a spy comes in handy…

Cammie gathers intel–in a variety of ways and with some help from friends–on Josh, and she slowly forms a relationship with him. Yes, the relationship is kind of awkward and is almost completely based on lies–at least on Cammie’s part–but Cammie is getting her first taste of what it might be like to be “normal.”

But what will happen when Cammie’s real life as a Gallagher Girl collides with her first brush with love? Will her lies be uncovered? What could this mean for Cammie, Josh, and the Gallagher Academy? Discover how one extraordinary girl tries to navigate two very different worlds when you read I‘d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter!

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I’m kind of glad I waited so long to read this series. The sixth and final book, United We Spy, will be released on September 17th, so I won’t have to endure the long, agonizing wait that usually accompanies a series. I’ll probably start book two, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, next week, and I’ll continue on until I finish what I’m sure will be a wild ride!

For those who’d like more information on this series and other books by Ally Carter, check out her website at http://allycarter.com/. There’s a strong possibility that this series will eventually be adapted for the big (or small) screen, so stay tuned on the author’s website for developments!

Published in: on August 24, 2013 at 8:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Perfect Scoundrels

Warning:  Read Ally Carter’s Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals before proceeding. The third book in this series, Perfect Scoundrels, is not a stand-alone novel! You need prior knowledge of the characters to really grasp what’s going on!

It’s my last day of spring break, and, to be totally honest, I am not ready to go back to school. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, most of the people I work with, and my students…but this week has been kind of awesome. I’ve shopped, taken lots of naps, watched what some would say is way too much Doctor Who, and I’ve read several fantastic books. One of those books, Perfect Scoundrels, the third book in Ally Carter’s Heist Society series, has me wondering how I would fare as part of a crew of top-notch thieves. For a rather large woman, I’m often overlooked in a crowd, so I think I would be great at gathering intel. I’m also fairly decent with computers and research, so that’s another strength. I’m horrible, though, when I have no plan, and you can forget anything that requires even the smallest amount of athletic prowess. So, I guess, at least for the time being, I’ll stick with being an elementary school librarian and part-time book blogger. Oh well…I have my Knight Reader persona for now.

If you’ve read Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals (and I assume you have if you’re still reading this), you probably have something of a crush on the character of Hale. Who wouldn’t? He’s cute, rich, funny, talented, and totally loyal to Kat and her merry band of thieves. So what could possibly happen to cause this seemingly perfect guy to go completely off the rails?

In Perfect Scoundrels, Hale is forced to finally deal with his family after the death of his beloved grandmother, Hazel. Kat doesn’t know how to help him through this, especially when it becomes crystal clear that she does not fit into his high society lifestyle. When Hale is named Hazel’s heir, though, Kat finds herself drawn into a bigger mystery than any she’s ever faced before. Why would Hazel leave her company to a teenager? And why would she leave her oldest, dearest friend out of her will? Something is up, and Kat is left to figure things out. But can she do this without Hale knowing? And if he finds out, what could it mean for their somewhat tenuous relationship?

As Kat and her crew begin to put the pieces together of the events surrounding Hazel’s death, a tale of corporate espionage comes into focus. She discovers that Hazel’s will might have been an elaborate forgery. What will this mean for Hale? And how can Kat prove that the will is a fake when the person who is sabotaging the Hale family seems to always be one step ahead of her?

Kat and crew will have to pull the biggest con of their lives if they have any hope of restoring order to Hale Industries and reclaiming the boy who has come to mean so much to all of them…but most especially to Kat. She feels Hale drifting away from her and toward the life and family he was born into. Can she expose the truth of what’s going on while keeping the boy she’s come to love? Can she convince him that his real family is the one he’s chosen? No matter what, Kat will have to pool every resource, every family member, every friend she’s ever known to reveal the truth of Hazel’s will. The real question is…will it be worth it if she ends up losing Hale? Find out when you read Perfect Scoundrels, the thrilling third book in Ally Carter’s Heist Society series!

