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.

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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.

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.*

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend

I’m amazed that I just got around to reading The DUFF (which came out in September of 2010), especially considering that I’ve been one for most of my life. (We really can’t count those preschool years, right?) I’m not going to go into my “duff” experiences through middle school, high school, college, and even into my adult years, but let’s just say that the title of this book alone speaks to me. What’s between the covers of the book…well, that’s another story.

Bianca Piper is fiercely loyal to her two best friends, Casey and Jessica, even when they force her to go to a local dance club with them. Bianca usually just sits at the bar and nurses a Cherry Coke, but on this particular night, she’ll engage in a conversation that will change how she views herself, her friends, and how the entire world looks at her.

When the vile, loathsome–and totally hot–Wesley Rush starts talking to her at the club, Bianca’s pretty sure there’s been some sort of mistake. She makes it pretty clear that she hates Wesley, so why is he chatting her up? Well, the answer is rather simple. He’s trying to hook up with one of Bianca’s friends, and he thinks that paying attention to the “duff”–designated ugly fat friend–of the group will win him some points. Bianca, of course, is livid at this description, so she throws her Cherry Coke in Wesley’s face. (Quite right, too!)

But the more Bianca thinks about Wesley’s description of her, the more she thinks…he may be right.

Being branded as a “duff,” though, is not the worst thing going on in Bianca’s life right now. Her mom is never around, her dad is a mess, and her ex-boyfriend (who completely crushed her heart) is coming back into town. So what does Bianca do to distract herself from her problems? She lays a big kiss on her nemesis, none other than Wesley Rush.

Well, the kiss with Wesley probably wouldn’t have been a huge deal…if she had stopped there. No, instead Bianca continues to escape her problems in Wesley’s arms, and she’s soon avoiding even the good things in her life to spend more time with Wesley (who has issues of his own that he’s trying to escape). Bianca still officially hates Wesley (who continues to refer to her as “Duffy”), but it’s getting harder and harder to convince herself of that, especially when he’s there for her during the most difficult situation she’s ever encountered.

So how can Bianca reconcile her growing feelings for someone she swears she hates? Does Wesley have feelings for her even though she’s supposedly a “duff?” Do these two kids have a shot at a real relationship, or will their various issues drive them apart? I’ll leave that for you to find out…

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So…first of all, let me say that I love Bianca’s voice in this book. She’s cynical, sarcastic, moody, and she doesn’t pull any punches. At the same time, she’s vulnerable and struggling with her parents’ crumbling marriage. Even when she’s being surly and self-destructive, Bianca is a sympathetic character. And even though I don’t particularly like how Bianca distracted herself from her problems, I can see where she’s coming from. Her mom escapes through traveling, her dad escapes into a bottle, and both Bianca and Wesley escape into each other. (I escape into books, Netflix, and food…which may go a long way in explaining why I still see myself as a “duff.”)

For those of you thinking of giving The DUFF a read, let me go ahead and tell you that the book doesn’t shy away from sex. Bianca and Wesley get pretty hot and heavy, and that definitely comes through in the book. Even when Bianca hates herself for turning to Wesley, she enjoys sex with him. (Why else would she keep doing it?) And I may get angry messages for saying this–especially here in the Bible Belt–but I think it’s important for teen readers to see examples of enjoyable sex lives in the books they read. I can’t think of many YA novels that make it a point to say that characters–particularly female characters–have positive, even fun, sexual experiences. Something to think about there.

So…given all of that, I would recommend The DUFF to teenage readers (probably age sixteen and up)* who like books with totally relatable characters, sexy times, and a rather happy–if somewhat unrealistic–ending. It’s also a great book for readers who sometimes struggle with their self-perception. (That didn’t narrow things down, did it?) All of us have thought of ourselves as ugly, fat, or some other negative adjective. Are we all “duffs” at one point or another? Maybe. But, as Bianca discovers, other people don’t get to decide who and what we are. Our identities are up to us.

