The Doubt Factory

Thanks to a much-needed beach vacation, I was able to finish reading The Doubt Factory, a new YA thriller from Paolo Bacigalupi, this weekend. I read this book thanks to NetGalley, but you can read it in just a few weeks. It is scheduled for an October 14th release.

If you’re something of a conspiracy nut (like me), The Doubt Factory will confirm everything you’ve ever believed…and give you a few more things to induce paranoia. For those who are on the optimistic side…well, this book should take care of that.

Alix Banks has a pretty decent life. Big house, nice car, semi-attentive parents, the best education. But what’s the cost of all the good stuff in Alix’s life? Alix knows her father is involved in some fairly heavy-duty PR work, but she doesn’t really pay much attention to how Daddy dearest “brings home the bacon.” All that is about to change…

When someone known only as 2.0 enters Alix’s life, she is oddly intrigued at first. This mysterious–and strangely compelling–figure wants Alix to pay closer attention to her dad’s work…but why? Why would this character, believed to be a petty vandal, be interested in Alix’s father?

Alix is curious, and her curiosity eventually leads her into a dangerous game of truth, deception, and corporate greed. 2.0–better known as Moses–and his merry band of activists attempt to open Alix’s eyes to her father’s shady business dealings. They know that he spends his days covering up what “fine, upstanding companies” don’t want revealed–side effects of medications, carcinogens in household products, wrongful deaths, etc. Alix’s father sells doubt. He–and those like him–finesse their government contacts, throw money at problems, mire the legal system in pointless paperwork and delays…all for the purpose at casting doubt on the claims of those would endanger the all-important profit margin.

At first, Alix refuses to believe everything she’s being told. She’s sure her father is incapable of such heinous acts. She reveals what she knows about 2.0 to her dad and his security team…and she almost immediately regrets it. Deep down, she knows her dad is hiding something, and she makes it her business to find the truth.

Alix becomes obsessed with her father’s company, and she is disgusted by what she uncovers. Moses was telling the truth. But what can Alix do to change things? And can she convince Moses to help her when she turned her back on him once before? Can a couple of teenagers take down something as big as the Doubt Factory, and is Alix willing to betray her father, a man who loved and raised her, for the sake of the truth?

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*Spoilers ahead!*

Even though I found The Doubt Factory to be a gripping thrill-ride of a book, I will admit that one thing did bother me: Alix’s relationship with Moses. There was a fair amount of Stockholm Syndrome happening here, in my opinion. The girl fell in love with her stalker/kidnapper! Sure, it worked out for Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but this is no Disney fairy tale. What kind of message does this send? “It’s okay, girls. I know that creepy guy follows you around, bugs your house, drugs you, and keeps you locked in a cage, but he’s a really great guy once you get to know him.” I know that Moses had his reasons for doing what he did, but Alix’s reaction to him felt wrong to me. Even when she discovered he was telling the truth about everything, she was a little too willing to forgive the whole kidnapping thing. That definitely would have been a deal-breaker for me.

Despite that one glaring issue, I did enjoy The Doubt Factory. I’m a little wary of eating, drinking, breathing, cleaning, taking my meds, or doing anything else after reading it, but maybe a dose of paranoia is a good thing. Keeps me on my toes and aware of what’s going on around me. I can definitely say that this book made me want to do a bit more research on the things I put into my body, especially medications. The Doubt Factory was eye-opening to say the least.

The Doubt Factory is ideally suited to high schools with strong business programs. This book would be an interesting read in business classes and could illicit some interesting discussions of ethics, honesty, government involvement in commerce, FDA regulations, whistle-blowing and its aftereffects, and many other issues.

For those of you wondering if you should add The Doubt Factory to your library or classroom collections, let me give this recommendation. This book is a great addition to libraries and classrooms that serve older YA populations (high school age and up). There is some profanity, sexual situations, violence, and criminal activity. Not to mention all the chemical, legal, and corporate mumbo-jumbo. I just don’t think this is a book that most younger readers will appreciate.