Perfect Scoundrels is an excellent book, and it provides a lot of insight into the enigmatic character of W.W. Hale the Fifth. (We still don’t know what his initials stand for, though. Dare I hope we’ll find out in future books?) We learn that his nickname in the moneyed world of Manhattan is Scooter…which totally doesn’t fit the Hale I’ve come to know in previous books. We also learn a lot about how he and Kat met and how he interacts with his family (the majority of whom are cold, greedy snobs.) In my opinion, readers also discover a bit about just how much Hale really means to Kat. (Even Kat didn’t realize just how much she cared for him until she was in danger of losing him.) Kat also realizes how much it means to have friends and family who are always there for her. Even though she’s part of a family of thieves, they’re an honorable group, and family means everything to them. It’s touching.

I really hope that we haven’t heard the last of Kat, Hale, Gabrielle, Simon, Angus, Hamish, Uncle Eddie, and assorted other colorful characters. There’s already a novella that combines the world of Heist Society with Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series. It’s called Double Crossed, and I read it yesterday before I began Perfect Scoundrels. It’s a pretty cool story, and it leads me to hope that these two worlds will intertwine once more.

If you like mysteries or tales of teenagers with very little adult supervision and seemingly unlimited resources, you definitely want to check out the entire Heist Society series. You may have to suspend reality a bit while reading these books, but the stories will definitely keep you guessing, and you’ll find yourself eager to see what happens next. It’s kind of like Ocean’s Eleven for the YA crowd.

For more information on Ally Carter, the Heist Society series, and several other books, visit her website at http://allycarter.com/. There’s also tour information and how to interact with the author through Twitter and Facebook. All you visual people may also like the book trailer from Hyperion Teens below. Have fun!

Published in: on April 7, 2013 at 8:07 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Boy Project

I picked up Kami Kinard’s The Boy Project: Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister for two main reasons: 1) several of my students recommended it, and 2) the author lives in South Carolina and will be attending the annual conference for SCASL (South Carolina Association of School Librarians).  The cover and title alone clued me in that this would be a “girl book.”  (I wasn’t wrong.)  I just wasn’t prepared, I guess, for it to be a “girly-girl book,” if that makes any sense.  This book revolves around a seventh grade girl and her quest for a boyfriend.  While reading, I reflected on my own (horrible) time as a seventh grader, and it was hard for me to relate to the main character in this book.  When I was in seventh grade, I still thought boys were gross (and I still do to a certain extent).  Also, I knew I was in for a rough time when the very first paragraph got my dander up:

“I am starting this experiment because I have no choice.  Well, I have no choice unless you consider being a lifelong boyfriendless social outcast destined to die alone a choice.  Which it isn’t.”

Um, yeah…as someone who’s actually chosen to remain single and thinks a life of virtual solitude sounds like heaven, this was a little insulting.  (For those that don’t know, my lifelong ambition is to become a hermit.  I think I would be awesome at that.)  It seems to me that the main character in this book, at least in the beginning, has what I like to call the “Bella Swan Syndrome.” Having a boyfriend is the most important thing in the world, and a girl must do everything she can to obtain said boyfriend–and hold on to him–or she’ll just die.  (Can you tell that I’m a feminist?)

Although I had some issues with this book (due mainly to my own past and present circumstances), it’s easy to see why The Boy Project would appeal to readers in upper elementary and middle grades.  It’s a very fast read, often funny, and it even teaches readers a little about real-life applications of the scientific method. And even though I didn’t relate to the main character, I think many other readers will find it all-too-easy to make connections with Kara McAllister.

Kara McAllister is the only girl in the seventh grade who’s never been kissed.  Even worse, she’s never come close to having a boyfriend.  But she’s determined to change all that.  This year is her year.  She’s even going to make her quest for a boyfriend her science project.  She’ll use what she knows about the scientific method to gather data on guys she finds attractive and what they’re looking for in a potential girlfriend, and–Voilà!–she’ll apply her new-found knowledge and nab herself a boyfriend–and an A in science.  Simple, right?

As you can imagine, nothing is simple when it comes to figuring out boys and finding the perfect boyfriend, especially when the guy at the top of your list asks out your BFF.  Kara uses observations, “expert” advice, interviews with her sister, surveys, and eavesdropping in the boys’ bathroom to answer her all-important question:  How do I get a boyfriend?  Sometimes her research methods land Kara in a bit of trouble, and she even considers abandoning her project altogether, but she moves forward and realizes that maybe the key to finding a boyfriend isn’t to figure out what they’re looking for but to realize what she’s looking for.