*This is NOT a book for middle grade readers. Aside from the sexual situations, there’s also quite a bit of language and some other themes that may be more suited to mature readers.*

There’s another book set in the world of The DUFF coming out tomorrow! Lying Out Loud features Wesley’s sister Amy and includes cameos from the characters we’ve come to know and love. I, for one, look forward to seeing how Bianca and Wesley are faring.

For more information on The DUFF and other books by Kody Keplinger, check out the author on her website, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and YouTube.

**I know there was a movie adaptation of The DUFF released a couple of months ago, but I didn’t see it. From my understanding, quite a few liberties were taken with the plot, so I doubt I’ll see it now. If I’m wrong on that, please let me know, and I’ll give the movie a try.**

 

Published in: on April 27, 2015 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Notes from an Accidental Band Geek

The title of this book alone should have told me that I would love it. (I did.) I am an unapologetic band geek, and I probably always will be. Notes from an Accidental Band Geek allowed me to relive some of the happiest memories of my adolescence, and I imagine that any former or current marching band members will feel the same. This book could also show prospective band members–and maybe even those who look down on this bunch of dorks (I’m looking at you, Jim Rome)–just how awesome marching band really is. Seriously, band geeks are the coolest people in any school, and no one will ever convince me otherwise.

Now, on with the show…

Elsie Wyatt lives and breathes music. Her main goal in life is to take over her father’s position as principal French horn player for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She’s just got a few things to get through first…like band camp.

As part of the requirements for the prestigious Shining Birches summer music camp, Elsie must take part in a musical ensemble. For Elsie, that means joining her new high school’s marching band. She’s confident in her ability to play her horn, but that confidence takes a big hit on her first day of band camp. Not only is she encountering a musical culture that she never expected–one in which she’s humiliated before things even get started–but she’s also being forced to trade in her gorgeous French horn for a mellophone, a poor substitute that will require her to essentially start from scratch. Yeah…this is going to be a blast.

Now, Elsie must worry about perfecting her audition piece for Shining Birches as well as learning a new instrument, marching techniques, even more music, and navigating the tough waters–and friendships–that come with entering high school. And the friendship thing seems to be the hardest thing for Elsie to handle. Her horn has always been her best friend, and she doesn’t really know how to really talk to people, how to focus on someone other than herself, or how to control her temper when she’s having a troubles (musical or personal). She has to find a way to be a better friend, something that is becoming more and more important to her.

Even as Elsie is learning–and loving–more about the marching band and the friends she’s making, she’s still struggling with the pressure to be great. While part of her really wants to hang out with her band friends and let loose a little, she knows she must stay focused if she wants to earn a spot at Shining Birches and prove to her father that she’s a worthy, serious musician. She knows he doesn’t think she has what it takes, and Elsie will do just about anything to prove him wrong.

All of her intense focus, though, is turning Elsie into someone she doesn’t like or even recognize. (The people around her aren’t so crazy about her, either.) She’s snapping at everyone, even the people who would be there for her if she’d only let them, and her increasing anxiety is about to cause her to break. And when one more thing is added to Elsie’s already full plate, she has to decide whether she’ll rise to the occasion or buckle under the pressure.

Join Elsie in the wonderful world of marching band–band camp, rehearsals, passing out, bizarre rituals, parades, football games, competitions, pranks, bus rides, and much more–and learn how the one thing she thought would be nothing more than a means to an end has the power to change her entire life.

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My time with the marching (and concert) band was my favorite part of school. Most of my friends were in the band, and I spent every spare moment with them in the band room. I have so many fond memories of band camps, football games, and competitions, and I still try to take in at least one marching band or DCI (Drum Corps International) competition every year. (I’ve blocked out most of the sunburn, dehydration, soreness, yelling, running laps, crying, and all the other not-so-great stuff that comes with being part of this tight-knit group of awesomeness.) Not to be too melodramatic or anything, but marching band is a way of life, and it’s something that stays with you long after your last show. Erin Dionne, the author of this amazing book, totally gets that.

