Bad Magic

Thanks to NetGalley, I’ve been introduced to the first book in what is sure to be a fantastic series for middle grade readers. This book is Bad Magic by Pseudonymous Bosch, and it’s due for a September 16th release.

Bad Magic is full of snark and humor, and it also parallels one of my favorite plays, The Tempest by William Shakespeare. All in all, I’d say this book is a must-purchase for libraries that serve middle grade readers.

Clay hates magic. One day, he writes his feelings for magic in his journal, and his words–Magic Sucks!–mysteriously (or magically) appear on the side of a building at school. Of course, all fingers point to Clay, and even though he knows he’s innocent, he’s sent away to Earth Ranch, a wilderness camp for troubled youth.

Almost immediately, Clay realizes that things are kind of weird at Earth Ranch, which is located perilously close to an active volcano. There’s the llama that only responds to Spanish, the swarms of bees that simply don’t behave like they should, and the vog (volcanic smog) that makes everything just a little spookier.

Things get even stranger when Clay learns of the seemingly haunted–and off-limits–library that has all but been abandoned. Of course, like any curious kid presented with a mystery, Clay has to investigate this library, and his quest for answers leads him on a journey that makes him question everything around him…including the reason he was sent to Earth Ranch.

What is really going on at Earth Ranch? Is anyone who they seem to be? Why is this camp so much like a play he was reading in school? Is Clay just imagining the connections, or is he really living out a Shakespearean play? Is that crazy, or is someone trying to get Clay to believe in magic once again? If so, who?

Nothing makes sense for Clay, and his search for the truth will only give him more questions. Can you figure out what’s really going on before Clay does? Jump into Bad Magic to find out!

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I had hoped to add Bad Magic to my elementary library collection, but I think some of the humor is just a little too mature for my students. Middle grade readers, though, will eat up all of the sarcasm and gross humor in this book. (I’ve taught middle school before, so I know snark and potty humor is the first language of most 6th-8th graders.)

I don’t know why, but I tend to enjoy novels with funny, informative footnotes. I got those in Bad Magic. These footnotes added to the humor in this novel, but they also provided readers with information on things they may not be totally familiar with…like popular 70s TV shows, for example. I don’t know how it will look in the print version of the novel, but my digital galley had each of these asterisks as links to the footnotes. (Click on the asterisk, and move to the footnote. Click on the asterisk next to the footnote, and move back to the text. Easy-peasy.) I’m hoping that the print version will have the footnotes at the bottom of each page so that reading this added info isn’t too jarring.

As a fan of Shakespeare, particularly The Tempest, I really appreciated Bad Magic‘s connections to this too-often-forgotten play. Those familiar with the play may be able to figure out what’s going on with Clay much sooner than he does. Bad Magic could also be a fun follow-up to studies of The Tempest. I think students (and teachers) could enjoy comparing the two stories and using what happened in The Tempest to predict what will happen in Bad Magic.

Like I said previously, Bad Magic is a must-have book in middle school libraries, and this book can be purchased on September 16th. If you’d like to learn more about this book and others by author Pseudonymous Bosch, definitely do not go to this website.

Published in: on August 31, 2014 at 1:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I Am the Mission

Caution! It is imperative that you read I Am the Weapon, book one in Allen Zadoff’s Unknown Assassin series, before continuing with book two, I Am the Mission. This message will self-destruct in 3…2…1…

Just kidding. This message won’t do anything. But seriously, read the first book.

As you’ve probably gathered, I recently read I Am the Mission, the nerve-wracking sequel to I am the Weapon. This second installment picks up shortly after the conclusion of book one, and it is quite the page-turner.

I Am the Mission came out on June 17th, and some of you may have seen it under a couple of different titles: The Lost Mission or Fearless. (Thanks to NetGalley, I read a digital proof of the book with The Lost Mission as its title.) No matter what the title, though, the book is gripping and continues to follow the life of young man who works as an assassin for a group known only as The Program. This teenager moves from one identity, one assignment, to the next, and his only concerns are to eliminate his targets and protect The Program at all costs. During his last mission, however, he began to question his orders, and that tiny seed of doubt is creeping in once again…

After going off the grid for a bit–to come to grips with his last mission and to get his head on straight–this boy, who we’ve previously known as Ben, is pulled back into The Program. His loyalty is being questioned, and he knows he’ll have to suppress his doubts to keep his handlers from deciding he’s too much of a threat to their organization. One way to do that is to complete the next mission he’s given.