Kara learns that she has to be true to herself if she wants others to see how great she is.  Yes, she (like everyone else in the world) could improve on a few things, but she has to be herself if she wants a boyfriend.  No, not just a boyfriend, but a boyfriend who will really make her happy.

Will Kara McAllister ever succeed in finding a boyfriend?  What will be the final results of her science project?  I’ll leave that for you to find out when you read The Boy Project by Kami Kinard.

I don’t know what else I can say about this book.  Parts of it were cute, and some young girls will like it, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.  I find the very idea that a girl MUST have a boyfriend to be disturbing, and, while that doesn’t end up being the primary message of this book, it’s still a big part of it.  There are worse things than not having a boyfriend. Trust me.

If you’d like to give The Boy Project a try or just want to learn more about the author, you can visit Kami Kinard’s website or follow her on Twitter.  You may also want to check out this book trailer that I came across on YouTube   It encapsulates the book fairly well.

Published in: on January 17, 2013 at 9:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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Finale

Spoilers! If you haven’t read the first three books in Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush series (Hush, Hush, Crescendo, and Silence), stop whatever you’re doing, and get on with it! These books are super-duper, and the fourth and final book, Finale, is equally wonderful. If you have read the first three books, proceed with caution. This post might be a little spoilery. If you haven’t experienced this fabulous saga, stop reading this RIGHT NOW! This post will be extremely spoilery.

Before I get into talking about the awesomeness that is Becca Fitzpatrick’s Finale, let me vent a little bit. I had every intention of finishing this book days ago (instead of yesterday evening). Sadly, though, I had to return to school on January 2nd (which kind of stunk), so that ate into my reading time. (I really need a job that allows me to read all day…and stay in my pajamas. If you know of a job like this, please let me know.) Anyway, I was too exhausted when I came home from work to do anything more strenuous than vegging in front of the TV. Thursday night, I got violently ill, so I had to deal with that. I read a little Friday evening and Saturday morning, but I spent Saturday evening and Sunday morning with family, so not much reading was done. I finally caught a break on Sunday afternoon. I was able to become absorbed in a book with no interruptions. I tell you all of this to explain why I’m not doing so well with my resolution to read 400 books this year. The year has barely begun, and I’m already way behind. *dramatic sigh*

But I’m guessing most of you don’t give a flying fart in space why I’m not reading as much as I should, so let’s move on to the reason we’re all here. Yesterday, I finished reading Finale, the fourth and final book in Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush saga. This book was released on October 23rd, 2012, and I’m pretty sure I bought it the day it came out, so it had been sitting on my shelf for a couple of months before I decided to dive in. (I don’t have to remind you that I’m a busy girl, so it’s no secret why I didn’t get to it right away.) I had to reread my posts on the first three books in the series to remind me what happened previously, but, after that, I entered into the world of Nora and Patch rather seamlessly.

For those that don’t remember what happened at the end of Silence, here’s a short reminder:  Hank (Nora’s biological father and leader of the Nephilim) is dead, and Nora swore on the lives of her and her mother that she would lead his army. Nora became a member of the Nephilim (so she’s no longer totally human). It’s up to her to lead her new army against the fallen angels, but she doesn’t want to do that because the love of her life, Patch, just happens to be one of them. It’s quite the sticky wicket.

In Finale, Nora Grey is the new leader of the Nephilim. She doesn’t want to be the leader of this army, and the Nephilim don’t really want her as their leader, but a blood oath ensures that nobody gets what they want. Nora is now the Black Hand, and she is faced with a decision that will force her to choose between continued slavery for the Nephilim or the complete annihilation of the fallen angels…including Patch, her beloved.

At first, Nora thinks her job is fairly simple.  She’ll just lead the Nephilim into a peaceful alliance with the fallen angels. Alas, this is not to be. Neither the Nephilim or the fallen angels will go for it, and, once the archangels of Heaven get involved, it becomes even more of a no-go. Even Nora, after seeing what it really means to be Nephil, has doubts about peace even being a consideration.