If you’d like more information on The Doubt Factory and author Paolo Bacigalupi, click here. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Published in: on September 22, 2014 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Eternal

Caution: You MUST read the entire Shadow Falls series (Born at Midnight, Awake at Dawn, Taken at Dusk, Whispers at Moonrise, and Chosen at Nightfall) and Reborn, the first book in the Shadow Falls After Dark series, before even thinking about reading Eternal (or this somewhat spoilery post on it). I know that’s a lot of reading, but it’s worth it!

Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read Eternal, book two in C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls After Dark series, a couple months early. (It won’t be released to the world until October 28th.) I loved the first series and Reborn, so I figured I’d feel the same way about Eternal. I did.

After being reborn and finding herself with powers beyond what a “normal” vampire possesses, Della Tsang is more determined than ever to work with the FRU, the agency that governs supernaturals, and to uncover the mysteries shadowing her family’s past.

The sudden–and not entirely welcome–appearance of a ghost will make Della’s life more confusing than ever. This ghost is trying to tell Della something about her family and showing glimpses of two captive young vampires who need to be saved from certain death. Who is this presence haunting Della, and can she figure out what the ghost is trying to tell her before it’s too late?

Della is also working to unravel her feelings about two very different young men: Steve, a shapeshifter she’s been sort of dating for the past month, and Chase, the enigmatic vampire who is now bonded to her and seems to know just when she needs him. Della isn’t exactly thrilled about her connection to Chase, but even she can’t deny that her feelings for him are growing. It doesn’t help that Della and Chase are working closely together investigating a case for the FRU. Can she remain true to Steve when every part of her screams to be with Chase? And will fate take this decision out of her hands?

Della’s world is in more turmoil than ever before. How is she supposed to do everything expected of her and still keep her cool? So much is weighing on her, and she’s close to her breaking point. Della doesn’t know which way to turn sometimes, and she feels like she’s being pulled in opposite directions. A mysterious ghost, Steve, Chase, Burnett, her friends, and even her estranged family. Everyone seems to want a piece of Della. But who can she really trust? Can she even trust herself to do what’s right?

Should Della remain loyal to Shadow Falls and the family she’s chosen for herself there? Should she do whatever possible to uncover the truth–however painful it may be–about her father, who has all but turned his back on her? Should she take a chance with Chase, even though it could jeopardize everything she’s been working for? Nothing is clear for Della Tsang, but she’ll do whatever she must to find the answers she needs. And those answers may just lead her to even more questions…

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I’ll go ahead and warn those still reading: Eternal ends on a mother of a cliffhanger. If I had been reading a print copy of this book, I probably would have thrown it across the room. I can hardly wait to read the third book, but considering that Eternal isn’t even out yet, I probably have quite the wait ahead of me. *Insert impatient sigh here.*

There is some good news, though! On September 30th, there is going to be an ebook novella released that’s all about Chase, Della’s nemesis/sometimes love interest. It’s called Unbreakable, and if you check out this announcement on C.C. Hunter’s website, you’ll learn a lot more about what’s sure to be a very enlightening read.

If you love books with supernatural goodness, I strongly urge you to check out both the Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series. Both are excellent, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Della’s journey in the next book.

For more information on the books mentioned in this post or author C.C. Hunter, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

 

Published in: on August 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ghost House

Next week, Ghost House, a new book by Halo author Alexandra Adornetto, will be released. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy via NetGalley this weekend. I was in the mood for something kind of spooky, and that’s what I got with Ghost House. It was a bit predictable and vaguely “Twilight-ish” at times, but it was a fairly enjoyable book that will be a big hit for those readers who like a bit of romance–especially seemingly impossible romance–in their supernatural tales.

Chloe Kennedy recently experienced a loss that shook her entire world. When her mother passed away suddenly, the walls Chloe had carefully built in her mind came tumbling down, and she was no longer able to block out the ghosts that haunted her as a child.

Now, Chloe is dealing with even more change. Her father has decided that he simply can’t cope with his own grief and that of his children, so he’s sending Chloe and her younger brother to live in England for the summer. Chloe is not happy about spending weeks on her grandmother’s estate, Grange Hall, but this may be her chance to escape the ghosts that have suddenly reappeared. Well, Chloe is about to learn that her encounters with ghosts are only just beginning…

On her first day in England, Chloe meets a strange young man in the woods. He’s not dressed like anyone she’s ever met, and, while Chloe is wary of him, she’s also oddly drawn to this young man. His name is Alexander Reade, and Chloe soon realizes that Alex is not altogether “real.” He’s a ghost. Alex lived at Grange Hall long ago, and he is still very much connected to the house…and what happened there.

