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.

Holding Up the Universe

Almost a year ago, I read Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places and instantly became a fan of this wonderful author. This morning, I finished reading her latest book, Holding Up the Universe, and I must say that I have a lot of feelings about this book.

Like its predecessor, Holding Up the Universe was at once heart-warming and heart-breaking, and it was difficult for me to read at times, but for very different reasons than All the Bright Places. You see, one of the main characters in this book is a big girl, and, while I often appreciate seeing my own experiences reflected in the books I read, it can also be extremely painful. Does that mean I don’t like the book? Absolutely not. In fact, I find it incredibly moving and uplifting. I wish I were more like Libby Strout–even as an adult–and I can only hope to apply her attitude about life to my own.

Okay…before I get too bogged down in my own issues, let’s move on to this touching novel and the story of Libby Strout and Jack Masselin.

Libby Strout knows what it is to be the center of attention. It’s not necessarily a good thing. Several years ago, she was a media sensation because she had to be cut out of her house. She was known as “America’s Fattest Teen.” She received hate mail from people who thought they had the right to scorn her. None of these people knew what led her to this point, and none of them seemed to care. They judged her solely because of her weight.

Now, three years later, Libby is getting ready to rejoin the world. She’s lost over 300 pounds, and she can finally do a lot of the things that she couldn’t three years ago. Libby’s about to go back to school for the first time since the fifth grade. She’s still a big girl, but she’s comfortable with herself. She knows how far she’s come, and she wants to make the most of her time in high school. If only it were as easy as simply wanting something to happen…

Jack Masselin is one of the popular guys at school. He has a lot of friends, he’s good at sports, and he has a pretty (if sometimes mean) girlfriend. At first glance, he’s got it all. What no one realizes, though, is that Jack is dealing with prosopagnosia, also known as face-blindness. No matter who the person is, how long he’s known them, or even how much he loves them, everyone around him is a stranger. He’s done a decent job of compensating for his condition–generally by being a world-class jerk–but it’s getting harder and harder to cope with his messed up brain.

Libby and Jack probably could have avoided each other forever, but a horribly sadistic “game” brings them together. (FYI, Jack was being his jerky self to fit in with his friends, and Libby stood up for herself.) Now, they’re getting to know each other better in mandatory counseling and community service. Against all odds, the two are growing closer and trusting each other with their deepest secrets and most ardent dreams.

As Libby and Jack become friends (and maybe more), they encounter backlash at school. Mean guys and girls continue to focus on Libby’s weight, and they want her to feel as low as possible. No one gets why popular Jack Masselin would choose to hang out with Libby. After all, all they can see is that she’s fat. They don’t see what Jack sees. They don’t see that Libby is funny, confident, smart, beautiful, and she makes him feel less alone in the world.

As for Libby, she doesn’t understand why Jack sells himself so short. There’s more to him than popularity, or swagger, or even face-blindness. If only she could get him to see that.

With friends, societal expectations, and even their own issues working against them, is there any way that Libby and Jack can make a real relationship work? Has too much happened to make this possible? Or will each of them finally see that the love and acceptance they’re looking for is right in front of them?


I really didn’t want to get overly sappy in this post, but I think we can all agree that didn’t quite work out. Even though my own experiences in high school tell me that there is no possible way the popular guy ends up with the big girl, I really wanted it to work out for Libby and Jack in this book. In many ways, I got exactly what I wanted…and what my adolescent self needed.

I’m trying to mentally go back through this book to determine if there’s anything that makes it a no-no for middle grade collections. There’s some language, defiance, and alcohol/drug use, so keep that in mind before passing this book along to tween readers. Holding Up the Universe is a must-add to YA collections in school and public libraries. I’d have no problem recommending it to anyone in ninth grade and up. (Yes, I’m including adult readers in that “up.”)

To learn more about Holding Up the Universe and the fabulous Jennifer Niven, I encourage you to visit the author’s website. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. You may also want to take a look at the unspoilery book trailer below.

Ms. Niven is also the founder of Germ Magazine, an online literary/lifestyle magazine for teens and beyond. I’ve only glanced at it so far, but it looks pretty cool.

Happy reading to you all. Be safe out there.

Two Summers

I love it when I come across a book that’s different from anything I’ve read before. That’s what I got in Two Summers by Aimee Friedman.