When another operative for The Program is seemingly terminated, our boy–who now goes by Daniel–is tasked with completing this lost mission. His job is to kill Eugene Moore, a man who runs Camp Liberty and appears to be amassing an army of young people for the express purpose of overthrowing the government and/or committing acts of domestic terrorism.

The job should have been an easy in-and-out, but things quickly grow complicated, and Daniel finds himself being led to Moore’s training camp with no way of getting word to The Program. His only option now is to become a part of Camp Liberty, get close to Moore’s kids, and look for another opportunity to eliminate this new threat to national security. It isn’t easy, though. This camp takes its own protection very seriously, and not everyone trusts the new guy sniffing around.

As Daniel learns more about the camp and its leader, he tries to get word to The Program about what is going on…but his efforts amount to nothing. He cannot reach anyone, and, after a harrowing episode at what should have been a safe house, Daniel seriously questions what has happened to The Program. Has their security been breached? Has this secret organization been disabled? Or is there something much more sinister at work? Something, perhaps, targeted at Daniel himself?

Questions abound for Daniel on this chaotic mission, but he remains determined to carry out his orders…even when he learns that The Program has not exactly been truthful with him. Daniel must act without mercy against those who would seek to do harm to the country. To do that, he will have to put aside fear, potential friendships, and his own safety to see this mission to its explosive end. Will Daniel’s efforts be enough? Will he uncover The Program’s secrets in the process? Only time will tell, and that may be running out for young Daniel…

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I think I mentioned in my post on I Am the Weapon that our protagonist in this series can’t really be called a hero. If anything, I’d label his as an anti-hero. In the end, yes, he does demonstrate some heroic tendencies, but Daniel–or whatever you want to call him–has questionable loyalties sometimes, he’s been known to blindly follow orders, and he is, let’s face it, an assassin. Even when he has doubts about how someone fits into what’s going on, he kills them if they get in his way. (If you couldn’t tell, one of the deaths in this book kind of bothered me. I didn’t think this person needed to die. Daniel felt differently.) With all of that, though, I still found myself rooting for him. I wanted him to question his orders. I hoped he would put an end to the brainwashing going on at Camp Liberty. I wished for him to come out of everything unharmed. Unharmed, but determined to finally uncover the truth about The Program. For the most part, I think I got what I wanted.

For those considering purchasing this book–and its predecessor–for personal or school/classroom libraries, I feel I must give a word of caution. This series is, in my humble opinion, written for a young adult audience. It is violent at times (which fits with a protagonist who is an assassin), and there are a couple of sexual situations. Language was true to the setting, but some younger readers (and their parents) may have problems with it. Also, there are some political issues in this book that require some serious, intense thought and knowledge of the current political climate in the United States. For all of those reasons, I would recommend this series to readers in tenth grade and up. These books are written for an audience with some maturity. (No offense intended to anyone reading this who is a ninth grader or younger.)

If you’re interested in The Unknown Assassin series or other books by Allen Zadoff, check out his website.

There’s no word yet on when we can expect the next book in this series, but, given how things ended in I Am the Mission, I hope it’s soon!

Published in: on July 1, 2014 at 3:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Manhunt

Warning: Read Kate Messner’s Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek before proceeding.

Thanks to NetGalley and Scholastic, I was fortunate enough to read Manhunt, the third installment in Kate Messner’s mystery series for young readers, just a little early. The book won’t officially come out until June 24th, but I was too eager to wait that long, especially since the first book in the series, Capture the Flag, is nominated for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award this year. (My hope is to promote the entire series when I encourage my students to pick up the first book.) I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, and I suspected that the third would be no different. How right I was!

In Manhunt, Henry, Anna, and Jose are once again embroiled in the business of the Silver Jaguar Society, the secret agency tasked with protecting the world’s most valuable art and artifacts. This time, the adventure begins in Boston after it’s discovered that the Serpentine Princes, the bitter enemies of the Silver Jaguar Society, have somehow managed to steal priceless art from museums around the world. How did they manage to pull this off without alerting anyone? And what could be their next target?