As Chloe learns more about Grange Hall’s horrific past–and Alex’s place in it–she finds herself developing some disturbing feelings for Alex. Chloe knows nothing can really come of a relationship with a ghost, but she can’t help but fall a little more in love with him each day. That is a problem, especially when a vengeful spirit named Isobel is determined to do anything–even kill–to make sure Chloe and Alex remain apart.

What is Alex’s connection to the mysterious and menacing Isobel? Can Chloe do anything to stop the approaching horror before someone gets caught in the crossfire? Is Chloe willing to sacrifice her beloved Alex–or herself–if it means stopping Isobel once and for all?

Join Chloe and Alex on a harrowing journey through life, death, revenge, and redemption when you read Ghost House by Alexandra Adornetto.

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Ghost House is a great read for a dreary, rainy day. It started off kind of slow, but the action really picked up the more I read. I read the last three-quarters of the book in just a few hours, and the ending kind of threw me for a loop. I look forward to seeing how things progress for Chloe (and Alex) in the next book, Ghost Hour. (There’s currently no publication date for book two, but I’m guessing we can expect it sometime next August.)

I would recommend Ghost House to teen (and adult) fans of books like Twilight, C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls series, and even the ghost stories of Mary Downing Hahn.

For more information on Ghost House and author Alexandra Adornetto, visit her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter. A book trailer is supposed to be released soon, but as of this posting, it’s not available yet.

Published in: on August 18, 2014 at 3:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Isla and the Happily Ever After

For the past couple of years, I’ve been impatiently waiting to read Stephanie Perkins’ latest, Isla and the Happily Ever After. Finally–FINALLY–I got my chance this week. My signed copy of the book (along with some lovely swag) arrived last weekend, and I read it during my limited spare time this week. (School resumed for teachers in my district this week, so “limited” is the perfect way to describe my time of late.)

Just like Perkins’ previous books, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, Isla and the Happily Ever After was outstanding. I loved the characters, how they interacted with each other, how they grew throughout the story, and how they connected with characters in the preceding books. I cannot say enough good things about this book. It was so worth the wait, and part of me wants to find Stephanie Perkins and give her a hug for creating such memorable and lovable characters. (A bigger part of me, though, shies away from human contact, so Ms. Perkins has no worries about random embraces from strangers. At least none from me.)

Isla Martin has been in love with Josh Wasserstein since the start of their freshman year at the School of America in Paris. Fast forward to senior year, and it seems that Isla may finally have a chance at being with the guy who’s always seemed out of her reach.

After a rather odd encounter in Manhattan over the summer, the two finally reunite at school, but Isla can’t get over her nervousness around Josh, and it looks like Josh is trying to keep his distance. Trying…but not succeeding. Isla and Josh are growing closer, and when Isla clears up a misunderstanding that was keeping Josh away, they’re finally able to start the relationship that both of them so desperately want.

Isla and Josh become nearly inseparable, and they want to spend every spare minute together. Sometimes it’s as simple as being in the same room–Josh sketching or working on his graphic novel, Isla studying or reading–but being together is what’s important. They explore their favorite spots in Paris. They learn all the important little things about each other. And during one memorable, romantic weekend, Isla and Josh break all the rules and journey to Barcelona to take in a few sites. It’s this weekend, though, that ultimately tests how strong their love really is.

When Isla and Josh return to Paris, they realize that their impulsive actions have devastating consequences. Josh is taken away from school and Isla, and this heart-breaking separation takes its toll on the couple’s burgeoning relationship.

The more time they spend apart, the more Isla begins to doubt if Josh’s feelings for her are real. She knows she loves him, but what does he really see in her? Why would he want to be with someone who doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life? Is she just a placeholder for his ex-girlfriend and all of his friends that have moved on? Isla just doesn’t know, and her doubts soon lead to an epic confrontation that may destroy any hope of a future with Josh.