If I have any issues with this book, it’s with the main character herself. I just wanted to knock Elsie upside the head sometimes. (If I’d been her section leader, I probably would have.) She was just so mean to everyone around her, and, at least until the end, she didn’t see how her words and attitude impacted those around her. I know she had to display some personal growth throughout the course of the book, but, man, was that journey ever rocky. (Her parents didn’t help matters, either, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own.)

Even with my desire to give Elsie a good wallop, I confess that I absolutely adored this book, and I will be recommending it to all of my fellow band geeks. I think it’s safe to say that Notes from an Accidental Band Geek will give every one of them some pretty awesome flashbacks. I know it did for me.*

For more information on Notes from and Accidental Band Geek and author Erin Dionne, check out her website and Twitter. Enjoy!

*Sadly, my time in the band came before digital photography was huge, so I have very few pictures of these wonderful moments. Here’s one, though, that I’m willing to share with the masses.

band_photo

Yep, that’s me in all my seventeen-year-old glory. I was tuba player and Band Captain for the Mustang Regiment of Palmetto High School. I loved every minute of it.*

Brutal Youth

Brutal Youth. The title of this book could not be more fitting. It just about cured me of any desire to ever work in a high school again. This intense story by Anthony Breznican paints a vivid picture of some of the most horrible teenagers, teachers, and parents to ever step foot in a school. Yeah…it’s that bad.

Brutal Youth is by no means a bad book. It’s actually a stellar piece of work, but it is often very upsetting…which is why it took me nearly two months to read it. I started reading it in July–when I was trying to gear up for another school year–and it started to color my feelings about going back to work, even though I work in an elementary school. For that reason, I had to put it aside until I felt prepared to handle what I was reading. Finally, this past weekend, I was ready, and I quickly reentered the disturbing world of St. Michael the Archangel High School.

Peter Davidek didn’t exactly want to attend St. Mike’s, especially after the incident on the roof during his introductory tour. A kid who’d been bullied relentlessly snapped and unleashed his wrath on the entire school. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the school.

Somehow, Peter ended up at St. Michael the Archangel High School even after the horrible event he witnessed in the spring. Now, he’s a freshman, and it doesn’t take long for him to realize that this school is much worse than he ever could have envisioned.

Most of the teachers simply don’t care. The guidance counselor is a hateful woman who seems to delight in others’ misery. The parish priest would like nothing more than for the school to close (and he’s got his own shameful reasons for that). Even the few adults who aren’t totally wretched seem to be hiding something.

If the teachers are bad at St. Mike’s, the students are worse. Hazing runs rampant, and the adults turn a blind eye for the sake of “tradition.” Freshmen are tortured, humiliated, and abused daily…all for the sake of the enjoyment of the upperclassmen (and some of the faculty), and some kids are willing to do just about anything to keep from becoming targets.

Peter sees all of this going on around him, and he tries to avoid trouble, but it usually seems to find him. It doesn’t really help that his best friend, Noah Stein, does his level best to antagonize everyone around him…making him a target that most of the school would like to take out. Peter has also unknowingly befriended the school’s most notorious pariah…and that puts Peter in a spotlight he never wanted.

This year at St. Mike’s will show Peter Davidek the absolute worst of humanity. He’ll see friends driven mad by the actions of sadistic bullies. He’ll see a girl he once liked become someone he’d do anything to avoid. He’ll see the appeal in getting revenge on those who oppress others. Peter will learn so much about himself and the world around him…and some of those lessons will be horrid and eye-opening.

How will this brutal year change Peter? Will he retreat into his own mind, or will he use what happens to grow stronger? I’ll leave that for you to discover…

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I’m the first to admit that my own high school experiences were sometimes not great. If it hadn’t been for the band, I would have done my level best to graduate early. (I was the nerdy, fat girl who wore braces, glasses, and played the tuba. It’s something of an understatement to say that I was the target of bullies.) My experiences now seem like nothing after reading Brutal Youth.

