Black Ice

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

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

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

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

But there’s nothing normal about this situation.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Masterminds

Hello, dear readers. I bring greetings from the comfort of my home during my gloriously uneventful spring break. So far, I’ve managed to finish a couple of books, watch way too much TV, and see two rather boring movies. (The movies were Batman vs. Superman and Allegiant. Not impressed with either of those films.)

Anyhoo…let’s move on to one of the books I recently finished, Masterminds by Gordon Korman. This book is another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, and it’s the first book in a trilogy. (The second book, Criminal Destiny, is already out.)

I feel fairly certain that the Masterminds series will be a hit with most upper elementary and middle grade readers. It’s full of action, suspense, mystery, a bit of science fiction, and a bunch of kids who discover that their entire lives are basically lies. Good stuff.

The town of Serenity is a lot like Mary Poppins–“practically perfect in every way.” There’s no crime, no poverty, no conflict of any kind. Every backyard has a pool, and no one really wants for anything. Sure, it’s kind of boring sometimes, but that’s to be expected in a town of only thirty kids. Serenity is almost completely closed off from the rest of the world, and most of the residents like it that way.

Most of them.

One day, Eli Frieden and his best friend Randy decide to do a little exploring outside of city limits. They don’t make it far before Eli is doubled over with some weird illness and rushed back to town. When Eli wakes up, he learns that Randy is leaving Serenity to live with his grandparents. Eli doesn’t really know what’s going on, but he’s sure that Randy isn’t telling him everything…and he’s right.

Eli begins to do a little digging, and he discovers that Randy wasn’t sent to live with his grandparents. But if that’s true, where did his best friend go? Why the big secret? What exactly is happening in this small, seemingly perfect town?

Eli enlists the help of a few friends in his quest for answers, and they begin to uncover the horrible truth about their town. Nothing is what it seems in Serenity, not even their own families. What does all this mean for Eli and friends? And what is the town’s strange connection to some of the most vicious criminals in the country?

Can a bunch of kids find out what’s going on, escape the lies surrounding them, and find help in the world outside of Serenity? Discover the truth for yourself when you read Masterminds by Gordon Korman!


Masterminds will probably not be a hard sell with my students. I won’t have to say much more than “a group of kids figure out that they’re parents are totally lying to them about their whole lives, the kids have to discover the truth, and deal with the fact that *spoilers* they have a weird connection to a bunch of criminal masterminds.” The books will fly off the shelves.

Most of my students–and many others, I guess–enjoy a good book that depicts kids getting the jump on adults, especially when those adults are doing something kind of horrible. I think readers who like Masterminds may also enjoy the Runaways graphic novels by Brian K. Vaughan and others. These books follow the children of supervillains. Awesome.

If Masterminds sounds like your cup of tea, you can learn more on author Gordon Korman’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Instagram.

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

As of this afternoon, I’ve now read four of April Henry’s books. In addition to The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, I’ve read The Night She Disappeared, The Body in the Woods, and Torched. All of these books have convinced me that April Henry is one of my go-to authors for YA suspense. These books are fast-paced, thrilling reads that captured my attention and wouldn’t let go…and they’re all perfect when it’s gloomy and grim outside and you want a book to match that feeling.

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, which has been out for a couple of years now, is probably the quickest read of all of the April Henry books I’ve read. The chapters are short, but they pack quite a punch…as does the book’s protagonist.

She comes to in a cabin. She doesn’t know where she is, what’s happened to her, or how she got here. She can’t even remember who she is. All she knows is that two men are standing over her, and it’s crystal clear that they intend to kill her. Why? What exactly do they think she knows?

When opportunity strikes, so does she. She does what she must to get free of one of her attackers, and she’s amazed at the defensive skills she displays. Where did she learn these skills…and why would she need them in the first place?

She’s now on the run, and she doesn’t know who to trust. She simply knows she must find some way to access her memories, no matter how painful they may be. With killers closing in and the possibility of being framed for heinous crimes, this girl needs to find help…fast.

Help comes in the form of Ty, a young man working the late shift at McDonald’s. He recognizes something in this girl that he’s experienced himself: desperation. Even though it could cost him his very life, he offers assistance and works to help her uncover the truth…about herself and the terrible circumstances that have led to this horrific, unimaginable situation.

