See How They Run

Possible spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read All Fall Down, book one in Ally Carter’s Embassy Row series, you might want to take care of that before reading this post.

This week, I finally made time to read See How They Run, the second book in the Embassy Row series. This sequel picks up pretty soon after the first book concludes. I’m not going to rehash everything that happened in All Fall Down, but I will say that our protagonist, Grace Blakely, has uncovered some shocking truths about what really happened to her mother…and her own part in those events. Now, Grace is dealing with the fallout of what she’s discovered as well as attempting to handle a whole new set of problems. Of course, problems seem to be par for the course when a person’s every move has the potential to cause an international incident. Such is life on Embassy Row.

As the granddaughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Adria, Grace should be used to a certain amount of political intrigue. But nothing could really prepare her for what’s being revealed to her. It’s not enough that she’s just realized that she’s largely responsible for her own mother’s death. No, now she’s learning that her mother was part of some secret society charged with manipulating events for the supposed protection of Adria and the small country’s history, secrets, and continued welfare. Grace is supposed to continue the society’s work, but she’s not sure if she can trust this shadowy organization. After all, how can she trust others when she doesn’t even trust herself?

While Grace is processing this new information–while trying to get a handle on her PTSD–she’s also dealing with new arrivals on Embassy Row. Her brother, Jamie, is visiting from West Point, and he’s brought a friend with him. Jamie is worried about Grace, but his friend, Spence, seems interested in her. Why, she wonders? What could Spence possibly see in the crazy girl that everyone else tiptoes around?

To further complicate matters, Alexei, her brother’s former best friend and son of the Russian Ambassador, is back in town, and he’s not thrilled about the new guy sniffing around Grace. Alexei and Spence come to blows, but surely a simple fight over a girl couldn’t lead to an international fiasco, right? Yeah…think again.

When Spence’s body washes up on the Adrian coast, fingers immediately begin pointing Alexei’s way. Grace is certain Alexei did nothing wrong, and she becomes determined to prove that her friend is being framed. Her friends agree to help her, but how can they possibly prove Alexei’s innocence when all evidence seems to point his way? And who could possibly want to kill Spence anyway? Surely a simple fight isn’t enough to lead to murder. Could Spence have been involved in something else that none of them knew about? Could that have been what led to his demise?

Grace is determined to find the answers she seeks, but she may not be ready for what those answers ultimately mean…for Alexei, her past, her family, or herself. What could her discovery mean for her future in Adria? Time will tell…


Before I give too much more away, I’m going to start wrapping things up. I will say, however, that See How They Run ends on a cliffhanger, and there are huge implications for the third (and final?) book, Take the Key and Lock Her Up. Book three is supposed to be released on December 27th of this year.

If you enjoyed All Fall Down, I think you’ll appreciate See How They Run as well. It shines a light on the darkness within Grace’s mind, and readers get a glimpse at what it might be like for someone who suffers with PTSD. (Although, can we really call it post-traumatic stress when the trauma is ongoing?)

If you like mysteries and political thrillers with a YA twist, this is definitely the series for you. To learn more about the Embassy Row series and other books by the fabulous Ally Carter, check out the author’s website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

The Crown

Turn back now if you haven’t read Kiera Cass’ Selection series up to this point (The Selection, The Elite, The One, The Heir, and the Happily Ever After collection). You’ve been warned.

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I recently finished reading The Crown, the final installment in The Selection series by Kiera Cass. I fell in love with this series almost four years ago. I’m sad to see it end, but I have to say that the finale was satisfying. It had a variety of conflicts, but all of them were–more or less–resolved by the end of the book, and it was very apparent just how far this family had come since we first met America and Maxon in The Selection and Eadlyn in The Heir.

The Crown, of course, continues where The Heir concluded. Princess Eadlyn of Illéa is in the midst of her own Selection, but choosing her future husband is not the only thing she is dealing with.

Eadlyn’s mother, beloved Queen America, has suffered a heart attack, and her father, King Maxon, refuses to leave his wife’s side. That leaves running the country to Eadlyn, who is not exactly the people’s favorite member of the royal family.

Eadlyn must try to do what’s best for Illéa while convincing her people that she can be approachable, fair, sensitive, and empathetic…all while trying to figure out who of the remaining young men in the Selection will eventually rule beside her. No problem, right?

Almost against her will, Eadlyn has grown close to the men who are now part of the Elite. Each one of them would, in his own way, make a suitable companion for Eadlyn. But can Eadlyn truly love any of them? Perhaps, but Eadlyn wonders if it’s possible for her to have a love like that shared by her parents. If so, could that one special man be right in front of her eyes?

