Black Widow: Red Vengeance

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t read Black Widow: Forever Red, turn back now. I promise this post will spoil parts of this first book (and possibly the second) for you. This will be your only warning.

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I recently finished reading the sequel to Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl. The second book, Red Vengeance, will be released to the masses next Tuesday, October 11th, though I have seen it in stores already. I got to read the book a little early thanks to NetGalley, and I thought it was wonderful. It was action-packed, convoluted at times, horrifying, and entertaining. Like the first book, I loved seeing some of my favorite Marvel heroes–aside from Black Widow–in a different light.

If you enjoyed the first book, Black Widow comic books, or her appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I think you’ll definitely appreciate getting a closer look at this enigmatic character in Red Vengeance.

Red Vengeance picks up several months after the events of Forever Red, and it once again focuses primarily on Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) and Ava Orlova (Red Widow). Both are still reeling after the death of Alexei, Natasha’s brother and Ava’s first love. Ava is training with Natasha, trying to learn to use and control her new powers. Natasha is attempting to come to grips with everything that has happened and find some way to regain her confidence in her instincts. Soon enough, both Widows will have to put all of their training and instincts to use to face threats both old and new.

While following a tip about Red Room activity in Brazil, Natasha and Ava come into contact with a girl in a green dress. After that initial contact–a stellar brush pass–everything begins to go haywire. Someone manages to hack and erase all of Natasha’s secure files. Who could possibly have the ability to do such a thing, and why would they target the Black Widow?

Natasha and Ava attempt to escape to safety only to have Natasha’s Widow’s Cuff–and her motorcycle–blow up. They seek refuge in one of Tony Stark’s many homes, and they call in SHIELD to help figure out what’s going on. They confer with Phil Coulson, Maria Hill, Tony Stark (Iron Man), and Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) to see who could possibly have pulled off such a genius hack. Nobody really knows, but it’s clear that something serious is afoot. Red Room serious.

Natasha knows that Ivan Somodorov is dead, but it seems that someone else is trying to continue his evil work. Someone who has it in for Natasha and her rather explosive apprentice, Ava. The two Widows follow the clues into the Amazon where they discover something truly appalling. Not only is the Red Room’s work continuing, but whoever is running the show has five nuclear missiles at their disposal as well as a terrifying new drug called Faith.

Natasha and Ava do what they can to minimize damage, but even the Widows can’t totally stop the catastrophe that’s coming. Someone–a person with a connection to Natasha’s past–has their own agenda and will do whatever it takes to see it come to fruition. Does that mean deploying nuclear missiles? Does it involve distributing a gruesome, mind-altering drug? (The answer to both questions is a resounding “YES.”) How can Natasha, Ava, and their assorted friends possibly eliminate such a threat? And what if this is only the beginning of what’s in store for the Widows?


I probably should have stopped writing a few paragraphs ago. I feel like I’ve given way too much away. Let’s just be grateful I called a halt when I did. I could seriously go on and on about this book and its predecessor. Black Widow is one of my favorite Marvel heroes, and I adore both of these books.

I also really appreciated the appearance of Captain Marvel in this story. She’s another favorite, and I loved that both she and Black Widow were part of a “Women of Power” poker night. Oh, to be a fly on the wall. From what I understand, there’s a possible Captain Marvel novel in the works, written by Shannon and Dean Hale, but I don’t have any details on a possible release date.

Speaking of future Marvel books, given the way that Red Vengeance ended, we can be sure that at least one more Black Widow novel is on the horizon. Unfortunately, there’s no word yet on when we can expect the next story. Bummer.

For more information on Red Vengeance and other books by Margaret Stohl, visit the author’s website and Twitter page. These are probably the first places you’ll find an announcement on book three. Given that book two hasn’t been officially released yet, though, you could be in for a long wait.

Be sure to pick up Black Widow: Red Vengeance on October 11th!

Black Widow: Forever Red

After the success of nearly every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many people–myself included–have been clamoring for a Black Widow feature film. Sure, she’s one of the Avengers, and she played a vital role in Captain America: Winter Soldier, but where’s her movie?! Where’s the story of Natasha Romanoff?

Well, thanks to the brilliant Margaret Stohl (co-author of the fantastic Beautiful Creatures series), I think we have a pretty amazing basis for a Black Widow film. Black Widow: Forever Red takes a look at what–or who–made Natasha into the kick-butt assassin we know and love. (This was briefly alluded to in Age of Ultron, but this book gives a much more in-depth, gritty peek into Natasha’s disturbing past.) Now, though, there are two more people Natasha has to worry about, a girl who shares remarkable similarities to the famed Black Widow and a boy who is somehow connected to both of them.

Natasha Romanoff didn’t have a typical childhood. Very few other girls know what it was like to be trained by the evil Ivan Somodorov in his infamous Red Room in Moscow. This horrible man taught Natasha how to be lethal, how to lie with conviction, and how to follow orders blindly.