Soon enough, the quest for answers takes our trio and their guardians to Paris…and that’s where things really get complicated. It seems that someone within the Silver Jaguar Society is passing information on to the Serpentine Princes, so no one really knows who can be trusted.

One thing is clear, though. Something big is happening in Paris. We’re talking huge here. The bad guys, led by the horrible Vincent Goosen, are trying to get their hands on the Mona Lisa, arguably the most famous painting in the world. While the adult members of the Silver Jaguar Society go off to figure out what to do, they leave Henry, Anna, and Jose in a Parisian bookstore with an enigmatic young man named Hem.

Now, Henry doesn’t quite trust Hem, but he can’t deny that this kid definitely knows his way around Paris…and when the adults mysteriously disappear, Henry and his friends will need Hem’s knowledge to solve their biggest mystery yet. Where is the Mona Lisa, and, more importantly, where are the senior members of the Silver Jaguar Society?

This epic adventure takes these young people all over–and under–the bustling city of Paris, and danger lurks around every corner. These kids will have to evade enemies, decipher clues–written in French–navigate an unfamiliar city, and face their fears to make sense of what’s going on. But what happens when they are betrayed by a supposed ally? When they are separated, and the success of this operation depends on just one kid, one who makes it clear that he just wants to go home?

Can the junior members of the Silver Jaguar Society solve one more mystery? Can they battle treachery, terror, and nearly crippling self-doubt and emerge victorious? Will the Mona Lisa be restored to its rightful place and the Serpentine Princes vanquished? For these answers and more, join Henry, Anna, and Jose on a manhunt like no other!

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Any reader who enjoyed the first two books in this series will find another winner in Manhunt. And, while the previous book cured any desire I ever had to visit Costa Rica, this one definitely made me want to spend some time in Paris. (It doesn’t hurt that the other book I’m currently reading, Just One Day, also takes place in the City of Light.) I hope to make it across the pond eventually, but I hope I don’t have quite the adventure that Henry, Anna, and Jose did!

In a stroke of serendipity, I will be attending an IB conference next week, and I have been asked to bring with me a book that illustrates the IB learner profile and/or elements of international mindedness. I fully intend to share this entire series with my fellow librarians. This series has already taken us to several destinations in the U.S., as well as Costa Rica and France. People from all over the world work together to protect art and artifacts, and, if that doesn’t illustrate international mindedness, I don’t know what does. Hopefully, my colleagues will agree.

Manhunt, like Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek, is a highly recommended purchase for any elementary or middle school library. I hope that we’ll see more of the Silver Jaguar Society in future books. In my opinion, these books illustrate just how much a group of kids can accomplish when they use their wits and work together. This latest book may even inspire readers–no matter their ages–to face their fears and do something great.

For more information on Manhunt and other books by the brilliant Kate Messner, visit her website at http://www.katemessner.com/.

Published in: on June 14, 2014 at 11:15 am  Comments (1)  
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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.

In the Shadows

After wrapping up my previous post on MILA 2.0, I decided to dive into yet another book-in-progress. I honestly didn’t expect to get so involved in the story that I would finish it in a matter of hours. That book is In the Shadows by Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo.

Now, I’ve read other works by Kiersten White before (Paranormalcy, Supernaturally, Endlessly, Mind Games, and Perfect Lies), but this one is a little different. In the Shadows is told in both text and art. White wrote the text story, and the amazingly talented Jim Di Bartolo presented another story through his illustrations. I knew the art and text stories were connected, but it didn’t become clear until the very end just how they fit together.

Cora and Minnie live in a quaint town in Maine where their mother runs the local boarding house. One day, a mysterious young man, Arthur, comes to stay with them, and life as they know it is never the same.

Arthur is a rather taciturn boy, but he looks after Cora and Minnie and vows to protect them from the past he fears may have followed him. And he’s not the only one. Two new young men have arrived at the boarding house, and they have more in common with Arthur than any of them know.

Charles and Thomas, sent away by their wealthy father, are in Maine for a while. Charles is slowly dying, and Thomas is determined to make his brother’s days as happy as possible. Part of that happiness comes in the form of Minnie, one of the girls living at the boarding house. Charles is enamored of Minnie, and, while she enjoys his company, her attention never really leaves Arthur, the brooding young man who lurks in the shadows. Thomas, on the other hand, quickly turns his attentions to Cora, and she seems to have feelings for him as well. But is love in the cards for any of these young people, or is an unknown threat just waiting to tear them apart?