Can Isla wade through her doubts and finally learn to trust in Josh’s love? Does Josh even want to be with her after everything they’ve been through and said to each other? Is there any hope of a happily ever after for Isla and Josh? Only one way to find out…

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I love this book so hard. I have zero complaints, and people who know me realize how rare that is. I think every girl (or guy) who reads this will absolutely fall in love with Josh. Many readers will likely identify with Isla and her deep-seated–and often unfounded–insecurities. Everyone will root for Isla and Josh to make it. Adult readers will probably want to go back and relive their teen years in the hopes of finding–or reliving–a love like the one we see between Isla and Josh.

After reading Anna, Lola, and Isla, I have to say that I will read anything that Stephanie Perkins cares to write. (I already follow her blog and Twitter, so I think I’m good to go there.) This lady is a master of YA romance, and I recommend her to every teen and adult reader who likes a good love story. I am eagerly anticipating her next book, and I can’t wait to see what she contributes to the upcoming anthology, My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories.

If you’d like to learn more about the fabulous Stephanie Perkins and her equally fabulous books, check out her website, Twitter, or Tumblr.

*Note: As much as I adore Isla and the Happily Ever After, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a small warning to librarians, teachers, and parents. This is a book for teen and adult readers. Isla and Josh are characters in a serious relationship, and their relationship follows a fairly natural progression. There are a couple of sexual situations, but they are not terribly gratuitous. Even so, I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending this book to middle grade readers.*

Published in: on August 15, 2014 at 2:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Let’s Get Lost

A couple of days ago, Let’s Get Lost, a novel by Adi Alsaid, was released to the world. I began reading a NetGalley review copy of the book last week, and I finally finished it last night. To be perfectly honest, this book didn’t immediately capture my attention, so I found it easy to put it down and move on to something else. Once I made up my mind to sit down and read Let’s Get Lost, however, I wanted to know more about the central character, Leila, and her interactions with others on her journey north. The relationships she formed told us just as much about Leila as they did about the people she encountered.

Hudson is a kid preparing for the most important meeting of his entire life. He’s got a shot at a full scholarship at Ole Miss, and tomorrow is the big day. But a lot can happen in a day. When Hudson is working in his dad’s garage, a girl brings her car in for a little work. Almost immediately, Hudson is captivated by this newcomer. Her name is Leila, and she’s unlike any girl he’s ever met. She’s traveling to see the Northern Lights, and Hudson is awed by her bravery, her ability to take life as it comes, and to do what she wants. He wishes he could do the same. While she’s in town, he does. He decides to live a little before his big interview. Hudson shows Leila the town he loves, he shares pieces of himself with her, and he begins to reevaluate what he really wants. Is he ready, though, for the fallout of his night with Leila and what it could mean for his future?

Bree meets Leila on a lonely stretch of highway in Kansas. Bree is a runaway who lives for the next adventure, the next surge of adrenaline. She thinks she’s met a kindred spirit in Leila, the girl who took pity on a poor hitchhiker. Bree introduces Leila to the thrill of shoplifting, auto theft, and, eventually, spending some time in a jail cell. Through all this, Bree reveals her story to Leila, who wants to do whatever she can to help this girl find whatever it is she’s looking for. Is she really looking to run away, or is she trying to find her way home again?

Elliot, a young man in Minnesota, just told his friend, Maribel, that he’s in love with her…and was essentially shot down. This is not how his prom night was supposed to go. It was supposed to end like all the great romantic movies, with the girl revealing that she’s always loved him too, and then they have a dramatic kiss and live happily ever after. Yeah…not so much. Instead, Elliot is getting hammered and doing stupid stunts in the middle of the street. And that’s were Leila runs into him–literally. After a mild run-in with Leila’s car, Elliot unloads his troubles on this strange girl. Leila, in turn, vows to help Elliot win the girl he loves. What follows is a night reminiscent of a John Hughes film. Every time Elliot thinks he’s finally done something to win his Maribel’s affections, he’s rebuffed. It’s just when he’s all but given up that he has a glimmer of hope…and it’s all thanks to Leila, a girl he’d never met before this night but one who gave him the push he needed to follow his heart.