As the truth comes to light, this girl–whose name is Cady–finally understands what’s going on around her: why she’s a target, what’s happened to her family, and why those hunting her must be stopped. It’s not just her life on the line. The fate of the entire world could be at risk.

Can one teenage girl and her unexpected companion possibly stop someone who’s willing to put the entire world in danger in the name of greed? Just what will become of this girl who was supposed to die?

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I feel like I’ve given way too much away here, and I apologize for that. I didn’t mention several of the major points in the book, so there are still a few surprises in store for those who choose to pick up this thriller. I would recommend the book to any middle grade, YA, or adult reader who is in the mood for a good mystery or suspense novel.

All that being said, I did have one issue with The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die. In my humble opinion, the ending was a little too abrupt. It seemed like there was a ton of build-up, and–BOOM–it’s over. Maybe I’m the only one who feels that way. Read the book for yourself, and let me know what you think.

If you’d like more information on this book and other mysteries by April Henry, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Twitter and Facebook.

I Am the Traitor

Warning: Read the first two books in Allen Zadoff’s The Unknown Assassin series, I Am the Weapon and I Am the Mission, before proceeding.

Happy publication day to Allen Zadoff! The third and final book of The Unknown Assassin trilogy, I Am the Traitor, drops today. Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to finish this book yesterday, so now I’m sharing what I think about it (and the series as a whole) with all of you. You’re welcome.

I Am the Traitor continues the story of a sixteen-year-old boy involved with a shadow organization known only as The Program. In the previous two books, this boy began to question his place in The Program, his orders, and the bits of information they chose to reveal. Now, he’s on the run, and he’s trying to uncover the truth about his past and what The Program is really trying to do. He doesn’t know who to trust, and the odds of getting out of this mess alive aren’t looking good…

He’s sixteen years old, he’s a highly trained assassin, and he’s on a collision course with the truth about himself and his past.

He’s been known by many names–Ben, Daniel, and others on dozens of missions with The Program. Now, though, he’s returning to his true name, Zach Abram, and he’s doing everything possible to find out what really happened when he was enlisted as a child soldier in The Program. But Zach may not be prepared for some of the answers he receives.

As Zach searches for answers, he must also find a way to rescue the only friend he’s ever really had. Howard, a tech genius Zach met on a previous mission, has been captured by The Program. Zach knows Howard is likely being tortured, all because he tried to help find the truth.

When Zach finds Howard, however, he also finds another kid–a girl named Tanya. Zach doesn’t completely trust this girl, but there’s also something about her that manages to draw him in. In any case, he now has two other people to worry about, and The Program–and one of its top assassins–is closing in.

Even with the constant threat of The Program looming, Zach, Howard, and Tanya manage to find bits and pieces of information on the biggest mystery in Zach’s life: What really happened to his parents? Did The Program assassinate them like he’s always been told? Were they killed in an accident? Or is the truth much more sinister and complicated? What’s really going on, and is Zach prepared to handle what’s revealed about his family and his origins with The Program?

A showdown with those who run The Program is coming, and Zach must gear up for the fight of his life. Is he prepared to do what must be done to finally be free? Or will he choose to stay with The Program, an organization that has been the only constant in his life for the past five years? And who can he really trust in this life-changing dilemma?

Decisions must be made, and Zach has to be ready–using all of his Program training–to deal with whatever consequences come his way. Who will he ultimately betray in the end–The Program, his friends, or himself?

Join Zach and company on their quest for the truth when you read I Am the Traitor, the thrilling conclusion to a gripping series by Allen Zadoff!

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Now that I’ve finished this entire series (I’m guessing), I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It was action-packed, and it definitely kept me guessing. The twist at the end of this final book threw me for a loop, and, though I probably should have seen it coming, I was as surprised as our anti-hero, Zach.

Even though I like a clear-cut ending as much as the next person, I did kind of like that I Am the Traitor left things a bit open. It’s really up to the reader (at least at this point) to determine how the story proceeds for Zach and what the ramifications of his decisions will be. My hope is that young writers will develop some interesting fanfiction and show us how things progress for the remaining characters in this series. (Yeah, I said “remaining.” Big shocker that not everyone survives in a series about teen assassins.)

