Happy Again

If you haven’t read Jennifer E. Smith’s This Is What Happy Looks Like (which is a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award), do so before reading this post or Happy Again. Spoilers ahead!

So, last year, I read This Is What Happy Looks Like, a great contemporary YA romance by Jennifer E. Smith. After that last page, I wondered where things would go with Ellie and Graham. If you’ve read the book–and, at this point, I’m assuming you have–you know that things weren’t tied up in a neat little bow for them at the book’s conclusion. Well, now we have Happy Again, a sequel novella, to help clear things up a bit. Let’s dive in, shall we?

It’s been over a year since Ellie O’Neill has seen Graham Larkin. After they said their goodbyes on the beach in Henley, Maine–and Graham jetted off to finish his latest film and press tour–they stayed in touch for a while. Phone calls, text messages, and constant emails. But eventually, their emails stopped being personal and started to seem sort of emotionless, and they faded to nothing after a while.

Now, Ellie is a freshman at Harvard, and she only keeps up with Graham by glancing at the tabloid headlines. One weekend, Ellie uncharacteristically joins her roommate on a trip to New York City. When she sees a commotion near the Ziegfield Theatre, without even really knowing what’s going on, something tells Ellie that Graham is nearby. And she’s right. As fate would have it, she’s stumbled upon the premiere of the movie that brought them together.

Almost immediately, Ellie has the urge to run. Part of her desperately wants to see Graham, but another part is scared of what might happen if she comes face-to-face with him once again. As it turns out, that decision is kind of taken out of her hands.

Ellie and her friends are invited into the premiere, and, soon enough, there he is. Graham Larkin. He finds Ellie in the crowd, and insists they talk about the past year. What follows is a spontaneous trip through Manhattan, a trip where Ellie and Graham clear the air about why they stopped communicating, what’s been happening in their lives…and where they go from here.

Can Ellie and Graham find the happiness they felt last year in Henley, or has too much passed between them? Does this one extraordinary, fateful meeting have the power to bring them back together, or will this be their final goodbye?

_______________

If This Is What Happy Looks Like was a little too open-ended for you (as it was for me), Happy Again definitely gives a bit of closure. But even this story leaves readers with some questions about whether Ellie and Graham will end up together. The ending in this one isn’t completely nice and neat, either. I like to think that things will work out for Ellie and Graham this time around, that they’re willing to work to be together, but that’s not crystal clear. And that’s okay. This gives me–and other readers–the opportunity to continue the story for ourselves, in whatever way we like.

All in all, I found Happy Again to be a pretty satisfying conclusion (?) to the unlikely love story of Ellie and Graham. Will we hear more from this duo? I have no idea, but I like to think that, whether their story continues in print or not, that they’ve found happiness together once again.

If you’d like more information on Happy Again, This Is What Happy Looks Like, or other books by Jennifer E. Smith, visit the author’s website and Twitter. For what it’s worth, I’ve yet to encounter a book by this author that I didn’t like. I hope you feel the same way.

Published in: on June 28, 2015 at 7:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

It’s time, dear friends, to bring you another of the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler. This heart-warming book illustrates that beauty can be found anywhere. All we really have to do is look for it.

Auggie Jones is pretty happy with her life. She lives with her Grandpa Gus, rides around in his old truck, and helps him with his trash hauling business. She doesn’t really care that she and her neighbors live on the poor side of town. They have everything they need, and they’re always willing to help each other in times of need.

All of that, however, is about to change. This year, thanks to budget cuts, Auggie is being moved to a new school, where she’ll come face to face with people who judge her and her neighbors for what they don’t have. One of Auggie’s new classmates, Victoria, is particularly cruel, and it doesn’t help matters that she’s a junior member of the newly formed House Beautification Committee, a group intent on making the town a little more pleasing to the eye. But whose eyes are they worried about pleasing? And what does this mean for those who don’t have the money to make large improvements?

Well, Auggie decides to show the committee and Veronica that her house is something to be proud of. Auggie begins looking through the trash that Gus hauls around, and she starts to see potential in some of the discarded items. Where some people might simply see a broken toaster, Auggie sees a lovely metal flower. Where one person sees broken windows and pottery, Auggie sees a way to make colorful mosaics. And it doesn’t stop there. Pretty soon, Auggie and Gus are taking old, broken-down machines, and giving them life as whimsical pieces of art.

