All Fall Down

Late last night, I finished reading Ally Carter’s latest novel, All Fall Down, the first book in her new Embassy Row series. Having read her Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, I figured that I would immediately fall in love with Carter’s newest work. Well, I can’t exactly call it love at first read, but I do think this series is promising. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Three years ago, Grace Blakely witnessed the death of her mother. She tried to convince everyone that it was no accident, but no one would listen to her. They all thought she was crazy, and she spent the next few years moving from therapist to therapist, hospital to hospital, drug to drug. She still believes that her mother was murdered, but Grace has learned to keep her thoughts to herself.

Now, with her military father deployed, Grace is returning to the land where her mother grew up. She’s living with her grandfather now, but her grandfather isn’t some kindly old guy who’s retired and spends his days fishing or gardening. No, he’s the U.S. Ambassador to the country of Adria, and Grace is now living in her mom’s old room at the Embassy. No pressure to act normal here.

As Grace tries to adapt to her surroundings–which are familiar but different at the same time–she also encounters some new–and old–friends who are looking out for her and trying to make her feel welcome. There’s Noah, son of two ambassadors, who appoints himself as Grace’s best friend. There’s Rosie, a young girl from the German Embassy, who has the impressive ability of blending into the shadows (and getting loads of information). There’s Megan, a former playmate of Grace’s, who has depths that surprise everyone. And then there’s Alexei, son of the Russian Ambassador, best friend of Grace’s brother, and her self-appointed protector. Even with all of these people, though, Grace feels totally alone.

Grace is haunted by her past, and her worlds collide when she sees someone in Adria who everyone says is a figment of her imagination. The Scarred Man who killed her mother. None of the adults around her believe Grace’s tales of the Scarred Man, so she seeks the help of her fellow Embassy kids. Together, they search high and low (sometimes very, very low) for information about the Scarred Man, proof of his past crimes, and clues pointing to his next target.

While Grace is seeking the truth about her mother’s death, everything around her seems to be spinning out of control. She doesn’t really know who she can trust, who will believe her…or who will ultimately betray her. And in a world where one misstep can have international ramifications, Grace may just find herself in the middle of something she never could have foreseen. Something that may change everything.

Is Grace prepared for what she will discover about her mom and herself? Or will the truth ultimately tear her apart? Begin to unravel the mystery when you read All Fall Down by Ally Carter.

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Like I said at the beginning of this post, I think the Embassy Row series shows great promise, but I did have a couple of issues with this book. The biggest problem for me was that some of the action sequences and changes were rather abrupt. I found myself going back and rereading several passages because I was sure I had to have missed something. (I even looked to see if pages were missing from my copy of the book. No dice.) Some things just happened way too suddenly, and there was very little explanation about why things unfolded the way they did. (This was especially true at the end of the book.) I’m hopeful that this will be ironed out in the next book.

I also didn’t quite get the relationship between Grace and Alexei. For most of the book, Alexei was a big brother figure with questionable motives. By the end of the book, we’re supposed to believe there’s the possibility of a budding romance between Grace and Alexei…but then he disappears without a word (which was, again, rather abrupt and unexpected). I guess I just didn’t see these two as a potential couple. It didn’t make sense in this book, but I have a feeling we’ll see Alexei again in future books, and maybe that relationship will feel a bit more natural.

Speaking of the next book in this series, it should be released sometime in 2016. There’s currently no title listed on Goodreads, but I’m sure that will be remedied soon. There is, however, a bonus scene available, Before the Fall: Arrival, that is already out, and you can read it for free. Given the title, I’m guessing this 15-page short story highlights Grace’s arrival in Adria. I’ll take a look at it soon.

In conclusion (because it’s almost time for bed), I would like to say that, even with its faults, I did like All Fall Down, and I will likely continue with the rest of the series. I’d recommend this book to both middle grade and young adult readers who like a bit of political intrigue in their books. I look forward to seeing where Grace’s story leads and how this girl navigates the tough waters of international politics while trying to have a somewhat normal life. Should be interesting.

For more information about All Fall Down, the future of the Embassy Row series, and the author’s other books, check out Ally Carter’s website, Twitter, and Facebook page.

Blood of My Blood

Warning: Before proceeding with this book, you MUST read I Hunt Killers and Game. Preferably during daylight hours. Or with every light in the house on. And maybe a baseball bat by your side. And a therapist on speed-dial.