Natasha is not that girl anymore. She’s moved on from her life as one of Ivan’s girls, and she’s done all she can to put things behind her. Unfortunately for Natasha, the past has a way of catching up to her…

Ava Orlova once encountered the woman the world now knows as the Black Widow. After Ava was rescued from the clutches of Ivan Somodorov, Natasha Romanoff promised to look out for Ava. That was the last time Ava saw her. After escaping SHIELD custody, Ava is now on her own, virtually homeless on the streets of Brooklyn. She fences at the Y, sketches the boy who haunts her dreams, and takes care of Sasha Cat, a stray like herself. Like Natasha, though, the past that has always haunted Ava is about to become a very real part of her present…

Alex Manor is a normal kid. He goes to school, he hangs out with friends, and he argues with his mom. Typical stuff, right? So what if he often feels like he’s being watched. So what if his instincts completely take over when he fences or fights. So what if he doesn’t seem to fit in his own life. Well, Alex will soon realize that “normal” is not a word that should ever be used to describe him. Especially not after he encounters Ava, a girl he’s immediately drawn to, and Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow herself.

Natasha, Ava, and Alex come together at a fencing tournament…and nothing is ever the same. Almost immediately, they must escape an enemy threat, unravel a convoluted mystery, and figure out just what they mean to each other. None of them are truly prepared for the answers they find…or the sacrifices they’ll have to make to get out of this alive.

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I don’t want to give away too much more about this book, so I’m going to wrap this up. I think it’s enough to say that this Black Widow fan is ecstatic about this book–which will be released next Tuesday, October 13th–and I hope to see more Black Widow (or Red Widow) novels in the future. (There may have been a spoiler in that last sentence. I guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out.)

Many thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book a little early. I loved everything about it, particularly the awesome female characters (who displayed many different kinds of strength) and appearances from Agent Coulson and Tony Stark. Black Widow: Forever Red whetted my appetite for all things Marvel, so I see a movie and comic book marathon in my immediate future.

If you are a Marvel nerd, I strongly urge you to read Black Widow: Forever Red (which I think is fine for libraries that serve middle grade and teen readers). You will not be disappointed.

If you’d like to learn a bit more about this wonderful book, check out the video below for an interview with author Margaret Stohl.

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!

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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.*

I Am the Mission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Am the Weapon

A few minutes ago, I finally finished reading I Am the Weapon, the first book in Allen Zadoff’s Unknown Assassin series. This book (which I got to read thanks to NetGalley) was originally published last year with the title Boy Nobody. Let me just say that I whole-heartedly approve of the title change. I doubt I would have chosen to read the book with the original title. Boring. I Am the Weapon, though? Yeah, that one grabs my attention.

In this series opener, readers are introduced to a young man with a somewhat fluid identity. He’s the new kid in class, the one who makes friends easily, the one who disappears like smoke. He is an assassin, and, as soon as his job is done, he moves on to the next assignment. The next target sent to him by The Program. He doesn’t ask questions. He follows orders…for now.

The boy’s new assignment takes him to New York City. Unlike his other jobs, this one won’t force him to slowly and carefully make connections with those around him. No, there is a speedy timeline here. He has five days to kill the mayor of New York City.

While he questions his unusual timetable and his high-profile, heavily protected target, he proceeds with the job at hand. He becomes Ben, a new kid in a private Manhattan school, and he does what he must to get close to Samara, the mayor’s daughter.

Sam is smart, though. She knows something is different about Ben. He doesn’t quite fit in at school, and she seems to be intrigued by this. Ben can only use this to his advantage. He quickly involves himself in nearly every aspect of Sam’s life, and, as he learns more about this girl and her father, the more he wonders why this seemingly good man must be eliminated.

Pretty soon, Ben is getting much closer than he intended, and that’s having an impact on his assignment. He can’t quite force himself to follow through and actually kill a man he’s growing to like, especially if that means that Sam will be hurt.

Ben is also reflecting on the circumstances that led him to be an assassin for The Program. Why was he chosen? Why was his father killed? And does he have any control over his own life? Can he make his own choices without higher-ups deciding that he needs to be eliminated as well?

As Ben is struggling with his assignment and his place within The Program, he receives a new set of orders. He’s now got four days to complete his job, but his target has changed. He’s no longer expected to kill the mayor. No. Now his target is Sam. Why? What has she done to warrant being silenced? And can this teen assassin figure things out before he is put in the cross-hairs?

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If you’re looking for a quick, action-packed YA book in the vein of The Bourne Identity and other psychological thrillers with political implications, I think I Am the Weapon may be the book you seek. The main character is not exactly a hero, but readers will be intrigued by his thought processes and what leads him to the actions he takes. He is a killer, one who sometimes blindly follows orders, but he wasn’t always so cold. Once upon a time, he had a family, and his memories of those times–and his growing dissatisfaction with The Program–show readers his humanity and give a hint that he could be redeemed in the future.