But not everyone sees Auggie’s creations as the beautiful works of art that she does. Some call them eyesores and demand they be removed…or else. What is Auggie to do? How can she convince people that her house and others in her neighborhood are beautiful in their own special ways? Can she find a way to show people that beauty is all around? It doesn’t matter if it comes from a trash dump or a fancy store. Beauty can be found anywhere if one takes the time to simply look.

_______________

The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky is a great book for libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s a quick, easy read, and it also teaches some important lessons: staying true to yourself, looking for beauty in the world, standing up for what you believe in, forgiving those who’ve wronged you, and working together to affect change. I don’t care what age you are; these lessons are important for all of us.

I also think The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky would be a great read for those interested in art, recycling, or just making stuff. (I’m trying to figure out a way to make some kind of display centered around this book and my library’s new Makerspace. If you have any ideas on this, let me know in the comments.) I plan to share this book with the art teachers at my school as well as the sponsors of our Environmentalist Club and Robotics Team. I think there’s definitely something they can use here. And now that I think about it, there may also be some parts of the book that fit with science standards–recycling, engineering, etc.–so there’s a whole new connection to explore. It’s kind of exciting!

I’m very happy that The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky is a part of this year’s SCCBA nominee list. I hope my students (and teachers) enjoy it as much as I did. If you think you might enjoy this book and want to learn more about it, you can connect with author Holly Schindler on her website, Goodreads, and Twitter. You can also learn a bit more about the book by checking out the book trailer below. Enjoy!

Published in: on June 27, 2015 at 9:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been on my radar for a few months, and I finally made time to read it this week. (I actually devoured it in less than 24 hours.) This wonderful book by Jenny Han introduces readers to Lara Jean Song Covey, a somewhat fanciful sixteen-year-old girl who gets over her crushes by writing them letters. She writes the letters and then moves on with her life. But when the letters actually get sent, Lara Jean’s life gets kind of complicated…

Lara Jean is a devoted sister, a loyal friend, and a reliable daughter. She’s not much of a rule-breaker, she doesn’t go to many parties, and she’s kind of invisible at school…and she mostly likes it that way.

Lara Jean does have some secrets, though–secrets those closest to her know nothing about. Lara Jean has had five crushes in her life. In order to move past these crushes, she writes each boy a letter, addresses it, and places it in an old hat box under her bed. No one knows about these letters except Lara Jean, and she has no intention of every mailing the letters…especially since one of them is written to her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh.

One day, Lara Jean realizes that the hat box under her bed is missing, and the letters she’s written to her crushes have actually been mailed out. When she understands what’s happened, Lara Jean panics and worries about what all of this could mean for her. A couple of her former crushes are no longer around, so she’s not terribly concerned about them…but some of them confront her about what she wrote, and that’s where things get a little messy.

In order to save face around Josh, Lara Jean devises a plan to make him think that she’s totally over whatever feelings she may have once had for him. She conspires with Peter, also one of her former crushes, to make everyone think that they’re now together. It’s a win-win situation, really. Lara Jean can avoid a big confrontation with Josh, and Peter can make his ex-girlfriend jealous. What neither Lara Jean nor Peter count on, however, is how this fake relationship will affect both themselves and those around them.

Lara Jean is growing closer to Peter, and she’s beginning to wonder if maybe he has some feelings for her. What started as a fake relationship may quickly be evolving into something real. Does Peter actually care about her, or is he still just using her to make his ex jealous? Does Peter, who knows the whole story of the letters, believe she still has feelings for Josh? How does Margot, Lara Jean’s beloved older sister and Josh’s ex-girlfriend, figure into this mix?

Lara Jean will soon have to face the realities of all of her relationships–those with Peter, Josh, and her sisters. What will she do once everyone knows the truth? We’ll just have to see…

_______________

I found To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to be a fast, fun read that definitely gripped me and wouldn’t let go. Even though I thought Lara Jean’s voice was a tad grating at times, I felt that her character was realistic. It’s a nice change from all of the rule-breaking party girls in a lot of contemporary YA. Teens who respect their parents, like to stay in at night, and follow rules need to see themselves in fictional characters, too, and I was happy to see such a character in this story…even though she did play fast and loose with the truth from time to time. (Even us good girls can relate to that, though.)

I do have to admit that the end of this book nearly sent me into a panic. I kept glancing at the page count at the bottom of my ereader and wondering how in the world I was going to get a happy ending with so few pages remaining. And, while the ending was somewhat satisfying, it did leave things kind of open…which makes sense when one realizes there’s already a sequel.

The next book featuring Lara Jean and company, P.S. I Still Love You, is already out, and it is near the top of my lengthy TBR list. I can hardly wait to see what happens with Lara Jean and Peter.