The people in this book were absolutely awful, and very few of the characters had redeeming value. Even the characters I sort of liked did things that made me shake my head. The bullying scenarios in this book take torture to a whole new level and exhibit cruelty that I hope to never see. And I’m not just talking about kid-on-kid violence here, although that was bad enough. Teachers bullied teachers, the priest bullied everybody, and parents bullied their kids. No one escaped torment.

With a title like Brutal Youth, one might think that this is most definitely a YA book. I would have to disagree. In my opinion, this is an adult book with young adult characters. Quite frankly, some teens won’t be able to handle this book. (Profanity, while true to the story, is abundant, there’s quite a bit of violence, and the book contains pretty frank talk of sexual situations. It’s an upsetting, disturbing book that could contain some triggers for those who have been severely bullied or abused.)

Other teen readers, though, will find kindred spirits in Peter Davidek, Noah Stein, and other “poor, unfortunate souls.” Sadly, they’ll identify with those who are bullied the worst, and Brutal Youth may give them a voice for expressing their feelings (though not in the way some people expressed themselves in the book, I hope).

Adults who read this book may find themselves reflecting–either positively or negatively–on their own high school experiences, and this could lead them to examine how “tradition” often fuels oppressive or aggressive behaviors.

Speaking (or writing) as an adult reader, I have to say that, while I was horrified by the actions of the kids in Brutal Youth, I was even more perturbed by what I saw of the adults. Which is worse: bullying someone to the point of violence, or turning a blind eye when it happens in front of you? Most of the adults in this book were guilty of the latter, and that can be viewed more harshly than the actual act of bullying. Kids at least have an excuse. They’re stupid sometimes, and their brains aren’t fully developed. What excuse do the adults have? Spite, jealousy, self-preservation? Is any excuse even valid here? I honestly don’t think so.

Well, I think I’ve said enough for one post. (Bullying is kind of a hot-button issue with me, so we’re lucky I’ve limited myself so much.)

If you’re looking for an intense, uncomfortable, and thought-provoking read, I suggest you give Brutal Youth a try. It’s not exactly an easy read, but it’s worth the time you put into it.

For more information about Brutal Youth and author Anthony Breznican, click here. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter.

*I received a free review copy of Brutal Youth through Goodreads First Reads.*

Published in: on September 24, 2014 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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!

Buzz Kill

I first became a fan of Beth Fantaskey’s work a few years ago when I read Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. Since then, I’ve read a few other works by Fantaskey: Jessica Rules the Dark Side, Jekel Loves Hyde, and The Wedding of Antanasia Jessica Packwood and Lucius Valeriu Vladescu (a short story published on the author’s website). So, when Goodreads gave me the chance to read an ARC of this author’s latest novel, Buzz Kill, I was pretty stoked. I’m happy to say that the book lived up to my expectations.

Unlike Fantaskey’s other stories, this newest read has no supernatural elements, but it does introduce us to a strong, relatable, female protagonist. In Buzz Kill, readers meet Millie Ostermeyer, a seventeen-year-old who eats like a trucker, is the only member of her school’s Philosophy Club, wears ironic t-shirts that nobody gets, and has a somewhat loose relationship with rules and authority. She’s also an award-winning reporter for her school newspaper, and, while on what should be a routine assignment covering the new football stadium, Millie becomes embroiled in a story that will rock her entire world…

Nobody really liked the Stingers’ head football coach, Hollerin’ Hank Killdare, but who could have wanted him dead? That’s a question Millie wants answered after she discovers his body under the football stadium…especially when it’s made clear that her dad, the town’s mayor and the assistant football coach, tops the list of suspects.

Millie is sure that her dad didn’t do this (even if he has been acting kind of strange lately), so she goes on a quest to find the identity of the real killer. Plenty of people had reason to kill the coach, but who really did it? Was it Millie’s arch-nemesis, Vivienne Fitch, the cheerleader who was embarrased on YouTube, thanks largely to Coach Killdare? Was it Mike, Viv’s lackey, who lost his position as quarterback with the coach brought in a ringer? Could it even be the new quarterback himself, Chase Albright, a boy with a murky past who tends to keep to himself? Who could have committed this heinous crime, and can Millie figure things out before the murderer strikes again?

