What Light

I think there’s something wrong with me. Why, you ask? Well, I read another Christmas-themed book that made me feel all mushy inside. That book is Jay Asher’s latest, What Light.

Some of you know Jay Asher from Thirteen Reasons Why (which will soon be a Netflix original series) or The Future of Us (a collaboration with Carolyn Mackler). While What Light isn’t nearly as serious as Thirteen Reasons Why or as out there as The Future of Us, it is a good story and one that many teen readers will enjoy. And even though the book is set during the Christmas season, I think it’s much more than a Christmas book. It’s about first love, friendship, forgiveness, and atonement. Those concepts make this book accessible to a wide audience, regardless of whatever winter holiday one chooses to celebrate.

Every Christmas season, Sierra’s family packs up and moves from their Christmas tree farm in Oregon to a tree lot in California. It’s the only life Sierra has ever known, and, even though she misses her friends in Oregon, she loves the time she spends in California. After all, she’s got friends and traditions there too, and she dreads the day when her parents say that they’re closing the Christmas tree lot for good. (And that day may be coming sooner than Sierra wishes.)

Sierra wants to make the most of what could be her final Christmas in California. Her plans most definitely do not include getting involved with anyone. What would be the point? She’s packing up right after the holiday and heading back home. She doesn’t want to get her heart broken or deal with a long-distance relationship, so she tries to avoid any messy entanglements. “Tries” being the operative word. This year, Caleb throws all of Sierra’s plans out the window.

Sierra does her best to resist Caleb, but he sneaks past her defenses. Even when she learns that Caleb has some serious issues in his past, she works to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s such a good guy; surely he couldn’t be guilty of the horrible things people warn her about. Right?

As it turns out, Caleb did make a big mistake years ago, and he’s been paying for it ever since. He’s basically a pariah in town, and, even though he tries to make up for what he’s done, there are many people–Caleb included–who will not forgive him.

While Sierra has some reservations about getting too close to Caleb, she sees more in him than this one mistake. Can she convince her friends, her parents, Caleb, and others in her Christmas-time home that Caleb is a great guy and worthy of forgiveness? Can she and Caleb make a relationship work when so many things are stacked against them?

Read What Light by Jay Asher to learn how two young people battle rumors, distance, and even time to find their own Christmas miracle.


If it’s not already obvious, I really like What Light. I think it’s heartwarming, sentimental, and fun. At the same time, it deals with issues like suspicion, family upheaval, balancing romantic relationships with friendships, change, grace, and redemption. Jay Asher takes all of these things, adds a bit of Christmas spirit, and gives readers a book that delights even the most hard-hearted cynic. (That would be me.)

What Light is a great pick for middle grade, teen, and even adult readers. If you’re looking for a novel to round out your Christmas display/collection, give this one a try.

For more information on What Light and other books by Jay Asher, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, or the Thirteen Reasons Why website.

The Girls

Warning: Skip this post if you’re looking for a book for anyone younger than age eighteen. This one is for adult readers.

Earlier today, I finished reading The Girls by Emma Cline. I began reading the book about three weeks ago, and it definitely took me longer to get into it than most other books.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. The subject matter–basically a fictional version of the Manson family–should have gripped me from the start, but I failed to connect with the main character, Evie. Maybe it had something to do with the narrative, which felt almost like stream of consciousness to me. (That could have reflected the staggering amount of drug use depicted in the book.) Or maybe it was the flipping back and forth between 1969 Evie and present-day Evie. (Neither version is particularly sympathetic, in my opinion.) For whatever reason, I’m happy to move on to something else.

Even though The Girls wasn’t what I would call a favorite read, it is interesting at points. Seeing into the mind of a girl taken in by enthralling figures who give her a place to belong is eye-opening. Evie, on some level, knew there was something wrong with what was happening, but she was mesmerized by those around her. She did things that may have been unthinkable to her former self, and she narrowly escaped becoming involved in something truly heinous. Even so, these people gave her attention, negative as it was, when no one else really cared about her. It’s not so difficult to see how a vulnerable person could be susceptible to a group that was essentially a cult.

In case you didn’t heed my warning at the beginning of this post, I’ll say it again. This is a book for adults. The book includes sexual situations, flagrant drug use, child neglect, profanity, violence, and more. I would not recommend The Girls to anyone under eighteen.