For those wondering if To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before would be a good fit for middle school library collections, I’d have to say that it may be okay for upper middle school. There is some language, alcohol use, and talk of sexual situations, but there is nothing terribly graphic. In truth, Lara Jean could actually serve as something of a role model for some readers. She sees a lot of this stuff going on around her, and while she does feel some pressure to fit in, she remains true to herself and her values. Do with that what you will.

If you think To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before sounds like the book for you, I encourage you to learn more about in on Goodreads or the author’s website. You can also connect with Jenny Han through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Enjoy!

Published in: on June 25, 2015 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Geography of You and Me

Before I get to my latest read, indulge me for a bit. Today marks Knight Reader’s 7th Blogoversary, and I’d like to thank everyone who’s taken the time to visit my little blog over the years. When I think about hanging it all up (which is about every two days), you guys are the ones who keep Knight Reader alive. I couldn’t do it without you, and I hope you’ll continue to stick with me.

Now, on with the show…

A couple of days ago, I finished another great read by Jennifer E. Smith. I’d previously read and enjoyed three of her other books–The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, The Comeback Season, and This Is What Happy Looks Like–so I figured that The Geography of You and Me would be no different. I’m happy to report that I was right (as usual).

Like Smith’s other books, The Geography of You and Me tells the tale of an unlikely pair. These two young people are thrown together by chance, fate, whatever you want to call it, and that one event ultimately changes everything…

It should have been a routine trip on an elevator. Lucy was going up to her apartment after checking the mail. Owen was headed to the roof to escape the chaos of New York City. But a citywide blackout changes everything. Now, Lucy and Owen are stuck together, and they’re getting to know each other when they’d barely registered the other’s existence previously.

After they’re rescued–and it becomes apparent that the power isn’t returning to the city anytime soon–Lucy and Owen decide to spend the long evening ahead exploring the city around them and looking at the stars above. They tell each other things they never revealed to anyone else. Owen talks about moving to New York after the death of his mother, and how he and his father are still floundering. Lucy tells Owen how it feels to be left behind when her parents travel abroad. Both young people are lonely, and, unexpectedly, they find kindred spirits in each other.

When the blackout ends, however, it’s a little more difficult to keep their connection alive, especially when Owen is headed west with his father, and Lucy is moving to Europe with her parents.

Lucy and Owen communicate through postcards and sporadic emails, but they’re also continuing to live their lives. Lucy finds a boyfriend when her family settles in Edinburgh, and Owen begins a relationship with a girl he meets in Lake Tahoe. Through it all, though, Lucy and Owen continue to think about each other and wonder how the other is doing. And when their other relationships go south, Lucy and Owen return to the connection they formed in the dark of New York City.

Eventually, Lucy and Owen come back to each other in the place where it all began. In the year since the blackout that started their relationship, they’ve each traveled hundreds of miles, met new people, and learned more about themselves and their places in the world. Are they even the same people as when they first met? Has too much changed in the past year?

Can two people from such different worlds overcome the miles between them and form a real and lasting relationship? Is geography even a consideration when two people really want to be together? I’ll leave that for you to discover yourself…

_______________

I’d recommend The Geography of You and Me to readers who are looking for a quick, sweet read that explores the complexities of first love and long-distance relationships. It’s also great for those who have a bit of wanderlust and want to experience more of the world around them. (FYI, that is not me. I’m a bit of a homebody. If I want to go somewhere, I’ll just open the pages of a book. BOOM. Instant vacation.)

The Geography of You and Me is a good selection for readers in middle grades on up. Yes, it is a teen romance, but there’s no graphic imagery, and the language isn’t terribly shocking. Everything is true to the story. (As usual, read the book for yourself before adding it to your school or classroom library. You know better what fits in your collections than I do.)

If you’d like more information on this book or others by Jennifer E. Smith, check out the author’s website and Twitter. I, for one, look forward to reading her latest, Happy Again, an ebook novella that continues This Is What Happy Looks Like. I’m also excited about her next novel, Hello, Goodbye, and Everything In Between, which comes out on September 1st.

Happy reading, everyone!

Infinityglass

Caution: Read both Hourglass and Timepiece before proceeding. This post focuses on Infinityglass, the third and final book in Myra McEntire’s Hourglass series, and I promise there will be spoilers for those who are not caught up…and maybe some for those who are.