And that’s not all that’s giving Nora reason to doubt her situation. Her best friend, Vee, is keeping secrets. Her boyfriend, Patch, can’t be seen with her. (When there’s a war brewing between Nephilim and fallen angels, it’s not the best idea to be seen cavorting with the “enemy.”) Also, his heinous ex-girlfriend has been sniffing around. Nora’s nemesis (and half-sister) has decided that living with Nora would be a good idea. To top it all off, it seems that someone–someone who Nora thinks can be trusted–is working to undo everything Nora is trying to achieve…and he or she is using devilcraft (think witchcraft…but way, way, way worse) to do it.

Will Nora be able to lead the Nephilim? Will she lead them to war or peace? And what will either situation mean for Nephilim, fallen angels, and, most importantly to this story, Nora and Patch? Is the future of their relationship doomed to fall before it really has a chance to fly? If Nora can find a way to bring a peaceful end to the war that is brewing, what–or who–will she have to sacrifice? What is the cost of freedom, and is Nora willing to pay it? Find these answers and more when you read Finale, the thrilling conclusion to Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush saga.

I don’t know if you can tell from this post, but I kind of adore this entire series. Until yesterday, I would have told you that Silence was my favorite book in the series, but I think Finale may have, at the very least, forced a tie. There was just so much drama! Yes, there were times when I had to close the book because I wanted to punch Nora in the face, but that’s how I know this story really gripped me. Also, even though there were tons of clues pointing to the true bad guy(s), I honestly didn’t see it coming. Maybe that makes me as gullible as Nora was, but that’s okay. If being gullible comes with having a fallen angel like Patch think you’re awesome-sauce, I’ll take it.

One complaint: I did feel like the epilogue was a little too neat. I would have liked to know more about what happened between the last chapter and the events in the epilogue. Some things, in my opinion, were just glossed over too much.

All in all, I think Finale was a great conclusion to what was an amazing series. I look forward to reading even more from Becca Fitzpatrick!

To learn more about Becca Fitzpatrick, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter. You may also want to visit the official Hush, Hush fansite, Fallen Archangel, for the latest on this series, including movie news!

Still not enough? Well then…check out this super-cool book trailer for Finale from Simon & Schuster Videos. Knight Reader out!

Published in: on January 7, 2013 at 2:45 pm  Comments (1)  
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Take a Bow

If you had asked my eighteen-year-old self what I was going to be fifteen years later, I would have said “a musician.”  I originally went to college as a music major (tuba, specifically).  It was a pretty cut-throat world, even in a small liberal arts college in South Carolina.  After two years of nearly working myself to death, I was completely burnt out.  (At one point, I was practicing eleven different instruments during the same semester.)  I changed my major and began a journey that would lead me to my true calling—school librarianship.  Music, though, has always been and will always be a part of my life.  I still play occasionally, and I’ve even been known to write a piece of music when the spirit moves me.  (I even did a stint as a low brass instructor for a marching band when I still worked at a high school.)  It should come as no surprise, then, that I enjoy books that combine my love of music with my love of young adult fiction.  Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg is a wonderful example of this winning combo. 

Take a Bow follows four high school students as they navigate the tough waters of a performing arts high school.  Emme is a songwriter who seems content to play with her band and write songs for her best friend, Sophie.  Sophie is a diva of the highest order who will stop at nothing to become a star.  (She reminded me a little of Rachel Berry on Glee.)  Carter is a former child star who is struggling with who he was, who everyone thinks he is, and who he wants to become.  Ethan is a gifted musician and songwriter who can’t seem to stop himself from self-destructing…even though he’s damaging the only relationship that really means something to him.

Each of these young people is dealing with the pressure that comes with striving to be the best performer in their fields—auditions, college applications, and nerve-wracking performances.  They’re also discovering just what they want out of life, and what they’ll do to get it.  People will be hurt, friendships will end, delusions will be shattered, dreams will be crushed, and lives will change, but Emme, Sophie, Carter, and Ethan will learn a lot about themselves, music, and life on their roads to success…and success won’t mean the same thing to all of them.  They’ll learn that sometimes the spotlight isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…and that true friends are there whether you’re falling on your face or taking a bow.