Sonia is a young woman struggling with her feelings. She’s in a wedding in British Columbia this weekend, but she’s very conscious that someone is missing from this important occasion. Sam, the boy she loved so much, passed away months ago, and his absence is weighing on Sonia. It’s Sam’s sister getting married, and his family that has taken Sonia in as one of their own, but how would they react if they knew she was moving on? Sonia doesn’t want to risk losing Sam’s family, but she knows that Jeremiah–who happens to be the best man in this weekend’s wedding–deserves more than she’s currently giving. The pressure gets to be too much for Sonia, and she needs some time alone. That’s when she meets Leila, a girl who takes pity on Sonia (who is now a tear-streaked mess), and what follows is a quest to reclaim Sonia’s life, save a wedding, and finally acknowledge that it’s okay to love again.

Leila has met quite a few interesting people on her journey to see the Northern Lights. She’s helped people–simply by caring about them–and she may have even experienced the beginnings of love, but it’s now time to see the Lights that she’s been so focused on. As she waits for the Lights to appear, she finally reveals her true reason for this long journey…and it’s not something that most people can fully grasp. Will the Northern Lights–in all their majestic glory–finally make things right for Leila, or will she discover that what she’s looking for has been within her reach all along?

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Let’s Get Lost is a good read for those interested in travel, meeting new people, and throwing caution to the wind. I am definitely not one of those people, but I still enjoyed the book a bit. It was just a little difficult to understand the appeal of so much spontaneity.

I would say that this book is more suited to high school/YA collections than those for middle grade readers. It does include some alcohol/drug use, law-breaking, a little profanity, and a fair amount of disobeying (or outright ignoring) parents and other authority figures. (I think I was bothered more by the lack of respect for parents than by any of the other “bad” stuff in this book. Of course, I’ve always been a rule-follower. On the other hand, many of the adults in this book were almost completely out of touch with what was going on in their kids’ lives. Many young people will be able to relate to that.)

I know summer is winding down for most people, but Let’s Get Lost would be a great read if you’ve got a road trip ahead of you. It may just inspire you to slow down and get to know the people you meet along the way.

For more information on Let’s Get Lost and author Adi Alsaid, check out the author’s blog, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Published in: on July 31, 2014 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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Torn Away

Sometimes books (and movies, TV shows, songs, commercials, etc.) make me emotional. I can usually shed a few tears and move on with my life. There are a few books, however, that turn me into someone even I don’t recognize. I cry so hard that I can’t catch my breath, I get so angry that I want to hit things, and I’m so exhausted by the whole experience that I have to take a very long nap to recuperate. I read one of those books this weekend. It was Torn Away by Jennifer Brown. This book put me through the wringer, and, despite today’s three-hour nap, I’m still emotionally exhausted from the experience.

Torn Away tells the story of Jersey Cameron. Jersey is finishing up her junior year in high school in Elizabeth, Missouri, and, like many teen girls, she’s focused on her own life. She rolls her eyes when her mom tells her to do chores, and she doesn’t want to be bothered by her little sister, Marin. All she wants is to be left alone.

When the tornado sirens sound one evening, Jersey is home alone waiting for her mom and sister to return from dance class. At first, she’s sure that things aren’t that bad outside. They’ve heard the sirens before, and nothing has happened. Unfortunately, that is not the case on this fateful night. A massive tornado is heading right for Jersey’s town, and it won’t just rip buildings to shreds. No, it will destroy Jersey’s entire world. Jersey wanted to be left alone before. Now, she has no choice.

The disaster that leveled Jersey’s home also took her mother and sister, and her stepfather can’t deal with Jersey’s pain on top of his own. He sends Jersey to live with her father and paternal grandparents, people she’s never met, and her already tragic situation is made even worse. Jersey lives in a constant state of fear, she has no one to lean on, and the people who should be there for her want nothing to do with her. In fact, they make it known that she’s not welcome, and they’re only taking her in because they think they have to.

Jersey can’t take living with her father and his loathsome family, so she does the only thing she can think of. She runs away. Jersey hopes that she’ll be able to stay with friends or even her stepfather back in Elizabeth, but, yet again, she’s sent to live with more relatives she’s never met. This time, she’s staying with her maternal grandparents, the same people who disowned her mother so many years ago.