Some may think I’m too harsh on this book, and maybe I am. Perhaps my years of reading children’s and young adult books have made me more sensitive, but is that really a bad thing? I know what I think, but I’ll leave you to your own opinions.

For more information on The Girls, visit author Emma Cline’s website.

Saving Kabul Corner

Last night, I finished yet another of the 16-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. The book was Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai. This book is a companion novel to Shooting Kabul, but you definitely don’t need to read the first book to appreciate the second. The two stories stand on their own. (I haven’t read the first book, but I may change that after reading Saving Kabul Corner. I liked it more than anticipated.)

Before I give a synopsis of Saving Kabul Corner, let me say that I love that this book is on the SCCBA list for next year. It gives readers the opportunity to look at a realistic representation of Afghan-American culture, something that some of them only see portrayed negatively–whether on the news or in conversations they hear. Maybe it will help them to be more empathetic. At the very least, I hope this book will start some conversations, and I am thrilled to bring it to the attention of students, parents, and my fellow educators.

Life was going great for twelve-year-old Ariana until her perfect cousin Laila moved in. Where Ariana is kind of a tomboy who loves television and origami, Laila is the perfect Afghan girl. She speaks Farsi, Pukhto, and English, she cooks, she helps out at the family grocery store, and she has impeccable manners. Ariana doesn’t see how she can possibly measure up, and she’s not too happy that she has to share her room, her school, and now her friends with Laila.

Things go from bad to worse for Ariana (and the rest of her family) when another Afghan grocery store moves into their shopping center. The adults are tense due to this competing store, and there’s talk of a family feud that goes all the way back to Afghanistan. That talk only intensifies when both stores are vandalized. Neither family claims responsibility for these actions. What could possibly be going on?

Ariana, curious by nature, begins to gather clues as to what’s happening with the rival stores, and she eventually enlists the help of cousin Laila (who’s not as bad as Ariana first thought), her best friend Mariam, and Wali, the son of the other grocery store’s owner. These four kids investigate who could have something to gain by destroying the two stores. What they find will surprise everyone.

Can Ariana and company solve this mystery, save their family businesses, and somehow restore peace to their families? Find out when you read Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai.


I think Saving Kabul Corner could shine a light on a culture that many American readers may not be familiar with. I admit that I knew very little about Afghan culture before reading this book. Now, however, I want to know more. I’m hoping that my students feel the same way. This book could serve as a tool for understanding and appreciating differences–and similarities–instead of allowing preconceived notions or fear color how people are treated.

Not only does Saving Kabul Corner educate readers about Afghan culture, it also highlights the political climate in Afghanistan, now and in the past. This book does not shy away from talking about how women are treated in Afghanistan, how the Taliban came to power, and the current circumstances in the country. Many who read this book may just want to do further research about Afghanistan, its volatile history, and how America has impacted the country and its people, both positively and negatively. (An author’s note at the end of the book provides further information.)

Aside from all of the cultural and political stuff, Saving Kabul Corner is a good mystery reminiscent of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and even Scooby-Doo. (There are no dogs in this book, though. That’s a good thing, in my opinion,) I recommended this book to several of my mystery-loving students today, and I’m sure they’ll enjoy putting the puzzle pieces together as much as I did.

If you’d like more information on Saving Kabul Corner and other books by N.H. Senzai, visit her website or Twitter. As for me, I think I’ll now add Shooting Kabul to my staggering TBR pile.

Happy reading!

 

Lady Midnight

Unless you are brand new to this blog, you know that I have a mild obsession with Cassandra Clare’s writing. Despite the current controversy (which I won’t go into here) and the less-than-spectacular movie and TV adaptations of her work, I remain a loyal fan. My enjoyment of her writing has only increased with her latest novel, Lady Midnight, the first book in the new Dark Artifices trilogy.

But before we move on to Lady Midnight, if you’re not already familiar with Clare’s Shadowhunter novels, you’ve got a bit of catching up to do. Read these books first:

For whatever reason, I neglected to write posts on City of Ashes or The Bane Chronicles. Trust me, they’re just as awesome as the other books. In the case of The Bane Chronicles, probably more awesome. (It’s no secret that the High Warlock of Brooklyn is my favorite character.)


