Trouble Is a Friend of Mine

Given that school starts this week and I still have 795, 463 things to do, I’ll endeavor to keep this post short. Here goes…

If you or any teen readers you know like Sherlock, then you definitely need to give Trouble Is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly a try. If Sherlock Holmes were a 16-year-old American boy, he would be Digby…and awesome. In this highly entertaining book, Zoe (a teen girl version of Watson) encounters Digby after moving to a new area, and life as she knows it is about to get a lot more interesting.

Zoe Webster is just biding her time. All she really wants to do is transfer to the elite Prentiss Academy and get out of this new town, but she’s got to deal with her present circumstances first. A clueless mom, a new school, and no friends.

Well, the “no friends” thing may be easier to change than Zoe thinks. One day, a weird kid named Digby shows up at her door and basically informs Zoe that they’re going to be friends. Almost against Zoe’s will, Digby is right. Even when it leads her directly into the path of trouble, Zoe follows Digby into odd and often dangerous situations, but this strange and brilliant young man usually manages to talk their way out of nearly anything.

Digby and Zoe, along with a couple other colorful characters, manage to find themselves involved in a mystery that includes drugs, kidnapping, cults, attempted murder, and more mayhem than they ever could have expected. (Well, Digby may have expected some of it. Not much gets by him.) They’ll have to break every rule on the books–and some laws of common sense–in their attempt to uncover what’s really going on.

But why is Digby so invested in this stuff? And why does he insist on bringing Zoe along? Is Digby just a manic genius, or is something more going on? Read Trouble Is a Friend of Mine to find out.

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After reading Trouble Is a Friend of Mine, I must say that Digby is one of the most entertaining, charming characters I’ve encountered lately. He really keeps this book going simply because the reader never knows what he’s going to do or say next.

The parallels between Digby and Sherlock Holmes (as played by the delightful Benedict Cumberbatch) are unmistakable and wonderful. Digby has his own version of the Homeless Network, he bends the rules to get answers, he works with law enforcement (when it suits him), and he observes every little detail around him.

Zoe, for her part, is something of a stabilizing force for Digby, much like Dr. John Watson. Yes, she follows him into danger, but she also, in my opinion, keeps him grounded and lets him know that she’ll be his backup. Through the course of their friendship, both Zoe and Digby learn more about themselves, who they can really count on, and just how important their relationship is.

At various points, I think this story wanted to be a romance between Digby and Zoe. It didn’t quite happen, but I can see how it might if there were a sequel. (If there is one on the works, I haven’t heard about it yet.) Part of me wants Digby and Zoe to get together, but a bigger part wants them to be “just friends.” There are too many books out there that force a romantic relationship between two characters, and it would be nice to see a story–or series of stories–where male and female characters can keep things platonic. It would be refreshing, to say the least, and these two characters simply don’t need to hook up to continue being their hilarious, charming selves.

Trouble Is a Friend of Mine was released on August 4th, so it’s available wherever books are sold. I highly recommend it to any library serving teens (or older readers) who love Sherlock.

If you’d like more information on this excellent book, you can connect with author Stephanie Tromly on Twitter. As far as I can tell, Trouble Is a Friend of Mine is her first book. I sincerely hope this is only the beginning.

Published in: on August 16, 2015 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Never Always Sometimes

Yesterday, I finished reading Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid. (You may recognize the name from his previous book, Let’s Get Lost.) Anyway, this latest book, which comes out next Tuesday, is sort of a coming of age story that John Green fans will probably eat up. In fact, at various points, this book reminded me a bit of Paper Towns. If you’re a Nerdfighter, that’s probably all the recommendation you need.

In Never Always Sometimes, readers are introduced to Dave and Julia, best friends who have done their best to avoid becoming high school clichés. Before they even darkened the doors of high school, Dave and Julia made a Nevers List, a list of things they vowed never to do during their time in high school. Some of the items were:

  • #2 – Never run for prom king/queen, student body president, or any other position that would have its own page in the yearbook.
  • #5 – Never dye your hair a color found in the rainbow.
  • #8 – Never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school.
  • #10 – Never date your best friend.

Now, almost four years later, just months before graduation, Dave and Julia have done a fairly good job of sticking to their Nevers List. Or so it seems.

Dave, for his part, has been in love with Julia for what seems like forever–breaking Never #8–but he keeps his feelings a secret so that he won’t ruin his relationship with his best friend.

One day, thinking she and Dave are missing out on the authentic high school experience, Julia suggests that they use the time before graduation to cross off every Never on their list. As is usually the case, Dave goes along with Julia’s crazy idea, and pretty soon, the two are dying their hair (and Dave is shaving his shortly thereafter), stalking a teacher, running a campaign for prom king, going to wild parties, and doing all the other things they’ve been disdainful of all this time.