So…I finally made the time to finish the fantastic Hourglass trilogy this week, and this final book totally delivered. Infinityglass continues the intriguing story introduced in the first book, but it keeps things fresh with two all new narrators. In this book, readers see events through the eyes of Dune, a vital part of the Hourglass organization with his own tragic past, and Hallie, a sheltered girl with the potential to change everything.

The Hourglass, an organization made up of people with time-related abilities, is working tirelessly to find a way to repair the damage done to the space-time continuum. The ripples in time are getting worse, and they’re starting to take over the present. But there may be something out there that can help–the mysterious Infinityglass. This object could fix everything, but the Hourglass must figure out what it is and find it before their enemies do. There’s just one huge issue…

The Infinityglass is not a what. It’s a who.

More specifically, the Infinityglass is Hallie, a girl living in virtual isolation in New Orleans. Her only escapes come through dance and in the missions she takes on for Chronos, the secretive organization founded by her parents and the more nefarious counterpart of the Hourglass.

Hallie has always possessed the ability to manipulate her cells–transmutation, regeneration, etc.–but lately, things are becoming more intense. Her energy levels are off the charts, she no longer needs to eat or sleep, and she’s being pulled into the increasingly common rips in time. Her only real help in determining what’s going on comes from Dune, an Hourglass member posing as her new bodyguard.

Dune has been studying the Infinityglass for years, but he never imagined that he would find it in a person, especially a girl so magnetic that he can’t stay away from her. Almost from their first meeting, Dune and Hallie connect, and they each reveal things about themselves that they’ve never shared with another person. They work together to combat the danger facing them, and Dune provides Hallie with more love and support than she’s ever encountered in her young life. And Hallie’s going to need that support when she learns the horrifying truth about herself, her abilities, and what may need to happen to fix the very fabric of time…

Dune, Hallie, and the other members of the Hourglass are quickly approaching a showdown with those who started this mess, and none of them are truly prepared for what will be revealed…or who is really pulling the strings. But can these young people, all of whom have very special abilities, work together to defeat the evil among them and repair the damage done to time itself? What will Hallie, the Infinityglass, have to do–or sacrifice–to heal time? Do she and Dune have any hope of a future together when the past and present are trying so hard to tear them apart?

Time will tell…

_______________

I must say that Infinityglass is a very satisfying, if somewhat confusing, end to this wonderful trilogy. I didn’t always fully grasp what was happening with the ripples in time, but that’s okay. Confusion is often a given when you’re dealing with time, and this entire series made me feel like I was watching an episode or two of Doctor Who (arguably the greatest show in all of time and space). Both the Hourglass trilogy and the good Doctor make me think, and that’s never a bad thing.

The relationship between Dune and Hallie was probably the highlight of this book. Dune was a good guy, a self-professed geek who worked to overcome his own issues with his abilities, and he was a perfect match for Hallie, a sheltered girl who took every chance she had to escape her suffocating existence. Eventually, Hallie came to realize that no matter how scandalous she acted or what she said, Dune would always be there for her. That gave her a freedom to be her true self that she never had before. Similarly, Dune was able to let down his guard and reveal his deepest secrets and fears to Hallie. In a complicated quest for truth, Dune and Hallie found each other and a connection that transcended all of the chaos around them.

(For those wondering if Dune and Hallie had “sexy times,” yes, they did. There wasn’t anything explicit or gratuitous in the book, but it was apparent that they had a sexual relationship. The same could be said for the couples in both Hourglass and Timepiece as well. Those who are recommending these books to middle grade readers may want to take that into consideration.)

To wrap things up with the Hourglass series, I just have to say that if you’re looking for a series that combines romance, teen angst, unexpected humor, and all of the “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” goodness of Doctor Who, then this is the trilogy for you. I hope you enjoy seeing how Michael and Emerson, Kaleb and Lily, and Dune and Hallie work to build their relationships while dealing with their abilities and what they mean for the circumstances at hand. It’s a pretty wild ride, but it’s one that I think you’ll like. I know I did.

For more information on Infinityglass, the other Hourglass novels, and Myra McEntire, check out the author’s websiteGoodreads, and Twitter. Have fun!

Published in: on June 19, 2015 at 9:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

The Evil We Love

Yesterday, the brilliant Cassandra Clare and Robin Wasserman gave us another gripping story in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. The Evil We Love is the fifth story in this collection. If you’ve got a bit of catching up to do before installment #5, the first four stories are Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy, The Lost HerondaleThe Whitechapel Fiend, and Nothing But Shadows.