As Millie unleashes her inner Nancy Drew, she’ll find an unlikely ally in Chase. He’s still a total mystery, but it seems he knew Coach Killdare better than most, and he can give Millie access to the coach’s house, the school locker room, and other areas that would otherwise be off-limits (not that anything would have stopped Millie with or without Chase’s help). Chase may be the key in proving that her dad is not the killer everyone thinks he is.

But why does Chase want to help Millie? Why was the coach so important to him? Chase is most certainly hiding something, and, along with her quest to solve a murder mystery, Millie is determined to solve the mystery that is Chase Albright. She may not, however, be prepared for what she finds.

Millie and Chase are growing closer and closer to uncovering the truth…and they’re also growing closer to each other. Can either of them handle a relationship when everything around them is going crazy? Especially when things are about to get even more insane? There’s a killer on the loose, and, as Millie starts to put the pieces of this puzzle together, she may be this maniac’s next target. What would Nancy Drew do? Millie will have to answer this question and many more if she hopes to get out of this mess alive…

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I found Buzz Kill to be a thoroughly entertaining read. In addition to the murder mystery that kept me guessing for quite a while, I was also enthralled by the character of Millie. I think many readers will be able to see themselves in this character. She speaks before thinking sometimes, she dresses in what’s comfortable, she’s awkward around guys she likes, and she’s tortured by a mean girl. (Actually, “mean” doesn’t quite fit the evil Vivienne. The words I’d use to describe her would make a sailor blush. She’s vile, and a host of curse words went through my mind every time she made an appearance.) Millie questions rules that don’t make sense to her, she doesn’t understand why she should learn French, and she has a complicated relationship with her dad. Who can’t relate to at least some of that?

I also found Chase’s character to be intriguing. (See, I’m relating to Millie right now!) He was mysterious from the instant we saw him, and he remained something of an enigma for most of the book. Even when his secrets were revealed, there was still an aura of mystery about him. I think that’s part of what made him so attractive to Millie. Of course, his good looks and impressive vocabulary didn’t hurt either.

There were so many dynamic, well-developed characters in this book. I wanted to punch many of them in the face (even Millie on occasion). So many characters were butt-heads, in fact, that I didn’t know which one I wanted to be the killer. Like Millie, I waffled on who could have committed the crime, and, also like Millie, I didn’t figure things out until the very end. I’d say both of us were surprised by the way things turned out, and I think that’s the mark of a good mystery novel.

If you’re looking for a murder mystery with a liberal dose of humor, wit, and a touch of romance, I strongly urge you to give Buzz Kill a try.  It’s due to hit stores on May 6th, and I think it will be a big hit with middle grade, teen, and adult readers.

For more information on Buzz Kill and author Beth Fantaskey, visit the author’s website, Facebook page, Goodreads page, and Twitter feed.

Also Known As

Every once in a while, Amazon offers some pretty great Kindle Daily Deals. (Most of them are less than $3.00.) Recently, one of those deals came in the form of Robin Benway’s Also Known As. I previously read and liked Audrey, Wait!, one of the author’s other books, so I was pretty sure that I would enjoy this one. After reading the synopsis, I was even more certain. You see, this book is about Maggie, a teenage spy. After reading Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, I really dig books about teenagers who are spies or use, shall we say, less than legal means to right wrongs. That’s just what I got with Maggie in Also Known As.

Maggie is an expert safe-cracker. She’s been a spy for the Collective for over ten years…and she’s a teenager. Maggie picked her first lock as a preschooler, and she’s been working ever since. But now, she’s facing her first solo assignment. She and her parents (also spies) are relocating to New York, and Maggie is tasked with obtaining information that could expose and bring down the entirety of the Collective’s operations. How will she do this, you ask?  Well, her mission begins with enrolling in high school…

Maggie has never been what one would call a traditional student. She’s never been in a regular classroom, had to make friends, been judged on her fashion choices (which are many even with school uniforms), or faced the horror of a school cafeteria. Her first and most daunting task here is going to be just trying to fit in. This might just take every one of her super-spy skills.