Through all of this, Dave starts to realize that maybe he really has been missing out. This typical teenage stuff isn’t so bad, and it’s even pushing him to be social with people–girls–other than Julia. One girl in particular, Gretchen, catches his eye, and Dave begins to think that, as much as he still loves Julia, maybe he should let that hopeless crush go and move on.

What Dave doesn’t know (yet) is that Julia is coming to her own realizations. Maybe she too wants something more from her best friend, the guy who knows her better than anyone else. Maybe they should finally cross of Never #10 and see what happens. What could possibly go wrong?

_______________

How do I feel about Never Always Sometimes now that I’ve finished it and reflected a bit? Well, I’m still not sure. I think it’s a good book, maybe a tad unrealistic, but I kind of wanted to punch the main characters in the face several times when I was reading. Especially Julia. (I guess it’s good that I got so emotionally invested.) She seemed so self-centered to me throughout most of the book, and she tended to drag Dave down with her. Granted, he went–if somewhat unwillingly–most of the time, but I wanted both of them to wake up and see just how codependent they were.

As for the ending of the book, it took some doing, but it was sort of satisfying. I wouldn’t exactly call it happy, but given the events that preceded it, it really couldn’t be a totally happy ending for everyone. If anything, I would say that it was fitting and leave it at that.

For those wondering if Never Always Sometimes is suitable for middle grade readers, I would advise against it. It’s great for a YA audience, but the “sexy times” and rather unrepentant alcohol use and rule-breaking make the book much more suited to older teens. Whatever the reader’s age, I’d hope that all of them would have sense enough to know that some of the items on the Nevers List–like “never hook up with a teacher”–should remain Nevers.

As I said previously, Never Always Sometimes will be released to the masses on August 4th. (Many thanks to NetGalley for letting me read it a bit early.) If you’re interested in learning more about this book and author Adi Alsaid, you can connect with the author on Goodreads and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the book trailer below. It’s a pretty good intro to Never Always Sometimes, but it doesn’t give too much away.

Happy reading!

Published in: on July 28, 2015 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Gaby, Lost and Found

It’s not easy being an elementary school librarian when you tend to avoid fiction books with animals on the covers. (I’m forever scarred from reading Old Yeller as a child.) It’s especially difficult when your state book award program has a few animal books on the lists every year. Such is life.

Well, this week, I turned my attention to one of the animal books I have to read. Gaby, Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes, a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, appears to be a “cat book” at first glance. (See cover below.) Cats (and dogs) do play a big part in this book, but they are not the central characters, in my opinion. No, that honor goes to Gaby Howard, a young girl who, like the animals she cares for, is looking for some sense of home.

The past few months have not been easy for Gaby Ramirez Howard. Her mother has been deported to Honduras, her distant father has moved into the house and often forgets to pay bills or go grocery shopping, and mean girls at school ridicule her because of her mom’s situation. Gaby just wants her mom to return and for things to go back to normal. She’s tired of going hungry and worrying about the future. Gaby waits for the day her mom will come back and they can be happy again, but the wait is getting to her.

Gaby’s life is not all bad, though. She has loyal friends, and she’s excited about her sixth grade class’ new service project–volunteering at the Furry Friends Animal Shelter.

Gaby loves her work at the animal shelter. She dotes on the sweet kittens, plays with the dogs, and writes profiles of the animals to convince people to adopt these lovable pets. Her profiles, paired with pictures of the animals, are posted around the community, and Gaby is thrilled that people are reading them and coming into the shelter to give the animals forever homes.

There’s one cat at the shelter who Gaby would love to have for her own. The cat, Feather, was abandoned by her previous owners, and Gaby feels a certain kinship with the little cat. She knows what it’s like to be left alone and wondering if she’ll ever feel truly safe and loved again. If only Gaby could adopt Feather and give her the home that she deserves…

As the days pass, worries about Feather’s future and her mom’s return plague Gaby. Her worries are affecting her friendships, her work at the shelter, and Gaby is doing things that she knows she shouldn’t. And when she receives news that derails all of her thoughts of a happy family, Gaby doesn’t know what to do. She feels so lost…

But maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for Gaby. Maybe she and Feather can somehow find forever homes of their very own…

_______________

I liked Gaby, Lost and Found much more than I thought I would. I even teared up a little bit. (Okay, a lot.) I’m not much of an animal person, but this book almost convinced me to take a trip to the animal shelter in my town. (Almost. I can barely take care of myself. I would not be a good pet owner.)

Gaby’s class service project was pretty awesome, and I can see how this book could inspire school groups to do some work at animal shelters in their own towns. I especially liked the profiles Gaby wrote for the animals. What a great way to combine service learning with creative writing!