Now, let’s turn our attention to Lady Midnight. Some may be a little shocked that I’m just now getting around to posting on this book, especially considering my love of Clare’s books. I promise I have very good reasons.

  1. I pre-ordered the book through Barnes & Noble, and it didn’t arrive at my house until March 11th, three days after the release date. (I can’t complain too much, though. I did get an autographed copy.)
  2. My school book fair kicked off on March 10th and didn’t wrap up until yesterday. If you’ve ever run an elementary school book fair, you know how exhausting it is. I barely had enough energy to read more than a couple of chapters before passing out each night.
  3. My Battle of the Books team has been preparing for competition. Our regionals were this past Tuesday, and I’m pleased to report that we’re moving on to finals next week.

Even with all of that going on, I did manage to finish Lady Midnight last night, and, like I expected, it made me want to weep, rage, and throw things. I mean that in the best possible way.

Lady Midnight takes place in Los Angeles and focuses primarily on Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn. These parabatai live at the LA Institute with the younger Blackthorn children–Ty, Livvy, Dru, and Tavvy–their mostly absent uncle Arthur, and Cristina, a Shadowhunter visiting from Mexico (and possibly escaping her own past).

It’s been five years since the Dark War that took so many Shadowhunters from them, including Emma’s parents and Julian’s father, and time has molded both Emma and Julian into much more than the children they once were. Emma is bent on finding out what really happened to her parents, and Julian is doing everything he can to keep his family together while hiding his wealth of feelings from everyone around him.

When strange murders with possible demonic ties begin occurring in LA, Emma and Julian know they must investigate…but there’s a problem. Some of the victims are Faeries, and the Cold Peace prevents Shadowhunters from investigating crimes involving Faeries. That doesn’t exactly stop Emma and Julian, and the waters get even more muddied when a Faerie convoy arrives at the Institute with an incentive for the young Shadowhunters to provide assistance. In return for their help in capturing the killer and handing him/her over to the Fey, they’ll return Mark Blackthorn–half-Fey, half-Shadowhunter, member of the Wild Hunt, and Julian’s older brother–back to his family.

Mark’s sudden return to his family is an adjustment for everyone…most especially Mark. He struggles with what it means to be part of the human world once more. Part of him longs to return to the Wild Hunt…and what he left behind. Another part of him wants to contribute to his family, but so much has changed since he left. Where exactly does he fit?

As Mark is dealing with his own turmoil, so are Emma and Julian. Emma is certain that the odd murders in LA are somehow tied to her parents. She recklessly follows every lead she can, leading herself and others into more danger than they expected.

As for Julian, he’s finding it harder and harder to hold everything and everyone together. So much has been placed on his young shoulders, and he’s not sure how much more he can handle. Throw in the fact that he’s in love with Emma, his parabatai, and things get even more complicated.

Even as Emma and Julian grow closer together, closer than is allowed by Shadowhunter law, danger and betrayal are making their way toward the Los Angeles Institute and its inhabitants. Who will be left standing when all is said and done? What will be unleashed should these young Shadowhunters fail to stop the maniacal killer? What could it all mean for the Blackthorns and their closest allies?

Read Lady Midnight, the first book of The Dark Artifices, to learn the answers to these questions and many more…


Oh, I have left out sooooo much here. I didn’t even really touch on Cristina’s issues, Ty and how the Clave views those who are “different,” or the appearance of the “Lost Herondale.” I couldn’t possibly cover everything in one blog post, so I’m not even going to try. Suffice it to say that a LOT happens in the nearly 700 pages of this book, and everything is important.

If you’re also a Shadowhunter fan, you’ll be pleased to know that we do see some old favorites in Lady Midnight. Tessa, Jem, Magnus, Jace, Clary, and Church all make appearances, and I’m confident we’ll see more of them as the series progresses.

Speaking of the rest of the series, the next book, Lord of Shadows, is set to be released in May of 2017, and book three, The Queen of Air and Darkness will be out sometime in 2018. Long waits ahead, people.

If you’d like more information on Lady Midnight and all things Shadowhunter, visit Cassie Clare’s website, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Mundie Moms. You may also want to check out the video below from Cassie herself.

That’s all from me for now. I hope you enjoy Lady Midnight as much as I did!

