Emmy & Oliver

Do you ever come across a book that looks like one thing but is really something more than you were expecting? Well, that’s definitely the case with Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway. That whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” thing is sometimes accurate, as it turns out. Take a look at the cover below:

I know there’s not a whole lot to it, but based on what I see alone, I think I’m getting a cute love story set near water. To a certain degree, that is true, but this book is so much more than a love story (not that there’s anything in the world wrong with romance). This book is about relationships–between romantic interests, friends, and families–and how they change (or stay stagnant) as circumstances change.


From the moment they were born, Emmy and Oliver were together. They shared the same birthday, they lived next door to each other, and they were the best of friends. In an instant, though, everything changed. One minute, Emmy was watching Oliver leave school for the day; the next minute, his dad had taken him and disappeared. That was ten years ago, when Emmy and Oliver were just seven years old.

Emmy is now seventeen and a senior in high school. She hasn’t seen Oliver in ten years–has no idea where he went or what happened to him–but his disappearance continues to color her world. Since that day long ago, her parents have watched her every move. Her curfew is ridiculously early, she has to hide her love of surfing, and even applying for college is a no-no. They don’t want to let Emmy out of their sight because they know that the worst can most definitely happen.

After so long, most people have moved on from Oliver’s kidnapping. There are no more search parties. Every once in a while, his story is featured on the news, but that doesn’t really have much of an impact. Oliver is still gone, and his whereabouts remain a mystery. Until now.

One day, seemingly out of the blue, Oliver comes home. He’s been gone for ten years, but some people–his mother included–seem to expect him to pick up where he left off. But things are different now. Oliver’s a different person and so are those around him. Oliver’s had ten pretty good years with his dad, and now he’s expected to view the man who raised him as a villain. He’s coming into a whole new family as well. While he was gone, his mom remarried and had twin girls. How does he fit into his own family now? And does he even want to?

As for Emmy, she wants to get to know her friend again, but she has no illusions that they can pick up where they left off. She wants to know who Oliver is now. Emmy is one of the only people who Oliver feels comfortable talking to…and vice versa. Oliver tells Emmy about his life with his dad, how he feels about being back, and his frustrations with being the center of attention. Emmy confides in Oliver about her love of surfing and her plans for the future–plans she hasn’t revealed to her parents or either of her closest friends.

Day by day, Emmy and Oliver grow closer. Their parents still have eagle eyes on them, though, and it’s putting a strain on things. Neither of them feel free to truly be themselves. For Oliver, that means adapting to his new circumstances, coming to terms with what happened, and his feelings for his father. For Emmy, that means hiding her true self and what she really wants to do with her life.

Emmy and Oliver can’t go on holding everything in, and all of their complicated feelings, fears, and frustrations will soon come out, whether they like it or not. How will this change their relationships with their friends, their parents, and each other? What could it mean for their futures? Do Emmy and Oliver even have a future when so much of their lives is governed by the past? Answer these questions and many more when you read Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway.


In case you were wondering, I really liked Emmy & Oliver. It was a quick, moving, often funny read that kept me interested. Both Emmy and Oliver are snarky and funny, even in the midst of difficult circumstances, but they are also sensitive, loving, loyal, and totally real. The same goes for their friends. I also thought the parents in this story behaved in a fairly realistic way. I imagine that something as horrific as a child being kidnapped would make some parents hold on tighter to their own children, whether those children are seven or seventeen.

If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that it’s solely from Emmy’s point of view. I would have loved to read Oliver’s side of things. Granted, we see a lot of his story in his conversations with Emmy, but I think the book would have been stronger if we’d viewed at least some of the drama through Oliver’s eyes.

Emmy & Oliver is a nominee for the 17-18 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. Will it win? I have no idea. No matter what, though, it is a good story, and it gives the reader so much more than the cover implies.

For more information on Emmy & Oliver, visit author Robin Benway’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor

As you can probably surmise from the title of my latest read, Stolen: A Letter to My Captor, this is not a light and fluffy read. This 2011 Printz Honor Book by Lucy Christopher is exactly what it seems. It’s a letter a girl writes to the man who kidnapped her.