I do thing Gaby, Lost and Found fills a void in a lot of libraries that serve upper elementary and middle grade readers. First, it features an Hispanic American female protagonist. That’s a big reason to celebrate this book, but it also deals with the subject of deportation and its impact on families.

We don’t often see stories about deportation, especially accounts of the children left behind. Sure, we see cases on the news of raids in factories or calls from politicians to round up those living and working in America illegally, but we don’t see what happens after that. This book gives just a small glimpse into what happened in one girl’s life–how her sense of home and family was taken away, how her life became one big worry after another, and how she had to face growing up without her mother. I think this is an important topic for young readers to consider. More importantly, though, I’d urge teachers and parents to read this book with children and try to examine attitudes about immigration, deportation, and the turmoil that can result in the families affected by it. It’s not a black and white issue, no matter how it’s portrayed in the media. *steps off soapbox*

I think Gaby, Lost and Found is great for readers in third grade on up, and I plan to recommend it to many of my students when I return to school next month. Even though it didn’t quite end the way I wanted it to, this book demonstrates the resilience of one young girl and shows readers that they can find happiness even when things don’t go their way.

Rules for Ghosting

Greetings, dear readers. I realize it’s been a while since my last post, but I’m here now. (To be perfectly honest, I needed a bit of a break. And now my break is over…maybe.)

Anyway, I’m back today with another of the nominees for the 2015-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Today, we turn our focus to Rules for Ghosting by A.J. Paquette. This book, which is suitable for upper elementary and middle grade readers, is a ghost story, but there’s nothing truly scary about it. The ghosts in the book are friendly, and the villain of the piece is human. At various points, Rules for Ghosting reminded me of Casper, Beetlejuice, and Ghostbusters. That may be the hook I use to get my students interested in this book.

Silverton Manor is the only home Dahlia has ever known. Her family has lived there for generations, and she’s been there for quite some time. Dahlia died at Silverton Manor over fifty years ago…and she never left. Now, she’s the resident ghost of her family home, but her “life” is a rather lonely one. She can’t get past the boundary of the manor grounds, and there’s no one at Silverton Manor–living or dead–to talk to…yet.

All of a sudden, things are changing at Silverton Manor, and Dahlia is lonely no more…

Mrs. Tibbs arrives on the scene to liberate Dahlia. She’s here to help Dahlia find the object, or anchor, that holds her to Silverton Manor, as well as teach the young girl all of the rules for ghosting. Mrs. Tibbs is rather impressed with all that Dahlia has learned on her own, but there’s still much work to do. If only they weren’t also trying to keep an eye on the house’s newest residents…

Oliver Day wants a permanent home. He’s tired of traveling from town to town with his family, and he’s decided that Silverton Manor, the house his parents have been hired to get sale-ready, is destined to be his house. But strange things are going on in this old house, and Oliver doesn’t know what to make of them. Surely there’s a reasonable explanation here. This house couldn’t be haunted. Could it?

According to Ghosterminator Rank T. Wiley, Silverton Manor is indeed haunted, and he’s just the guy to rid the house of its pesky ghost problem. This nefarious ghost hunter will stop at nothing to nab an unsuspecting ghost and make a name for himself. And no meddling kid is going to interfere with his grand plans…

As soon as Oliver learns of Rank T. Wiley’s true reason for being at the house, he becomes determined to stop this horrible man from succeeding in his quest…especially when Oliver realizes that the ghost of Silverton Manor is a friendly girl. Oliver and Dahlia stumble upon a way to communicate, and they work together to rid the house of its true pest while trying to uncover all of the secrets hidden within the mysterious Silverton Manor.

Can Oliver and Dahlia stop Rank T. Wiley before something truly horrible happens? Can Dahlia ever find her anchor and be free of the boundary that holds her to Silverton Manor? And can Oliver figure out a way to stay in the house that has come to mean so much to him? Answer these questions and many more when you read Rules for Ghosting by A.J. Paquette.

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In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that it was very difficult for me to get into this book. I really wanted to be invested in it, but it just wasn’t happening…which may explain why it took about four weeks for me to get through it.

That being said, I do think many of my students will like it. It’s a ghost story, but it’s not too scary, so I have no problem recommending it to any readers in third grade and up. It’s got colorful characters, a couple of mysteries to solve, and an interesting setting. There’s also a fair amount of rule-breaking and working around clueless adults, something most young readers will identify with and/or root for.

So…while Rules for Ghosting is not my favorite of this year’s SCCBA nominees, I predict it will be a hit with young readers. I look forward to their thoughts on what happens with Oliver and Dahlia after this story ends.

For more information on Rules for Ghosting and other books by A.J. Paquette, check out the author’s website. Happy reading!