While she’s trying to choose a potential mate, Eadlyn also jumps into ruling Illéa as best she can. She tries to truly listen to the people and what they want, and an old friend seems to be intent on helping her do just that. Eadlyn values his insight and his connection to the people, but she’s not thrilled that he seems to be making more out of their relationship than is really there. Could this young man be making his own bid for the future queen’s heart, or is he working on an entirely different agenda?

It seems as though events are spiraling out of Eadlyn’s control. How can she be an effective leader when she feels so overwhelmed? Can she do what’s right by Illéa and her people, face the threats coming her way, and stay true to herself and her heart? Could her own happily ever after possibly be within reach? Read The Crown to find out!


I apologize if this post seems a little off. I’m on a lot of allergy meds right now. At the very least, I hope that I’ve whetted your appetite for The Crown without giving too much away.

I do think The Crown is a great conclusion to a wonderful series, and I, for one, love seeing how much Eadlyn grew as a person from the last book through this one. She really comes into her own. I also appreciate seeing how things end up for the characters encountered in the first three books in this series. A nice bit of resolution there, and there’s even a surprise revelation that I was not expecting. Good stuff.

For more information on The Crown, the entire Selection series, or author Kiera Cass, visit the author’s website, Twitter, or Facebook. You may also want to take a look at the official book trailer for The Crown below. It perfectly sets the mood for this outstanding book. Enjoy!

Summer Days and Summer Nights

A couple of years ago, I read My True Love Gave to Me, a collection of twelve holiday-themed love stories by popular YA authors. It was wonderful. So, when I found out that there would be another anthology, this one devoted to summer romances, I knew I had to read it. I did just that this week.

With authors like Leigh Bardugo, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Tim Federle, Stephanie Perkins, Veronica Roth, and others featured in Summer Days and Summer Nights, I figured that I would be getting some outstanding stories in this book. To a certain extent, I was right. Most of the stories were great. Would I describe all of them as love stories? Not really. Many of them had a certain romantic element in them, but, at least in my opinion, that wasn’t always the central focus of the story, and the whole romance thing worked better in some stories than in others. In a few, it felt kind of forced to me.

That being said, there were some stories that did stand out for me. The first, In Ninety Minutes, Turn North, comes to us from the anthology’s editor, Stephanie Perkins. In this story, we are reintroduced to the characters we first saw in Perkins’ contribution to My True Love Gave to Me, North and Marigold. The two have grown apart, and this tale brings them back together atop Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. This story is charming, funny, heart-breaking, and heart-warming, all at once. I honestly think this is the strongest–and most romantic–of all the stories in this book.

I also enjoyed Libba Bray’s story, Last Stand at the Cinegore. I think that this one is more of a horror story with a bit of romance thrown in. This tale brings us some teenagers, Kevin, Dani, and Dave, working in a horror movie house, and they’re showing a movie that is allegedly cursed. Well, that whole “allegedly” thing is about to be proven to be absolutely true. As it turns out, this movie is a portal to Hell, and Kevin and Dani (with an assist from Dave) have to figure out how to stop the madness this movie is creating while dealing with their own budding romance.

Finally–and this will shock no one–I liked Cassandra Clare’s contribution, Brand New Attraction. It like Bray’s story, is a horror/love story. It focuses on Lulu, a girl trying to keep her father’s dark carnival going. Things are about to go belly up when her Uncle Walter and his stepson, Lucas, come along to–apparently–save the day. But Walter’s plans take the carnival from dark to downright evil, and it’s up to Lulu and Lucas to figure out what’s going on and save the day.

The three stories mentioned above may be my favorites, but most of the others are good in their own right. There’s a nice mix of gay and straight relationships featured, we encounter characters from many different backgrounds, several genres are represented, and nothing is especially graphic. I can honestly say I’m relatively happy with all of the stories…except one. Francesca Lia Block’s story, Sick Pleasure, is, in my opinion, pretty far from a love story. I guess it stays true to its title, though, since it left me feeling kind of sick at the end.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the stories in this anthology. Am I way off base in my feelings on Block’s story? What are your favorites and why? And what do you think makes a good love story? Let me know in the comments!

I Wish My Teacher Knew

Not too long ago, third grade teacher Kyle Schwartz shared a classroom experience on Twitter. She had her students complete the sentence, “I wish my teacher knew…” Some of the responses were simple, like “I wish my teacher knew I liked nachos.” Others, however, were heartbreaking and helped this teacher learn about what her students thought about school, dealt with at home, and needed in their lives. And by sharing this experience with other educators, Ms. Schwartz opened the door for more communication and empathy between teachers, students, and families.

