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.

Dangerous Lies

When I chose my latest read, I guess I needed a break from all the Christmasy stuff I’d been reading lately. That’s what I figure anyway. I honestly don’t know why I chose Dangerous Lies from all of the other books just sitting on my Kindle. Maybe because it seemed so far removed from anything mushy. Maybe because I liked author Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush series. Maybe my finger slipped when I was trying to select something else. Who knows. Whatever the case, I finished reading Dangerous Lies late Friday night, and I’m bringing you a post on it today. Here goes…

Stella Gordon is living a lie. After witnessing a murder and landing herself in the cross-hairs of the vicious leader of a drug cartel, she’s whisked away to Thunder Basin, Nebraska, for a new life in the witness protection program.

Stella–formerly Estella Goodwinn–is forced to leave her identity, her friends, her boyfriend, her money, her addict mother, and her home in Philadelphia behind while she waits to testify against the man who killed her mom’s dealer. To say that she’s unhappy to be stuck in the middle of Nebraska for the duration would be a huge understatement.

While in Nebraska, Stella is living with Carmina, a former cop who expects Stella to live by a very strict set of rules. Stella, who’s been virtually on her own for years, balks at this and does whatever she can to get under Carmina’s skin. She’s planning on meeting up with her boyfriend (also in witness protection) at the end of the summer, so why bother doing what Carmina wants anyway? It’s her life.

Eventually, Stella tries to make the best of the situtation…while still planning to leave at summer’s end. She gets a job at a local diner, and she makes an unlikely friend in Chet Falconer, a local guy who draws Stella in and makes her realize that maybe Nebraska isn’t all bad. Stella, who is growing closer to Chet by the day, hates that nearly everything he knows about her is a lie, but she knows that telling him her secrets could put both of them in very real danger.

It seems, though, that danger is coming for Stella anyway. Early on, she makes an enemy of the town golden boy, a boy who seems oddly familiar, and that makes Stella a target once more. Does this guy have some connection to Stella’s former life? If so, what could that mean for her time in Nebraska? Just when Stella is getting comfortable in her new life, could her past–and her secrets–catch up with her?


I’m going to stop there (mainly because I can’t think of anything else to say).

Dangerous Lies is a mystery, thriller, and love story wrapped into one quick, gripping, easy-to-read package. While a tad predictable at times, it still kept me eager to turn the page, and it helped me escape reality for a while. (Given that it’s just days before winter break and I work in an elementary school full of excitable kids and exhausted adults, I need the escape.)

Here’s one huge thing Dangerous Lies has in its favor: This book features a girl who’s been forced into a horrible situation and still manages to stand up for herself and others. She doesn’t care that the town sports hero is never called on his crap. When he steps over the line, she calls him on it and works to make sure everyone else does the same. It may put a target on her back, but she continues to do the right thing anyway. That’s awesome.

I would probably recommend Dangerous Lies for upper middle grade readers and young adults. The book includes a fair amount of violence, some sexy times, underage alcohol use, and references to drugs. In my opinion, nothing is gratuitous, but use your best professional judgment when recommending this book to the tweens and teens in your circle.

To learn more about Dangerous Lies and other books by Becca Fitzpatrick, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Summer Days and Summer Nights

A couple of years ago, I read My True Love Gave to Me, a collection of twelve holiday-themed love stories by popular YA authors. It was wonderful. So, when I found out that there would be another anthology, this one devoted to summer romances, I knew I had to read it. I did just that this week.

With authors like Leigh Bardugo, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Tim Federle, Stephanie Perkins, Veronica Roth, and others featured in Summer Days and Summer Nights, I figured that I would be getting some outstanding stories in this book. To a certain extent, I was right. Most of the stories were great. Would I describe all of them as love stories? Not really. Many of them had a certain romantic element in them, but, at least in my opinion, that wasn’t always the central focus of the story, and the whole romance thing worked better in some stories than in others. In a few, it felt kind of forced to me.

That being said, there were some stories that did stand out for me. The first, In Ninety Minutes, Turn North, comes to us from the anthology’s editor, Stephanie Perkins. In this story, we are reintroduced to the characters we first saw in Perkins’ contribution to My True Love Gave to Me, North and Marigold. The two have grown apart, and this tale brings them back together atop Mount Mitchell in North Carolina. This story is charming, funny, heart-breaking, and heart-warming, all at once. I honestly think this is the strongest–and most romantic–of all the stories in this book.

