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.

Advertisements

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 Doubt Factory

Thanks to a much-needed beach vacation, I was able to finish reading The Doubt Factory, a new YA thriller from Paolo Bacigalupi, this weekend. I read this book thanks to NetGalley, but you can read it in just a few weeks. It is scheduled for an October 14th release.

If you’re something of a conspiracy nut (like me), The Doubt Factory will confirm everything you’ve ever believed…and give you a few more things to induce paranoia. For those who are on the optimistic side…well, this book should take care of that.

Alix Banks has a pretty decent life. Big house, nice car, semi-attentive parents, the best education. But what’s the cost of all the good stuff in Alix’s life? Alix knows her father is involved in some fairly heavy-duty PR work, but she doesn’t really pay much attention to how Daddy dearest “brings home the bacon.” All that is about to change…

When someone known only as 2.0 enters Alix’s life, she is oddly intrigued at first. This mysterious–and strangely compelling–figure wants Alix to pay closer attention to her dad’s work…but why? Why would this character, believed to be a petty vandal, be interested in Alix’s father?

Alix is curious, and her curiosity eventually leads her into a dangerous game of truth, deception, and corporate greed. 2.0–better known as Moses–and his merry band of activists attempt to open Alix’s eyes to her father’s shady business dealings. They know that he spends his days covering up what “fine, upstanding companies” don’t want revealed–side effects of medications, carcinogens in household products, wrongful deaths, etc. Alix’s father sells doubt. He–and those like him–finesse their government contacts, throw money at problems, mire the legal system in pointless paperwork and delays…all for the purpose at casting doubt on the claims of those would endanger the all-important profit margin.

At first, Alix refuses to believe everything she’s being told. She’s sure her father is incapable of such heinous acts. She reveals what she knows about 2.0 to her dad and his security team…and she almost immediately regrets it. Deep down, she knows her dad is hiding something, and she makes it her business to find the truth.

Alix becomes obsessed with her father’s company, and she is disgusted by what she uncovers. Moses was telling the truth. But what can Alix do to change things? And can she convince Moses to help her when she turned her back on him once before? Can a couple of teenagers take down something as big as the Doubt Factory, and is Alix willing to betray her father, a man who loved and raised her, for the sake of the truth?

_______________

*Spoilers ahead!*

Even though I found The Doubt Factory to be a gripping thrill-ride of a book, I will admit that one thing did bother me: Alix’s relationship with Moses. There was a fair amount of Stockholm Syndrome happening here, in my opinion. The girl fell in love with her stalker/kidnapper! Sure, it worked out for Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but this is no Disney fairy tale. What kind of message does this send? “It’s okay, girls. I know that creepy guy follows you around, bugs your house, drugs you, and keeps you locked in a cage, but he’s a really great guy once you get to know him.” I know that Moses had his reasons for doing what he did, but Alix’s reaction to him felt wrong to me. Even when she discovered he was telling the truth about everything, she was a little too willing to forgive the whole kidnapping thing. That definitely would have been a deal-breaker for me.

Despite that one glaring issue, I did enjoy The Doubt Factory. I’m a little wary of eating, drinking, breathing, cleaning, taking my meds, or doing anything else after reading it, but maybe a dose of paranoia is a good thing. Keeps me on my toes and aware of what’s going on around me. I can definitely say that this book made me want to do a bit more research on the things I put into my body, especially medications. The Doubt Factory was eye-opening to say the least.

The Doubt Factory is ideally suited to high schools with strong business programs. This book would be an interesting read in business classes and could illicit some interesting discussions of ethics, honesty, government involvement in commerce, FDA regulations, whistle-blowing and its aftereffects, and many other issues.

For those of you wondering if you should add The Doubt Factory to your library or classroom collections, let me give this recommendation. This book is a great addition to libraries and classrooms that serve older YA populations (high school age and up). There is some profanity, sexual situations, violence, and criminal activity. Not to mention all the chemical, legal, and corporate mumbo-jumbo. I just don’t think this is a book that most younger readers will appreciate.

If you’d like more information on The Doubt Factory and author Paolo Bacigalupi, click here. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Prized

If you haven’t already read Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, do that before proceeding with this post.  Prized is the amazing sequel, and you definitely need to read these books in order!

I just finished reading a book that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I loved the first book, Birthmarked, and I had a feeling I would feel the same about the second, Prized. In many ways, I was not disappointed. Like Birthmarked, Prized is set in a dystopian society and follows Gaia, a strong female character. Two big pluses in my book. Prized also made me think about topics that any society tends to have issues with–abortion, oppression, equal rights, etc. Another plus.  The only problem I had with this book was the convoluted love story.  Gaia is torn in three different directions, and, while this does add some tension to the book, I felt it took away from the strength of Gaia’s character.  I also wasn’t crazy about how she knuckled under when things got rough.  (She later redeemed herself, but it still bothered me that she kowtowed in the first place.)  Would I have done things differently in Gaia’s position?  Probably not, as I am a wuss of the highest order.  (Honestly, I would have given in much faster.)  The question is:  would Gaia have done things differently had she known what the outcome would be?

After fleeing into the wastelands with her baby sister, Gaia is certain that death is imminent for both of them.  When nearly all hope is lost, salvation appears in the form of a rider from Sylum, the society that was once ruled by Gaia’s grandmother.  When Gaia arrives in Sylum, however, she fears that she’s escaped one corrupt society only to become part of another.  Sylum is ruled by women–who are largely outnumbered by men–and child-bearing is the most important thing in this world.  Women who cannot or choose not to have children are considered second-class citizens.  (Doesn’t sound too different from our society, does it?)  Men have virtually no rights at all, and kissing a woman out of wedlock is enough to have a man convicted of attempted rape…whether the woman wanted the kiss or not.

After Gaia’s sister is taken from her, and someone from her past is imprisoned without cause, Gaia resists the new rules placed upon her.  Eventually, however, she comes to believe that she must submit to the Matrarc, the ruler of Sylum, if she has any hope of seeing her sister or having anything resembling a happy life.  And for a while, Gaia thinks she could be happy in Sylum.  Two very handsome brothers are vying for her attention, she’s a highly valued midwife once again, and, whereas she was shunned in the Enclave, she’s prized in Sylum.  It’s a new and heady feeling for Gaia, one she’s not sure she wants to give up…

…until Leon, the boy who helped her escape the Enclave, makes it clear that he misses the old Gaia, the one who fought like a woman possessed for what she believed in.  He wonders where that Gaia has gone, and, after a while, Gaia wonders the same thing.  How could she possibly so concerned with her own happiness at the expense of those around her?  She sees what’s going on in Sylum, even when those in power would turn a blind eye.  But what could she possibly do to turn things around?  Is she willing to sacrifice relationships, both old and new, for the sake of justice?  Will it be enough?  Read Prized, the captivating sequel to Caragh M. O’Brien’s Birthmarked, to find out!

Prized is a fairly intense read, and, like I said before, it definitely makes you think.  It made me examine my own views on reproductive rights, gender equality, environmental impact on human growth and development, criminal justice, and what gives one group the right to impose laws on another.  Prized is a very timely book that I think will raise some discussions about issues that are facing us today.

Birthmarked and Prized are, you guessed it, part of a trilogy.  The third book, Promised is due out in the Fall of 2012.  Personally, I can hardly wait to see where Gaia’s story is going, especially considering the way it ended in Prized.  I have a feeling things are going to get a lot more complicated. 

If you’d like more information about this trilogy and author Caragh M. O’Brien, visit http://www.caraghobrien.com/.  Enjoy.