Normally, I like to think a bit about a book before I post on it. That is not the case with Blood of My Blood, the third and final book in Barry Lyga’s Jasper Dent trilogy. No, I have to get my thoughts on this book out right now…and then watch a Disney movie or look at pictures of baby pandas before I try to go to sleep.

To say that Blood of My Blood is horrifying and upsetting is a gross understatement. That being said…it was a great book and completely lived up to its predecessors. It continues the story of Jasper Dent and his search for the truth about his father, one of the world’s most prolific serial killers, Billy Dent.

When last we left Jasper (also known as Jazz), his girlfriend Connie, and his best friend Howie, each of them were facing life-threatening situations. Jazz was seriously injured and trapped in a storage unit. Howie, a hemophiliac, was bleeding out on the floor of Jasper’s grandmother’s house. And Connie had just come face-to-face with her worst nightmare–Billy Dent himself. But that’s really just the beginning of the horrors to come.

Things are looking bleak for Jasper Dent. Yes, he’s helped the NYPD track down a team of serial killers, but at what cost? An FBI agent is dead, and fingers are starting to point at Jazz. His father, the infamous Billy Dent, is on the loose, and some are beginning to wonder if father and son are working together. Jazz can’t convince the police of his innocence–even when it is revealed that his girlfriend has narrowly escaped Billy’s clutches–so he does the only thing he can think of. He goes in search of Billy himself.

Jazz tries his best to disconnect from everything he’s ever loved in his hunt for Billy, but his past keeps creeping in. He thinks of his loyal best friend, Howie, and Connie is never far from his mind. Jazz also thinks about his mom, a woman who left when he was just a child but who may now be in Billy’s grasp once again. Can he protect all of these people, do what he feels needs to be done, and still hold on to his humanity? Is that even a possibility anymore? Or is Jazz really turning into his father’s son?

As Jazz gets closer and closer to Billy, pieces of his past are becoming clearer, and neither Jazz nor those around him may be prepared for what is eventually revealed. It seems that Billy is not the worst evil to be encountered. No, a malignant force called the Crow King is bearing down on Jazz and will change everything he’s ever believed about his father and himself.

How will it all end? I’ll leave that for you to find out…

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After reading the first two books in this series (and thoroughly enjoying them), I knew I had to read Blood of My Blood. While I’m glad I finally found time to devote to this book, I have to say that I thought it was the most disturbing of the entire trilogy. At times, I really had to resist the urge to throw up. It wasn’t that the imagery was particularly graphic–although it was at times. No, what really got to me were Jazz’s traumatic memories. I won’t go into details here, but I will say that this kid never really had much of a chance. From Billy’s “teachings” to the other snippets of a horrible childhood, it’s a wonder Jazz didn’t turn into a raging psychopath.

I don’t know what more I can say about this trilogy as a whole. If you like psychological thrillers or enjoy shows like Criminal Minds, this might be the series for you. I warn some readers that the content can be upsetting. I doubt I’d recommend this book for middle grade readers or those who scare easily.

If you’d like to learn more about Blood of My Blood and the other books in this trilogy, check out author Barry Lyga’s website.

Now, I must watch a light-hearted Disney movie to get all these thoughts of murder and serial killers out of my head. (And now that I’m thinking about it, there aren’t many Disney films without crazed killers. Maybe I’ll just watch a few episodes of Friends on Netflix.)

Published in: on February 28, 2015 at 10:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hourglass

Last year, at YALLFest 2013, I heard a charming, entertaining author speak*, and I’ve been meaning to pick up her books ever since. That author is Myra McEntire, and I finally made time to dive into Hourglass, her first novel, this weekend. It didn’t take long for me to get sucked into the world created by Ms. McEntire, and I can hardly wait to read more. (There are now three books in the Hourglass series, and I plan to devour the others during my upcoming holiday break. Woohoo!)

*I should also note that Ms. McEntire was so entertaining that I recommended her as a guest author at the annual conference of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians. Wonder of wonders, she accepted SCASL’s invitation, so I’ll get to see her once again in March!

Emerson Cole is not exactly a typical seventeen-year-old girl. In fact, almost nothing about Emerson is what one would consider “normal.” When her name pops up, “crazy” is the word most often used to describe this troubled girl.