We’ve probably all seen stories about abducted people on the news, and the people who take them usually have a certain look about them. I hate to stereotype, but the photos we see on the news tend to depict crazy-eyed, dirty, bearded, white men who, truthfully, look the part. And that’s where this story differs.

When Gemma first sees Ty in a Bangkok airport, she finds him both familiar and attractive. And this blue-eyed, blond, muscled guy seems oddly interested in her. Gemma couldn’t possibly know that he’s been following her for years or that he’s planned to drug her, disguise her, and take her to live in the desolate Australian Outback.

But that’s exactly what happens, and Gemma doesn’t know how to handle her new and frightening circumstances. She tries to escape in a number of ways, but there’s no hope of rescue. She’s stuck with Ty, and he wants to keep her forever.

As days pass, Gemma longs to return to London, her parents, and her old life, but she also learns more about the desert that her captor has chosen for their home. She learns more about Ty. He has a volatile temper and a tragic past, but Gemma realizes that there’s also something gentle about him. He’s promised not to hurt her, and, to a certain degree, she believes him.

Gemma eventually grows somewhat resigned to her circumstances, but what will happen when a terrifying event forces a life or death decision?

Will Ty release Gemma in order to spare her more pain? What will his decision mean for him…and for Gemma? Can Gemma go back to her old self after this ordeal has changed her so much? How does she truly feel about Ty after being isolated with him for so long?

Answer these questions and many more when you read Stolen: A Letter to My Captor by Lucy Christopher.


Stolen is gritty, raw, maddening, and nearly impossible to put down. I had to keep reading to see just why Ty took Gemma. What connection could they have possibly had that would put such an idea into his head? While that could have been fleshed out a bit more, it was definitely an interesting revelation.

I do think that Gemma’s growing affections for Ty could also have been explored a bit more. At the end of the book, it’s pretty clear that she’s got a case of Stockholm Syndrome, but the build-up to that was kind of abrupt, in my opinion. All of a sudden, Gemma wants Ty by her side when she’s been desperately trying to escape him for the majority of the book. It just didn’t ring completely true for me. Maybe I’m alone in that. Then again, maybe not.

Even with a couple of minor gripes, I enjoyed this book. It had been sitting on my Kindle for a while, and I’m not totally sure what made me start reading it, but I’m glad I did. I think young adult readers looking for something a little different will like this book. (It’s been out several years, so I’m sure lots of teens already like it.)

For more information about Stolen and Lucy Christopher, visit the author’s website. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Now, dear readers, I am going to sign off for a while. I’ll be spending the next week at the beach, and I don’t know that I’ll have a ton of time to check in here. (I do plan to do a ton of reading, though!)

Until we meet again…

Bone Gap

I finished reading Bone Gap by Laura Ruby a couple of days ago, and I’m still trying to decide how I feel about it. It was beautifully written, kind of creepy, and kept me guessing, but I don’t know that it was one of my favorite books. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I’ll figure it out as I’m writing this post.

The people of Bone Gap don’t know what happened to Roza, a young woman who left the town as mysteriously as she entered it. Maybe she went back to Poland. Maybe she left for greener pastures. Maybe she just had enough of living with the O’Sullivan brothers. Or maybe the younger brother, Finn, had something to do with her disappearance. No one knows the truth, but they’re not really looking for Roza, either.

Well, no one except Finn.

Finn O’Sullivan knows that Roza was taken by a strange man, but nobody believes him. Finn can’t recall what the man looks like, just how he moves. Finn looks for the man everywhere he goes, and he catches glimpses of him a couple of times, but the people of Bone Gap continue to think that he’s making up a crazy story.

Even Finn’s big brother Sean, the guy who was probably closest to Roza, refuses to believe Finn, and the situation is driving the brothers apart. Only Petey, a girl with her own experiences with Bone Gap’s rumor mill, seems to believe Finn. She eventually comes to realize that maybe there’s a reason why Finn can’t remember what Roza’s abductor looks like.

As for Roza, she is being held captive by a man who wants to make her his. This man has been obsessed with Roza for a long time, and he gives her everything she could possibly need…except her freedom. Roza wonders if anyone is looking for her or even cares what happened to her. She searches for ways to escape her situation, but all seems lost…

…or is it?