It seems that Arthur, Charles, and Thomas–or their families–are somehow connected to an ages-old society, a society that will do anything to protect its secrets. These young people are in very real danger, and they will have to use their wits and every ounce of strength they have to get out of this mess alive.

Arthur knows more about this looming threat than he’s telling, but he doesn’t want to go down the road that drove his parents mad. He may not have a choice, though. When evil threatens his friends, Arthur must make a difficult choice that could impact his life and the lives of those who care about him. What could this choice mean for Arthur and his future? Only time will tell…

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If you enjoy books like Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck or others that combine text and art to create unique and memorable stories, I think you’ll be very happy with In the Shadows. Both the art and text in this book presented interesting–and often terrifying–tales, and the closer I got to the end, the clearer the connections between the two became.

I read a digital copy of this book via NetGalley, but I think this is definitely one case when a print copy would have been preferable. At the book’s conclusion, when the connections between the two stories were revealed, I would have liked to flip through the book’s artwork to see what I may have missed. That’s not so easy to do with an ebook (especially one read with Adobe Digital Editions, a less than desirable ereading option). So, take this advice: READ A PRINT COPY OF THIS BOOK! (Sorry for screaming at you, but I had to get my point across!)

I’m still debating on whether or not to purchase this book for my elementary school library. I think a lot of my students will enjoy it, but the illustrations do contain some scary imagery that elementary students may not be able to handle or even understand. I do think In the Shadows would be a very welcome addition to middle, high school, and public libraries. It’s a quick, easy read that packs a punch.

If you’re still not convinced to read In the Shadows, take a look at the eerie trailer below. It effectively captures the mood of the artwork present in this book and makes me want to read the book all over again!

Published in: on May 25, 2014 at 8:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Game

Spoiler warning! If you haven’t read Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers yet, you simply must before reading the sequel, Game. (My fellow South Carolinians need to read I Hunt Killers anyway. It’s nominated for the 14-15 SC Young Adult Book Award.)

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I recently finished reading Game, the second book in Barry Lyga’s Jasper Dent series. In this series, we get to know Jasper, known to his friends as Jazz, the son of the world’s most prolific serial killer. In I Hunt Killers, Jazz helps the authorities find the Impressionist, a killer copying the work of Jazz’s father. At the end of that book, though, readers got the kind of cliffhanger that makes us weep or scream in frustration. Somehow, Jazz’s father escapes from prison, and he’s on the hunt again. That’s where Game picks up.

Jazz knows his dad is on the loose, and it’s just a matter of time before their paths cross. In the meantime, there’s yet another serial killer prowling in New York City, and Jazz’s help is once again enlisted to determine just how this maniac thinks. And if anyone knows how a killer thinks, it’s the son of Billy Dent.

Jazz and his girlfriend Connie head to NYC in the hopes that they will be able to find some clues that lead to the capture of the Hat-Dog Killer. The police and FBI seem to have no leads, and Jazz is able to provide a bit of insight into the mind of this psychopath. It’s not always a comfortable process for Jazz (or the reader). In trying to figure out what the killer thinks, Jazz is forced to come face-to-face with his own damaged psyche.

Can Jazz really handle the pressure of thinking like a killer once again? Is he losing himself to the teachings of his father? How can Jazz possibly spend most of his time profiling serial killers without succumbing to the voice of Billy Dent in his head?

As Jazz comes closer to the truth about the Hat-Dog Killer and his dad’s possible involvement in this disturbing game of murder, Connie and Jazz’s best friend Howie are entangled in their own mystery. Someone is sending Connie messages leading her to some disturbing information about Jazz and his past. Who is sending these messages? And why send them to Connie and not Jazz? Connie enlists Howie’s help in her search for the truth, but neither of them will be prepared for what awaits them…

Once again, the hunt for a killer is on. Jazz and company will have to rely on their wits, tenacity, and good old-fashioned luck to figure out what’s going on…but it may not be enough. Even when questions are answered, dozens more pop up in their place, and the hunt for the truth may lead Jazz, Connie, and even Howie into further danger.