And why is Emerson so troubled? Nothing big, really. She simply sees ghosts of the past nearly everywhere she goes, she’s traumatized by her parents’ deaths, and she’s recently decided to go off her meds because they make everything feel all fuzzy. Emerson has tried nearly everything to help herself cope with the strangeness that is her life, but she’s never really thought about embracing what makes her different. At least, not until Michael enters her life…

Michael Weaver, a guy not much older than Emerson herself, works for an organization known as the Hourglass, and he’s been hired by Emerson’s older brother to help her through some of her issues. What her dear brother doesn’t know, however, is that the mysterious Michael hasn’t come into the picture to make Emerson “normal;” he’s here to show Emerson the true depth of her power.

Soon after meeting Emerson, Michael explains that her encounters with ghosts are much more than what they seem. They are, in fact, ripples in the fabric of time, and Emerson has the unique ability to actually travel to the past, even change things if she wishes to. Michael wants to help her do just that.

Emerson is soon dealing with some fairly unbelievable information, things that make her question everything she thought she knew about herself and the universe. And as if that’s not enough, she’s also confronting some pretty inconvenient feelings for Michael. There’s this weird electrical charge whenever they touch, and their pull toward each other is undeniable, but Michael rebuffs her at every turn. Why? Is it simply because her brother hired Michael to help Emerson? Or are there other things–other people–getting in the way of a possible relationship between Emerson and Michael?

As Emerson learns more about herself, her abilities, her past, Michael, and the secretive Hourglass organization, she comes face-to-face with some truths that are at once horrific and seemingly impossible. Does she really have the power to change her fate and that of those around her, or have other forces already manipulated Emerson’s life and abilities to achieve their own ends?

Well, as they say, time will tell…

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Hourglass really puts a different spin on the whole time travel concept, and it’s one that I think a lot of readers will enjoy. There’s way too much time travel fiction out there that just glosses over the physics behind the concept. This book doesn’t do that. It actually takes a look at things like the space-time continuum and how changing one thing in the past could have devastating consequences in the present and future. The science nerd within me is rejoicing over this…and trying to decipher what the book’s conclusion could mean for time itself.

Aside from all of the time travel stuff, Hourglass has a flawed, totally relatable protagonist. Emerson is far from perfect. She has huge errors in judgement all the time, but I truly believe that her heart is in the right place. She wants to do the right thing, but it’s not always clear how to do that. And when she finds herself floundering, she does what so many YA characters don’t–she talks to the adults in her life, tells them the truth about her situation, and listens to (even if she doesn’t always follow) their advice. Also, she’s like a mini-ninja, so that makes me like her even more.

So, we’ve got time travel, and we’ve got a likable main character. What am I forgetting? Oh yeah! The totally infuriating (in a good way) love story! The push-pull between Emerson and Michael was both wonderful and exasperating. Every time I thought they were about to confess their feelings for each other, I was thrown for a loop. (So was Emerson, by the way.) I didn’t know which way to turn, or even which way I wanted to turn. And when another swoon-worthy guy entered the picture, I was even more confused. Who should Emerson really be with? Should she be with anyone? It’s all very confusing…for both Emerson and the reader. And the book’s resolution, while it does kind of resolve this one big thing, also makes it clear that Emerson’s immediate future will likely be anything but moonlight and roses.

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If you’re looking for a riveting YA read, I urge you to give Hourglass a try. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

For more information on Hourglass, its sequels, and Myra McEntire, check out the author’s website, Goodreads, and Twitter. Ms. McEntire is also a contributing author in the holiday anthology My True Love Gave to Me, so you may want to give that fabulous book a read as well!

Followers

I try to find something positive to say about every book you see here on Knight Reader. That’s not always an easy feat, and it’s especially difficult with my latest read, Followers by Anna Davies. I guess the best things I can say about it are that it was a quick read (and didn’t take up too much of my valuable time), and it involved social media, something that is vitally important to the book’s target audience. I also sort of liked that the book revolved around a school working on a production of Hamlet. Any excuse for a Shakespeare reference, right?

Those few positives aside, Followers didn’t really do it for me. Even the cover, in my opinion, failed to capture the book. I was expecting a much scarier story based on the cover…maybe one with evil little girls with yellow eyes. That was not the case. The girls on the cover are very misleading. They appear to be younger than any of the characters in the book, and they fail to tell readers anything about the book.  Even the tagline at the top has nothing to do with the actual story. Cover=fail.