How can Roza flee from a man so powerful that even the dead obey his commands? Can Finn find a way to save Roza even though everyone around him thinks he’s crazy…or worse? Whatever happens, what will it mean for the O’Sullivan brothers, Roza, Petey, and the people of Bone Gap?

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I don’t know if I’ve made it clear here, but Bone Gap has a bit of magical realism in it. It’s rather subtle in the beginning, but it’s more and more evident the longer you read. I guess maybe I wasn’t expecting the mystical elements of the book, and that’s why I’m not sure how I feel about it. Truthfully, even though I love books with magic in them, I would have liked this book more if there had been a more realistic explanation of Roza’s disappearance and several other occurrences in Bone Gap. (I know I’m probably in the minority on this. That’s fine with me.)

Bone Gap is a good addition to libraries that serve young adult and adult readers. I think it may be a little too deep for younger readers (and some older readers, to be honest). There’s also some mature content that could keep it out of middle school collections.

Bone Gap was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, so that might tell you a little about the quality of this book. (If you’re curious, the winner of this year’s prize went to Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. I haven’t read it yet, but I hope to get to it eventually.)

If you’d like more information about Bone Gap and other works by Laura Ruby, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Tumblr. I also found a book trailer for Bone Gap on YouTube. It captures the mood of the book fairly well.

 

The Night She Disappeared

Several days ago, I impulsively downloaded one of the Kindle Daily Deals on Amazon. Before that day, I honestly didn’t have this particular book on my radar. I had read a book by the author before–and enjoyed it–so I thought this one would be no different. I was right. (Happens all the time, really.)

The book was The Night She Disappeared by April Henry. As the title suggests, this book is a mystery centered around a teenage girl, Kayla, who has mysteriously disappeared. This is a super-fast read (only took me a few hours to finish) is told in different viewpoints and takes the reader through what happened from immediately before Kayla’s disappearance to the discovery of what really happened to her.

While Kayla is the central focus of the book–and there are chapters from her point of view as well as the bad guy’s–the major part of the The Night She Disappeared is told from the perspectives of two of her coworkers, Gabie and Drew. These two young people are closer to the investigation that almost anyone, and they may be the only people capable of really figuring out what happened to Kayla.

It seemed like a normal pizza delivery. A guy ordered three pizzas and gave his address. He asked if the girl in the Mini Cooper would be delivering his food. She wasn’t working that night, but Drew, who took the order at Pete’s Pizza, didn’t tell the caller that. Instead, he sent Kayla out on what should have been a normal delivery. If only. Hours later, when Kayla had not returned to work, Drew called the police to report her missing. He just knew something was wrong. How right he was…

When Gabie hears the news of Kayla’s disappearance, she’s immediately filled with guilt. She should have been the one working that night. And when Drew tells her that the caller specifically asked about the girl driving the Mini Cooper, she’s even more freaked out. The girl he asked for is Gabie herself. What if Kayla hadn’t asked her to switch workdays? Would she be the one missing…and presumed dead? Does this mystery caller still have his eyes on her?

As Gabie and Drew deal with their guilt over what has happened and a firm belief that Kayla’s alive somewhere–despite loads of evidence to the contrary–Kayla is facing a horror that she never expected. She’s quickly losing hope, and she wonders if she’ll ever see her friends and family again. Is there any way she can get out of this alive? Or is she destined to be the victim of a deranged man who is determined to eventually get his hands on his real target, Gabie?

Peppered with evidence reports, police interviews, and articles detailing the investigation into Kayla’s disappearance, readers learn what really happened to this girl and how this horrific event impacted those closest to her…and one young man who was thought to be behind it all. Will anyone find out how and why Kayla disappeared…before it’s too late? Uncover the disturbing truth when you read The Night She Disappeared by April Henry.

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If you enjoy a riveting–if at times predictable–mystery, I suggest you give The Night She Disappeared a try. It’s incredibly fast-paced and might be a good fit for reluctant readers who have an interest in crime dramas. Pair this book with Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles, or any of Alane Ferguson’s forensic mysteries, and you’ve got an awesome reading list for the YA mystery lover. If The Night She Disappeared strikes your fancy, Torched, another book by April Henry, may also appeal to you.