Someone is playing a murderous game with people’s lives, and Jazz and his friends may just become unwitting game pieces themselves. Can they make it out of the game alive? Only time will tell…

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I freely admit that the above recap doesn’t come remotely close to capturing everything that happened in Game. I didn’t even touch on the glimpses we got into the minds of Hat-Dog, Jazz, Connie, Howie, and Billy. Each perspective brought us new insights into these characters and how they view the world around them.

I briefly mentioned Jazz’s struggles with his own mind, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Jazz is all kinds of messed up, and that definitely comes through for the reader. I even had to put the book down a couple of times and just catch my breath. Jazz’s head is not a happy place to be. What do you expect when a kid is basically raised to be a murderer, right? Sometimes it’s not clear if we’re actually reading Jazz’s thoughts or those of his lunatic father. I guess that’s the dilemma for Jazz as well.

Without giving too much away, I must say that the “game” aspect of Game freaked me the crap out. I may never look at board games the same again.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the whopper of a cliffhanger at the end of this book. When I closed Game last night, I just sat there for a minute and thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Has Barry Lyga been taking lessons from Steven Moffat (of Sherlock and Doctor Who fame) on torturing fans with mind-boggling endings? Do we seriously have to wait until September to find out how things are resolved (or if they are resolved) for Jazz and friends? I guess we do, but we don’t have to be happy about it!

The third book in this series, Blood of My Blood, should be released on September 9th. (Loving the title, by the way. Can’t wait to see what it might mean for Jazz!) Judging be the synopsis on Goodreads, we’re in for a lot more danger and intrigue. I look forward to diving into what I’m sure will be another fantastic read.

If you can’t wait for more of Jasper Dent and company, though, you can check out a couple of companion novellas. Lucky Day tells of how Billy was first captured, Career Day is a day in the life of sixteen-year-old Jasper, and Neutral Mask provides a look into the beginnings of the relationship between Jazz and Connie. Just click on the titles of each novella in the previous sentence, and you’ll be taken to the Goodreads page on each ebook.

For more information on I Hunt Killers, Game, or other books by Barry Lyga, check out his website, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. If you’ve got a minute or two to spare, you may also want to take a look at the Game book trailer below. It covers things I didn’t here, and, in my opinion, it definitely captures the mood of this intense read!

 

Buzz Kill

I first became a fan of Beth Fantaskey’s work a few years ago when I read Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. Since then, I’ve read a few other works by Fantaskey: Jessica Rules the Dark Side, Jekel Loves Hyde, and The Wedding of Antanasia Jessica Packwood and Lucius Valeriu Vladescu (a short story published on the author’s website). So, when Goodreads gave me the chance to read an ARC of this author’s latest novel, Buzz Kill, I was pretty stoked. I’m happy to say that the book lived up to my expectations.

Unlike Fantaskey’s other stories, this newest read has no supernatural elements, but it does introduce us to a strong, relatable, female protagonist. In Buzz Kill, readers meet Millie Ostermeyer, a seventeen-year-old who eats like a trucker, is the only member of her school’s Philosophy Club, wears ironic t-shirts that nobody gets, and has a somewhat loose relationship with rules and authority. She’s also an award-winning reporter for her school newspaper, and, while on what should be a routine assignment covering the new football stadium, Millie becomes embroiled in a story that will rock her entire world…

Nobody really liked the Stingers’ head football coach, Hollerin’ Hank Killdare, but who could have wanted him dead? That’s a question Millie wants answered after she discovers his body under the football stadium…especially when it’s made clear that her dad, the town’s mayor and the assistant football coach, tops the list of suspects.

Millie is sure that her dad didn’t do this (even if he has been acting kind of strange lately), so she goes on a quest to find the identity of the real killer. Plenty of people had reason to kill the coach, but who really did it? Was it Millie’s arch-nemesis, Vivienne Fitch, the cheerleader who was embarrased on YouTube, thanks largely to Coach Killdare? Was it Mike, Viv’s lackey, who lost his position as quarterback with the coach brought in a ringer? Could it even be the new quarterback himself, Chase Albright, a boy with a murky past who tends to keep to himself? Who could have committed this heinous crime, and can Millie figure things out before the murderer strikes again?