Those looking for a happy ending with a sense of closure will not find it in I Am the Weapon. If anything, the conclusion raises even more questions…which I guess is good since there are other books in the series waiting in the wings. The next book, I Am the Mission (which has gone through a couple of title changes as well), should already be out. I’m hoping it’s just as action-packed as the first book. I’ll find out soon enough. Thanks to NetGalley, I’ve also got a copy of this one waiting on my ereader.

For more information on I Am the Weapon and other books by Allen Zadoff, check out the author’s website. As for me, I think I’ll move on to my next book! Peace!

Perfect Scoundrels

Warning:  Read Ally Carter’s Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals before proceeding. The third book in this series, Perfect Scoundrels, is not a stand-alone novel! You need prior knowledge of the characters to really grasp what’s going on!

It’s my last day of spring break, and, to be totally honest, I am not ready to go back to school. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job, most of the people I work with, and my students…but this week has been kind of awesome. I’ve shopped, taken lots of naps, watched what some would say is way too much Doctor Who, and I’ve read several fantastic books. One of those books, Perfect Scoundrels, the third book in Ally Carter’s Heist Society series, has me wondering how I would fare as part of a crew of top-notch thieves. For a rather large woman, I’m often overlooked in a crowd, so I think I would be great at gathering intel. I’m also fairly decent with computers and research, so that’s another strength. I’m horrible, though, when I have no plan, and you can forget anything that requires even the smallest amount of athletic prowess. So, I guess, at least for the time being, I’ll stick with being an elementary school librarian and part-time book blogger. Oh well…I have my Knight Reader persona for now.

If you’ve read Heist Society and Uncommon Criminals (and I assume you have if you’re still reading this), you probably have something of a crush on the character of Hale. Who wouldn’t? He’s cute, rich, funny, talented, and totally loyal to Kat and her merry band of thieves. So what could possibly happen to cause this seemingly perfect guy to go completely off the rails?

In Perfect Scoundrels, Hale is forced to finally deal with his family after the death of his beloved grandmother, Hazel. Kat doesn’t know how to help him through this, especially when it becomes crystal clear that she does not fit into his high society lifestyle. When Hale is named Hazel’s heir, though, Kat finds herself drawn into a bigger mystery than any she’s ever faced before. Why would Hazel leave her company to a teenager? And why would she leave her oldest, dearest friend out of her will? Something is up, and Kat is left to figure things out. But can she do this without Hale knowing? And if he finds out, what could it mean for their somewhat tenuous relationship?

As Kat and her crew begin to put the pieces together of the events surrounding Hazel’s death, a tale of corporate espionage comes into focus. She discovers that Hazel’s will might have been an elaborate forgery. What will this mean for Hale? And how can Kat prove that the will is a fake when the person who is sabotaging the Hale family seems to always be one step ahead of her?

Kat and crew will have to pull the biggest con of their lives if they have any hope of restoring order to Hale Industries and reclaiming the boy who has come to mean so much to all of them…but most especially to Kat. She feels Hale drifting away from her and toward the life and family he was born into. Can she expose the truth of what’s going on while keeping the boy she’s come to love? Can she convince him that his real family is the one he’s chosen? No matter what, Kat will have to pool every resource, every family member, every friend she’s ever known to reveal the truth of Hazel’s will. The real question is…will it be worth it if she ends up losing Hale? Find out when you read Perfect Scoundrels, the thrilling third book in Ally Carter’s Heist Society series!

Perfect Scoundrels is an excellent book, and it provides a lot of insight into the enigmatic character of W.W. Hale the Fifth. (We still don’t know what his initials stand for, though. Dare I hope we’ll find out in future books?) We learn that his nickname in the moneyed world of Manhattan is Scooter…which totally doesn’t fit the Hale I’ve come to know in previous books. We also learn a lot about how he and Kat met and how he interacts with his family (the majority of whom are cold, greedy snobs.) In my opinion, readers also discover a bit about just how much Hale really means to Kat. (Even Kat didn’t realize just how much she cared for him until she was in danger of losing him.) Kat also realizes how much it means to have friends and family who are always there for her. Even though she’s part of a family of thieves, they’re an honorable group, and family means everything to them. It’s touching.

I really hope that we haven’t heard the last of Kat, Hale, Gabrielle, Simon, Angus, Hamish, Uncle Eddie, and assorted other colorful characters. There’s already a novella that combines the world of Heist Society with Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series. It’s called Double Crossed, and I read it yesterday before I began Perfect Scoundrels. It’s a pretty cool story, and it leads me to hope that these two worlds will intertwine once more.

If you like mysteries or tales of teenagers with very little adult supervision and seemingly unlimited resources, you definitely want to check out the entire Heist Society series. You may have to suspend reality a bit while reading these books, but the stories will definitely keep you guessing, and you’ll find yourself eager to see what happens next. It’s kind of like Ocean’s Eleven for the YA crowd.

For more information on Ally Carter, the Heist Society series, and several other books, visit her website at http://allycarter.com/. There’s also tour information and how to interact with the author through Twitter and Facebook. All you visual people may also like the book trailer from Hyperion Teens below. Have fun!