Jersey’s existence with her mom’s parents is much more comfortable than it was with her father’s family, but Jersey is still holding onto so much anger, fear, and sadness that she can’t let anyone in, especially the people her mother taught her to despise. But did Jersey really get the whole story from her mother? What led to the separation between daughter and parents, and did either party ever try to bridge that gap? Should Jersey be the one to make things better? Is that even an option when her grief is eating her alive?

As Jersey spends more time with her grandparents and learns more about her mother’s life (and secrets), she realizes that maybe there are people in the world who still love her. People who, like her mother, will do everything in their power to make her feel happy and safe. People who share in her grief and want to help her heal. People who can return a sense of family to her life. All Jersey has to do is let them in. Will she? Or will she let the tornado that took her mother and sister tear away her future as well?

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This post hasn’t even come close to describing the intense, heart-wrenching journey that is Torn Away. I cried so much that I had to read most of the book with my glasses off. I kept Kleenex beside me the whole time. This wasn’t one of those books that elicits tears just at the end. No, like The Fault in Our Stars, Torn Away had me sobbing from beginning to end…and some of those tears were shed in anger.

I’m pretty sure I did serious damage to my Darth Vader pillow when I got angry at some of the people in Jersey’s life (which is kind of funny when you think about it). I got mad at her stepdad because he either couldn’t or wouldn’t see the damage he was inflicting on Jersey, but most of my anger was reserved for Jersey’s biological father and his family. Her father’s family was seriously horrible. All of them–with the minor exception of her aunt–were rude, insensitive, callous, and malicious people who didn’t try to sympathize with Jersey and even took delight in her pain. (I don’t think it’s a stretch to call them white trash. If anyone is offended by that, I’m sorry. Read the book. I’m sure you’ll agree with me.) I had to put the book down on a couple of occasions because I was so mad. I may have actually applauded Jersey when she finally escaped this situation.

I do think anyone who’s ever experienced loss will identify with the character of Jersey. I know I did. I felt her pain, her anger, her hopelessness. I imagined what I would do in a similar situation, and let me tell you…I wouldn’t have fared nearly as well as Jersey did. Jersey is a strong, sympathetic character who did her best to survive when it would have been all too easy to give up. Did she always to the right thing? Of course not, but she survived and held on to the memories of her family while working to make a life for herself in a world without them.

If you’d like to read Torn Away, pick up a box of Kleenex first and then head to your local library or bookstore. (I read a copy via NetGalley, but the book is already available to the masses.)

To learn more about Jennifer Brown and her other books–like Hate List–visit her website or Twitter.

Published in: on July 20, 2014 at 8:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Chaos of Stars

Since I first read Paranormalcy several years ago, I’ve tried to read just about everything that Kiersten White has written. So far, I’ve read the entire Paranormalcy series (Paranormalcy, Supernaturally, and Endlessly), Mind Games and Perfect Lies, In the Shadows (a middle grade novel co-written with Jim Di Bartolo), and even a steampunk short story in Corsets & Clockwork. Well, as of last night, I can add The Chaos of Stars, a dramatic stand-alone novel, to the list of excellent stories by a thoroughly entertaining author.

The Chaos of Stars introduces readers to Isadora. Isadora, like many teen girls, is rebelling against her parents. Things are a little different for her, though. Of course, everything’s kind of different when your parents are Egyptian deities. That’s right. Dear old Mom and Dad are actually Isis and Osiris, and Isadora is their very human daughter.

Isadora is growing tired of existing only to worship her parents, so she takes off to live with her brother in San Diego at the first opportunity. This is her chance to be her own person and escape the pressures of her life in Egypt. Little does she know that she can run from her powerful mother, but Isis will always maintain a little bit of control. Mommy dearest has arranged for Isadora to work in a museum for the summer, managing the new Egyptian collection. (No one—other than Isadora and her brother—realizes that the priceless artifacts were donated by an actual Egyptian goddess. Who would?)

Through her work at the museum, Isadora makes some friends. One of those friends introduces her to an enigmatic young man named Ry. Isadora is oddly drawn to this boy, but she fights the attraction with every fiber of her being. She doesn’t want to get involved in something that is destined to end. (It seems that being the human daughter of eternal beings has done quite a number on Isadora’s feelings about love.) Every minute she spends with Ry, though, cracks the armor she’s built around her heart. What is it about this boy? Why is she so drawn to him? Could he be the one person to really understand her and her complicated family?