This book, as I said, centers around a school’s production of Hamlet. Our protagonist, Briana, or @alleyesonbree as she’s known in the Twitterverse, is desperate to play Ophelia. She knows she’s good, but she still worries that she’s not good enough. She’s also anxious about her place at MacHale, the private school where her mother was an acting star. Bree is just now starting to become part of things at MacHale, and she’s hoping that nabbing the role of Ophelia will make her feel as if she truly belongs. Alas, it is not meant to be…

Bree doesn’t get the coveted role, but the director, an altogether strange man who takes over when the previous director dies, wants Bree to be the play’s social media director. He’s seen her Twitter feed, and he thinks she can make Hamlet an interactive experience. Bree reluctantly agrees, but it seems there’s someone else on Twitter, @hamletsghost, who knows more about this production than anyone. This person even knows when “accidents,” incidents that are taking lives, are about to occur.

Bree is getting really freaked out, but the drama is just beginning. Soon, everyone thinks that Bree is behind the deaths. After all, the killer is using Twitter to brag about what’s happening, Bree is the school’s Twitter queen, and she’s the only person who’s really gained anything from this chaos. But how can Bree prove that she’s not behind these murders? Can she prove her innocence and reveal the true identity of @hamletsghost before she or someone else is the next victim?

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I feel like Followers could have been a really good book, but, truthfully, it just didn’t have enough meat. There was too much build-up, but the climax was kind of a let-down. It happened too suddenly, and I think the entire book could have been scarier. I expect something marketed as horror to keep me up at night. This book didn’t. I’m a wuss from way back, and this book didn’t give me the first nightmare. I can’t even call it horror, to be honest. Suspense? Maybe, but I thought it was pretty obvious what was going on. A few red herrings would have been nice.

I did like the Twitter angle in the book, but I thought even that could have been fleshed out more. It seemed to be an afterthought at times. I would have liked to see more Twitter conversations between @alleyesonbree and @hamletsghost, as well as the other characters in the book. With a title like Followers, one kind of expects entire chapters to be written in tweets, but there were only a few in each chapter. The concept of a killer using Twitter to draw attention to his/her exploits is a clever one. It just needed a little more oomph in this book.

Followers won’t officially be released until June 24th, and I really hope that the final version is a bit better than the NetGalley proof I read. If it is, I think the book will be a good addition to middle and high school libraries, particularly those that serve schools with strong drama programs. If not…well, this may not be a necessary purchase.

Published in: on June 10, 2014 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard

Yesterday, in the span of about an hour, I read a book of poetry that really spoke to me. (People who know me realize just how unusual this is. I don’t read a ton of poetry.) October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman takes a look at a senseless tragedy in a very unique way. I think many readers will be both horrified and captivated by the story presented, and my hope is that they will use this book as a starting point in learning more about Matthew Shepard’s too-short life and what they can do to put an end to homophobia.

October Mourning shows readers just what happened to Matthew Shepard on October 6th, 1998. Readers learn how two homophobic Neanderthals lured a gay 21-year-old out of a club and into their truck. They see that Matthew was beaten to within an inch of his life, tied to a fence, and left for dead.

While some of what readers see is presented from Matthew’s perspective, they also see this event through some unique points of view. The fence to which Matthew was tied, the doe that kept him company during the long, cold night, the stars that watched over him, the biker who found Matthew, the doctor who cared for him, the protesters at his funeral, and even the perpetrators themselves.

Each of the poems in this book paint a picture of what happened to Matthew Shepard and the events that occurred after his death. No, the book is not a narrative, but I think the poems used in this book often make things clearer than they might be otherwise. They cut through a lot of stuff and get to the very heart of Matthew’s story.

While the poems in October Mourning were created from the author’s imagination, they are based on real events, and there are footnotes at the end of the book detailing much of the content in the poems as well as explanations of the various poetic forms used.

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I picked up this book because it was nominated for the 14-15 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, but I honestly think I would have read October Mourning anyway. You see, I can remember when this tragedy occurred. I was a sophomore at Winthrop University, and I recall being absolutely horrified by what happened in Laramie, Wyoming. I remember realizing that this could happen in South Carolina. Several of my friends were openly gay, so I worried that some dumb redneck might get the idea to do something similar. (Even today, that worry hasn’t entirely gone away.)

I know a lot has changed in the nearly sixteen years since Matthew Shepard’s death, but there is still so much work to do. Look around. Homophobia still runs rampant, and political talking heads and uber-conservative blowhards continue to prey on irrational fears to prevent true equality from becoming a reality. Many churches–institutions that are supposed to be all about God’s love–preach messages of hate. Books depicting gay characters are pulled from library shelves. People’s lives are still threatened just because of who they love. Will we ever see an end to this madness? I truly hope so.