In The Evil We Love, readers see Simon Lewis near the end of his first year at the Shadowhunter Academy. It has not been easy for him this year, but he’s definitely learned quite a bit about what it means to be a Shadowhunter…both the good and the bad. Simon is stronger, his memory is returning, and he feels like he might actually have a place here. But all that could change when Isabelle Lightwood strolls through the Academy doors once again…

Isabelle hasn’t arrived at the Academy alone, though. She’s with her father, Robert Lightwood, also known as the Inquisitor. He’s speaking to the Academy students about Valentine and the origins of the Circle. He talks about his own involvement in the group, his conflicted feelings at the time, and how easy it ultimately was to relinquish control to Valentine.

Valentine was a charismatic leader that recognized the vulnerabilities in those around him, and he exploited those supposed weaknesses to get others to do his bidding. He had an agenda that would place Shadowhunters, particularly those who agreed with him, at the top of the food chain–above Downworlders and mundanes alike. Anyone who got in his way–including those close to him–would regret it.

While Robert Lightwood is trying to tell the Academy students about the beginnings of Valentine’s circle and how someone so evil could come to be so loved, Isabelle seems intent on stirring up trouble. She’s flirting with Simon’s nemesis, trying to get the other students to sneak out and break rules, and letting Simon know that he’s no longer part of her life. As for Simon, he may not remember most of his time with Isabelle, but he does remember some of his feelings for her, and her current behavior is destroying him.

Simon wants no part of whatever game Isabelle is playing, but he does still care about her…and his fellow students. He needs to figure out what’s happening here–and put a stop to it–before things really get out of hand. But what’s really going on? Is there more at work than meets the eye? And what could it all mean for Simon, Isabelle, and any possibility of a future together? We’ll just have to see…

_______________

The Evil We Love alternates between Simon’s experiences at the Academy and Robert Lightwood’s time there in 1984. Even though the reader may not immediately realize it, the two perspectives do intertwine.

We see just what Valentine was like through Robert’s eyes. We also learn much more about Robert, what was important to him, and how he was manipulated by his own weaknesses. Valentine took advantage of Robert–as he did with so many others–and essentially took over his life. Robert, coward that he was, allowed it. He also lost one of the most important relationships in his life, the one with his parabatai, because of his own cowardice–an action that can’t be placed at Valentine’s feet.

Robert Lightwood has many regrets that shine through in this story, but, in my view, he’s attempting to use his experiences to keep the same thing from happening again. He’s also trying to mend fences with his daughter, no easy task with someone as strong-willed as Isabelle. Is he able to accomplish all of this during his brief time at the Shadowhunter Academy? Well, his methods are at once cruel and brilliant, and while he might get one point across, I think he may have a bit more work to do with Isabelle.

Isabelle, for her part, kind of drove me a little bonkers in this story…before I figured out what was really going on. I hated what she was seemingly putting Simon through (even though I totally get why she would want to), and I just wanted to reach through the pages and force them to kiss and make up. If only…

I guess that about does it for this installment of Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. As for how The Evil We Love stacks up against the other stories, I can’t say that it was my absolute favorite. That honor goes to either The Whitechapel Fiend or Nothing But Shadows. I can say, though, that it was entertaining, enlightening, and it has me eager for more.

Speaking of more, the next story in this collection, Pale Kings and Princes, will be out on July 21st. In this one, we’ll learn a bit more about Andrew Blackthorn and the events that led to the births of his half-faerie children, Mark and Helen. I can hardly wait!

Published in: on June 17, 2015 at 10:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Gingersnap

Greetings! This evening, I bring you yet another of the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff. This short yet powerful novel combines historical fiction with a bit of the supernatural, and readers end up with a moving tale of a young girl looking for a sense of family.

The year is 1944, and war continues to hold the world in its grips. Jayna knows it’s just a matter of days before her big brother Rob, the only family she has, will be deployed on a ship headed for the fighting in the Pacific. Jayna tries to put on a brave face, but she’s not happy about being separated from her brother once again, and she doesn’t want to live with Celine, their grumpy landlady, while Rob is away.

After Rob leaves for duty, Jayna is comforted by her turtle Theresa, cooking soup, and by an odd presence that seems vaguely familiar. Is this a ghost? If so, who is it, and what does it want with Jayna?

When Jayna receives the devastating news that her brother is missing in action, this “ghost” leads the girl back to their house and to an old box in a closet. There Jayna finds an old blue cookbook and the address of a Brooklyn bakery called Gingersnap (which happens to be Jayna’s nickname).