While Isadora is examining her feelings for both her family and Ry, she is also confronting a mysterious danger that has followed her from Egypt. She’s having disturbing dreams about her mother, and an oddly familiar menace is lurking in the shadows. Someone who thinks Isadora possesses the key to controlling all of the gods of Egypt. Someone who wants to put an end to the reign of Isis…forever.

Can Isadora figure out what’s going on in time to save her mother, a woman she’s resented for years? Will Isadora finally realize how much her messed up family truly means to her—and how much she means to them–before it’s too late? Unwrap* the mystery when you read The Chaos of Stars, a thrilling (and charming) book by the always delightful Kiersten White.

*Unwrap. Get it? A little mummy humor. I thought it was funny.

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If you’re looking for a YA book to give to fans of Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles, I highly recommend The Chaos of Stars. It’s a quick, quirky read that will appeal to those who know a bit about Egyptian mythology. (That knowledge isn’t totally necessary going in, but it could lead readers to seek out more information!) Also, it’s a stand-alone novel, so many readers won’t feel the pressure to keep up with yet another series.

The Chaos of Stars is a great book for middle grade and teen readers (and adults, of course). Despite the main character having supernatural parents, I think the issues she faces will resonate with a variety of audiences. She’s looking to break free of expectations, she’s examining her relationship with her parents, and she’s dealing with the often scary feelings of first love. (I’m 35, and I’m still working on a couple of those things.) Kiersten White addresses all of those issues with her characteristic humor and candor, and, through Isadora, I think we can all learn a little more about ourselves and our relationships with others.

If you’d like more information on this book and others by the fabulous Kiersten White, check out her website and Twitter feed. You won’t be disappointed. The woman is hilarious!

Happy reading!

Charm & Strange

Occasionally, I encounter books that make me extremely uncomfortable. A couple of those books are Identical by Ellen Hopkins and Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. Well, I can now add another book to the list of uncomfortable, disturbing, and powerful reads. The book is Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn.

Charm & Strange, winner of the 2014 ALA William C. Morris YA Debut Award, came to me via Goodreads First Reads, and I’m so glad that it did. I may not have otherwise picked up this book, and, though it weirded me out a bit, I think the book is very well-written, and it keeps readers engrossed and eager to know more about the main character and his twisted past.

Charm & Strange tells the convoluted story of Andrew Winston Winters. Known as Win to his fellow students, he keeps to himself at his boarding school. He tries to keep everyone out…for their own safety. He knows he’s dangerous, and he’s always on the verge of letting his emotions get the best of him. If he ever truly lets go, he’s sure the consequences will be disastrous. After all, it’s happened before…

Years ago, Win was known as Drew, a young tennis star with serious anger issues. After letting his anger loose on another boy, his parents decided to send him to stay with his grandparents one fateful summer…and that’s when everything changed. That summer, Drew was forced to confront what really lead to his violent outbursts, and he and his siblings made a terrible decision that would end the cycle of destruction that had ruled their young lives.

In the end, though, Drew couldn’t take that final step, and that decision would haunt him and make him into Win, the lone wolf with no real connections to anyone or anything. He retreats into something of a fantasy world, a world that helps him to make sense of the horrors he faced as a child.

Win’s fantasy world is unraveling fast, and it soon becomes clear that something happened to him so awful that it colored every aspect of his existence. He’ll have to rely on two friends–friends he didn’t even know he had–to get him the help he so desperately needs. In the process, Win will come face-to-face with his childhood self, the memories that plague him, and the abuse that led him to this point.

Read Charm & Strange for a dark, unsettling, and intense look into the mind of a boy who is looking for answers–answers about his own nature and the haunting past that made him into the emotional powder keg he has become.

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When I first started reading this book, I thought I was dealing with a story about a young sociopath. Drew–and Win, his older self–seemed to have no real emotions, he acted impulsively, he didn’t connect with most people, and he had no remorse for this sometimes destructive actions. The more I read, though, the more I learned about this character. Yes, he still had some disturbing tendencies and thoughts, but I suspected that there was more going on below the surface. How right I was. Drew/Win was holding onto a secret so terrible that even he couldn’t face it, and that secret ultimately led to the worst events in this boy’s life and to his own view of himself as a monster.