Given that violence is a huge part of this entire series, I don’t know how comfortable I feel recommending these books to middle grade readers. (Yes, I realize they likely see this stuff all the time in video games, TV, and movies, not to mention the evening news. I don’t have to pile on, though.) Also, I Am the Traitor has an instance or two of sexy times. (Again, I’m not so naive that I think younger readers don’t experience or know anything about sex. Again, I don’t have to pile on.) With all of that stuff together, I would say the series as a whole is better suited to those in high school and beyond. Ultimately, however, it’s up to you to decide what belongs in your classroom, school, or personal library. I’m just a messenger.

In closing, if you like The Bourne Identity and other psychological thrillers with a bit of political intrigue thrown in, give the Unknown Assassin trilogy a try. I hope you enjoy this wild ride as much as I did!

For more information about I Am the Traitor, the rest of the series, and author Allen Zadoff, check out the author’s website, Twitter feed, the series Facebook page, and Goodreads.

*Note: You may often find this series referred to by different names, Boy Nobody being the most prevalent.*

I Am the Mission

Caution! It is imperative that you read I Am the Weapon, book one in Allen Zadoff’s Unknown Assassin series, before continuing with book two, I Am the Mission. This message will self-destruct in 3…2…1…

Just kidding. This message won’t do anything. But seriously, read the first book.

As you’ve probably gathered, I recently read I Am the Mission, the nerve-wracking sequel to I am the Weapon. This second installment picks up shortly after the conclusion of book one, and it is quite the page-turner.

I Am the Mission came out on June 17th, and some of you may have seen it under a couple of different titles: The Lost Mission or Fearless. (Thanks to NetGalley, I read a digital proof of the book with The Lost Mission as its title.) No matter what the title, though, the book is gripping and continues to follow the life of young man who works as an assassin for a group known only as The Program. This teenager moves from one identity, one assignment, to the next, and his only concerns are to eliminate his targets and protect The Program at all costs. During his last mission, however, he began to question his orders, and that tiny seed of doubt is creeping in once again…

After going off the grid for a bit–to come to grips with his last mission and to get his head on straight–this boy, who we’ve previously known as Ben, is pulled back into The Program. His loyalty is being questioned, and he knows he’ll have to suppress his doubts to keep his handlers from deciding he’s too much of a threat to their organization. One way to do that is to complete the next mission he’s given.

When another operative for The Program is seemingly terminated, our boy–who now goes by Daniel–is tasked with completing this lost mission. His job is to kill Eugene Moore, a man who runs Camp Liberty and appears to be amassing an army of young people for the express purpose of overthrowing the government and/or committing acts of domestic terrorism.

The job should have been an easy in-and-out, but things quickly grow complicated, and Daniel finds himself being led to Moore’s training camp with no way of getting word to The Program. His only option now is to become a part of Camp Liberty, get close to Moore’s kids, and look for another opportunity to eliminate this new threat to national security. It isn’t easy, though. This camp takes its own protection very seriously, and not everyone trusts the new guy sniffing around.

As Daniel learns more about the camp and its leader, he tries to get word to The Program about what is going on…but his efforts amount to nothing. He cannot reach anyone, and, after a harrowing episode at what should have been a safe house, Daniel seriously questions what has happened to The Program. Has their security been breached? Has this secret organization been disabled? Or is there something much more sinister at work? Something, perhaps, targeted at Daniel himself?

Questions abound for Daniel on this chaotic mission, but he remains determined to carry out his orders…even when he learns that The Program has not exactly been truthful with him. Daniel must act without mercy against those who would seek to do harm to the country. To do that, he will have to put aside fear, potential friendships, and his own safety to see this mission to its explosive end. Will Daniel’s efforts be enough? Will he uncover The Program’s secrets in the process? Only time will tell, and that may be running out for young Daniel…

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I think I mentioned in my post on I Am the Weapon that our protagonist in this series can’t really be called a hero. If anything, I’d label his as an anti-hero. In the end, yes, he does demonstrate some heroic tendencies, but Daniel–or whatever you want to call him–has questionable loyalties sometimes, he’s been known to blindly follow orders, and he is, let’s face it, an assassin. Even when he has doubts about how someone fits into what’s going on, he kills them if they get in his way. (If you couldn’t tell, one of the deaths in this book kind of bothered me. I didn’t think this person needed to die. Daniel felt differently.) With all of that, though, I still found myself rooting for him. I wanted him to question his orders. I hoped he would put an end to the brainwashing going on at Camp Liberty. I wished for him to come out of everything unharmed. Unharmed, but determined to finally uncover the truth about The Program. For the most part, I think I got what I wanted.