Jayna, though scared and unsure, sees the bakery’s name as a sign, and she packs up her turtle, the blue cookbook, and most of her belongings and sets off for an uncertain future and a grandmother she’s never known. Jayna is accompanied by the voice of her ghostly companion, and she eventually arrives in Brooklyn. What she finds there, however, may not be exactly what she expected.

Jayna is very confused about her current circumstances and what will happen to her should her brother never return. She likes being in Brooklyn and the friends she’s made, but what if Rob never comes back to her? What if he’s gone forever? Jayna seeks out her ghostly friend to give her some measure of help, but she doesn’t know if that will be enough to keep her brother safe or to preserve the little family she’s made for herself in Brooklyn.

What will become of young Jayna in this time of turmoil? Read Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff to find out!

_______________

Many of my students may pick up Gingersnap for the length (only 160 pages), but I hope they stick around for this heart-warming story. In just a few pages, Patricia Reilly Giff gives readers a fairly realistic look at what life may have been like for a young girl during World War II. We see how a family can be torn apart by war, how a girl will do whatever she must to survive and thrive, and how scarcity and rationing can have a huge effect on not just a family’s meals but also keeping a business going.

Peppered throughout Gingersnap, readers see Jayna’s soup recipes. These recipes reflect exactly what Jayna is going through, and the instructions are at once charming, funny, and reminiscent of many recipes created by kids–or my own mother, a woman who makes soup by tossing everything but the kitchen sink into a pot and cooking until it tastes right. (Whatever she does, it works. My mom’s soup is the best.)

Even though the ending of this book is a tad predictable, I still appreciated Jayna’s journey. She learned quite a bit about herself, her family’s past, the war going on around her, and what it really feels like to be part of a family and the community around her. And even though everyone around her had their own reasons to be cynical and angered by the circumstances of war, they were all kind and caring, and they showed Jayna just what it meant to be there for one another in difficult times.

As for the “supernatural” bits of Gingersnap, neither I nor Jayna are sure if a ghost was at work. It’s possible. This part of the book is definitely open to interpretation, and the discussions about this presence could be quite interesting.

I think Gingersnap is a great read for those in third grade on up. (Yes, even middle schoolers and teens will find something to enjoy.) This book could lead to further research on World War II and the fighting in the Pacific, and it would be a good novel study presenting a different view of the war. (As my fellow educators likely know, most novels with a WWII-focus tend to center on the fighting in Europe and/or the Holocaust.)

Spellbinder

If you’re not caught up on C.C. Hunter’s Shadow Falls and Shadow Falls After Dark series, you might want to take care of that before reading this post or Spellbinder, the upcoming novella set in this magical world. The books in these series thus far are:

And now we have Spellbinder, a story that takes place after the events of Eternal, the second Shadow Falls After Dark novel. This novella will be released in eBook format on June 30th, and it centers around Miranda, a young witch who is trying to live up to the expectations of those around her…even when it could put her very life at risk.

Miranda Kane has always been something of a klutz when it comes to managing her magic. She can never seem to please her exacting mother, who wants nothing more than for Miranda to be a Wiccan high priestess. Miranda never gets her spells quite right, and she’s sure that’s not going to change in the latest spell-casting competition her mother’s dragged her into, especially when Tabitha, Miranda’s nemesis, is also competing.

Almost immediately, things get off to a rocky start for Miranda, and she can’t seem to shake the feeling of foreboding that surrounds her. Something is off about this competition, and Miranda’s not the only one that senses it. She shares her concerns with her best friends, Kylie and Della, and all of them eventually realize that someone–or something–is targeting the witches in this competition. Why? Who would care so much about a spell-casting competition for teenage witches?

As the competition leads Miranda and company to Paris, the threat intensifies, as does Miranda’s confusion about the turmoil that is her life. Why does Tabitha seem to hate her so much? Why are her parents keeping secrets? What’s going on with her ex-boyfriend, a shapeshifter currently living in Paris, and why does she even care?

Miranda Kane is about to get the answers she needs, but she may not be ready for what those answers might mean. How will they change her life and what she’s always believed about herself? And how will they impact her future?

_______________

I know we’ll see more of Miranda in the third Shadow Falls After Dark novel, Unspoken, but Spellbinder has really whet my appetite for a meatier story centering on Miranda. Given what happened in this novella, I’m certain she’ll get another story, but I don’t know at this point if it will be a full-length novel. I hope it is.

Remember that this story will be released to the masses on June 30th. (Thank you, NetGalley, for allowing me to read it early!) If you’re new to the world of Shadow Falls, you’ve got a bit of time to catch up before then. If you’re all caught up, I think you’ll be as pleased with Spellbinder–and its connections to the other books–as I was.