I think Charm & Strange is an important YA novel because it takes a hard look at how abuse impacts boys. I’ve read loads of books that deal with abuse from the female perspective, but I can’t remember offhand any of them that look at abuse, especially sexual abuse, from a boy’s point of view. (If you know of any books with this perspective, let me know in the comments.) This book addresses the cyclical, catastrophic consequences of abuse and what some kids do to escape what happened to them.

If you’re thinking about picking up this book and/or adding it to your school/classroom/public library, I warn you that it is an intense book suitable for mature readers. There is frank talk of sexual situations, alcohol and drug use, and violence. There’s also a fair amount of adult language. Charm & Strange deals with mature themes, and that should be taken into consideration when recommending this book to readers.

For more about Charm & Strange and author Stephanie Kuehn, visit the author’s website, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Published in: on July 8, 2014 at 2:41 pm  Comments (1)  
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Get Happy

If you enjoyed Mary Amato’s Guitar Notes or are an aspiring singer/songwriter, there’s a great book heading your way. Get Happy, also by Mary Amato, will be released by Egmont USA in October, and, once again, this author explores how music allows one girl to express herself and work through everything that is happening in her life.

Minerva is a young songwriter who is desperate to have her very own ukulele. She’s sure that her mom will finally pick up on her oh-so-subtle hints, but it is not to be. On the morning of her birthday, she is met with a sweater instead of the instrument that she desires. Min does, however, receive something on her birthday that will change everything she’s ever believed about her own life. She gets a letter and a necklace from her father, a man she always thought abandoned Min and her mom. As it turns out, that may not have been the case…

While Min is both curious about her father and determined to avoid him, she’s also focused on her new job. She and a few other teens are performers for Get Happy, a company that provides characters for children’s birthday parties. Min is Get Happy’s resident mermaid, her best friend Finn is a pirate, a dimpled cutie from school is a cowboy, and Cassie, a too-perfect prima donna, is the princess. Min’s primary reason for getting this job is to earn enough money for a ukulele, but encountering so many happy (and unhappy) families is forcing her to examine her own childhood, the few memories of her father, and what she may have missed because of his absence.

Min is not ready to confront her mom yet–or, heaven forbid, her dad–about what really happened with them, so she expresses her conflicted feelings about the situation through song. When Min finally gets her prized ukulele, the songs seem to flow out of her, but the tension between Min and her mom is growing each day, and it will soon become too much for Min to bear.

When Min learns the truth about what her mom has been hiding all these years, she’ll be forced to face the father she’s never really known. Why did he really leave? Did he even care about her? And will she make a place for him in her life now? Can Min forgive her mother, know her father, and get happy with her life now that everything is out in the open? We’ll just have to see…

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Other than the whole music connection, one thing that Get Happy has in common with Guitar Notes is parents that are totally out of touch with their kids. Min’s mom seemed to be totally focused on what she wanted. She missed completely that her daughter didn’t care about the best clothes and was perfectly happy with quirky thrift store finds. Min wanted a ukulele; mom got her an ugly sweater. And most importantly, Min’s mother didn’t see how much damage she did to her daughter by keeping her from her father. Yes, I know she had her reasons, but it felt like she was acting in her own interests, not her daughter’s.

While I liked Get Happy, I do wish there had been a bit more resolution. Things felt very unfinished at the end, and I would have liked to see Min’s interactions with her father and how that impacted her life. I also wanted to see more of Min’s relationship with Hayes (the dimpled cutie mentioned above) and how her best friend reacted to it. It is my sincere hope that these issues will be addressed before the book hits stores in October.

If I had to recommend a book to young musicians, I would definitely pick Guitar Notes over Get Happy at this point. I felt like Guitar Notes had much more of a resolution, and the story itself just felt more fleshed out. I would, though, recommend both books for readers who express themselves through music. Even though the characters are teenagers, I think these books are more than suitable for readers from fifth grade on up.

For more information on Get Happy, Guitar Notes, and other books by Mary Amato, visit her website or Goodreads. And remember to pick up Get Happy at your local library or bookstore on October 28th!

Published in: on July 7, 2014 at 7:15 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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