Famous Last Words

Today, I bring you one of next year’s nominees for the South Carolina Junior Book Award, Famous Last Words by Katie Alender. The SCJBA nominee list is primarily intended for middle grade readers, but I think Famous Last Words–and probably several others on the list–is a great read for older readers as well. It is an engrossing murder mystery with a supernatural twist that many tween, teen, and adult readers will enjoy.

Willa, a girl struggling with her past, has just moved from Connecticut to sunny Los Angeles. Her mother recently married a movie producer, and now Willa must adjust to an entirely new life. It doesn’t help matters that there’s a serial killer on the prowl in LA, a killer recreating scenes from famous movies. But surely Willa is safe from harm, right? (You can probably guess the answer to that question.)

It doesn’t take long for Willa to realize that something isn’t quite right in her new home. A strange presence tries to drown her in the pool. She sees words and numbers on the walls, and dead bodies and rose petals appear in the bathtub. No one else sees these terrifying images, and even Willa is starting to think she’s crazy. That feeling only increases when she begins to get visions of the Hollywood Killer and his victims. Who is haunting Willa, and what is this being trying to tell her?

As a newcomer in this strange city, there are few people that Willa can go to for help. Her mom and her new husband would never believe her. They’d probably think she was crazy and send her to a mental hospital. Her new “friend” Marnie is a pathological liar and can’t exactly be trusted with something like this. Maybe her stepdad’s cute assistant, Reed? Possibly. What about Wyatt, her sullen lab partner who has a strange obsession with the Hollywood Killer case?

Who can Willa trust to believe her and help her deal with the horrors she’s facing? And can she discover what the ghost in her house is trying to tell her before she’s a deranged killer’s next victim?


I’m going to stop before I give too much away. The fun of a murder mystery is discovering all this stuff for yourself, am I right?!

If I had one problem with this book, it would be the somewhat forced love story. It just didn’t make a ton of sense to me, and, honestly, I’d love to see the occasional book with a strong platonic relationship between a girl and a boy. No mention of lovey-dovey stuff. (Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?) For me, this book would have been more believable–even with the ghost story elements–without the romance. Maybe I’m alone in that. Then again, maybe not.

All in all, Famous Last Words is a a quick, easy, entertaining read that will definitely appeal to anyone looking for a good mystery. It kept me hooked from the first page, and I couldn’t wait to figure out if I was right about “whodunit.” (I called it early on. Let me know if you do, too!)

For more information on Famous Last Words and Katie Alender, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Happy reading!

The Beginning of Everything

Happy Independence Day to all of my American friends out there–and happy Saturday to everyone else. As fireworks are blasting all around me, I figured now was a good time to bring you my latest read. I’m not a huge fan of loud noises, so this is helping me to focus on something other than the idea that my neighbors have spent what seems like thousands of dollars in pyrotechnics. Thanks for that.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider. This book, which is nominated for the 15-16 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, is sure to be a hit with readers who love John Green, Gayle Forman, Jennifer E. Smith, and other wonderful authors of contemporary YA fiction.

“Sometimes I think that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them…That everyone’s life, no matter how unremarkable, has a moment when it will become extraordinary–a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen.”

Ezra Faulkner was once the envy of nearly everyone around him. He had the beautiful girlfriend, he was a tennis star, and he was one of the most popular guys in the junior class. All of that changed, though, on one fateful night. One night–and one tragic car accident–that shattered his leg, his tennis career, and everything he thought he knew about himself.

After a grueling summer of surgeries, rehab, and physical therapy, Ezra is returning to school for his senior year. He knows that this year will be different, but he’s not quite prepared for just how different. He’s no longer the school’s golden boy. His former girlfriend has moved on–to the new captain of the tennis team. Some of his supposed friends act like nothing has changed, but Ezra knows that they can’t simply go back to the way things once were. Too much has happened in the past few months.

Now, Ezra is trading the tennis team for the debate team. It is here that he reconnects with Tobey, one of his best childhood friends, and he also meets a few new friends who are much more interesting than his former self would have believed. Ezra also meets Cassidy Thorpe, the enigmatic new girl who sparks his interest and forces him to think about the new direction his life has taken.

Ezra is completely taken in by Cassidy. He feels more for her than he ever did for his former girlfriend, he enjoys being with her, and he appreciates that she makes him think. But Ezra knows that Cassidy is holding something back. She won’t talk about why she’s transferred to his school or no longer competes in debate. She never invites Ezra to her house or introduces him to her family. Why? What exactly is this mysterious girl hiding? Why is she doing her best to drive Ezra away when he thought they were closer than ever?