Published in: on July 20, 2015 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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.

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.

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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  
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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  
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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?

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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.*

Lying Out Loud

Several weeks ago, I read The DUFF, a highly entertaining read by Kody Keplinger. This past Tuesday, I finished its companion novel, Lying Out Loud. (Normally, it doesn’t take me so long to write up a post after finishing a book. I blame end-of-school-year craziness.)

Anyway, Lying Out Loud, which takes place a few years after the conclusion of The DUFF, revolves around Amy Rush (Wesley’s sister) and her best friend, Sonny Ardmore. The best way I can describe their story is Easy A meets Cyrano de Bergerac. But since that doesn’t really go into how cool this book is, let’s take a closer look…

Sonny Ardmore is a world-class liar. She’s discovered that sometimes lies–especially those concerning her parents–are much less painful than the truth. Not even her best friend Amy knows exactly why Sonny needs to sleep over every single night…and Sonny’s in no real hurry to tell her. Sonny knows Amy would by sympathetic, but telling the truth would mean admitting what’s really going on to herself, and Sonny’s not ready for that.

So…the lying continues, and it’s about to land Sonny–and Amy–into quite a mess.

Ryder Cross is the new kid at Hamilton High. He’s pretentious, standoffish, and totally drool-worthy. And he has a crush on Amy. One night, Sonny and Amy (mostly Sonny) respond to a message from Ryder and basically play him for a fool. When Ryder calls them out on how mean they’ve been, Sonny responds and apologizes. The two end up chatting all night long, revealing pieces of themselves they’ve never shared with anyone else. There’s just one big problem, though. Ryder thinks he’s talking to Amy.

When Sonny realizes that there’s been a mix-up, she initially tries to tell Ryder the truth, but he loathes her and won’t give her a chance to fess up. So, liar that she is, Sonny decides to enlist Amy’s help in turning things around. She convinces her best friend to do everything she can to make Ryder let go of his ridiculous crush and turn his attentions to Sonny.

All the while, Sonny continues to text Ryder all the time–and he still thinks he’s talking to Amy. Sonny knows it’s wrong, but she can’t give up this tenuous connection to Ryder. She tells him things she’s told no one else, and he’s doing the same. Sonny just wishes he’d realize that the girl Ryder’s talking to is right in front of him, waiting to be noticed.

Ryder is very confused about the whole situation, and he’s not the only one. Amy is growing tired of Sonny’s schemes, and even Sonny is having trouble keeping up with all of her lies in her quest to prevent the messy truth of her life from being revealed. But that’s the thing about truth. It has a way of making itself known no matter what a person does…and Sonny’s day of reckoning is fast approaching.

Sonny does everything she can think of–short of being totally honest–to unravel the mess she’s made, but her lies are catching up to her. She’s totally panicked, and she’s terrified that she’s about to lose Ryder, Amy, and any possible hope for her own future.

What will happen when Sonny is forced to face the truth? Have her lies hopelessly damaged her relationships with both Amy and Ryder? And how will Sonny and those closest to her deal with the circumstances that led Sonny to make her life one big lie in the first place?

Uncover the truth for yourself when you read Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger!

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Lying Out Loud is a quick, fun, sometimes serious, and always charming read that fans of The DUFF will adore. Readers will especially enjoy the glimpses of Wesley and Bianca in this story. (He’s still charming, she’s still sarcastic, and they’re still really cute together.)

One thing that really stood out to me about this book was that it was just as much about Sonny’s relationship with Amy as it was about her burgeoning romance with Ryder. In fact, I daresay the Sonny/Amy relationship was the most important in the book. If it had come down to choosing between Amy and Ryder, I honestly think Sonny would have chosen to keep Amy in her life. (I’m glad it didn’t come to that, though.) Sonny was kind of horrible to Amy for much of the book, but Amy stood by her side–until even she couldn’t take the lying anymore. When Sonny realized that she was about to lose the greatest person in her life, that’s when she really turned things around. I don’t think Ryder alone would have been able to be that catalyst for change (though he definitely had a part in it).

I think Lying Out Loud is a great read for young adults looking for a book that really delves into relationships–friendships, family (with all of their complications), adversaries, and even one girl’s relationship with herself. Sonny examines her own part in the relationships around her, especially her tendency to lie in an effort to make things easier for her, and I think she eventually realizes just how much she matters to those who really care for her and how much damage she’s truly done. The lies are not necessary. Those who really love her will do so no matter how bad or ugly the truth may happen to be.

If I’ve piqued your interest with this post and you’d like to learn more about Lying Out Loud and other books by Kody Keplinger, check out the author on her website, Twitter, TumblrFacebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and YouTube. Have fun!

Published in: on June 7, 2015 at 2:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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