In I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids (which I read courtesy of NetGalley), Schwartz further explores this experience and expands on what it helped her discover about students’ lives…and how she–and other educators–can work to make sure students receive the emotional, physical, financial, social, and academic supports they need to become motivated, engaged learners.

While much of this book falls into the realm of “best practices,” it does shine a light on things that many educators–myself included–may not always realize. For instance, sometimes we may think that all of our students are well-fed, have sufficient school supplies, or have adults at home that are willing and able to assist with homework, read bedtime stories, sign permission forms, or pack a school lunch. In too many instances, that’s just not the case. Some of our students aren’t having their most basic needs met. They may be living in horrible situations that we can’t even fathom. Learning may actually be the last thing on their minds. As educators, we may realize this on a basic level, but how can we learn what our students need (without grilling them and doing even more harm) so that we can being working to help them overcome these obstacles to meaningful learning?

In I Wish My Teacher Knew, Schwarts discusses issues like poverty, trauma, family dynamics, and many more, and she provides ideas and tools that teachers can use to address these issues head-on. Educators may not always be able to “fix” the problems students are facing, but we can let them know that they have allies in their teachers and other educators. We’re on their side, and, even on the worst days, we want them all to succeed.

The class experience that prompted this book is a good starting point for opening the lines of communication and establishing connections between students and teachers. It allows students to see that teachers really do care what they think, and it gives teachers a glimpse into their students’ lives. That’s no small thing.

I think this book is a great read for any educator, particularly as we get ready to start a new school year. It could lead to a greater sense of community and empathy within classrooms, schools, and entire school districts. It reminds all of us that we should be in the business of teaching students, not subjects. Even with states’ emphasis on standardized test scores (which is a whole other issue that I’ll save for another day), educators need to remember that our focus is the kids we serve, no matter what they bring into the classroom with them. If we can do that, everything else will fall into place.

The Killer in Me

Last night, I finished yet another book that I got to read courtesy of NetGalley. This book, The Killer in Me by Margot Harrison, is due out on July 12th, and it’s a great read for teens and adults who like murder mysteries and psychological thrillers.

The Killer in Me is a somewhat convoluted tale, and readers may stay just as confused as the protagonists…but that’s a good thing. That’s what keeps the pages turning. Am I right about what’s going on? Am I wrong? What’s really happening here and how will everything end? The doubt I experienced while reading this book made me even more eager to keep reading, simply so that I could get the answers I desperately craved. (I actually got so involved in the book that I forgot to eat dinner last night. I looked up at one point, saw that it was 9pm, and just kept right on reading. Dinner could wait.)

Nina Barrows has been plagued by strange dreams for as long as she can remember. Every night when she closes her eyes, she sees the life of another–a man she knows as the Thief. This man is a killer, and he’s good at what he does. He leaves no trace of himself or his victims, and no one suspects what he’s truly capable of.

No one but Nina.

She’s done enough research to believe that the Thief is real, even if she only knows of his exploits through her dreams. She needs to catch him in the act and expose him for the killer that he is. But how? How can one teenage girl expose a serial killer, especially when there’s no evidence–other than the images in her own mind–of what he’s done? Who would believe her if she told the truth about her dreams and their connection to possible criminal activity? Would they think she had something to do with these killings? More to the point, does she have something to do with them?

Eventually, Nina finds help in the form of Warren, a guy from school who would do nearly anything for her. He accompanies her on a quest to find the truth about the Thief, a man they come to realize is a seemingly normal guy named Dylan Shadwell.

Nina and Warren track Shadwell to his home in New Mexico. It is here that Nina uncovers a shocking truth that could change everything she thought she knew about herself, her dreams, and her complicated past.

What is Nina’s connection to Dylan Shadwell? Is he really the normal guy he seems to be, or is he playing an elaborate game with Nina at the center? Will Nina’s obsession with uncovering the truth amount to a wild-goose chase, or will she discover more than she ever wanted to know?

Who is the Thief? Is it Shadwell? Is it Nina? Is this mysterious killer even real…or is he a figment of Nina’s imagination?

Discover the remarkable truth for yourself when you read The Killer in Me by Margot Harrison.


I don’t want to give more away than I already have, so I’m going to wrap things up quickly. It’s enough to say that there are some “Holy crap!” moments in this book. Some you may be able to see coming. Others will likely shock you. You’re in for a thrill ride either way.