If anything positive can come of a tragedy like this, I hope that young people will read October Mourning, learn a bit more about Matthew Shepard, examine their own attitudes, and do something–no matter how seemingly small–to eradicate homophobia. I believe it can be done.

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For more information on October Mourning and what inspired author Lesléa Newman to write it, check out this Huffington Post article. There’s a video there as well, but I’ve also put it here. It tells you about this book more succinctly than I ever could.

*By the way, I applaud the SCYABA committee for choosing this book as one of next year’s nominees. It goes to show that, even in a state as conservative as ours, attitudes are changing, and South Carolinians can be champions for gay rights. Thank you!*

Published in: on May 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Game

Spoiler warning! If you haven’t read Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers yet, you simply must before reading the sequel, Game. (My fellow South Carolinians need to read I Hunt Killers anyway. It’s nominated for the 14-15 SC Young Adult Book Award.)

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I recently finished reading Game, the second book in Barry Lyga’s Jasper Dent series. In this series, we get to know Jasper, known to his friends as Jazz, the son of the world’s most prolific serial killer. In I Hunt Killers, Jazz helps the authorities find the Impressionist, a killer copying the work of Jazz’s father. At the end of that book, though, readers got the kind of cliffhanger that makes us weep or scream in frustration. Somehow, Jazz’s father escapes from prison, and he’s on the hunt again. That’s where Game picks up.

Jazz knows his dad is on the loose, and it’s just a matter of time before their paths cross. In the meantime, there’s yet another serial killer prowling in New York City, and Jazz’s help is once again enlisted to determine just how this maniac thinks. And if anyone knows how a killer thinks, it’s the son of Billy Dent.

Jazz and his girlfriend Connie head to NYC in the hopes that they will be able to find some clues that lead to the capture of the Hat-Dog Killer. The police and FBI seem to have no leads, and Jazz is able to provide a bit of insight into the mind of this psychopath. It’s not always a comfortable process for Jazz (or the reader). In trying to figure out what the killer thinks, Jazz is forced to come face-to-face with his own damaged psyche.

Can Jazz really handle the pressure of thinking like a killer once again? Is he losing himself to the teachings of his father? How can Jazz possibly spend most of his time profiling serial killers without succumbing to the voice of Billy Dent in his head?

As Jazz comes closer to the truth about the Hat-Dog Killer and his dad’s possible involvement in this disturbing game of murder, Connie and Jazz’s best friend Howie are entangled in their own mystery. Someone is sending Connie messages leading her to some disturbing information about Jazz and his past. Who is sending these messages? And why send them to Connie and not Jazz? Connie enlists Howie’s help in her search for the truth, but neither of them will be prepared for what awaits them…

Once again, the hunt for a killer is on. Jazz and company will have to rely on their wits, tenacity, and good old-fashioned luck to figure out what’s going on…but it may not be enough. Even when questions are answered, dozens more pop up in their place, and the hunt for the truth may lead Jazz, Connie, and even Howie into further danger.

Someone is playing a murderous game with people’s lives, and Jazz and his friends may just become unwitting game pieces themselves. Can they make it out of the game alive? Only time will tell…

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I freely admit that the above recap doesn’t come remotely close to capturing everything that happened in Game. I didn’t even touch on the glimpses we got into the minds of Hat-Dog, Jazz, Connie, Howie, and Billy. Each perspective brought us new insights into these characters and how they view the world around them.

I briefly mentioned Jazz’s struggles with his own mind, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Jazz is all kinds of messed up, and that definitely comes through for the reader. I even had to put the book down a couple of times and just catch my breath. Jazz’s head is not a happy place to be. What do you expect when a kid is basically raised to be a murderer, right? Sometimes it’s not clear if we’re actually reading Jazz’s thoughts or those of his lunatic father. I guess that’s the dilemma for Jazz as well.

Without giving too much away, I must say that the “game” aspect of Game freaked me the crap out. I may never look at board games the same again.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the whopper of a cliffhanger at the end of this book. When I closed Game last night, I just sat there for a minute and thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Has Barry Lyga been taking lessons from Steven Moffat (of Sherlock and Doctor Who fame) on torturing fans with mind-boggling endings? Do we seriously have to wait until September to find out how things are resolved (or if they are resolved) for Jazz and friends? I guess we do, but we don’t have to be happy about it!