At first glance, this book is simple contemporary YA fiction, but it’s more than that. Without getting too technical, Two Summers explores the possibility of parallel universes and how simple decisions can take us on very different paths. Could those diverging paths lead us to the same place? I guess that depends on the situation, but I enjoyed how things played out in this book, which was essentially two stories–or two summers–in one.

This is going to be a summer to remember…in more ways than one. Summer Everett, a girl for whom very little ever changes, is planning to spend the summer in France with her father. She’s both nervous and excited about this trip. As she’s about to board her flight, Summer’s phone rings, and she has to decide whether or not to answer this call.

Summer ignores her phone.

Soon she’s soaring over the Atlantic, about to spend the summer in Provence, France. She’ll get to spend some time with her father, a painter, and explore the French countryside. What could be more idyllic? Well, for starters, her father could be at the airport to pick her up. He’s not, and Summer soon learns that he’s the one who was trying to call her earlier. He’s in Berlin, and Summer is now virtually on her own in an unfamiliar country.

Summer eventually finds her way to her father’s home, and she’s met by Vivienne, a friend of her father’s, and Eloise, a girl close to Summer’s age who seems to hate her on sight. Things aren’t off to a good start, and they don’t get much better until Summer has a chance encounter with Jacques. Maybe France won’t be so bad after all.

Summer answers her phone.

Her dad wants her to postpone her trip…as she’s about to board the plane. He’s in Berlin, so what’s really the point of going to France if he won’t be there? Summer turns around and makes her way back to boring Hudsonville, New York, for the same old summer she’s always had. That’s not exactly how things work out, though.

Summer’s best friend, Ruby, is drifting away. She’s hanging out with the popular crowd and seems to resent that Summer did not leave for France. What’s Summer to do? Well, for starters, she’s taking a photography class taught by her Aunt Lydia. In this class, she’s exploring her own artistic abilities and getting to know Wren, an eccentric girl from school, and Hugh Tyson, Summer’s long-time crush. Maybe staying home this summer won’t be so bad after all.

Two Summers collide.

In both worlds, Summer is experiencing the first stirrings of love and becoming more comfortable in her own skin. What will happen, though, when a scandalous secret throws her entire life into turmoil? The people who claim to love her the most have been keeping something huge from her, something that changes everything. How can she possibly trust anyone after all is revealed? How can she move on from something so earth-shattering?

Whether in New York or France, this summer will be one that forces Summer Everett to examine her life–her relationships with family and friends, her own abilities, and what’s holding her back from grabbing what she wants. How will these two summers take her where she needs to go? Read this imaginative novel by Aimee Friedman to find out!


I fully enjoyed the concept of Two Summers. Like I said at the beginning of this post, it’s quite unlike anything I’ve read previously, and that, in and of itself, is reason enough for my enjoyment. (A lot of the time, I feel like I’m reading the same story over and over again. I didn’t get that with this book.) Throw in a bit of quantum physics and philosophy, and I’m sold. (Shout out to my book club buddy, Corey, for giving me this book. You did well!)

Two Summers, in my opinion, is a great pick for middle and high school readers. Maybe it will encourage readers of all ages to explore the world around them (and beyond) through photography and examine how the choices they make could lead them on different paths.

To learn more about Two Summers and other books by Aimee Friedman, visit the author’s website. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

The Siren

The Siren, a stand-alone novel by Kiera Cass, has been on my to-read pile for almost a year. I don’t know why I put it off for so long–especially considering how much I enjoyed Cass’ Selection series and how beautiful the cover is–but I finally made time for it over my holiday break. I intended to finish it before school started back up, but that didn’t work out. And starting back to school was so exhausting that I didn’t have the energy to do much more than fall on my face until this weekend. But I did manage to finish The Siren last night, and, while it didn’t grip me quite as much as The Selection, it was an intriguing book that took a new look at an enthralling mythical creature.

Eighty years ago, the Ocean saved Kahlen from certain death. In return, Kahlen agreed to serve the Ocean as a Siren for the next one hundred years. Along with her sisters, Kahlen used her Siren song to ensnare unsuspecting seafarers, dragging them to their deaths, feeding the Ocean the souls She needed to survive. Though Kahlen was troubled by what she had to do, she knew that she was helping the Ocean, the only mother figure she could really remember.

Now, with twenty years left in service to the Ocean, Kahlen wonders if a “normal” life is possible for her, especially when she meets Akinli, a guy that enchants her from their first encounter. Even though she can’t speak to him, they still manage to communicate and form a special friendship, one that even distance cannot dull.