For those who’d like to learn a bit more about the Shadow Falls books and C.C. Hunter, you can connect with the author on her website, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook. Enjoy!

Every Last Word

Last month, I read OCD Love Story, a book about a teen girl struggling with OCD. Late last night, I finished yet another book about a girl with OCD. The two books, however, are very different in my humble opinion.

I struggled to get through OCD Love Story. It took me a month to finish it. My latest read, though, gripped me from the first page. The book was Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, and I finished the entire beautiful story in one sitting. (It’s been quite some time since I’ve had the luxury of doing that. Thank the Maker that my summer vacation has begun!)

Every Last Word, which will be released next Tuesday, June 16th, introduces readers to Samantha McAllister. On the outside, Samantha seems to have it all. She’s pretty, popular, smart, and athletic. On the inside, though, she’s at the mercy of a constant stream of thoughts, some of which frighten her at times. Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD, and no one outside of her family and her therapist know about her struggles with this disorder…and Sam needs to keep it that way.

Sam knows that one wrong move will forever damage her standing with her so-called friends, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep her true self from the girls she’s been close to since kindergarten. But if she loses them, Sam fears that she’ll really go crazy, and she simply can’t risk it.

Everything changes for Sam when she meets Caroline. Caroline seems to have a confidence that Sam longs for, and the two girls form an instant bond. Caroline leads Sam to a secret part of the school, Poet’s Corner, a refuge for those who have no place else to go. Sam doesn’t realize immediately that this hideaway may be exactly what she needs to finally express all of the thoughts that stay bottled up inside, but with Caroline’s encouragement and a bit of attention from the guitar-playing AJ, Sam begins to find her true voice.

Sam is still struggling with her changing relationships with her oldest friends, but she’s coming to realize that change can be good. Caroline, AJ, and Poet’s Corner have given her a new perspective and made her realize that she’s stronger than her OCD, and the “normal” she’s always craved may finally be within her reach.

But what will happen when Sam realizes that her mind has betrayed her? What she thought was so real may just be a trick of her anxiety, and the realization could jeopardize everything Sam has fought so hard for this year. When the truth is revealed, she could end up losing not only her old friends but also the safety and love she’s found in Poet’s Corner…and AJ’s arms.

Will Sam become a prisoner of her own mind once again? Or will she work through the maelstrom of emotions, thoughts, and worries that have held her back for so long? What will it take for her to become the person she so desperately wants to be?

_______________

It’s been difficult for me to encapsulate this wonderful book into one short blog post. That’s what happens to me when a book grabs me and won’t let go. I grew very attached to Sam in this book, and the big reveal at the end quite simply tore me apart. I was doing a lot of ugly-crying, and it took me a long time to wind down when I finally finished Every Last Word.

Even though not every person who reads Every Last Word will identify with Sam’s OCD, I do think every reader will relate to Sam’s desire to fit in. I think we’ve all had those friends who we remain close to simply because it’s too difficult to move on from them. I know I’ve held onto some toxic friends way too long because it was just easier.

Sam’s journey throughout this book is a familiar one. She works to find her true self–through swimming, therapy, poetry, and friends who are truly there for her–and realizes just how lacking her old relationships have become. Is it difficult for her to separate from the girls she’s held onto since childhood? Yes…but she can’t grow into the person she wants to be while holding onto people who don’t really know her anymore. (I’m still working on that one myself.)

I think Every Last Word, while a somewhat serious book at times, has elements of Mean Girls that many readers will recognize. Sam is working to move beyond the mean girls in her own life, and, even though the road is often rocky, she’s slowly growing more comfortable in her own skin and her own mind, a huge deal for anyone suffering from any kind of mental illness. Finding Poet’s Corner ultimately leads to Sam finding herself. All teens should be so lucky as to find that one group in high school where they can totally be themselves.

The author’s note at the end of this book provides readers with a closer look at Purely-Obsessional OCD and the importance of a close patient-therapist bond in dealing with this disorder. It also leads readers to websites that may be useful in learning more about OCD and other anxiety disorders. That’s something that was sorely lacking in OCD Love Story, so I’m glad to see it included in Every Last Word.