As Millie unleashes her inner Nancy Drew, she’ll find an unlikely ally in Chase. He’s still a total mystery, but it seems he knew Coach Killdare better than most, and he can give Millie access to the coach’s house, the school locker room, and other areas that would otherwise be off-limits (not that anything would have stopped Millie with or without Chase’s help). Chase may be the key in proving that her dad is not the killer everyone thinks he is.

But why does Chase want to help Millie? Why was the coach so important to him? Chase is most certainly hiding something, and, along with her quest to solve a murder mystery, Millie is determined to solve the mystery that is Chase Albright. She may not, however, be prepared for what she finds.

Millie and Chase are growing closer and closer to uncovering the truth…and they’re also growing closer to each other. Can either of them handle a relationship when everything around them is going crazy? Especially when things are about to get even more insane? There’s a killer on the loose, and, as Millie starts to put the pieces of this puzzle together, she may be this maniac’s next target. What would Nancy Drew do? Millie will have to answer this question and many more if she hopes to get out of this mess alive…

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I found Buzz Kill to be a thoroughly entertaining read. In addition to the murder mystery that kept me guessing for quite a while, I was also enthralled by the character of Millie. I think many readers will be able to see themselves in this character. She speaks before thinking sometimes, she dresses in what’s comfortable, she’s awkward around guys she likes, and she’s tortured by a mean girl. (Actually, “mean” doesn’t quite fit the evil Vivienne. The words I’d use to describe her would make a sailor blush. She’s vile, and a host of curse words went through my mind every time she made an appearance.) Millie questions rules that don’t make sense to her, she doesn’t understand why she should learn French, and she has a complicated relationship with her dad. Who can’t relate to at least some of that?

I also found Chase’s character to be intriguing. (See, I’m relating to Millie right now!) He was mysterious from the instant we saw him, and he remained something of an enigma for most of the book. Even when his secrets were revealed, there was still an aura of mystery about him. I think that’s part of what made him so attractive to Millie. Of course, his good looks and impressive vocabulary didn’t hurt either.

There were so many dynamic, well-developed characters in this book. I wanted to punch many of them in the face (even Millie on occasion). So many characters were butt-heads, in fact, that I didn’t know which one I wanted to be the killer. Like Millie, I waffled on who could have committed the crime, and, also like Millie, I didn’t figure things out until the very end. I’d say both of us were surprised by the way things turned out, and I think that’s the mark of a good mystery novel.

If you’re looking for a murder mystery with a liberal dose of humor, wit, and a touch of romance, I strongly urge you to give Buzz Kill a try.  It’s due to hit stores on May 6th, and I think it will be a big hit with middle grade, teen, and adult readers.

For more information on Buzz Kill and author Beth Fantaskey, visit the author’s website, Facebook page, Goodreads page, and Twitter feed.

The Body in the Woods

I love a good crime drama. It’s not uncommon for me to spend hours watching Criminal Minds, Law & Order (any of them), or my personal favorite, Sherlock. The same can be said for reading crime dramas, particularly those involving teenagers. Crime dramas–whether in print or visual media–have a way of sucking me in and not letting go until the mystery is solved.

When I got the opportunity to read a galley (courtesy of NetGalley) of the first book in a new YA crime drama series, I jumped at the chance…especially when I realized it was written by April Henry. (I’ve previously read and reviewed a couple of her books: Torched and The Night She Disappeared.)

The Body in the Woods, book one in Henry’s Point Last Seen series, will be released to the masses on June 17th, and readers who enjoy a good mystery will eat this book up.

Told from three different perspectives, The Body in the Woods begins with a Search and Rescue mission in a Portland park. Alexis, Ruby, and Nick are SAR volunteers, and they’re in the woods looking for a missing autistic man. They end up finding so much more. Not long into their search, they stumble upon something their training didn’t really prepare them for…a dead body. It’s not the body of the man they were looking for. No, this is the body of a teen girl, and, based on Ruby’s cursory examination of the scene, this girl was strangled.

The police have a lot of questions for Alexis, Nick, and Ruby, and the authorities urge the trio to leave the murder investigation to the professionals, but that’s not something these kids can really do. For different reasons, each of them is determined to discover who killed this girl.

Nick wants to be a hero. His dad was killed in action in Iraq, and Nick wants to live up to the heroic example set by his father. He imagines himself saving the day and being revered by those around him. Reality, though, doesn’t quite match up with Nick’s imagination. Tracking down a killer forces Nick deal with fear, bone-deep fear that makes him wonder if he’s really hero material.