The third book in this series, Blood of My Blood, should be released on September 9th. (Loving the title, by the way. Can’t wait to see what it might mean for Jazz!) Judging be the synopsis on Goodreads, we’re in for a lot more danger and intrigue. I look forward to diving into what I’m sure will be another fantastic read.

If you can’t wait for more of Jasper Dent and company, though, you can check out a couple of companion novellas. Lucky Day tells of how Billy was first captured, Career Day is a day in the life of sixteen-year-old Jasper, and Neutral Mask provides a look into the beginnings of the relationship between Jazz and Connie. Just click on the titles of each novella in the previous sentence, and you’ll be taken to the Goodreads page on each ebook.

For more information on I Hunt Killers, Game, or other books by Barry Lyga, check out his website, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. If you’ve got a minute or two to spare, you may also want to take a look at the Game book trailer below. It covers things I didn’t here, and, in my opinion, it definitely captures the mood of this intense read!

 

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.

The Body in the Woods

I love a good crime drama. It’s not uncommon for me to spend hours watching Criminal Minds, Law & Order (any of them), or my personal favorite, Sherlock. The same can be said for reading crime dramas, particularly those involving teenagers. Crime dramas–whether in print or visual media–have a way of sucking me in and not letting go until the mystery is solved.

When I got the opportunity to read a galley (courtesy of NetGalley) of the first book in a new YA crime drama series, I jumped at the chance…especially when I realized it was written by April Henry. (I’ve previously read and reviewed a couple of her books: Torched and The Night She Disappeared.)

The Body in the Woods, book one in Henry’s Point Last Seen series, will be released to the masses on June 17th, and readers who enjoy a good mystery will eat this book up.

Told from three different perspectives, The Body in the Woods begins with a Search and Rescue mission in a Portland park. Alexis, Ruby, and Nick are SAR volunteers, and they’re in the woods looking for a missing autistic man. They end up finding so much more. Not long into their search, they stumble upon something their training didn’t really prepare them for…a dead body. It’s not the body of the man they were looking for. No, this is the body of a teen girl, and, based on Ruby’s cursory examination of the scene, this girl was strangled.

The police have a lot of questions for Alexis, Nick, and Ruby, and the authorities urge the trio to leave the murder investigation to the professionals, but that’s not something these kids can really do. For different reasons, each of them is determined to discover who killed this girl.

Nick wants to be a hero. His dad was killed in action in Iraq, and Nick wants to live up to the heroic example set by his father. He imagines himself saving the day and being revered by those around him. Reality, though, doesn’t quite match up with Nick’s imagination. Tracking down a killer forces Nick deal with fear, bone-deep fear that makes him wonder if he’s really hero material.

Alexis needs to escape her life at home. Joining the SAR team seems to be a way to do that, get a good mark on her college applications, and help people at the same time. Even when Alexis is forced to deal with her mentally ill mother, she continues her work with SAR, hoping that she can help to solve this mystery which is growing closer and closer to her own life.

Ruby is a crime buff with no friends, and when she latches onto something, she can’t let it go. She knows she can figure out who committed this crime…and possibly others in the area. When Ruby discovers that another girl was murdered in a nearby park, she takes her suspicions to the police, but they brush her off. Alexis and Nick, however, listen to her and agree to keep digging.

Even when the three are warned off this case–and Ruby’s parents force her to abandon her work with the SAR team–they keep trying to figure out who could be killing homeless girls in Portland. But what will happen when the killer targets one of them? Are three teenagers any match for a sociopath with a taste for murder? Can they stop a killer before one of them becomes yet another body in the woods? Time will tell…

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As with most galleys, there were a couple of grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors that jumped off the page, but I’m sure those will be corrected in editing.  Those few errors aside, this was a riveting book. While I did enjoy reading each of the teens’ perspectives, I was even more intrigued when given a glimpse into the mind of the killer. (Not sure what that says about me.) Even with those glimpses, though, I didn’t figure out who the killer was until fairly late in the book, and that definitely served to keep the suspense going.

My favorite character in The Body in the Woods would have to be Ruby. When I was reading her point of view, it was all too easy to imagine her as a young, female version of Sherlock Holmes. She just didn’t think the way those around her did. (I swear, if she had told the others to shut up because she needed to go to her Mind Palace, I wouldn’t have been surprised.) Some may argue that Ruby, like Sherlock Holmes, is a high-functioning sociopath, and I think that is true to a certain degree. Like Sherlock, though, Ruby wants to be close to people. She’s just not always sure how to make that happen.