For further information on Every Last Word and Tamara Ireland Stone, you can connect with the author on her website, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Remember that Every Last Word comes out next Tuesday. Pick up a copy of your own! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

*Note to those who select books for middle grade readers: There is one sex scene in Every Last Word, but it is not gratuitous. Additionally, there is some mature language. That being said, this book may be okay for readers in eighth grade and up. As always, though, read the book yourself first, and use your best judgement when recommending this book to readers.*

I Am the Traitor

Warning: Read the first two books in Allen Zadoff’s The Unknown Assassin series, I Am the Weapon and I Am the Mission, before proceeding.

Happy publication day to Allen Zadoff! The third and final book of The Unknown Assassin trilogy, I Am the Traitor, drops today. Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to finish this book yesterday, so now I’m sharing what I think about it (and the series as a whole) with all of you. You’re welcome.

I Am the Traitor continues the story of a sixteen-year-old boy involved with a shadow organization known only as The Program. In the previous two books, this boy began to question his place in The Program, his orders, and the bits of information they chose to reveal. Now, he’s on the run, and he’s trying to uncover the truth about his past and what The Program is really trying to do. He doesn’t know who to trust, and the odds of getting out of this mess alive aren’t looking good…

He’s sixteen years old, he’s a highly trained assassin, and he’s on a collision course with the truth about himself and his past.

He’s been known by many names–Ben, Daniel, and others on dozens of missions with The Program. Now, though, he’s returning to his true name, Zach Abram, and he’s doing everything possible to find out what really happened when he was enlisted as a child soldier in The Program. But Zach may not be prepared for some of the answers he receives.

As Zach searches for answers, he must also find a way to rescue the only friend he’s ever really had. Howard, a tech genius Zach met on a previous mission, has been captured by The Program. Zach knows Howard is likely being tortured, all because he tried to help find the truth.

When Zach finds Howard, however, he also finds another kid–a girl named Tanya. Zach doesn’t completely trust this girl, but there’s also something about her that manages to draw him in. In any case, he now has two other people to worry about, and The Program–and one of its top assassins–is closing in.

Even with the constant threat of The Program looming, Zach, Howard, and Tanya manage to find bits and pieces of information on the biggest mystery in Zach’s life: What really happened to his parents? Did The Program assassinate them like he’s always been told? Were they killed in an accident? Or is the truth much more sinister and complicated? What’s really going on, and is Zach prepared to handle what’s revealed about his family and his origins with The Program?

A showdown with those who run The Program is coming, and Zach must gear up for the fight of his life. Is he prepared to do what must be done to finally be free? Or will he choose to stay with The Program, an organization that has been the only constant in his life for the past five years? And who can he really trust in this life-changing dilemma?

Decisions must be made, and Zach has to be ready–using all of his Program training–to deal with whatever consequences come his way. Who will he ultimately betray in the end–The Program, his friends, or himself?

Join Zach and company on their quest for the truth when you read I Am the Traitor, the thrilling conclusion to a gripping series by Allen Zadoff!

_______________

Now that I’ve finished this entire series (I’m guessing), I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It was action-packed, and it definitely kept me guessing. The twist at the end of this final book threw me for a loop, and, though I probably should have seen it coming, I was as surprised as our anti-hero, Zach.

Even though I like a clear-cut ending as much as the next person, I did kind of like that I Am the Traitor left things a bit open. It’s really up to the reader (at least at this point) to determine how the story proceeds for Zach and what the ramifications of his decisions will be. My hope is that young writers will develop some interesting fanfiction and show us how things progress for the remaining characters in this series. (Yeah, I said “remaining.” Big shocker that not everyone survives in a series about teen assassins.)

Given that violence is a huge part of this entire series, I don’t know how comfortable I feel recommending these books to middle grade readers. (Yes, I realize they likely see this stuff all the time in video games, TV, and movies, not to mention the evening news. I don’t have to pile on, though.) Also, I Am the Traitor has an instance or two of sexy times. (Again, I’m not so naive that I think younger readers don’t experience or know anything about sex. Again, I don’t have to pile on.) With all of that stuff together, I would say the series as a whole is better suited to those in high school and beyond. Ultimately, however, it’s up to you to decide what belongs in your classroom, school, or personal library. I’m just a messenger.

In closing, if you like The Bourne Identity and other psychological thrillers with a bit of political intrigue thrown in, give the Unknown Assassin trilogy a try. I hope you enjoy this wild ride as much as I did!

For more information about I Am the Traitor, the rest of the series, and author Allen Zadoff, check out the author’s website, Twitter feed, the series Facebook page, and Goodreads.

*Note: You may often find this series referred to by different names, Boy Nobody being the most prevalent.*

Published in: on June 9, 2015 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 254 other followers