For more information on this book and other mysteries by April Henry, visit http://www.aprilhenrymysteries.com/. You can also like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Have fun!

Wither

People who really know me have realized that I have a mild case of paranoia.  I’ve been known to utter the phrase “until the machines rise up” in casual conversations.  (And yes, I do think the machines will eventually take over.  I can see the Matrix.)  It’s odd, then, that dystopian fiction is my favorite genre.  (I became a fan when I read Fahrenheit 451 in the eighth grade.)  Well, my latest read, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, is an all-too-believable view of the near future.  No, the machines have not risen up yet, but society’s desire to wipe out all disease and have perfect, healthy children has backfired in a major way.  The science presented in this book is totally plausible, and I fear that some of it may cross the divide between science fiction and science fact if we’re not careful.

In mankind’s quest for physical perfection, time has become the ultimate scarce resource.  Yes, the world is virtually disease-free, but the side-effect of such health is the untimely death of all people born in the new generations.  No male lives past the age of twenty-five, and no female lives past the age of twenty.  In essence, people are ticking time-bombs from the moment of birth.  First generation doctors and scientists (who kind of started this whole mess) are trying to find an antidote for the virus killing their children and grandchildren, but time is always working against them.  Humans are quickly becoming an endangered species, and some will go to any lengths—including kidnapping young girls and forcing them to be “breeders”—to keep the population from dying out.  That’s where sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery’s story begins…

Rhine, along with about a dozen other girls, is taken from her home—and her twin brother—in Manhattan.  She’s transported hundreds of miles so that a wealthy young man, Linden Ashby, can choose those he desires to be his wives.  That’s right…wives…as in plural.  Both Linden and his father are struck by Rhine’s unique features, so she is chosen as a bride.  She is joined by two sister wives:  Jenna, a girl who has less than two years until her twentieth birthday and who makes her disgust of this situation very clear, and Cecily, a thirteen-year-old girl who was seemingly groomed for this life in an orphanage and is weirdly excited about everything that awaits her.  Rhine, like Jenna, is also disgusted with her fate, but unlike Jenna, who is just counting down the days until her death, Rhine plans to do something about it.

Almost immediately upon arriving at the mansion that is to be her new home, Rhine begins to think of escape plans.  While there appear to be no immediate solutions, Rhine is sure that an opportunity will eventually present itself.  Rhine bides her time, gets to know her new husband, and grows closer to her sister wives.  She also forms an attachment to Gabriel, a servant in her new home who may have his own reasons for wanting to escape.

As Rhine looks for ways to escape this life she never wanted, she also becomes a participant in it.  She grows closer to Linden and realizes he’s not the monster she’s made him out to be in her head.  She develops real bonds with her sister wives and worries about their fates should her quest for freedom prove successful.  She discovers horrifying things about her father-in-law Vaughn, the dictatorial and terrifying Housemaster, that make her want to expose him for the liar and murderer he is.  Through all this, though, Rhine’s primary goal remains the same—to escape to freedom, get back to her brother, and, possibly, start a new life with someone who is coming to mean a lot to her.  Will she find a way out, or will she remain a prisoner and spend the rest of her short life withering away?  Read Wither, the first book in the Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano, to learn the truth.

I was engrossed in this book from page one, and I highly recommend it to teen readers who enjoy dystopian fiction.  (Some of the subject matter is probably a little too mature for middle-grade readers.)  Wither presents an interesting and eye-opening look at polygamous relationships, and it shows readers that science may not be the ultimate answer for all of the world’s problems.  The “solutions” to these problems may be more dangerous and life-threatening that the problems themselves.  For those who often contemplate what the future may hold, Wither provides a conceivable glimpse into life for generations to come.  Join me in the paranoia, won’t you?

The second book in this trilogy, Fever, is already out, and I plan to read it once I’ve fully processed what happened in Wither.  The third book is currently untitled, and it is scheduled for an April 2013 release.  You can also check out an eBook, Seeds of Wither, which contains details of the world Lauren DeStefano created in Wither, a new short story titled “The First Bride,” a map of the wives floor, and more!