I also enjoyed Libba Bray’s story, Last Stand at the Cinegore. I think that this one is more of a horror story with a bit of romance thrown in. This tale brings us some teenagers, Kevin, Dani, and Dave, working in a horror movie house, and they’re showing a movie that is allegedly cursed. Well, that whole “allegedly” thing is about to be proven to be absolutely true. As it turns out, this movie is a portal to Hell, and Kevin and Dani (with an assist from Dave) have to figure out how to stop the madness this movie is creating while dealing with their own budding romance.

Finally–and this will shock no one–I liked Cassandra Clare’s contribution, Brand New Attraction. It like Bray’s story, is a horror/love story. It focuses on Lulu, a girl trying to keep her father’s dark carnival going. Things are about to go belly up when her Uncle Walter and his stepson, Lucas, come along to–apparently–save the day. But Walter’s plans take the carnival from dark to downright evil, and it’s up to Lulu and Lucas to figure out what’s going on and save the day.

The three stories mentioned above may be my favorites, but most of the others are good in their own right. There’s a nice mix of gay and straight relationships featured, we encounter characters from many different backgrounds, several genres are represented, and nothing is especially graphic. I can honestly say I’m relatively happy with all of the stories…except one. Francesca Lia Block’s story, Sick Pleasure, is, in my opinion, pretty far from a love story. I guess it stays true to its title, though, since it left me feeling kind of sick at the end.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the stories in this anthology. Am I way off base in my feelings on Block’s story? What are your favorites and why? And what do you think makes a good love story? Let me know in the comments!

You Know Me Well

Last night, I finished reading You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour. This beautiful book is, at its heart, a story about first loves, first heartbreaks, and being true to oneself…even if that means stepping away from expectations.

It’s amazing that a person’s life can change almost instantly, but that’s what happens to both Mark and Kate. Before that fateful night in a San Francisco club, these two kids had barely spoken. They’d passed each other in the hall, but that’s where their interaction ended. How could they have known that they would grow so close in the span of one night?

Kate, who is running away from a potentially momentous encounter with a girl she’s loved from afar, arrives at the club not really knowing what she’s doing there or why she needs to escape what she’s wanted for so long. Mark, for his part, is at the club with Ryan, his best friend and the boy he’s loved for what feels like forever. Mark’s beginning to realize, however, that Ryan may not feel the same.

After a freeing but out-of-character bar-top dance, Mark realizes that he knows the girl across the club, and he makes his way over to Kate. Both of them need a friend in that moment, and that moment becomes something that will carry both of them through the days ahead.

The two new friends will go through an odd but eventful night at some rich guy’s mansion. Through Kate’s splash into the San Francisco art scene. Through Kate’s meeting with Violet, the girl who could be The One. Through Mark’s confrontation with Ryan. Through so much more that will change how they see themselves, their relationships, and their futures.


This book fills a void in many library collections. Gay and lesbian teens don’t see a lot of love stories reflecting their experiences, and You Know Me Well definitely delivers on that front. But this book is so much more than a love story for LGBTQ teens. It’s a love story. Full stop. Now, that love isn’t always romantic, but who says it has to be? Yes, large parts of the book deal with romantic love, but it also focuses on love between friends, old and new, and learning to love oneself, faults and all. That’s huge.

Anyone–gay, straight, however one identifies–will be able to relate to the pain, anguish, confusion, and joy presented in this book. Many readers have experienced unrequited love. Many have felt they didn’t deserve good things that happened to them. Many have had to deal with changing friendships and breaking free of the expectations others have for them.

In short, You Know Me Well, is a book that belongs in all library collections that serve young adults. It’s at once heartbreaking and hopeful, and it is sure to resonate with teen readers who can all-too-easily see themselves in these thoroughly relatable characters and situations.

For more information on You Know Me Well and other books by Nina LaCour and David Levithan, visit Nina LaCour’s website, Twitter feed, or Facebook page, and David Levithan’s website, Twitter, or Facebook page.

I truly hope you find this book as wonderful as I do!