Alexis needs to escape her life at home. Joining the SAR team seems to be a way to do that, get a good mark on her college applications, and help people at the same time. Even when Alexis is forced to deal with her mentally ill mother, she continues her work with SAR, hoping that she can help to solve this mystery which is growing closer and closer to her own life.

Ruby is a crime buff with no friends, and when she latches onto something, she can’t let it go. She knows she can figure out who committed this crime…and possibly others in the area. When Ruby discovers that another girl was murdered in a nearby park, she takes her suspicions to the police, but they brush her off. Alexis and Nick, however, listen to her and agree to keep digging.

Even when the three are warned off this case–and Ruby’s parents force her to abandon her work with the SAR team–they keep trying to figure out who could be killing homeless girls in Portland. But what will happen when the killer targets one of them? Are three teenagers any match for a sociopath with a taste for murder? Can they stop a killer before one of them becomes yet another body in the woods? Time will tell…

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As with most galleys, there were a couple of grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors that jumped off the page, but I’m sure those will be corrected in editing.  Those few errors aside, this was a riveting book. While I did enjoy reading each of the teens’ perspectives, I was even more intrigued when given a glimpse into the mind of the killer. (Not sure what that says about me.) Even with those glimpses, though, I didn’t figure out who the killer was until fairly late in the book, and that definitely served to keep the suspense going.

My favorite character in The Body in the Woods would have to be Ruby. When I was reading her point of view, it was all too easy to imagine her as a young, female version of Sherlock Holmes. She just didn’t think the way those around her did. (I swear, if she had told the others to shut up because she needed to go to her Mind Palace, I wouldn’t have been surprised.) Some may argue that Ruby, like Sherlock Holmes, is a high-functioning sociopath, and I think that is true to a certain degree. Like Sherlock, though, Ruby wants to be close to people. She’s just not always sure how to make that happen.

The Body in the Woods, in my opinion, is a great read for anyone (middle grades and up) who likes a good mystery. It is a quick, captivating read, and anyone interested in crime scenes and forensics will be taken in by this story. Definitely give this book to fans of Alane Ferguson’s forensic mysteries (The Christopher Killer, The Angel of Death, The Circle of Blood, and The Dying Breath).

As mentioned previously, this book will be available on June 17th. No word yet on when we can expect the other books in this exciting new series.

 

Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gone Girl

*Normally, I post on middle grade and YA lit on this blog. That is not the case today. Gone Girl is definitely intended for an adult audience. You’ve been warned!*

At about 1am this morning, I finished reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Like a couple of other books I read this year, Gone Girl was a bit of a departure for me. It definitely falls within the realm of an adult book. (By “adult,” I don’t mean, you know, pornographic or anything–although there is some use of graphic scenes and language. I simply mean that this book is written for adults to enjoy…and even “enjoy” may not be an adequate word here.) I picked up this book because so many people–people I trust to lead me to good books–said it was worth the read. They were not wrong.

I guess we can classify Gone Girl as a psychological thriller. I definitely kept me guessing and thinking “What the #$%&!” for much of the book. I’m used to books where there is definitely a good guy and a clear villian. Not so in this read. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say that both main characters are fairly despicable. At the beginning of the book, I didn’t feel that way, but I was definitely swayed later on.

I think what is so entertaining–if that’s the right word–about Gone Girl is the glimpse into a truly psychotic, codependent relationship. It’s not like the give-and-take between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. No, Nick and Amy (the main characters in this book), make the Holmes-Watson relationship look positively healthy. Nick and Amy truly have a love-hate relationship…and their definitions of “love” kind of make me deliriously happy that I’m single.

Gone Girl is told from both Nick’s and Amy’s viewpoints, and the book centers around Amy going missing. Like most cases of missing wives, Nick, her husband, is almost immediately the prime suspect. In his story, we see a picture of a husband who has grown disinterested in his marriage, a man who lies freely, and someone who brings suspicion on himself.

In Amy’s story, at least in the beginning, readers get a glimpse into how she was led to the point of  being afraid of her seemingly perfect husband. Is that really the whole picture, though? As you may have guessed, it most definitely is not. In later chapters, Amy is revealed to be a conniving, manipulative–and altogether brilliant–psycho hose beast. (She makes James Moriarty look like a freakin’ teddy bear.) Seriously. This woman is batcrap crazy. And as more of Amy’s twisted mind is revealed to both Nick and readers, the clearer it becomes that Nick will never escape from this horror of a marriage…but does he really want to?