Eventually, Maggie becomes closer to Roux, a social pariah at school, who has a connection that Maggie needs to complete her job. Roux is acquainted with Jesse Oliver, a boy whose father may just be printing the article that could end Maggie’s world as she knows it. As spies have always done in the past, Maggie must use every weapon at her disposal, including budding friendships, to get the job done, and that’s exactly what she does.

What Maggie didn’t count on, however, is actually becoming close to both Roux and Jesse. (How could she anticipate such a thing? It’s not like she ever had real friends before?) Now, Maggie is torn between doing the job she’s always been groomed for and being honest with the first real connections she’s ever had with people her own age. Could there possibly be a happy medium here? And can Maggie complete her mission–and figure out who would put the mysterious Collective in jeopardy–before it’s too late? Follow Maggie on her quest for the truth–and lasting friendships–when you read Also Known As, the first book in an exciting new series by Robin Benway!

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Also Known As is a quick, thoroughly entertaining read that, in my opinion, is a great fit for upper middle grade and young adult readers. There is some swearing, but I don’t think it’s excessive, and it’s true to the situations in this book. (I dare you to be a teenage spy or son/daughter of extremely permissive, absent parents and not drop the occasional expletive. Go ahead. I dare you!)

I think this book is more about developing Maggie’s character than it is about spying…but there was plenty of intrigue, especially in the latter part of the book. The biggest mystery for me was how Maggie was going to reconcile her work with her new relationships…and I feel like Benway resolved that in a rather satisfactory way, one that I’m sure will pop up in subsequent books in the series. (At least, I hope so!)

Speaking of sequels, the next book, Going Rogue, will be out in less than two weeks! It will be released on January 14th, and I’m definitely planning to read it as soon as possible. I’m sure it will be just as captivating as the first book!

If you’d like more information about Also Known As and other books by Robin Benway, check out her website at http://www.robinbenway.com/index.php. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. Enjoy!

Published in: on January 3, 2014 at 7:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Eleanor & Park

My latest read landed on my to-read list after a glowing recommendation from a friend.  (Hi, Jen!)  For some reason, though, I didn’t pick it up immediately.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, this blog hosted an interview with author Rainbow Rowell. I took that as a sign to read her books as soon as I could.  Well, yesterday, I finally finished Eleanor & Park, and I must say that I wish I had read it sooner.  I don’t know if words can express how much I loved this book.  (Don’t worry. I’m going to try.) It was almost like being immersed in a John Hughes movie, and any child of the 80s can tell you how awesome that is.

When Eleanor and Park first met in August of 1986, it wasn’t immediately all moonlight and roses. (As a matter of fact, their relationship was never all that smooth.) Eleanor was a new girl; kind of strange and with flaming red hair that made her a target of jokes. Park was the only Asian kid for miles, but he was on the fringes of the popular crowd. These two crazy kids met on the bus, and, when Park told Eleanor to take the empty seat next to him, he probably didn’t realize that his life would change forever…just because of one small (and kind of mean) gesture.

Eleanor and Park didn’t become instant friends. For the longest time, they didn’t even speak to each other. They eventually bonded, though, over punk music and comic books. That tenuous bond later grew into a rather rocky relationship. A relationship where Park was kind of embarrassed about his feelings for someone so far removed from his circle of friends. A relationship that Eleanor could never speak of to her troubled family.

As Eleanor and Park grew ever closer, they realized just how much they meant to each other. Park gave Eleanor a haven from all of the wretchedness at home and school. Eleanor gave Park the acceptance he craved after a lifetime of being so different from those around him. Theirs was a love like nothing either had ever experienced.

But sometimes love just isn’t enough. Sometimes things happen that force people into untenable situations. What could possibly happen to drive Eleanor and Park apart? And could love be strong enough to bring them back together?