When Ezra finally realizes what Cassidy has been hiding, the air is knocked out of him. The truth is almost too much for him–and Cassidy–to handle, and this new tragedy, much like the car accident that altered the course of his life, has the power to change everything.

_______________

While I found The Beginning of Everything to be a tad predictable, I did enjoy it. I loved the character of Tobey, who I imagined as kind of a teenage version of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor. I also liked how Ezra’s character developed throughout the book. Sure, there were times when I wanted to smack him for being wishy-washy, but he did come to realize that he had more to him than tennis and superficial popularity.

I’m hoping that readers will do further research on the the literary and philosophical allusions in this book. There were many references to the PanopticonThe Great Gatsby, Foucault, and other works and ideas that make The Beginning of Everything a much richer read because of their presence.

If I have one big complaint about this book, it was the way it concluded. I wasn’t crazy about the abrupt ending. It almost felt like there were a couple of chapters missing. I went from reading about Christmas of Ezra’s senior year to his first year of college in a matter of minutes. It was a little jarring. I get that the major events of the book had already happened, but a little more stuff would have given me a greater sense of closure that what I ended up with.

If you think The Beginning of Everything sounds like your kind of book, you can learn more on the author’s website. You can also connect with author Robyn Schneider on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.

I’ll Give You the Sun

Sometimes, when it takes me a while to finish a book, it’s because I just couldn’t get into it. (See my previous post.) Other times, however, my reasons are more complicated. My latest read, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, took me about six weeks to get through, but the problem definitely wasn’t that I couldn’t get into it. Just the opposite, in fact.

I’ll Give You the Sun–like the works of John Green, Gayle Forman, and Rainbow Rowell–is one of those books with the power to completely take over everything, causing me to forget to sleep or eat and making me resent going to work. So, I had to force myself to only pick up this book when I could devote all of my attention to it…and I was finally able to do a lot of that this weekend. I consider it a weekend well spent…even with all of the ugly crying going on.

This amazing book tells the story of Jude and Noah, twins who have been torn apart by heart-breaking circumstances. Told in alternating perspectives–the earlier years by Noah and the later years by Jude–this story allows readers to see both sides of a tarnished (yet still beautiful) coin.

Through Noah’s eyes, we see Noah and his obsession with the pictures in his head, the enigmatic boy next door, and his fear that both he and his art are simply not good enough. We see Jude, her wild ways, and Noah’s confusion over why she’s drifting away from him. We also see the pain of being different, Noah’s struggle to find–and accept–his own identity, and how secrets big and small have the power to rip a boy’s soul to pieces.

Through Jude’s eyes, readers see what the twins are like just a few short years later. Jude is no longer the wild child of the bunch. That honor goes to Noah. Jude is now the withdrawn, artistic twin, and she wants to find some way to reach her brother and force him to really be his true self. All the while, Jude is also wrestling with her own ghosts and seeking a measure of peace in her life.

What could have caused such a drastic personality switch in these once-close twins, and is there any way to heal the wounds of the past and move toward a happy future?

With the help of a couple of people with odd connections to the twins’ past, there may be hope for these two siblings to once again find each other. The journey will not be without its painful revelations, but, if they can make it through to the other side, they may just find everything they thought they’d lost.

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As so often happens with books that grab me and won’t let go, this post doesn’t begin to do I’ll Give You the Sun justice. I laughed, I cried, and I roared at the vindictiveness of siblings, twins who claim to love each other more than anything. I’ll Give You the Sun was an intense, emotional roller coaster, and I honestly wasn’t ready for the ride to end. That may be another reason I took my time with this one. On some level, I knew that this book would be one to savor.

For more information on author Jandy Nelson and this amazing book, I encourage you to visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

*This amazing book is being touted as one of the great new YA reads, and I totally agree with that. I would, however, caution some librarians, teachers, parents, and others that recommend books to young people that I’ll Give You the Sun does explore some mature themes–sexual identity and alcohol abuse being two of them. Those themes may be par for the course for many teen readers, but I doubt I’d recommend this book to anyone below the high school level…unless that reader showed incredible maturity. Of course, you know the young people in your lives better than I do, so do what you will.*