The Body in the Woods, in my opinion, is a great read for anyone (middle grades and up) who likes a good mystery. It is a quick, captivating read, and anyone interested in crime scenes and forensics will be taken in by this story. Definitely give this book to fans of Alane Ferguson’s forensic mysteries (The Christopher Killer, The Angel of Death, The Circle of Blood, and The Dying Breath).

As mentioned previously, this book will be available on June 17th. No word yet on when we can expect the other books in this exciting new series.

 

Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Three Times Lucky

This morning, I finished yet another of this year’s nominees for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award. That book was Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. Almost from the first page, I was enthralled. Why, you may ask? Simply because of the main character’s voice and the descriptive language used in this story. It’s been a while since I read any book–whether for children, teens, or adults–that was such a wonderful example of developing a character’s voice and employing figurative language. I found myself laughing frequently at how things were described in this book, and I also think readers and writers could learn a lot from Three Times Lucky about how to creatively express themselves using something as simple–and complicated–as words.

Eleven years ago, Moses “Mo” LoBeau washed ashore in Tupelo’s Landing, North Carolina. This child, who was washed away from her Upstream Mother in a hurricane, was rescued by the memory-impaired, cantankerous Colonel and Miss Lana, and the three of them made a life for themselves in this small coastal town.

Now, eleven years later, Mo is a rising sixth grader who works part-time in the restaurant run by the Colonel and Miss Lana. (Her specialty seems to be peanut butter on Wonder Bread.) She spends most of her spare time researching who and where her Upstream Mother might be, and she enjoys hanging out with her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III. (The “III” is for the iconic #3 car of his namesake.)

This summer, however, things are being stirred up in Tupelo’s Landing, and Mo takes it upon herself to figure out what’s going on. One of the restaurant’s customers has been killed, a cop is asking questions about Mo’s beloved Colonel, and strange things are afoot in the town Mo calls home. What else is a precocious girl to do? Mo and Dale open up their own detective agency–Desperado Detectives–and begin investigating the crime.

What these junior detectives find, though, may just change everything they know about the people they’re closest to. What secrets are hiding in Tupelo’s Landing? And how can Mo and Dale discover the truth when the police can’t?

As Mo and Dale come closer and closer to solving the biggest mystery to hit Tupelo’s Landing since Mo herself washed ashore, they’ll learn just what family and friendship really mean. When waters get rough, it becomes clear who’ll be there for them, and even Mo might be surprised by who has her back. Join Mo LoBeau on her journey to the truth when you read Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, a nominee for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award!

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The brief recap above doesn’t even come close to describing what Mo encounters in Three Times Lucky. I tried to hit the major points, but there are so many more that I could have added. Mo is a character to be remembered, and I could see so many of my students in her. She’s hilarious, strong-willed, loyal, curious, and determined…qualities that are to be admired in anyone, in my opinion. I adore this character and the way she looks at life. Despite her humble, mysterious origins, Mo doesn’t let anything stand in her way. Yes, that can sometimes get her into trouble, but she always has the best of intentions.

Another thing I enjoyed about Three Times Lucky was how many of the adults treated Mo. She wasn’t just some annoying kid to them. She was a valued part of the community…even when she didn’t always feel that way. The adults around Mo listened to her, took her seriously, and looked out for her. That’s no small thing, especially when Mo is technically an orphan with no “real” family of her own. In this book, it definitely takes a village to raise this particular child, and I think they’ve done a fantastic job!

If I had to classify this book, I would call it a humorous mystery. (If that wasn’t a category before, it is now.) Yes, Mo and Dale are trying to solve a murder, but they’re also living the lives 11-year-old kids with problems. Those problems are serious in their own right, but both Mo and Dale deal with those issues with humor and a particularly refreshing outlook.

All in all, I would say that Three Times Lucky is an excellent read for those in upper elementary grades and up. It’s highly entertaining from start to finish. I hope my students feel the same way.

The author of Three Times Lucky, Sheila Turnage, currently lives in eastern North Carolina, so I can only hope that she’ll journey across the border soon to visit with students and librarians in South Carolina. In the meantime, check out her webpage at http://www.sheilaturnage.com/SheilaTurnage/Desktop.html for more information on Three Times Lucky and future books!

Published in: on August 6, 2013 at 1:30 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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