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If you’re still reading, let me say that this post doesn’t even come close to describing the beauty and awesomeness of Eleanor & Park. I was sucked in from the very beginning, and I’m still contemplating everything that happened to these two characters who I came to love.  To put things in perspective, the last book that generated such strong feelings in me was The Fault in Our Stars.

This book isn’t one that only young adults can appreciate. I firmly believe that anyone who’s ever been a teenager in love will be able to relate–maybe in just some small way–to what Eleanor and Park experienced. Anyone who has ever bonded with someone over music and comic books will be especially drawn to this book. Also, if you grew up in the 80s and wanted your life to be like a John Hughes movie, this is definitely the book for you!

I cannot say enough good things about Eleanor & Park, but, for now at least, I’m going to stop. Read this book. You won’t be sorry.

For more information on this book and others by Rainbow Rowell, visit http://rainbowrowell.com/blog/.

Published in: on October 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Slide

It’s been a while, dear readers. I freely admit that I’ve neglected this blog for the past couple of weeks, and my only excuse is that I needed a break. Whenever Knight Reader feels more like an obligation than a fun hobby, I like to take a step back and spend some time focusing on other things. Yes, I still read during my brief hiatus, but I didn’t feel the need to blog about those books (mostly picture books and mindless romances). Also, I’m gearing up for a new school year, and I needed to just do nothing before I dive back into the school library grind. (My fellow school librarians can no doubt relate to how hectic the beginning of a new school year is.) Now, feeling a bit refreshed, I’m ready to get back to sharing books with people. Thanks for bearing with me.

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I never know what I’m going to get when I download free ebooks. Sometimes, these free books are less than stellar. Other times, though, I’m pleasantly surprised. The latter scenario was true of my latest read, Slide by Jill Hathaway. It was a free Kindle download last month, it seemed interesting, so I thought I’d give it a try. It was a pretty good read, and it definitely kept me guessing. Readers who like a fast-paced mystery with supernatural undertones will likely agree.

Sylvia “Vee” Bell is not what one would call a normal teenager. Sure, she has many of the typical problems–parents, popularity (or lack thereof), siblings, boys–but she has to deal with something that most people don’t. The “experts” call her condition narcolepsy, but they really don’t know the whole story. They don’t know that when Vee falls asleep/passes out, she doesn’t just lose consciousness. She “slides” into the minds of others. She sees what people don’t want seen. She learns things she doesn’t necessarily want to know.

When Vee slides into one mind, however, she sees something that turns her blood cold. She sees her sister’s best friend, Sophie, dead. Her wrists are slit, her bed is covered in blood, and someone–the eyes through which Vee is viewing this scene–is writing a suicide note. Vee, of course, is the only person who knows that Sophie was murdered, but how can she prove to everyone that this is not the obvious suicide that they seem to think it is…especially when she doesn’t know whose mind she slid into.

As Vee searches for answers, she uncovers uncomfortable truths about her friends, her sister, and even her own father. But how do these long-kept secrets have anything to do with what happened to Sophie…and what is continuing to happen in Vee’s community? Who is ultimately responsible for the terror in her town, and is there anything Vee can do to put a stop to it…before she’s the next victim? Unravel the mystery when you read Slide by Jill Hathaway.

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While Slide was an engaging, gripping book, it’s not one I would have picked up had it not been free. (Kudos to whoever decided to make it a free download last month. You reached at least one new reader.) Now, I kind of want to see how the story progresses in the next book, Impostor. Maybe it’ll be a free download soon.

Slide is not a particularly deep book, but it does explore family dynamics and how secrets and jealousy can tear relationships apart. It is a mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very end. (I’m pretty good at picking up on clues, but even I didn’t really expect things to end they way they did.)

If the premise of Slide intrigues you, I urge you to give Lisa McMann’s Wake series a try. These three books (Wake, Fade, and Gone) are very similar, in my opinion, to what occurs in Slide, but they’re a little more fleshed out.

For more information about Slide and author Jill Hathaway, visit http://www.jillhathaway.com/index2.php.

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