In my most humble opinion, The Killer in Me is a good book for upper middle grade, teen, and adult readers. Yes, it’s essentially about a serial killer–who may or may not be real–and that brings with it some gruesome imagery. It’s not, however, gratuitous. It’s true to the story and is not overly graphic (most of the time). Some middle grade readers will be able to handle it. Know your readers, and recommend this book accordingly.

If I’ve whetted your appetite for this book and you’d like to learn more about The Killer in Me, visit author Margot Harrison’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

Happy reading!

Yellow Brick War

Notice: Before reading the post below or Yellow Brick War, the third book in Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series, you must read the books and prequel novellas below. If you’re all caught up, proceed at will. If not, you’ve got some work to do.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to Yellow Brick War. I’m not going to do a big recap of the series up to this point. You can read my posts on the books above for that. Let’s just jump right in, shall we?

Once again, Amy Gumm has failed in her quest to kill Dorothy. Now, she and the Order of the Wicked are stranded in Kansas, the last place Amy ever wanted to see again…but there might be something hidden here–the silver slippers that Dorothy wore during her first visit to Oz–that could help them defeat Dorothy, Glinda, and their armies before both Oz and Kansas (known to Ozians as the Other Place) are destroyed once and for all. But how is Amy supposed to find a pair of shoes that have been hidden for years and that most people don’t think exist? Well, the answer is simple.

She has to go back to high school.

Amy is reluctant to return to the life she left behind, but it is her only option. She reunites with her mother–who has undergone a drastic change for the better–and she encounters Madison, the girl who tormented her all through school. Madison, too, has changed. She’s a teen mother dealing with her own struggles and facing ostracism by those who once kowtowed to her. She and Amy form an unlikely alliance, and Amy begins to wonder if coming back to her old life–for good–might really be possible after all.

But nothing is ever that simple when it comes to the battle for Oz…

While Amy is searching her high school for the slippers that will help her and the Wicked return to Oz–because of course these magic shoes are hidden in a Kansas high school–she encounters a terrifying figure that could be even more dangerous than Dorothy or Glinda. It’s the ancient Nome King, a powerful, dark creature who has plans of his own for Amy. Could he be the one manipulating everything happening in Oz? Is he somehow connected to Glinda’s grab for power or Dorothy’s return to Oz and her addiction to magic? Amy’s not sure what’s going on, but she does know that she must do whatever it takes to save both Oz and her home (a place that’s maybe not so bad after all).

With the silver slippers–or combat boots–in her possession, Amy and the Wicked make their return to Oz to discover that things are even bleaker than ever. War with both Glinda and Dorothy is imminent. Amy and friends must gather whatever forces they can if they have any hope of defeating their foes. Amy will have to tap into the dark magic that she finds both terrifying and exhilarating. But will it be enough?

Can Amy and the Wicked win against two enormously powerful fronts? What will be lost in the process? Who will provide help when they need it the most? Will Amy finally be able to kill Dorothy and return balance to Oz? Is a much larger threat just waiting in the wings?

Discover what awaits Amy and her Wicked friends when you read Yellow Brick War, the thrilling third book in Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die series!


I’ve left soooo much out of what happens in this book. Just trust me when I say that it’s action-packed from start to finish–much like the rest of the series–and I am eager to see how things progress for Amy and company in the final book in the series, The End of Oz. This book is set to be released on February 22nd, 2017.

If February is just too darn far away for you, there are three more prequel novellas to look forward to. One of them, Order of the Wicked (novella 0.7), is already out, and I plan to read it as soon as finish a few other books-in-progress. The other two are not yet titled, and I’m not sure when they’ll be out. If the series stays true to form, they’ll be available before February.

For more information on this wonderful series and author extraordinaire Danielle Paige, connect with the author on her website, Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook. You may also want to check out Epic Reads’ Yellow Brick War book trailer below. It’s pretty great.

Finally, Danielle Paige is scheduled to be at YALLFest again this year, so, if you’d like to attend this outstanding YA book festival in lovely Charleston, SC, this November, click here for more info. I hope to see you there!

And I Darken

Yesterday, Kiersten White’s newest book, And I Darken, was released into the world. I was lucky enough to get an early copy via NetGalley, but I didn’t manage to finish the book until last night. You know how it is–vacation, work stuff, naps–all of that got in the way.

Anyhoo, I did finish this first book in a planned trilogy last night, and I can say with absolute certainty that it’s unlike anything I’ve read in recent memory. It is a batcrap-crazy ride, and I mean that in the best way possible. And I Darken defied all of my expectations, and I cannot wait to see what awaits the characters I encountered in this book.