Kahlen knows that holding onto Akinli is unwise–even dangerous–but she can’t let go of him. After a particularly troubling “assignment” from the Ocean, Kahlen seeks refuge with Akinli and discovers that spending every day with someone she loves is her idea of paradise. Could they possibly make a real relationship work, even with Kahlen’s commitment to the Ocean? Or will circumstances drive them apart once again? (If you answered “yes” to that last question, you were spot on.)

Although she knows she’s doing what she must, Kahlen is tortured by her separation from Akinli. With every passing day, she grows weaker, and no one, including the Ocean, seems to know why. As a Siren, Kahlen should be totally indestructable, so what could possibly be wrong with her?

Her sisters search the world over for an answer to Kahlen’s mysterious illness, but the truth could lie with the one being who claims to love Kahlen more than anything. What is the Ocean hiding, and can Kahlen convince Her to let go before it’s too late–for both Kahlen and the boy she loves?


The Siren is a somewhat convoluted love story, especially when you throw the whole my-voice-can-kill-you thing on top of it. I didn’t totally buy how quickly Kahlen and Akinli fell for each other, but that could just be my issue.

And another thing–the Ocean seemed to be the very definition of an abusive jerk, in my opinion. I’m only threatening to kill you and destroy everything you care about because I love you. Ugh. And the Sirens are still devoted to Her. I get that they didn’t have much choice–and they did call Her on her crap eventually–but really?

Aside from those issues, I did find The Siren to be an enjoyable, if sometimes aggravating, read. I would recommend it for middle grade and YA collections.

For more information on The Siren or other books by Kiera Cass, visit the author’s website, Twitter, or Facebook. You may also want to take a look at the official book trailer for The Siren below.

The Sky Is Everywhere

I became a Jandy Nelson fan about two years ago when I read the unbelievably moving I’ll Give You the Sun. (Read it. Seriously. And have lots of tissues at the ready.) I was in a weird mood this week, so I looked to one of her other books, The Sky Is Everywhere, to get me through. It worked.

I guess I needed a good cry–without resorting to cheesy holiday Hallmark movies–and The Sky Is Everywhere definitely delivered. It explored concepts like loss, grief, love, family, hope, and the power of words and music in a way that really resonated with me. I hope it will do the same for you.

Lennie Walker is going through the worst time of her life. Following the death of her older sister, Bailey, Lennie is completely adrift. She doesn’t know which way to turn, and she doesn’t know how to go on without the most important person in her world. She’s lost interest in almost everything. Her only solace comes in the form of poems she leaves on the walls, on scrap pieces of paper, all over town.

While Lennie struggles to reconnect to her life, she looks for comfort in the arms of Toby, her sister’s boyfriend. He seems to be the only person who truly understands her grief, and maybe both of them are seeking a piece of Bailey in each other. Lennie knows it’s wrong to be so wrapped up in Toby, but she can’t seem to help herself. (To be fair, neither can he.)

When a new guy enters the picture, though, Lennie’s world is once again thrown into chaos. Joe Fontaine brings sunshine into Lennie’s life for the first time in a while, and he seems to bring her back into the world of words, music, and living. She begins playing her clarinet again, talking to friends and family, and contemplating a future of her own. It’s both exhilarating and, on some level, agonizing.

A big part of Lennie feels guilty for feeling any kind of happiness when her sister is gone, and an even bigger part of her is guilty over her continued connection with Toby when she’s falling for Joe. She knows she must end whatever is happening with Toby before it destroys her relationship with Joe…but that may not be up to her.

As her romantic life flounders, Lennie must also deal with secrets her sister was keeping, her feelings on her absent mother, how she relates to her family, and even how she views herself. Who is she without Bailey? Can she find the girl she is now before she loses Joe, the boy who may just be the love of her life? It’s time for Lennie to find out.


The band geek and word nerd in me really loved the character of Lennie (even though I wanted to shake her a few times). I have a feeling a lot of readers out there may feel the same way. If nothing else, maybe Lennie’s taste in music and literature could inspire readers to explore–or at least revisit–the classics.

While I think The Sky Is Everywhere is an excellent book for teens and adults–especially music and book lovers or those who’ve ever been in love or experienced loss (doesn’t narrow it down much, does it?)–I do think it’s geared toward more mature readers. This book doesn’t shy away from what may be deemed “salty language” or frank talk of sexuality. Yes, I know that’s reality for many tweens and teens. Some mature middle grade readers may be okay with this book, but others may not. As usual, know your readers and recommend books accordingly.