For those considering purchasing this book–and its predecessor–for personal or school/classroom libraries, I feel I must give a word of caution. This series is, in my humble opinion, written for a young adult audience. It is violent at times (which fits with a protagonist who is an assassin), and there are a couple of sexual situations. Language was true to the setting, but some younger readers (and their parents) may have problems with it. Also, there are some political issues in this book that require some serious, intense thought and knowledge of the current political climate in the United States. For all of those reasons, I would recommend this series to readers in tenth grade and up. These books are written for an audience with some maturity. (No offense intended to anyone reading this who is a ninth grader or younger.)

If you’re interested in The Unknown Assassin series or other books by Allen Zadoff, check out his website.

There’s no word yet on when we can expect the next book in this series, but, given how things ended in I Am the Mission, I hope it’s soon!

I Am the Weapon

A few minutes ago, I finally finished reading I Am the Weapon, the first book in Allen Zadoff’s Unknown Assassin series. This book (which I got to read thanks to NetGalley) was originally published last year with the title Boy Nobody. Let me just say that I whole-heartedly approve of the title change. I doubt I would have chosen to read the book with the original title. Boring. I Am the Weapon, though? Yeah, that one grabs my attention.

In this series opener, readers are introduced to a young man with a somewhat fluid identity. He’s the new kid in class, the one who makes friends easily, the one who disappears like smoke. He is an assassin, and, as soon as his job is done, he moves on to the next assignment. The next target sent to him by The Program. He doesn’t ask questions. He follows orders…for now.

The boy’s new assignment takes him to New York City. Unlike his other jobs, this one won’t force him to slowly and carefully make connections with those around him. No, there is a speedy timeline here. He has five days to kill the mayor of New York City.

While he questions his unusual timetable and his high-profile, heavily protected target, he proceeds with the job at hand. He becomes Ben, a new kid in a private Manhattan school, and he does what he must to get close to Samara, the mayor’s daughter.

Sam is smart, though. She knows something is different about Ben. He doesn’t quite fit in at school, and she seems to be intrigued by this. Ben can only use this to his advantage. He quickly involves himself in nearly every aspect of Sam’s life, and, as he learns more about this girl and her father, the more he wonders why this seemingly good man must be eliminated.

Pretty soon, Ben is getting much closer than he intended, and that’s having an impact on his assignment. He can’t quite force himself to follow through and actually kill a man he’s growing to like, especially if that means that Sam will be hurt.

Ben is also reflecting on the circumstances that led him to be an assassin for The Program. Why was he chosen? Why was his father killed? And does he have any control over his own life? Can he make his own choices without higher-ups deciding that he needs to be eliminated as well?

As Ben is struggling with his assignment and his place within The Program, he receives a new set of orders. He’s now got four days to complete his job, but his target has changed. He’s no longer expected to kill the mayor. No. Now his target is Sam. Why? What has she done to warrant being silenced? And can this teen assassin figure things out before he is put in the cross-hairs?

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If you’re looking for a quick, action-packed YA book in the vein of The Bourne Identity and other psychological thrillers with political implications, I think I Am the Weapon may be the book you seek. The main character is not exactly a hero, but readers will be intrigued by his thought processes and what leads him to the actions he takes. He is a killer, one who sometimes blindly follows orders, but he wasn’t always so cold. Once upon a time, he had a family, and his memories of those times–and his growing dissatisfaction with The Program–show readers his humanity and give a hint that he could be redeemed in the future.

Those looking for a happy ending with a sense of closure will not find it in I Am the Weapon. If anything, the conclusion raises even more questions…which I guess is good since there are other books in the series waiting in the wings. The next book, I Am the Mission (which has gone through a couple of title changes as well), should already be out. I’m hoping it’s just as action-packed as the first book. I’ll find out soon enough. Thanks to NetGalley, I’ve also got a copy of this one waiting on my ereader.

For more information on I Am the Weapon and other books by Allen Zadoff, check out the author’s website. As for me, I think I’ll move on to my next book! Peace!

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.