So…what’s it all about? While some sources have And I Darken listed as fantasy, I wouldn’t be so quick to attach that label…at least to this first book. There is no fantasy involved…unless you maybe want to call alternate history a type of fantasy (which I don’t). This story takes place during the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and it is the tale of the children of Vlad Dracul (the inspiration for Dracula, of course).

Now, in this telling, Vlad is not exactly the fearsome ruler of legend. He’s still in charge of Wallachia (part of Romania), but he’s weak and under the thumb of the Sultan. He essentially offers his children, Lada and Radu, as collateral to the Sultan.

Radu is a gentle, handsome boy who goes virtually unnoticed by others…unless they’re pointing out his apparent weakness. Forgotten by his father, Radu seeks solace in Islam and finds a measure of peace in his new circumstances.

Lada is fierce and sees being a woman as a liability. She knows that she is equal–if not superior–to any man. She is at once Radu’s protector and tormentor, and, even though she hates that her father has abandoned them to the Sultan, she remains loyal to her homeland of Wallachia.

Eventually, the siblings encounter another child who would become central to their lives. This boy is Mehmed, and he is the Sultan’s heir. Radu is immediately drawn to Mehmed, and the two quickly become friends. Radu is tormented by his feelings for Mehmed and confused about what those feelings might mean.

As for Lada, she soon becomes Mehmed’s confidante. He can drop his shields around her and simply be himself. Yes, he will be Sultan soon, but with Lada, he can simply be Mehmed. Lada resists getting involved with Mehmed. After all, attachment and emotion are signs of weakness. Her primary goal is survival…by any means necessary. As time passes, though, Lada and Mehmed grow closer, and Lada realizes he is becoming an essential part of her life. She does wonder, however, if she is equally important to him.

Set against a background of political maneuvering, betrayal, fighting, and even murder, Radu and Lada must decide what each of them are willing to lose to achieve their own ends. Will Radu be able to suppress his own desires and give up his only family to remain by Mehmed’s side? Will Lada abandon her goal of returning to (and ruling) her beloved Wallachia to form some semblance of a life with Mehmed (and his harem)?

Love and loyalty will be tested in these tumultuous relationships. What–or who–will be sacrificed in the process? Read And I Darken, the first book in The Conqueror’s Saga, to find out.


Like so many before it, this post doesn’t come close to capturing just how rich, dark, and satisfying this book is. (I almost feel like I just described a piece of dark chocolate.)

And I Darken is an intense read that makes a person think about just what they’d be willing to do to serve their own ends or even the good of those around them. Would you be willing to betray the person who means the most to you? Give up your family, faith, or future? Walk away from everything and everyone you’ve ever known? Kill? Those are just some of the things facing the characters in this book, and these situations and how they play out could lead to some very profound discussions.

Other discussions might come when talking about the characters themselves, especially Radu and Lada. In Radu’s case, there’s the issue of coming to terms with his sexuality in a time and place that didn’t even address anything other than heterosexuality. (Apparently, it’s okay to have multiple wives and concubines, but being gay is taboo. Another potential topic to explore there.) How have things changed since the time of the Ottoman Empire? Have things changed at all in certain parts of the world? Is being gay still considered being something “other” even in the so-called “modern” world? So many questions to ponder.

And then there’s Lada…

Lada is a warrior. She buries her feelings deep and displays very few outward signs of weakness. She is vicious and determined to get what she wants. She does whatever she must to survive and protect those she cares for, but she knows that her ultimate goals conflict with those of Radu and Mehmed, and she has to decide what to do about that. Lada is a complicated character, one who rarely even understands herself or her motivations, but she is absolutely fascinating to read about. Lada’s character could lead to many discussions on what it means to be feminine; how women have been viewed historically and in the present, especially as it pertains to fighting, defying expectations, and dealing with patriarchal societies; and even something like negative reactions when women put their own needs and desires first.

I’m curious to see what will happen with Lada in the next two books, and if she’ll truly become the brutal inspiration for a very different legend of Dracula. Should be interesting.

Speaking of future books, I have no idea what the title of book two will be. I’m assuming it will be released about this time next year, but that’s just a guess at this point.

If you’d like to learn much, much more about And I Darken, please visit the book’s official website. I’ve only explored it a little, but it has lots of information to offer, including character descriptions, a book trailer (which I’ve also included below), an author bio, and more.

Lastly, for those wondering if And I Darken is a good pick for the middle grade crowd, I would have to say no. While this book is extremely compelling, I think many of the themes and situations are more suited to a high school crowd. As always, though, read it for yourself to determine if it’s a good fit for your students/patrons.