If you’d like to know more about The Sky Is Everywhere and other books by Jandy Nelson, I encourage you to visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

With that, I’m going to wrap things up…which is the only wrapping I’ve managed to do. It’s Christmas Eve, and I haven’t wrapped a single gift, so I guess I’ve got work to do. So long for now, and I’ll be back in a few days. Happy holidays to you all!

Black Ice

My latest read, Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick, features heavy snow, serial killers, deception and secrecy, surviving in the most extreme conditions, and a fair amount of violence. What did I take away from it, though? Don’t go hiking. Don’t go backpacking, camping, or anything else that involves being “one with nature.” Actually, don’t go outside and interact with people, and you’ll be just fine. A message from your hermit-in-training.

All jokes aside (though I’m really not joking), Black Ice is a thrilling–and sometimes aggravating–book that will likely keep many readers guessing until the very end. I thought I knew what was going on through most of the book, but even I was thrown for a loop a couple of times. I do like a book that keeps me on my toes.

Many girls spend spring break of their senior year at the beach–swimming, hanging out with friends, relaxing, and getting ready for that final push to graduation. Not Britt Pheiffer. Britt is planning to hike the Teton Range with her reluctant best friend, Korbie. Britt’s ex-boyfriend (and Korbie’s older brother), Calvin, is also along for the ride. Britt isn’t thrilled about that particular development, but maybe forced proximity will give her closure regarding the end of their relationship…or ignite a whole new spark.

Circumstances, however, force Britt and Korbie into a dangerous situation before they’re able to meet up with Calvin. While driving to Korbie’s family lodge, the girls encounter extremely hazardous conditions. The two girls are forced to abandon their car and look for shelter before they freeze to death. They eventually find a remote cabin, occupied by two young men, Shaun and Mason, who appear to be very normal at first glance.

But there’s nothing normal about this situation.

Britt and Korbie quickly learn that Shaun and Mason are on the run, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to evade capture. That includes forcing Britt, a self-proclaimed expert in navigating the area, to lead them to the highway. They leave Korbie behind and journey into the frozen wilderness.

Britt hopes that Calvin will somehow come to her rescue, but she’s ultimately responsible for saving herself. She looks for opportunities to escape, and she becomes even more determined when she discovers shocking evidence that her captors may be responsible for the deaths of several local girls.

Something, though, is not adding up. Britt thinks that Shaun, the more violent of these two fugitives, is capable of murder, but she’s not so sure about Mason. He seems to have some sort of moral code, and Britt has observed some tension between Mason and Shaun. Could there be more going on here than meets the eye? Can Britt possibly count on Mason to be an ally? Or is he really the more dangerous of the two men?

As Britt navigates this terrifying, treacherous, confusing reality, she reflects on her relationships with Calvin, Korbie, her own family, and she comes to understand that she’s much stronger than even she realized. And she’ll need that strength for what’s to come. As Britt moves closer to what appears to be her salvation, she also uncovers some horrifying secrets–secrets that shake the very foundation of her world and place her in a more perilous situation than she could have ever dreamed of.


So…Black Ice definitely kept me on the edge of my seat–and that’s great–but this book was not without its issues. Maybe they’re more my issues than anything else, but I’ll address them anyway.

First up, there’s Korbie. I 100% loathe this character…and I figure I’m supposed to. It’s obvious to me–and to Britt–that Korbie is not a good friend. She acts superior and spoiled, and I seriously doubt she would have thought of Britt’s safety over her own. Her attitude provides a good contrast to Britt’s, and that’s probably the best thing I can say about Korbie.

Then there’s the messed up love triangle. I’m not going to go into specifics because that would give you a major spoiler, but I think Britt has a serious problem with her taste in guys. I mean, really. Both potential love interests were not exactly great to her, and one may or may not have been a deranged murderer. Sure, it miraculously and inexplicably works out for Britt in the end, but it just didn’t track for me. Maybe I’m cold and completely devoid of romantic sentiment. (I probably am.)

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the way too neat and completely unrealistic ending. It was much too “rainbows and sunshine” for my taste, especially in a book that had been so intriguing up to that point.

Even with these issues, I did enjoy Black Ice. It was exciting, easy-to-read, and kept me engaged the whole way through. I think it’s a great fit for YA suspense collections.

If you’d like more information on Black Ice and other books by Becca Fitzpatrick, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

What Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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