I truly enjoyed Take a Bow, especially glimpsing what each character was experiencing.  I totally identified with Emme.  (I was a very shy performer unless I was with a group.)  I loathed Sophie, and I couldn’t wait for Emme to really see the truth about her.  I rooted for both Carter and Ethan to get what they wanted (especially Ethan).  This is a perfect book for music, theater, and even art nerds.  It provides readers with a fairly accurate look at the competitive world of the performing arts.  It’s a little like Glee, but a lot more realistic.  (I love Glee, but I have no illusions that high school students break out into song in the halls or that the same three teachers seem to be involved in absolutely everything.)

If you’d like to learn more about Take a Bow and author Elizabeth Eulberg, visit http://www.elizabetheulberg.com/.  You can also like the author’s Facebook page or follow her on Twitter @ElizEulberg.  I’ve read two of her books so far (Take a Bow and Prom & Prejudice), and I look forward to reading many more!

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Before I begin telling you about Stephanie Perkins’ Lola and the Boy Next Door, I must urge you to read the amazing Anna and the French Kiss.  A couple of notable characters from Anna appear in Lola’s story, and it might be helpful–but not totally necessary–to read about their story before diving into Lola’s.  And, honestly, Anna and the French Kiss is a funny, romantic, beautiful novel that you really need to read anyway.  So do that.  Now.

Moving on to Lola…I loved everything about this book.  It’s got it all:  quirky, memorable characters, teen angst and drama, humor, and, most importantly, a love story that readers can really root for.  I also enjoyed that, unlike many other YA novels, Lola’s parents had a presence in her life.  They had rules they expected her to follow (which she didn’t always do, of course), and, in my opinion, Lola respected her parents and wanted their respect in return.  That was a nice change of pace from what I normally read.

Lola Nolan is a true individual. She dreams of being a fashion designer, and she sees clothing as a way to really express herself.  Lola’s appearance may change from day to day, but some things will always stay the same.  She will always be a loyal daughter, friend, and girlfriend.  She loves her dads, she supports her best friend, and she’s devoted to her boyfriend, Max.  In fact, she and Max (who is much older than her) have big plans for the future.  She’ll design fabulous costumes, and Max will enjoy success as a rock star.  All the while, love will keep them together.  (Anyone else have a Captain and Tennille song playing in their heads right now?)

Well, as you know, plans have a way of unraveling…especially when Lola’s first love–the boy who broke her young heart–moves back into the house next door and makes it clear he’s never forgotten Lola.

Cricket Bell was the first boy Lola ever loved, and, now that he’s back in town, Lola must face him, the past, and the rather confusing feelings Cricket inspires.  Can Lola and Cricket put the past behind them and be friends (even though one–or both–of them wants more)?  If they can be friends, how will Lola explain this relationship to Max, the boyfriend who’s been the center of her life for months?

Lola is becoming more conflicted by the minute.  She and Cricket are closer than ever, and it’s clear that there are strong feelings on both sides.  But Lola is still with Max.  Max, an older guy her parents and friends hate, a guy who’s not always nice or there for Lola, a guy who may not be as perfect as Lola once thought.  Will Lola wake up and see what’s obvious to everyone else in the world?  Will she give the boy next door the chance to be the boy that captures her heart?  Read Lola and the Boy Next Door to find out!

This book is an absolutely perfect example of young adult romance.  Stephanie Perkins has captured the very essence of young love and the drama that goes along with it.  Lola, like most teenage girls, is confused yet determined to go her own way, and she wants to be loved by those closest to her…and sometimes she makes things more difficult than they need to be.  I think we can all relate.

I’ll admit that Lola takes second place when it comes to my favorite character in this book.  I fell in love with Cricket Bell (and I think most readers will, too).  He is the perfect guy–not brooding or moody like most guys in YA novels–and he’s my new standard for, well, everything.  Move over Edward Cullen.  Cricket Bell has just taken your place.

If you’d like to read some truly stellar love stories, you must check out both Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door.  We can also look forward to another book to join these two, Isla and the Happily Ever After, due out in the fall of 2012.

For more information on author Stephanie Perkins and her wonderful books, visit http://stephanieperkins.com/index.html.  You won’t be disappointed.

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