I don’t really know how I feel about the journey this book took me on. Part of me wanted at least one person to get a happy ending…but a bigger part realizes that there really wasn’t anyone in the book–apart from maybe Nick’s sister–who really deserved one. It’s rare that I read a book where I don’t like any of the characters but I still enjoy the book. That’s what happened in Gone Girl, though. It was a dizzying read at times, but the roller coaster–with all its twists and turns–was pretty thrilling.

Published in: on December 29, 2013 at 12:55 pm  Comments (2)  
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City of Orphans

Well, my summer is nearly at an end, and I’ve almost finished reading the twenty books nominated for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Last night, I finished #19, City of Orphans by Avi (also nominated for the South Carolina Junior Book Award). Had this book not been nominated for the SCCBA, I don’t know that I would have picked it up. It’s no secret that historical fiction is not my favorite genre. (For those wondering, the 20th SCCBA nominee left to read is also historical fiction. I’ve put it off as long as possible.) After reading City of Orphans, though, I’m honestly glad I gave this book a chance.

For the most part, this is not a particularly happy book, but it does explore what life was like for kids in turn-of-the-century New York. (Hint: If you had no money, it was bad.) The title, City of Orphans, refers to the fact that even kids with parents, most of whom were immigrants, were–for all intents and purposes–orphans. It was up to them to figure out how and where to make money, where to go when they needed help, and how to get out of bad situations. In this book, we meet Maks and Willa, two “orphans” just trying to survive in this bleak world.

It’s 1893, and New York City is teeming with people–immigrants, crooks, cops, and, most of all, kids. Kids just trying to survive, trying to make a few cents to help their families. One of these kids is Maks Geless. Maks is a newsie. (He sells newspapers on street corners.)

One night, Maks runs into some trouble on his way home from work. Trouble by the name of Bruno and the Plug Ugly Gang. Maks is sure he’s dead meat…until a dirty, homeless girl with a big stick saves him. This girl, Willa, has lived in the streets for months, and Maks figures the least he can do is give her a place to stay for coming to his rescue. So Maks takes Willa home to stay with his family.

Maks’ family, immigrants from Denmark, lives in a tenement, nearly ten people crammed into one small apartment, but it’s home, and they’re all together…until Maks’ older sister Emma is arrested! Maks is sure that Emma must be innocent. There’s simply no way she could have stolen a watch from someone at the new, fancy Waldorf hotel where she works. Maks’ parents are unfamiliar with the way things really work in America, so it’s up to Maks–and his new friend Willa–to figure out just what happened with Emma and the case of the stolen watch.

All the while, Maks and Willa have to watch out for the scary Bruno and this gang, just waiting to terrorize them and take their meager earnings. Can these two kids save their own necks while trying to get Maks’ sister out of jail? And is anyone willing to help two poor kids–who have no money–without expecting something in return? What will these two junior detectives discover in their quest for the truth? The answers will shock even them and will have the power to turn their worlds upside down. Learn how two kids navigate the perilous waters of turn-of-the-century New York when you read City of Orphans by Avi!

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I think City of Orphans is a great discussion-starter about what kids experienced throughout history. As a former social studies teacher, I can tell you that most lessons focus on what adults did in the past. Not much attention is given to kids’ experiences, and that’s a shame. I think many students today would find lessons more engaging and relatable if they could somehow identify with the people they were studying. Do we need to ignore what adults were doing during historical periods? No, but we shouldn’t discount a large portion of the population just because they’re young. (I see a research project in the future for some of my students!)

I also believe City of Orphans could be a “gateway” book to other works of literature. Those that immediately come to mind are the works of Charles Dickens, particularly Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. City of Orphans, while not quite as bleak–or wordy–as Dickens’ works, has the same kind of tone. I don’t particularly care for Dickens, but others do, and readers who really enjoy City of Orphans may want to explore a few of these classics.

If you’d like more information about this book and others by Avi, visit http://www.avi-writer.com/. You can also like his page on Facebook.

I hope you enjoy City of Orphans as much as I did!

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