For those who would like more information about Wither, the rest of the Chemical Garden trilogy, and author Lauren DeStefano, visit  http://laurendestefano.com/ and http://thechemicalgardenbooks.com/wither/.  You can also follow Lauren on Twitter @laurenDeStefano, on Tumblr at http://laurendestefano.tumblr.com/, and become a fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/LaurenDeStefanoFan

Still not enough?  Well, check out this awesome Wither book trailer produced by Simon & Schuster Videos.  Enjoy!

Dead to You

Last night, I finished reading Lisa McMann’s latest novel, Dead to You, and proceeded to spend the rest of the night thinking about the book.  (I didn’t sleep much.)  Dead to You, like McMann’s other YA novels (Wake, Fade, Gone, and Cryer’s Cross) kept my interest from the very beginning and kept me thinking long after I finished the book.  (I’m still processing how it ended.)  It was gripping, tense, and made me eager to turn the page.  Dead to You was a quick read with a sympathetic male protagonist, and is a perfect pick for reluctant male readers.  (There is some bad language in the book and a couple of rather frank depictions of, shall we say, what goes on in the mind of an adolescent male when confronted with an attractive female, so I would hesitate to recommend this book to anyone under the age of fourteen.)  Anyone who reads this book will be intrigued by the premise—a boy kidnapped when he was seven and returned to his family nine years later—and eager to see how this story plays out…

Ethan De Wilde went missing when he was seven years old.  No one had any clue about his whereabouts…until now.  Sixteen-year-old Ethan has returned to his family after nine years, and he’s totally unprepared for what his miraculous appearance truly means, especially since he can’t remember anything before his abduction.  His little brother Blake, though, remembers everything.  He remembers seeing Ethan get into a black car with two strange men.  Ethan has no recollection of that, but he does know that he lived with a woman named Ellen until she abandoned him at a group home a year ago.  After he left the group home, Ethan found out where he truly belonged and made his way back to his long-lost family.

Ethan is trying to recall memories of his first seven years, but he’s overwhelmed with all his return means.  His family—which moved on without him—is readjusting to having Ethan home.  His mom and dad are constantly fighting, Blake seems to be jealous of all the attention Ethan is getting, and little Gracie—the “replacement child”—doesn’t really know what’s going on.  Ethan is struggling with lost memories, going to school, feelings for the girl next door, and controlling his urge to run away from the madness his life has become.

Just when Ethan finally begins to feel safe and at home, something happens that throws his life into a tailspin once again.  Ethan doesn’t know what to do, how he can get past this, or what it means for his future.  But he does know one thing.  Unlocking the memories of Ethan’s first seven years will change everything, and no one will be prepared for the fallout.  Read Dead to You by Lisa McMann to learn what happens when things long-buried—memories, secrets, lies, resentments—rise to the surface and threaten to destroy everything.

I predict that Dead to You will be an easy sell in high school libraries everywhere.  The book’s length is not intimidating to reluctant readers, teen readers across the board will find something to identify with, and the story itself is so fascinating that all readers—teen and adult—will be riveted until the very end.  Also, the discussions that the ending will generate will be quite interesting.  (It almost makes me wish I still worked in a high school so that I could talk to teens about this book.)  Dead to You provides great opportunities for students to take the story and write their own endings.  What happens next?  I’m sure the answers would be as varied as the young adults who read this book.

If you’d like more information about Dead to You and other books my Lisa McMann, visit http://lisamcmann.com/index.html.  You can also follow the author on Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest.

For even more, check out this video from Simon and Schuster with Lisa McMann talking about Dead to You and what her readers can expect next!

The Missing Girl

Norma Fox Mazer’s The Missing Girl is kind of creepy.  It is the story of five sisters and a man that is obsessed with them.  Each chapter is a different character’s voice.  Most of the chapters are in the voices of the sisters, but some deal with the feelings of the man who likes to watch them.  It was weird to peer into the mind of a predator.  It’s not an experience I care to repeat.

As this book progresses, the reader can see that the man is becoming increasingly more bold in his interactions with the sisters, and it’s obvious that something bad is going to happen.  Well, something bad does happen.  (I’m not going to say what, but it is rather disturbing.)

The Missing Girl was an okay book, but it was hard for me to get into it at first, and the ending was a little too neat for my taste.